They say it is the ‘regulator’ that is to blame, i.e. the ESD (Emergency Shut Down) valve that controls the gas output from the cylinder to the cooker that is causing the explosions occurring in many homes and hearths these days – and nights. But what about the ‘Regulator’ — the Government agencies, and the [...]


Not the regulator but the Regulator


They say it is the ‘regulator’ that is to blame, i.e. the ESD (Emergency Shut Down) valve that controls the gas output from the cylinder to the cooker that is causing the explosions occurring in many homes and hearths these days – and nights. But what about the ‘Regulator’ — the Government agencies, and the Government itself, that are responsible for safety standards — to ensure such deadly incidents don’t happen?

Sri Lankan politics revolves around the kitchen. Already, the prices of foodstuffs – and cooking gas, have exploded. Now, kitchens are literally exploding. The Government, which came into office pledging to provide security to the citizens is hardly reassuring those who must work in the kitchen that they will not be the next badly burnt victim.

These are not isolated freak happenings. There has been blatant manipulation of the ‘propane:butane’ mix that goes into these cylinders without any caution to the end-users; the four million households and restaurants that use gas for cooking purposes. The fact that there was a shortage, which some believe was an artificial shortage created to profit from exploiting the foreign currency scenario cannot be ruled out. The problem is that an economic crisis brings the worms out from the woodwork.

The merger that was floated between the gas importers, the state-owned Litro and the private Laugfs adds to the foul stench. Like in the case of the recent stink at Lanka Sathosa and the sugar scam, the Government is trapped by their financiers calling the shots and getting away with fraud after fraud and now, criminal negligence. These gas companies are happily avoiding culpability in the belief that the negative publicity will blow away sooner than later and it will be business as usual. Those who howl of foreign companies venturing into Sri Lanka’s markets to fleece the local consumers are mute when state-owned enterprises (SOEs) commit blue murder.

The state’s regulatory bodies like the CAA (Consumer Affairs Authority), even the SLIS (Institute of Standards) and the PUCSL (Public Utilities Commission) remain mere inefficient, incompetent, impotent bystanders. Calls for the withdrawal of all the defective cylinders have been heeded but partly, throwing millions of families into a state of utter uncertainty. With power cuts and cooking gas missing public eateries went without food. The much talked of warning of impending food security issues is coming up faster than one anticipated.

The Government is giving new meaning to “keeping the home fires burning” while the wheels of governance itself seem to be coming off.

Vaccine imperialism and now a new variant

Just when the world was looking forward to the easing of the dreadful COVID-19 pandemic, comes the new variant Omicron. What is known about it is that nothing much is known about it, yet.

Unlike in the early days when the world dragged its feet to clamp down on borders, countries are now in panic mode rushing to shut their entry points. The fact that this new variant was discovered in Southern Africa (Botswana) by South African scientists has immediately stigmatised the African continent. Countries around the world straightaway closed their borders to persons coming from some of the countries in Africa. The UN Secretary General called it “travel apartheid”.

That there is an element of racism in doing so is manifestly apparent. Africa is seen as the home of disease: AIDS, Ebola, and even if COVID-19 began in the Far East and spread in Europe and USA, Africa is considered bad news when it comes to disease.

Sri Lanka was quick to follow the other countries. One cannot blame the authorities for doing so. But the contradiction is that it keeps its borders wide open for tourists from Europe, now the epicentre of Omicron. This winter-season, Sri Lanka is smacking its chops expecting tourists from Europe to come and fill its hotels, as the country is starved of the dollars and euros it desperately needs for all the wasteful expenditure and borrowing of the past. COVID-19 affected the Global South disproportionately and sent it into an economic spin.

African voices are hitting back. They ask why the West that discovered the COVID-19 vaccine is profiteering from the exercise rather than taking the holistic approach of liberalising the patents that are protected by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) with little say from the World Health Organisation (WHO). These Intellectual Property rights are preventing the populous continents of Africa, Asia and Latin America where the poor live, from benefiting from the vaccines. While 50 percent of Europeans are ‘fully vaccinated’, only 7 percent of Africans are.

This is why Africa becomes more prone to the virus and the Global North is reluctant to accept the reality that in this global village that Earthlings inhabit, immunisation of one continent will not prevent another continent from getting hit by new waves. And that is exactly what has happened to bite back Europe with Omicron. South Africa along with India has long called for the WTO to ensure these protective patent rights are removed. Western leaders agree that no one is protected unless everyone is protected from the virus, but that is not how the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry views the world. Many say it is in their DNA to profit from the misery of others, no different to those in the arms industry. They are two sides of the same dollar note. On their part, the vaccine manufacturers trot out various reasons; costs incurred for research and the dangers of counterfeiting.

The West alone is not to blame. Take the case of the Chinese manufacturer who sold their vaccine to the State Pharmaceutical Corporation and told them the deal was off if they divulged the price.

All these UN agencies, from the Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination; International Covenants on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and Political Rights — stand and stare while the scourge of ‘Vaccine Imperialism’ reigns supreme. The total number of people who have died from the virus has topped five million. That’s the population of some countries. A virus discovered in China hit the whole world, and now a new variant discovered in Africa has the rest of the world on tenterhooks.


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