Mr. minister, if your cheese is chalk then eat it
Daily Mirror Editorial
Apr 11, 2012

With the National New Year just a few days away, questions have arisen as to how many Buddhists and Hindus will be celebrating like in the good old days or even like in the bad old days of the bloody thirty-year war. These questions have arisen because of the unprecedented increase in the cost of living after the huge hike in fuel prices on February 11, the devaluation and the controlled float of the rupee. Those moves have sent the prices of local and imported items soaring beyond the reach of millions of people who fear their traditional New Year fare may have to be drastically reduced and their children may have to be satisfied with ‘kiribath’ only or ‘kavum’ without the ‘konde’.

Education Minister Bandula Gunawardena appears to be still insisting that his chalk is cheese. He is reiterating that a family of three can survive or manage on an income of about Rs.7,500 a month. World entertainment star Olivia Newton John, once known in her days of glory as Olivia Neutron Bomb was in Sri Lanka last week and among her hits are “The Air That I Breathe”. She sings of her lover and how she lives on love and fresh air without even food. Maybe Minister Gunawardena could have that song played in the background if he makes or dares make that statement again because millions of people are furious with him for talking through his school master’s hat or eating through his nose. Leaving the minister to eat chalk if he thinks its cheese, the Rajapaksa regime after the National New Year needs to come to terms with realities. While Sri Lanka is still under intense international pressure after a resolution against it was passed at the United Nations Human Rights Council sessions, the bigger crisis is that the economy is on the verge of a breakdown though officials who want to please or placate government leaders are still doling out bloated or twisted figures or facts. Some reports even suggest that an economic think tank has advised the regime that a national government might be the only option as a first step towards finding a way to overcome the economic crisis.

In the meantime we urgently need an austerity package. We must return to the simple and humble way of living or alpachathawaya which was a hallowed concept of our ancient agriculture-based civilisation. But it is essential that both the austerity package and alpachathawaya must begin with government leaders – ministers and parliamentarians. Perhaps Minister Bandula Gunawardena could salvage his image if he sets the example by volunteering to have his salary cut to Rs.2,500 a month. Bandula Gunawardena’s jokes apart, the President needs to come forward and give exemplary leadership by reducing the salaries and multitude of allowances given to ministers, parliamentarians and other politicians. Then and only then will the people willingly and happily agree to learn to manage with their basic needs while the money saved by reducing the perks and privileges given to politicians could be used to give some relief to people who are suffering the most. The LTTE may be gone, whatever the Diaspora is still doing, but we are sitting on a huge economic time bomb and the Rajapaksa regime must act effectively to avert what might be something worse than the Tiger suicide bombs.

Source: Daily Mirror - Sri Lanka