Intensified survival struggle

By Cassendra Doole

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila, speaking to The Sunday Morning, attributed the continued increase of fuel prices to the rising dollar rates.

“The dollar has never reached these proportions. The highest recorded earlier was in 2012 when the dollar was at Rs. 90. Now it is at Rs. 203, so it is logical to expect the prices to increase,” he said, claiming that the increase in fuel prices is hardly newsworthy.

“If you look at the increase in gas, milk powder, or any imported commodity, it is not news at all, it is just a fact. Not only here. If you look at the price of commodities in the US, the UK, or even India; all these countries have recorded the highest increases. You can make it news if Sri Lanka has not made an increase.”

However, speaking to The Sunday Morning, three-wheeler driver Ruwan Ganewatte said that this Government is making it very difficult to earn a daily wage and survive, even with only the bare necessities.

“I have three children, two of whom are schooling and one still in his diapers,” he said, adding: “With each passing day, I wonder how I will feed them and clothe them. This Government is trying to take as much as possible from the people of this country, and I’m afraid we will all be left to beg on the streets. And even that is not a viable option because there won’t be anyone left to give us money when we beg, because everyone will be begging.”

Samagi United Trade Union Force Convener Ananda Palitha, in a recent media briefing, said that the Government has fooled the country and increased the price of fuel to save dollars. “The people who are most affected by this are the three-wheeler drivers. By increasing the fuel prices by Rs. 20, the Government is directly stealing from the three-wheeler drivers.”

Speaking to The Sunday Morning, another three-wheeler driver Ranjith Perera said that the Government will loot everything possible from the people and go back to America. “This is what they are planning on doing. They are like reverse Robin Hoods. They will steal from the poor, distribute it among themselves and the rich, and then hop off back to America leaving us in shambles. This will only get worse. We are not going to survive this. It’s like saying: ‘Gahen watuna minihata gona anna wagey.’ The moment this Government came into power, we were engulfed in sickness (Covid-19) and poverty.”

Nishantha Perera, who is also a three-wheeler driver by profession, said that this is the last stage until the entire country goes bankrupt. “I am ashamed to say I had a part in voting this Government in. I distributed leaflets and took part in the campaigning because I thought we would see a change. And we did see a change. A change for the very worst a country can fall into right before it is completely bankrupt. How can we survive? I don’t want to go because there is no money for me to take home. We pump fuel, take passengers from that fuel and pump more fuel from the money we get and at the end of the day we are tired, hungry, and our pockets are empty. I have three different apps installed in my phone because having a metre is not enough. And even then, I barely get by.”

Let them eat cake

When fuel prices increase, a domino effect is caused. Every single commodity has to be transported whether they be raw materials, finished goods, imported goods, or any services. This more often than not leads to an increase in the price of said commodities. According to reports, one of the sectors affected by the increase in fuel is the bakery sector. A spokesperson from the Bakery Owners’ Association of Sri Lanka, speaking to The Sunday Morning, said that there will be no price control for bakery goods.

“The prices for bakery goods will be determined by supply and demand due to the price fluctuations. Everything is unstable right now and it is difficult to determine the prices of bakery products in comparison to the rising fuel prices.”

Accordingly, The Sunday Morning spoke to several small-scale bakery owners to get their comments.

“Bread is the poor man’s staple. It and rice were somewhat affordable. First they took the rice from us and now they’re taking the bread. Now I guess we will all have to eat cake,” a spokesperson from Janitha Bakers said, adding: “When fuel increases, any idiot knows that everything else will increase. Especially bakery goods. There is a transportation cost, a production cost, and a cost for everything else. I guess the rich will survive, the lucky will leave this country, and the poor will eventually die from hunger.”

Dushantha Siriwardena of Dushan Baker’s and Sons said: “We are not a large corporation. We opened this shop just two years ago and we even bought a small van to transport the bread and other products from house-to-house during lockdown. Now I think it will be cheaper for us to just bake the bread and eat it ourselves.”

Meanwhile, Thilaka Peiris, who works at Royal Corino Pizzeria and Bakery said that things are very worrying. “Our boss yesterday had a meeting and said he had two options; either to increase the prices of the products, or to let some of us go. We have no choice but to increase prices anyway because the fuel increase means our percentage from delivery platforms are also reduced. Now people who used to buy things like pizza can now barely afford a loaf of bread.”

Road of hardships

In light of the recent fuel price hike, Sri Lankan bus associations stated that bus fares must increase as well and the minimum bus fare must be increased to Rs. 25.

Speaking at a media briefing, Lanka Private Bus Owners’ Association President Gemunu Wijeratne said the Motor Traffic Department has informed the Ministry of Transportation in writing to amend certain laws under the Motor Traffic Act, which will come into effect from 1 January 2022.

He further added that as the cost of operating buses has increased by three-fold, the number of buses in operation will be reduced to 25%.