The farcical provincial restrictions

The governments that came to power during the past few decades have resorted to deception in varying degrees, predominantly to give the people a false sense of assurance and to buy time, and sometimes to conceal the truth or failures. However, it is a measure with a short life span, and often leads to the worsening of the existing issues.

The same could be seen happening during the past few months. Despite the islandwide lockdown, which was dubbed a quarantine curfew, and also inter-provincial travel restrictions, the people could be seen moving about freely. The truth of the matter is, the lockdown and inter-provincial travel restrictions stopped very few people from travelling without permission. The lockdown has been lifted. However, the authorities continue to maintain that inter-provincial travel restrictions are necessary in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19 between provinces.

During the past few weeks, especially after the lifting of the lockdown, many people shared photos and videos of them travelling to various parts of the island. However, a significant segment of these travellers did not seem to have an urgent or justifiable reason. Some of them were brave enough to say that they were travelling for pleasure, and were at popular tourist destinations. What is more, traffic congestion was also reported from the Southern Expressway due to a large number of vehicles trying to cross provincial borders.

It is in such a context that the Government decided to extend inter-provincial travel restrictions, which was scheduled to be lifted today (21), until 31 October.

The unfortunate reality is that despite inter-provincial travel restrictions, the people will continue to travel to other provinces, especially during the weekends. It is now easier than before, because the lockdown has been lifted. In fact, even when the lockdown was in effect, many people, especially those who have power and money, travelled across provinces to get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from vaccination centres located in different provinces.

However, we cannot believe that the authorities do not know how inter-provincial travel restrictions are being violated in broad daylight, in a context where they are vigilant about what is happening on social media platforms. The truth is, the extension and existence of inter-provincial travel restrictions is not a result of the Government wanting to be extra cautious about the spread of Covid-19, but simply because those restrictions were being patently violated for too long for them to not notice and continue to ignore.

This leads us to think as to what could possibly be the reason to extend the inter-provincial travel restrictions, knowing full well that they can be and are easily violated. The reason, if one may fathom an educated guess, could be due to the worsening fuel crisis. In fact, it is less about the Covid-19 pandemic, and more about the dwindling foreign reserves that have a direct and huge impact on Sri Lanka’s ability to continue to purchase fuel. Even though saving and limiting the use of fuel by limiting people’s travelling habits can help to deal with the collapsing economy and the prevailing pandemic situation to a certain extent, we have to ask the question as to whether disguising a worsening crisis as a mere precaution, is acceptable. The biggest question is, how long can we really rely on these short-term measures and when are we going to acknowledge the true gravity of these issues and address them.

It is true that sometimes governments have to make impromptu decisions. However, hiding the truth should not be a part of it. In fact, in a context where the people have the biggest responsibilities when it comes to containing the pandemic and saving fuel, people have a right to know what is happening. Even though restrictions and requests do not always control people’s behaviour, perhaps, if the Government reveals the whole truth, at least then those who are concerned about their contribution to the country will do their part.

At the end of the day, rules and regulations should be there to guide people, not to deceive them.