Poverty alleviation needs an active civil society


Nowadays, the buzz word is poverty alleviation, hence the reason for the passing of the Divineguma Bill in Parliament. Recently, the Governor of the Central Bank waxed eloquent about the rise in the "Prosperity Index", yes, it is true 1% of the population has got richer judging by the luxury cars and SUVs plying our roads, and expensive luxury apartments inhabited by the hoi-polloi. No one grudges them these luxuries, but the more riches accumulated by a few means those balance 99% are deprived access to even the basic essentials which have become unaffordable to the majority.

At regular intervals during the fiscal year, prices of all goods and services keep rising, unlike in the past when prices were increased only during the annual budget. This makes domestic budgeting (household finances) an impossible task.

Minister Dr.Sarath Amunugama exhorted the people to practise thrift by cutting down on expenses and by saving more. He meant well, but the awful fact is that those on monthly salaries with no perks and privileges can’t even manage to put three square meals on the table, let alone one meal.

Thrifty living has to start from the top – from the President downwards, by cutting down on wasteful expenditure. It’s a sin to levy such heavy taxes on basic essentials, primarily food. In the past the poor man’s protein was Dhal and rice with a pol sambol. I bought a kilo of Dhal recently at a cost of Rs. 197/- , sugar Rs. 132/- a Kg and so on. The average daily wage of a worker is Rs. 200 – Rs. 300 and it is a fact that 60% of the working population earns only Rs. 8,000/- a month. 1.5 million households consume an average of 30 units of electricity a month (at five per household 7.5 million people can’t afford to switch on a light). Because of the 40% surcharge, my own electricity bill has risen by Rs. 1,900/- a month and I don’t have air-conditioners or use security lights, just my bedside lamp at night.

Civil society does not lodge protests because they lack the energy and the will, besides we can see the violent manner in which protesters are treated, water cannons, tear gas, batons and bullets. So I am imploring civil society to help those in need by sharing and caring – even the smallest act or charity will make person happy – if you have reading material, pass them on; if you have extra coconuts from your garden, give them away; newspapers once read, can be given to a poor neighbour who can’t afford it. Food and clothes, extra furniture, bed linen and so on. These are the small things we can donate to put the smile on a face.

Linda Van Schagen

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