Comic relief from committees

Monday 20th August, 2018

One of the few things the present government does expeditiously is appointing committees. One has lost count of the number of various committees, appointed during the last three years or so. There must be several dozens of them. The only purpose they serve is providing the public, in dire financial straits, with some comic relief.

Minister of Petroleum Resources Development Arjuna Ranatunga is batting for the Band-Aid committee brigade. He has reportedly said a committee has been appointed to study the fluctuations of fuel prices with a view to granting the public some relief. It is an exercise in futility, we reckon. His bosses have already started jacking up fuel prices purportedly on the basis of an unseen pricing formula and it defies comprehension why a committee should be appointed at this stage.

There is hardly anything that can be done now to lighten the economic burden on the people, aggravated by the back-to-back fuel price increases. The government is not prepared to cut down on the huge taxes on petrol and diesel, amounting to Rs. 45.75 per litre and Rs. 23.25 per litre, respectively, as the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) trade union say. Not even President Maithripala Sirisena could accomplish that task. He sought to question the Finance Ministry’s wisdom of jacking up petroleum prices recently and intervened to suspend the price hikes only to be left with egg on his face in the end, with the government going ahead with its decision. He fell in line totting out some lame excuses.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka has reportedly provoked the ire of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) for keeping jet fuel prices very high and is under pressure to introduce a transparent pricing formula. The CPC, which is under Arjuna’s purview, will do well to mind the IATA’s concerns and adopt remedial measures urgently. The IATA’s complaint serves to prove that the concerns being expressed here about the method used to increase the local fuel prices are justifiable.

The so-called fuel pricing formula is, with apologies to Churchill, a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. It is a closely guarded secret only a select few in the government are privy to. The government does not reveal it lest the people should be able to work out fuel prices themselves and see how they are being fleeced. So much for the concern of the yahapalana leaders, who claim to uphold good governance, for transparency!

The fact that the fuel pricing formula is kept under wraps has lent credence to the claim, being made in some quarters, that a Mafia, capable of undermining even the Executive President, is keeping the petroleum prices high. If the yahapalana leaders think they can usher in good governance without ensuring transparency, then one can bake egg hoppers without eggs.

Arjuna, widely considered a toughie, may have had his own way during his cricketing days and even emerged unscathed from nasty brushes with the likes of Darrel Bruce Hair. But if he ever dares get in his UNP bosses’ hair, politically speaking, he runs the risk of having to nurse many a bruise. But it is only natural that people expect Arjuna, who valiantly took up cudgels for Murali, when the latter faced a no-ball conspiracy, which almost ruined his career, to bat for them.

The Captain Cool may not be able to pit himself against the fuel pricing Mafia, but will he, at least, pluck up the courage to fight for Citizen Perera’s right to know the basis on which he is made to pay more for fuel.


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