Cost Of Living

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No doubt many Sri Lankans will want to know what Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will have to say about the rising cost of living when he makes a special statement in Parliament on this subject today. Among them will be members of the low income group as well as the ever-shrinking Middle Class which is dependent on fixed incomes or dividends from their savings.This is because essential items are getting dearer by the day. Officially inflation, which measures the price changes of essential goods and services, accelerated to 7.6 per cent year on year last month compared to a nominal four per cent rise in the same period last year and a 4.4 per cent increase two years ago.

That is a whopping hike and with the holidays and a new school year coming up will hurt many readers of this paper.
A reason for why we are paying more for the same items is the enhancement of the value added tax (VAT) from 11 per cent to 15 per cent last November (2016). These charges are applicable to sales in large retail chains such as supermarkets, patronized by the rich and the poor, alike.The Government has netted in an additional Rs 100 billion with this tax hike in the first eight months of the year but at what cost to the ordinary citizen of this country? The prices of essential food items such as a kilo of rice having has gone up by Rs 20, coconuts by nearly Rs 50 a nut and potatoes by almost Rs 20 a kg, to name a few.This is probably the reason for the Government to temporarily lift the ban on the import of coconuts and the importation of rice through State institutions.The reason for the rise in such food prices is not only due to the VAT hike, but also the recent drought, which destroyed two successive Yala harvests, coupled with the failure of the Maha.

Governments are elected to power to give a better life to its people. That includes upholding democratic principles, giving opportunities for people's advancement and looking after the poor and the vulnerable.In the case of 'upholding democratic principles,' the present Government scores full marks, when considering what the masses had to live with during the previous Mahinda Rajapaksa regime.

In respect of 'creating opportunities', this Government once more scores, reflected by the labour force participation rate increasing by nearly one per cent points to 53.9 per cent since its election.This figure means 'more and more' of the masses of 'working age' are clamouring for jobs, rather than languishing at home, having given up hope of finding one.Since the advent of the present regime and up to the end of the 1H of the year, those entering the labour market have increased by 470,438.Of this number, the Government has been able to create an environment where 438,239 have got jobs, while those who have not number 32,199. This number is also included in the total number of unemployed, a figure of 380,594, up by 32,199 from a figure of 348,395 registered at the tail end of the Rajapaksa regime. During the first 2½ years since this Government was elected to power on 8 January, 2015, those outside the labour force, i.e. those who are eligible to work but who have not bothered to find employment, have increased by 208,868. Anyone, 15 years and above is considered employable, officially.Though the country has thrown up an employment number of 8,138,728, there is a question mark as to how many of those are gainfully employed?

The welfare of those who are not gainfully employed; the unemployed and those who are out of work due to sickness or injury and their dependents are those who need to be protected from the rising cost of living.

A country is finally judged by how well it cares for its most vulnerable. Right now there are many of us struggling to make ends meet and that is a sad fact.Prime Minister Wickremesinghe should present a clear and focused plan to ease the burdens on the common people as swiftly as possible.If not all the democratic reforms will mean nothing to a voter with an empty stomach.



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