Samanmalee Gunasinghe, Secretary – Women For Rights
We have to bring to the attention of the rulers of this country the problems faced by women in our country due to the increase in prices of goods. Less than two years after the present government came to power, all promises made during elections, especially to women, have been broken. However, with the Prime Minister role, the presidency, 2/3 supermajority, and the 20th Amendment, more powers were given to the President and many more powers were obtained under the state of emergency. They came to power promising to solve the economic and social problems faced by women. Although they got the votes of the women and the men of this country, in a short time it has been made clear that this group cannot build our country let alone solve the smallest of issues in the village. The President of our country knows the names of rice traders and sugar traders better than the Prime Minister. People are now suffering and unable to cope.
There have been queues for vaccinations recently. Also, there were queues to get relief money like for the Samurdhi. And there were more new queues in every village. It was said that the country was developing at a rocket speed but it was taken back to the era of queues. The women had to wait in queues to buy two kilos of sugar, a packet of milk powder, gas, and rice for cheap prices. But the leaders of our country flew overseas. In the meantime, the majority of the women had to line up. This is the economic prosperity that has been created. The government hid behind gas, rice and sugar moguls. As a result, those companies increased gas prices by 84% for the first time in the history of Sri Lanka. Increasing the price of gas will increase the price from the plain-tea to everything. How much gets charged for transportation, surcharges, etc.? Meanwhile, the increase in gas prices has become an unbearable pressure.
What do they expect for the women to burn for the stove? There are no forests because the country was taken to a concrete age. Our house, on the other hand, is limited to a few perches. There are large crowds of people in flats. Is it possible to make a wood stove in these flats? What do you put in the stove to start a fire? The vistas of prosperity? Or the recently revealed Pandora Papers? How to afford a gas cylinder after the 84% increase in gas prices? There is a new queue of women looking for kerosene stoves. The lowest kerosene stove was at Rs.500. It has been increased to Rs. 950 by the time people went to buy in the evening. What can you do when you ask for a price in the morning and then go out in the evening only to find out that the price has been increased? The kerosene stove which was Rs. 1500 is now Rs. 4500. Ministers and the Prime Minister do not look into this. The prices are increased without restrictions. Although they promised to rebuild the economy at rocket speed, now the kitchen is also affected. What do women do now to cook for their children at least one meal a day?
However, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka has issued a very interesting press release on inflation. “Inflation based on the Colombo Consumer Price Index has come down by 5.7% in September 2021”, the announcement states. Gentlemen who issue these announcements need to go and see whether the prices of goods have decreased or increased, whether the rupee has depreciated or appreciated. Prime Minister and Ministers must go to the shops. Isn’t the dhal that was reduced to 60 rupees by this government now 260? It is clear how inflation has increased when the Rs. 5,000 note is not worth even Rs. 100. Although the officials who issue press releases and the Secretary to the Treasury do not know, the shopkeepers and our mothers are aware of the increase in prices. Therefore, we urge you to stop deceiving people like this now.
Has the huge amount of debt accumulated in our country been used for development? Has It been invested? A large number has been stolen. The crisis has been exacerbated to the point that there is a lack of dollars to buy essential food items. Women need to be aware of this. Women need to think about why they have not been able to build the country even after borrowing trillions. The real problem is that the corrupt leaders who ruled the country have stolen money. They cannot strengthen the economy. Prices of goods cannot be reduced. According to the Pandora Papers, 35 billion rupees has been deposited undisclosed. This is just one thing. People become indebted and poor. Women’s economy has collapsed and there is no way to give milk to a child. But the economy of the country’s leaders is growing. Women need to understand this problem better. About 295,000 migrant workers bring dollars to this country annually. Of these, only 90,000 are skilled workers.
The majority of the remaining 205,000 are women. They are women in the Middle East. They make $ 7 billion a year. This $ 7 billion is the money our women send from abroad cleaning the roads or working as housemaids. There is no way to get the milk powder from the port because the rulers stole this money. There is no way to unload the sugar ship. If this theft is not stopped there is no way to build the country. We want to tell the women that now it is enough appointing leaders who steal from your vote. Be aware of this immediately and let others know. In fact, women should be the first to turn to the path of developing the country. Women in this country need to form a government that can build their families, feed their children and build a better future for their children. These leaders are not trying to take our women towards progress in the 21st century, they are trying to confine women again to the hearthstones. You must stand up against this regime. Only then can this society be changed. We invite you to take a political decision for that.
Now the people have no country to live in and nothing to eat.
Saroja Savithri Paulraj, President – Women For Rights
The most basic wish of women is to eat three meals a day and live happily with their children. They voted to achieve these primary goals. When the Presidential election came and immense fear was created and the slogan ‘We want a country to live in even if there is no food’ was chanted. This government that came to power using these methods are now hurting the people while selling national resources, plunging the country into indebtedness, evading taxes, plundering unlimited wealth. There is no country now and nothing to eat too. At one point the price of rice is stated by a rice mill owner. Another time, gas prices are set by companies. Also, the prices of flour and milk powder are increased by the companies. Sri Lanka has become an economy controlled by company owners and mill owners. There is no need for a government to allow the people to be robbed in this manner. Consumer authority is not needed. We do not need a consumer ministry or a minister. But the ministers tell the people to be prepared to two meals a day if they can’t afford to eat three. Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna and MP Sagara Kariyawasam made this statement.
The rulers of every party that has ruled this country up to now have made deals with company owners and mill owners and pocketed the commissions and dragged the people down from their mat. If the country is facing an economic recession due to a pandemic, the government needs to provide some relief to the people. But what this government is doing is telling the people to be patient in order to fill the profits of the businessmen. Therefore, this is not a people’s government at all. This government is working to make working women return to picking coconut leaves and firewood. During this period we can see a government that is failing to maintain the living standards of the citizens. Urban women are engaged in various extra income activities. But with the increase in gas prices, it all falls apart. In a situation where the income sources of the people have not been boosted, the prices of goods are increasing rapidly. We know that there is a pandemic. But we see that the racketeering businessmen are acting the way they want by having appointed a cabinet that has no general knowledge. Do the people and the families of the President, the Prime Minister and the MPs and ministers think about the country while telling the people to not think about their stomachs? Wasteful spending has not stopped yet. As a country in a difficult situation, we continue to incur unsustainable wasteful spending.
Wages have not increased for the private sector and the public sector. There is no good market for manufacturers’ goods. Meanwhile, Rs. 71,000 million has been allocated for provincial council politicians to spend on future elections under the pretext of development activities. Various types of loans are used to develop infrastructure. This money has been allocated to rob the upcoming election. A government that pursues wasteful measures that are not priorities and that do not benefit the people priority cannot solve the problems of the people. The government that cannot solve the problems of education has the money to rob the vote. Billions will be spent to consolidate their power in the forthcoming elections. This raises the question of whether people are still tolerant. Chemical fertilizers called organic fertilizers are imported. Potassium chloride fertilizer is imported and called organic fertilizer. What are these jokes? When potassium chloride is named as organic fertilizer, the salt we use tomorrow may become organic salt. The government cannot provide the elements needed for cultivation. Because of this, various measures are taken to deceive the people with magic, fraud and deception.
Women make up 52% of Sri Lanka’s population and 58% of the electorate. This government led by Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected by a majority of women. We emphasize that the day is not far away when this government will be ousted by the same women due to dire circumstances it has inflicted on them and the children in the last two years. The increase in the prices of milk powder, gas, rice, flour and sugar is putting immense pressure on the people. People in the plantation areas in particular depend on flour products for at least two meals a day. A loaf of bread costs 65 rupees. The bun is 50 rupees. Plain Tea is 30 rupees. How can people survive? When so much is spent on food, there is no money to spend on children’s education, housing, and other daily necessities. Meanwhile, there is talk of increasing fuel prices. This can put the people in more trouble. Therefore, we ask the government to stop wasteful and unnecessary spending now. Stop using their power and harassing people for maintaining power. We demand that they stop playing with people’s lives. We also invite you to rally to save the lives of our children. We should not suffer like this from the rulers who put us in power. The people can kick them out just as they put them in power. I emphasize that this is the time for women, in particular, to come forward.
Answering questions raised by journalists…
We have fallen into this trap due to the actions of the present government and the previous governments. Once again, these two parties are trying to seize power. The resources of the country are used for that. We tell the people that these two are one. Instead of rulers who make decisions to use power for themselves, a group of people who make decisions on behalf of the people should be brought to power. Also, a country cannot be built by individual heroism. We have to work together to choose the right program. Let’s choose the right course of action. We tell the people that they do not have to suffer for 5 years by giving power back to another exploitative gang.
People wanted ‘a country even if there is no food’. People always voted thinking the previous administration was good. But they were not good either. It is only because of the bad consequences of that regime that such a severe regime was formed. We need to see this whole picture. The previous regime came to power saying they would bring the thievery and the thuggery to justice but failed at that. As such, the frauds, corruption and thefts of this government will not be caught by the next government of the same category. So we say don’t look back. We ask you to make the right decision for the future.