The deep economic crisis in Sri Lanka, which has entered an acute phase in the first months of this year, has resulted in the eruption of mass, spontaneous protests. The masses cannot take any more. More protests are planned across the country, at which the comrades of the Marxist tendency, Forward, will be distributing leaflets in Sinhalese and Tamil. We publish an English-language statement below, which that leaflet is based upon.
Over the last two years, the absolute majority of Sri Lankan people have suffered enough.
Under the guise of the pandemic, the government allowed the wages of the majority of working people to fall. According to a UNICEF study, in this period the average urban household income fell by 37%, rural household income fell by 30%, and plantation sector household income fell by 23%.
During the pandemic, the government failed to facilitate children continuing their education. Despite the government’s boasts about online education, by January 2020, only 47% of the Sri Lankan population had access to the internet. According to a report by the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka, only 45% of all school children in Sri Lanka can be contacted online. This percentage was only 8% among the students going to small schools with less than 100 students. Accordingly, the government has failed to provide any education to the majority of children for about two years.
During the past two years, the cost of living has skyrocketed. Bus fares have gone up by 35%. Construction costs increased by 30-40%. Price controls on almost all commodities were removed. As a result, traders sell commodities at arbitrary prices. According to the National Consumer Price Index, annual inflation had risen from 3% in January 2021 to 6.2% in September 2021. In the following months, it rose to 8.3% in October 2021, 11.1% in November, 14% in December, and 16.8% in January 2022. This inflation is intolerable for the people.
The organic fertiliser fiasco has dragged farmers into a massive crisis. Gas cylinder explosions have endangered people across the country – especially housewives – as gas company officials changed their gas composition at will. Not a single official responsible for the crime has been brought to justice. Currently, shortages of goods have put the people in great difficulty. People are forced to spend their valuable time in queues for gas, milk powder, kerosene, petrol, diesel, etc.
The government has failed to control the pandemic as well. The number of COVID-19 patients reported on 5 January 2022, was 487. However, in February, more than 1,000 new cases were reported every single day. The number of new cases reported on23 February was 1,252. Although the number of patients is growing day by day, the government is not taking any steps to curb it. Congestion of public transport during peak hours contributes greatly to the spread of the virus. At present, there is no proactive testing taking place unless the patient wants to do it at his or her will. But testing at will also is difficult due to the shortage of antigen kits at hospitals. Even though workplaces do not provide the required facilities to control the pandemic, the close contacts of those infected must still report to work if they have been fully vaccinated.
Despite all this, the fraud, corruption, and wastage of the ruling elites continue at full pace. Even though the government says it has no money to meet the education, health, and transport needs of the people, they spent LKR 3.7 billion (Rs. 360 crores) importing high-end, luxury vehicles for Ministers and MPs. There is an enormous list of corruption and fraud that has taken place in the last two years. The Sathosa Garlic Fraud, the Sugar Tax Fraud, the Antigen Scam, etc. are just a few examples. At a time when the country is in such a crisis, a newspaper in Myanmar reported that Sri Lanka bought rice from Myanmar for $445 per MT, when its real price is between $340-350. According to the Pandora Papers, the husband of Nirupama Rajapaksa, linked to the Rajapaksa family, is said to have amassed a fortune of $160 million as of 2011, which the government maintains dead silent about. Recently, a website reported that the Rajapaksha family had invested over $10,000 million in Uganda. From all of the above, it is clear that – although people have been suffering – the ruling elite and their allies continue to plunder the country’s wealth.
Since 1948, no government in this country has made people suffer as much, nor incurred so much public hatred in such a short period of time. The time has come to overthrow this regime that is having such a disastrous effect on people, that is wasting public money while enriching itself and its allies. But we must take steps to prevent them being replaced by yet another blatant bunch of bourgeois representatives, who may be eying to return to power by deceiving people. It has been proven time and again that the capitalist system is incapable of solving any of the problems that prevail in this country. The bankrupt behaviour of the opposition shows that it too has no plans to save this country from the crisis. To bring another capitalist faction to power would be like falling out of the pan and into the fire.
It is a present necessity for the people to seize power and control. The time has come for the people to take control of their workplaces and regional areas, by building workplace committees and regional committees. The resources of this country can only be effectively utilised to meet the needs of the people when the people start intervening in the administration by building workers’ democracy. Such a regime is what we call a socialist regime. Rallying for such socialist transformation is the necessity placed before all of us.