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Lankans migrate, work over time, and eat less to beat inflation

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By SHIHAR ANEEZ

Leaving his family and relatives was the hardest decision for Suren. But he had no other option.He never wanted to go abroad for work. An accountant by profession, Suren even had the opportunity to be promoted for a higher post at the private firm he was working at in Colombo. But he was left with no choice.

“For the last three years, I had hopes that this country would become a better place for us to live peacefully. But it is becoming increasingly hard to live with the status quo,” the 36-year-old father of three from Colombo suburb Dehiwela said in conversation with EconomyNext.

Armed with a local accountancy qualification, Suren managed to find a job in Dubai. He leaves Colombo next week and is now in the process of preparing his family for his physical absence.

“It’s very hard to find an affordable school van service for my two sons. If I live in Sri Lanka, at least 40 percent of my salary will go only to send my boys to school,” he said after dropping his children at one of the main schools in Colombo.

A currency crisis that led to a shortage of essentials,  sovereign debt default, and later into a political crisis has forced Suren to look for better opportunities than his 50,000 rupee (139 dollar) monthly salary.The sharp depreciation of Sri Lanka’s currency alone resulted in his monthly salary eroding from 250 US dollars to its current level. Excess money printing by the central bank to artificially maintain record low interest rates and exchange rates are now taking their toll on Sri Lankans from all walks of life.

Suren will now earn in UAE dirham which has almost doubled against the local rupee in the last seven months.

“I can’t think of a future for my kids because at one point we did not have milk powder for my younger child, wheat flour to make breakfast, cooking gas for our own meals or medicines for my mother. More than anything, costs have gone up like crazy with no additional income,” he said.

Thousands of Sri Lanka’s skilled workers and professionals are facing the same situation as Suren. Most of them plan to leave the country either for a foreign job or to migrate permanently.

Official data showed that over a quarter million people have left the country so far this year, mainly for jobs.

“When you earn in foreign currency, at least you can manage the expenses,” said Suren.

“It is a cushion against the high costs. I hope I can take my family as well in the future to a foreign country. I have lost hope in this country.”

Sri Lanka’s inflation is hovering at a record high of 70 percent. The price of essential goods have more than tripled just in the last eight months, data showed.A person needs at least 500 rupees to have three meals a day with minimum nutrition.

Food inflation is now hovering over 90 percent.The central bank’s tight monetary policy with a record increase of policy rates has yet to curb inflation.Money printing, supply disruptions caused by former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s fertilizer mess up, a crippling dollar shortage, and sharp depreciation of the rupee led to significant price increases and affected supply across the board.

Supermarkets have put up notices warning customers that there could be frequent price hikes and asking them not to argue with staff if the real prices are not the same as those displayed on the shelves.Many Sri Lankans have cut down on food. Some have reduced their meals to two a day while others manage with reduced protein content in their plates. Some others have changed meals to one and consume cheaper foods at main meals.

“My wife and I have stopped eating in the mornings. But we try to give nutritious meals to our kids,” Shantha Silva, a 46-year old father of two, told EconomyNext.

Silva was a threewheeler taxi driver before the economic crisis. But the fuel shortage and expensive petrol have resulted in less demand for hires as more people have shifted to public transport or push bicycles or walking.Now he goes on hires as a part-time driver mainly at night. In morning hours, he works as a security guard at a private office in Wattala, 10km from capital Colombo, while also working in a hotel kitchen when he has some time off.

“It’s a machine life now,” said Silva.

“If you want to survive in Sri Lanka without stealing or smuggling drugs, you have to have multiple jobs or reduce the meals you take.”

Silva’s wife is  a cancer survivor but still needs medicines to keep the 45-year old kindergarden teacher healthy.

Both of their salaries are now adequate to manage only 50 percent of the total needs of their family. Before the crisis, Silva’s family saved at least 10,000 rupees or nearly 10 percent of their monthly compensation.But now Silva, similar to millions of Sri Lankans, is struggling to make ends meet.

“Reducing meals is not an option for children as they might face malnutrition. So I try my best to feed them by working multiple jobs,” he said.



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JVP accuses EC of conspiring to delay LG polls

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By Saman Indrajith

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, MP, has told Parliament that the Election Commission and its Chairman are collaborating with the government to postpone the local government elections.

Participating in the Third Reading stage debate on Budget 2023, on Friday, MP Dissanayake said that as local government bodies should be reconstituted before March 20 2023, the Election Commission had to publish a gazette calling nominations by late December or early January.

“The EC has the authority to do so. It has sought the Attorney General’s opinion on some matters. There is no need at all for it to seek the AG’s advice,” he said.

“This is a conspiracy. The Elections Commission can publish the gazette even tomorrow. It is clear that the Elections Commission is collaborating with the government,” he said.

Dissnayake said that Election Commissioner Nimal Punchihewa’s impartiality was in question. “We know where Punchihewa worked before and at what party office. We know the governments and persons he has worked with closely. He is not an independent person.”

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Diana wants bars open 24/7

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By Saman Indrajith

State Tourism Minister Diana Gamage says liquor outlets should be kept open longer if the country wants to boost tourism.Participating in the Third Reading stage debate on Budget 2023 on Friday, State Minister Gamage said: “We have to keep these places open 24/7. I have spoken about it many times. Liquor is the highest tax earner in the country. In this paradise, we are closing bars after 11pm. Foreigners in hotels can’t get any alcohol if they need, because all the places are closed.

We need to keep this country open 24 hours. Like Singapore and other countries, people must have entertainment.”

“I talk about the night life, and when I talked about that earlier many criticized it and saw it as a big sin. That is ones who are incapable of understanding it,” she said.

“What we call night life is actually a night economy. All the countries in the world have developed because of night economy. These countries get 70 percent of their income from the nigh economy. They only get 30 percent during the day time. We have to develop a night economy in this country. That will earn 70 percent of the income. Only that can develop this country.

“We can do that. And also our museum, that closes at 5 pm. In other countries, museums earn most during night. It must be opened 24/7.  This night economy is essential for a country’s economy. People must have places to spend their money.”

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SJB asks govt. to introduce political reforms fast

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By Saman Indrajith

Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella has asked the government when it will introduce the political reforms demanded by the international community.

Speaking in Parliament on Saturday, Kiriella said that when the Opposition parties met the members of the Colombo-based diplomatic community during the Aragalaya protests, the latter had demanded that Sri Lanka implement political and economic reforms to receive foreign assistance to get out of the prevailing crisis. “That was six months ago. We have been asking the government repeatedly to inform this House whether it has implemented those reforms.

“The riginal plan was to establish an interim government for six months to restore the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. It was stated that an election would be held after six months. Now, what has happened? The politicians who are responsible for the crisis are still in power.

“Foreign Minister Al Sabry met USAID Administrator Samantha Power on Friday. Samantha Power called for the same political and economic reforms again. The international community is asking for the same.”

Leader of the House, Minister Susil Premjayantha said that political reforms were being implemented. “It is as part of the political reforms we are setting up a National Council, Sectoral Oversight Committees and three other committees. Counter terrorism act is in the pipeline. It will be taken up within couple of weeks. We passed several bills with your support. There were nine amendments to be introduced to the criminal law,” he said.

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa: “The bills and amendments that have been passed are not enough as far as the international community and we are concerned. The biggest request is to allow the people of this country for a new mandate. Allow the people to express their will. Give them a chance to establish a new government or to maintain the same government now they have.”

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