It is with kindness and compassion that I wish to tell the people that without gratitude there will be no progress. We need to learn that and practise it. Those who have heartfelt concern for our country need to cultivate this virtue. Today due to the lack of the spirit of gratitude, parents have lost their children and children their parents. To stress the virtue of gratitude and the commitment to duty, the Lord Buddha preached the Sigalowada sutra. As this is not often followed, there is sorrow and suffering. For instance, there are many who are involved in supplying a packet of lunch or dinner to the poor. But how many of them have real compassion for the poor? Many sellers have little or no concern for producers or consumers. I saw this through the example of a packet of rice. If this is so, what can we say about other things?
No one can clap with one hand. But I would like to give some advice to those who are trying to do so. Ranil Wickremesinghe formed a UNP government when Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was the President. At the time, the prices had risen sky high. On a Poson Poya day along with more than hundred Buddhist monks, we met Pettah traders and made a plea on behalf of the poor. We succeeded in getting prices reduced by upto Rs. 25.
The price reductions were given by not so much Sinhala Buddhist traders but by Tamil traders. There is a great secret about this. During the J.R. Jayewardene government there was an ethnic conflict. Many Tamil traders suffered and were given shelter at Mahanama College. Charitha Ratwatte gave me details of how much these people were suffering and asked for some help. The Army prevented me from entering the Mahanama camp. But we broke the barrier, entered the camp and did our duty by these suffering people. At the request of a Tamil gentleman, I went to Pettah and brought dry rations from his boutique. For this I had to give a statement to the Police. These displaced Tamil people remembered me and in gratitude helped me on that Poson Poya. In a crisis we cannot think of racial differences but go beyond it and help each other.
During the Dudley Senanayake Government, Trade Minister M.V.P. Peiris resigned because since he could not maintain affordable prices. Later the then Finance Minister M.D.H. Jayawardane resigned because he did not want to burden the people. That was the spirit of UNP ministers then. They had principles and were respected. Then and now, the producer and the trader gave solid support to the UNP. But in those days, the trader had concern for the consumers, but we seldom see it now.
If this continues, the consumers might rise against the traders.
Today, most producers have gone away from the UNP. Many traders are known to be opportunists and we do not know on whose side they are. Consumers by their nature have been against the party in power. The government needs to take measures to change that attitude. The present government instead of finding a solution for this seems to be going on a different route. It should talk about the past. More than talk, it needs to take lessons from the past and understand the present situation clearly. Government leaders need to go to rural areas, unannounced and unobserved if possible, and see what is happening.
How can those who govern talk about development when good habits are not cultivated? If we do not act in unity and work with dedication, there will be more sorrow than happiness and contentment.
Recently we got a donation of an old vehicle for our Katharagama Rest. Though it was not used for long, since the tyres were not suitable for long trips we decided to replace the four tyres and called for quotation from a company known to us. This was on November 23. We got a quotation for Rs. 41,818 with VAT for one tyre. The following day, we got another quotation from another supplier. It was Rs. 37,495. This way, one trader was trying to make a profit of more than 37,292 for four tyres. This is just one instance where huge profits are made by traders. If such is the case, then who is looking after the consumer? Are the traders not aware that they make a living because of the consumer?
We also have a problem relating to dated cheques. This is like the problem over illicit drugs. There is no punishment for giving bouncing cheques.
Some time ago, we heard that fuel dealers were defrauding motorists and we suggested that fuel and kerosene be measured with a litre bottle. When this news appeared many outlets changed their electronic meters! Many have forgotten this incident now. Again the meters have been changed and the shed owners are paying more than Rs. 50,000 to people to do this.
These days weddings and the funeral have become expensive events. Sometimes the costs runs into several lakhs and sometime millions are spent for weddings. How can we talk of simple living as proclaimed in the Dhamma.
A day’s wage of a farm labourer is Rs. 2,000. There is hardly any work done by him. In the earlier days, the farmer got help from neighbours. He paid them by way of food. Today the helper in the field gets Rs. 2,000. Work starts at 8 am. Meals in the morning and lunch with tea in between. He is out of the field by 3 pm. Production expenditure is going up because of this. The consequences affect all of us. If this is the plight of the consumer, even the deity Sakra may not be able to correct the situation.
Some ways the Central Bank could earn money
If the country is to be developed and the economy improved the government must take people into its confidence. These days, private banks and state banks collect deposits from the public by offering gifts and other benefits. The Central Bank had a big problem by going into some bond issues. I would like to suggest some steps to rectify this. Recently India demonetized the Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000 notes. During the time of Finance Dr. N M Perera, a similar demonetization took place in Sri Lanka. Even in our country when extra money is required the Central Bank could obtain it from people or from outside, and help the country to develop.
Rs. 2000 or Rs. 5000 notes or any other denomination could be used to obtain Drafts from the Bank. That way they can get the unused currency to the Bank. The Bank could give a suitable interest for such deposits and may be the certificate issued could be numbered and suitable prizes be distributed like in a lottery. Income Tax should not be levied from such deposits and provision should be made to allow such people to import vehicles or any other items required. Bond issues such as this could be issued for Foreign Exchange and the rate of interest should be more attractive than what is given by foreign banks. Foreigners should be encouraged to bring in money and a suitable interest paid. If this is done we can attract foreign exchange that is not declared up to now. Sri Lanka was once famous for the trade in silver and gold. We have lost the income as well as our reputation in this field. If the tax could be withdrawn from this trade we could develop the economy and get the hidden silver and gold into the open.
Such steps should be carefully studied by the Central Bank. The valuables and cash that belong to the people should be protected from being robbed, and everyone should be able to invest without unwanted problems. The Central Bank should be able to help people and develop the country without merely being a collector.