Catch the Strike Leader and ensure Political Health

Drastic action called for

Daily News Editorial

  • The Government must not reduce Rs 25,000/- fine for traffic crimes.  Actually speaking it must be set at Rs 50,000/- or even more
  • SLTB must be cautiously  strengthened without making it a “dumping ground” for politicians’ pets. 
  • With sober trade unions and in general the Government must consider signing a No-strike pact with the unions as in the Scandinavian Countries and put a stop to this anti-social behaviour once and for all.  -ThinkWoth

The authorities should come down hard against those responsible for last Friday’s mayhem where the private bus operators, three-wheel drivers and others virtually crippled the country’s public transport sector causing severe hardship to the travelling public. As much as 128 SLTB buses, among the 6,000 plus deployed, to fill in the void, albeit inadequate, came under goon attacks in Colombo and the provinces, injuring 28 bus crew and eight passengers, including an Army Corporal, who is still lying in the ICU in a critical condition (will the JO take note?). Over 20 arrests have already been made while a hunt is on for more perpetrators, it is being reported.

That the SLTB increased its profit share, almost two fold, is small consolation, given the overall damage. The government should immediately carry out an investigation to ascertain who was behind the private bus strike. Because, it is obvious that unlike other strikes we have seen in the past, this one was well organised and executed to a well set plan, with a view to causing extreme embarrassment to the government. That a lot of money had been pumped into the project was obvious, given the extensive poster campaign that was witnessed, with almost all private buses in the country and three wheelers pasted with posters announcing dire consequences to the government if it went ahead with the Rs. 25,000 fine.

Cartoon added by TW from Ceylon Today

The language used by certain leaders of the private bus trade unions and the militancy displayed, also showed that what was being planned was more than just a public transport strike, but a much bigger campaign to bring the government to its knees. It is inexplicable why the private bus trade unions were adamant that their strike went ahead, when the Rs. 25,000 fine, which was at issue, was announced only tentatively and no finality reached.

It is pertinent that the Jathika Hela Urumaya, which, although a partner of the government, has not been hesitant to be critical of some of its actions, has this time around urged the government to rein in the private bus mafia. Addressing a media briefing on Sunday, Jathika Hela Urumaya National Organiser Nishantha Warnasinghe alleged that certain defeated Joint Opposition politicians were behind the private bus strike. Not stopping at that, he went onto call for the arrest of the leaders of all private bus associations, who participated in the strike, and cancel their route permits.

While the government will, certainly, not at this stage go that far in taking such a drastic step, it nevertheless should wake up to the machinations of saboteurs, in the garb of trade union leaders, who are doing the bidding of bankrupt politicians, bent on stirring the pot, hoping for a return to power. The extensive poster campaign that was witnessed is a sure sign that the ill gotten wealth of politicians are being used to place the government in difficulty. The government is not without the means to identify who was behind last Friday’s disruptive campaign. The sooner the identity of the backers of those who crippled the country’s transport service is made known to the public, the better it will be for the political health of the Yahapalanaya government.

It (government), should not for a moment underestimate the capabilities of these sinister forces who are well heeled to organise any campaign to put the government on the back foot. It should be prepared for all eventualities. Now that the private bus operators have had their way it won’t be long before another crippling strike is organsied on the same lines as that witnessed on Friday, the President’s assurances to the union leaders notwithstanding.

Already there are murmurings of a hike in world fuel prices. The private bus operators are bound to seize on this, if and when, the price hike materialises and apply pressure on the government for an increase in fares. It is in this light that the decision announced by SLTB Chairman Ramal Siriwardena to import 250 small buses and another 1,000 two door buses, by next year, for the SLTB, should be viewed positively. Apart from de-fanging the political teeth of the private bus mafia, the only other way it can be effectively countered is by augmenting the SLTB fleet, to match the numerical strength of the private buses. In this way, the government will not only have leverage at bargaining but also be able to call the shots on many matters, including fare hikes.

True, the roads will be clogged with more vehicles and there will also be a spike in the fuel bill. But desperate situations call for desperate measures. The government can ill afford frequent paralysis of the country’s public transport sector. No one has still quantified the economic cost to the country as a result of last Friday’s private bus strike. Maximum damage to the economy is another motive of those behind the bus strikes. The country witnessed the enormous loss to the economy brought about by the JVP’s crippling of the transport and other services during its second uprising in the late 80s. The government should not allow for a similar catastrophe to visit the country again. Drastic action should be taken where it is demanded.

Cartoon from Daily FT