Rice Mafia and Citizen Perera

‘Rice’ and fall of politicians

Island Editorial

Ever increasing prices of essential commodities such as rice have dealt a solar plexus punch to Citizen Perera. The SLFP, many years ago, out of sheer desperation to win a general election, declared that it was ready to bring rice for the masses even from the moon—handen haal. Instead, after being ensconced in power, it caused severe economic hardships to the public and got kicked out at the election that followed. Given the exorbitant prices of all varieties of rice at present one may wonder whether the incumbent UNP-SLFP government actually brings rice from the moon. The situation is bound to take a turn for the worse in the coming weeks, we are told.

The prevailing shortage of rice and the attendant high prices have brought Rural Economic Affairs Minister P. Harrison (UNP) and President Maithripala Sirisena’s younger sibling, Dudley, who is one of the oligarchs controlling the rice market, on a collision course. The latter blames the former for having released paddy from the state-owned Paddy Marketing Board (PMB) to middlemen, who are making massive profits at the expense of the consumer.

Dudley’s crocodile tears for hapless consumers remind us of the climax of one of Saki’s short stories, where a werewolf, having won the confidence of villagers, escorts a child from Sunday school and gobbles him up on the way.

Cartoon added from internetImage result for Sri lanka rice cartoons

Dudley, blamed for manipulating the rice market, has adopted the same ruse as a pickpocket who outruns his pursuers, shouting, ‘pickpocket, pickpocket’ so as to mislead people into believing that he is also one of the good guys!

The JVP has sought to gain some political mileage by flaying both the SLFP and the UNP for the soaring rice prices. It should be recalled that the Rathu Sahodarayas themselves inflicted irreparable damage on agricultural infrastructure and thereby dealt a heavy blow to rice growers. On March 16, 2009, this newspaper quoted the then Agriculture and Agrarian Services Minister Maithripala Sirisena as having said that the JVP, which had carried out arson attacks on 247 out of 545 agrarian service centres and destroyed large stocks of paddy together with paddy storage facilities during its reign of terror (1987-89), was campaigning for farmers’ welfare. Minister Sirisena was addressing a public gathering after opening the renovated Gothatuwa Agrarian Service Centre, which had also been destroyed by the JVP two decades back.

The Rice Mafia, consisting of big-time millers including Dudley and his kinsman Siripala Gamlath, who is a UPFA MP, is notorious for making unconscionable profits. Unscrupulous rice mudalalis create shortages and jack up prices with impunity. They remain above the law thanks to their political connections and huge slush funds. They conducted their sordid operations freely under the Rajapaksa government as well. People who could not digest the last government’s patriotism have choked on yahapalanaya.

The Dudley-Harrison rice tussle apparently stems from the on-going SLFP-UNP cold war, which has also made the SLFP-controlled Provincial Councils reject the UNP’s Super Ministry bill lock, stock and barrel.

Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake, delivering the 2017 budget speech with his usual aplomb, declared that the price of a kilo of haalmesso (sprats) would be reduced by a few rupees. Now that the haal (rice) prices have gone through the roof, will he tell the public to eat haal messo if haal is not available?

Rice and Sri Lankan politics are inseparably intertwined as is common knowledge. Governments have fallen over rice prices and shortages. Both the farmer and the consumer are in a paddy at present. For, the rice market is manipulated in such a way that the farmer has to dispose of his paddy for a song to the likes of Dudley, and Citizen Perera has to buy rice at exorbitant prices. Powerful millers connected to the SLFP and the UNP laugh all the way to the bank while people are gnashing their teeth, unable to dull painful pangs of hunger.