One day, in 1996, Arjuna Ranatunga brought the country to a standstill. Roads suddenly got deserted and gantry cranes froze in the Colombo Port. Glued to the television, every Sri Lankan gleefully watched the electrifying moments of the Lions massacring the Kangaroos in Lahore with Captain Cool leading the charge from the front. Twenty one years on, Ranatunga has almost brought the country to a standstill again—this time around, in his capacity as the Minister of Petroleum Resources Development. The Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) petrol stocks are fast running out and unless the promised tankers arrive on time, all petrol pumps will run dry come Friday.
Captain Cool opted for a spin attack, as it were, at a press conference on Monday. He handled the media well. After all, ducking bouncers is his métier. He craftily made himself out to be a victim of some sinister forces, both internal and external, so as to win the sympathy of the irate public cursing the government and everyone associated therewith. All what the people got from Ranatunga for being severely inconvenienced owing to the prolonged petrol shortage was a mere apology! There was no assurance that the government will adopt remedial measures to avert similar crises in the future.
Cartoon from Ceylon
The substandard fuel shipment got down by the Indian Oil Company was a huge problem. The CPC and Ranatunga should be commended for rejecting it. But, that was not the real cause of the present petrol shortage, which is due to the government’s failure to maintain adequate fuel stocks. The CPC must plan for contingencies without waiting till its stocks diminish to replenish them. The supplier of the substandard petrol stock was obviously aware of the CPC’s difficulties and sought to cash in on the situation.
Ranatunga has made a damning revelation. Certain politicians and businessmen are pressuring him to allow the rejected fuel shipment, and the ship carrying substandard petrol is still waiting off Trincomalee. Who are those businessmen and politicians, nay racketeers? Ranatunga was one of the knights in shining armour, on a mission to slay the dragon of bribery and corruption before the 2015 regime change. He is duty bound to name names and call for action against them. An attempt to sell substandard fuel which can cause serious damage to millions of vehicles is a serious crime and the racketeers and their agents must be severely dealt with. Will Ranatunga, who talked the talk, as an anti-corruption campaigner, now walk the walk?
The government needs someone to tell it a few home truths and Ranatunga deserves praise for having done that. He must have made his political bosses squirm when he told the media on Monday that the petrol shortage was indicative of the adverse impact of the privatisation of state assets. His conscience is apparently at war with the expediency-driven realpolitik. Privatisation is the be-all and end-all of the economic strategy of the yahapalana government. It was only the other day that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe jokingly said the government was trying its best to hand over the Sooriyawewa cricket stadium as well to someone, but nobody was interested therein. Many a true word is said to be spoken in jest!
Let it be stressed that while taking steps to maintain sufficient stocks of fuel to meet any eventuality, Minister Ranatunga and the CPC must remain vigilant lest the substandard fuel they have rejected should enter the local market through some other channel. Anything is possible in this country, which is a crooks’ paradise. International racketeers know more than one way to shoe a horse. They usually have the last laugh in small countries.