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EDITORIAL

Lucky crooks

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Monday 4th September, 2023

Sri Lankans with a predilection for gratuitous violence or wanton brutality no longer have to spend money to watch western gangster movies. Local television news bulletins are full of actual scenes of violence; they are in fact scarier than taut Hollywood thrillers such as Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Sicarios of local gangsters come riding motorcycles, kill their targets with ease and ride away calmly.

Hardly a day passes without such incidents, and underworld characters have amply demonstrated their ability to strike at will, but the government insists that the rule of law has not collapsed! The police are busy doing political work and carrying out operations to keep the unruly anti-government protesters at bay, and perhaps they are too overstretched to concentrate on crime prevention, much less crack down on the underworld.

Criminals, however, are not the only ones who are brazenly flouting the law of the land and getting away. Some members of the business community are also doing likewise, short of shedding blood. They enjoy unbridled freedom to fleece the public and maximise their profits. It is said that ‘in times of war, the law falls silent’, but, in this country, it looks as if the laws were perpetually silent as regards the violation of consumers’ rights.

There have been many complaints of a cooking gas shortage during the past few days although the state-owned Litro Gas insists that it has enough stocks. It is obvious that most of the Litro agents/dealers have stored away gas, expecting a substantial gas price increase. They have done so on numerous occasions in the past with impunity. This unfortunate situation comes about because Litro makes the mistake of announcing gas price revisions days in advance, and whenever it indicates the possibility of a price increase, its agents/dealers promptly hoard LPG, and make a killing.

A couple of months ago, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) blundered by increasing the QR-based fuel quota and making known its intention to reduce fuel prices almost simultaneously. Most filling station owners did not replenish fuel supplies in a bid to minimise losses, and the demand for petrol and diesel went up due to the increase in the fuel ration, causing a petroleum shortage, which lasted for several days.

Motorists waited in long queues, gnashing their teeth and cursing the government. The CPC has since taken action to cancel the licences of the fuel stations that do not maintain sufficient stocks. This is the language that crooked businesses bent on exploiting the public, understand.

Litro is expected to announce a price increase tonight, and from tomorrow LPG will be freely available at revised prices even at the sales points which remain closed, claiming that they have run out of stocks. Consumers have no one to turn to. No wonder the public is so resentful and anarchical forces are gaining traction.

The Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) does precious little to safeguard the interests of consumers. Its raids are few and far between. It has been in a slumber during the past several days while the people were trying to buy cooking gas without success. It is required by the law to take action against businesses that refuse to sell goods in their possession. Why should the public be made to pay through the nose to maintain the institutions which are of little use to them?

Let Litro be urged to refrain from making prior announcements of price revisions, and take action against its unscrupulous agents/dealers who store away gas to maximise profits. In this day and age, technology provides answers to most problems which were considered intractable in the past.

Litro ought to adopt a method similar to the CPC’s QR-based quota system, which helped tackle fuel crisis, to monitor the availability of LPG countrywide, entertain complaints from consumers and take remedial action in case of shortages, etc. The licences of the errant gas agents/dealers must be cancelled forthwith and the CAA made to prosecute them. A government that cannot ensure that they do so is not worth its salt.

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