A great gesture | Sunday Observer

A great gesture

9 January, 2022

In spite of the economic constraints faced as a result of the current Covid pandemic, the Government last Monday unveiled a Rs.229 Billion (USD billion) relief package aimed at alleviating the Cost of Living (CoL) woes of a broad cross section of the public.

Public Servants including teachers, pensioners, Samurdhi recipients, farmers, differently-abled soldiers and several other sections of the society will benefit by this timely gesture.

Better still, no new taxes or levies will be imposed on the public or businesses to collect the funds needed for this massive bonanza.

It is indeed praiseworthy that the Government has been able to offer a bonansa of this nature at this particular time, when the economy at large has taken a battering from Covid-19, with sectors such as tourism and expat remittances contributing only insignificant amounts to the National Exchequer.

Credit should go to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa and the relevant officials for coming up with this idea to offer relief to a besieged public. It will no doubt be appreciated by all the recipients as well as all other right thinking citizens.

With experts predicting that Covid could be among us for at least a couple more years even amidst vaccination, it is better to afford relief in this manner in order to stimulate the economy.

It is easy to think of this as a “relief package” as most news outlets described it, but they failed to notice the various incentives given to several sections for kick-starting certain stagnant economic endeavours. It does offer relief in that sense of the word, but its ramifications are far greater.

For example, the farmers will be given Rs.75 per kilo of paddy, instead of the present Rs.50 per kilo. This in itself is a great encouragement to the farmers.

We also hope that the Government, while permitting the private sector to import chemical fertiliser and other agrochemicals, will forge boldly ahead with its Green Agriculture and organic farming drive.

Farmers who had converted exclusively to organic farming should be rewarded with an even better price for their produce, be it paddy or any other type of crop. A recent report in our sister paper the Daily News that several farming organisations and private entrepreneurs in Anuradhapura has produced organic fertiliser in excess of the demand and were looking at other districts to offload their stocks. The Government should facilitate such endeavours.

In another noteworthy development, the Government also announced an incentive payment for home gardens between 20 perches and one acre. This should have been done some time ago, but as they say, better late than never. One recalls that during the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Government from 1970-77, people grew a host of crops from manioc to vegetables in their home gardens.

If this program continued unabated for say, 20 more years, the country would have been self-sufficient in most types of food. Today, on the other hand, we depend on imports for most, if not all, of our essential foods.

Thus the time has come to begin a home garden drive in earnest, which will no doubt be helped by the newly-announced incentive scheme. There should be a massive media blitz on the virtues of home gardening. The Agrarian Service Centres can provide free seedlings and plants to aspiring home gardeners.

Since home gardening will essentially be organic, it will enable people to have a toxic-free diet while saving the money they would otherwise have spent on purchasing vegetables and so on. It will help to ward off any impending food shortage in the country, which some experts have warned about.

As a further incentive, the Government and the Provincial Councils could launch a competition to reward the best home gardens.

The media should give more publicity to such positive initiatives. It must portray things in a positive light rather than giving negative vibes all the time.

Participating in a panel discussion on a popular private TV channel the other day, a well-known non-political personality blasted the media for showing queues and other negative stories from morning till night. He urged the TV stations to extract positive stories even from such scenarios.

For example, he noted that several young entrepreneurs have come out with safe firewood stoves as a way to beat the gas shortage. Someone doing a small-scale business is behind the firewood bundles that are now available at some supermarkets.

The media must highlight such entrepreneurial spirit among people who have overcome adversity under the present circumstances, he said. This is indeed food for thought for all media that thrive in negative sentiments, driving their viewers, listeners and readers to despair.

The media, and indeed all others, must think of 2022 as a year of rejuvenation after almost two years of stagnation. In this context, it is imperative that everyone who is eligible gets the Covid vaccine booster.

We just cannot afford to have another Covid wave and further lockdowns, which will decimate our economy. If we can avoid that, most other things will fall into place.

Tourism has picked up remarkably well and more than 100,000 Sri Lankans have gone back to their foreign jobs. A full recovery of these two sectors alone will guarantee an income of USD 10 billion per year. Exports too are on the rise.

But what should also be on the rise is positive thinking. We must have a “can-do” attitude to overcome the adverse effects of the pandemic.

What is required is a coming together of all forces, political and social, to extricate the Nation from the present crisis.