The recent strike by the employees of the lanka electricity company is going to have far reaching consequences for the Sri lankan economy and there by the people as a whole. In the aftermath of such a critical blow to the Country, it is only natural that the people ask the question - who was responsible for bringing about such a catasrophy upon the country.
I have no hesitation in pointing the finger at the Kumaranatunga administration, as the main party to be blamed. But having said that, i must emphasize that this is in no way an attempt to justify the actions of the trade unions. I agree fully with the government when it says that " a few thousand people can't be allowed to hold the whole country to ransom". But the government can't wash it hands off this issue with such a simple answere.
It will be very clear to anyone who reads the election manifesto of the peoples alliance, that one of the main issues the PA campaigned on was the issue of privatization. In no uncertain terms it states that the privatization process carried out by the previous government, will not be continued .During the election campaign, speaker after speaker of the the PA, including the president promised to, to put an end to the privatization process and to chase away all the foreign masters, who were said to be exploiting the poor Srilankan workers. The workers of the free trades zones and othere institutions were promised thumping salary increases. The crowds that attended the PA meetings and herd these slogans, cheered loudly. The trade unions along with the independant press worked very hard for the PA. And on election day the workers, who sincerely believed Mrs Kumaranatunga and the others, did not think twice about, voting for the PA.
It is now becoming obvious that all those workers who trusted the politicians have been taken for yet another ride and this time it is a real big one. After assuming power Mrs kumaranatunga did not loose any time in appointing a body to manage the privatization process of the the government- something which she had promised millions, she would never do, just months ago.
Coming on to, how the government approached the whole issue of privatising Lanka electricity Co. it is clear that there are a lot of ignorant and stupid people at the top.
For over three months now, there has been a severe power crisis in srilanka, which has resulted in daily power cuts that range from a a few hors day to almost 10 hours a day. There was talk of a total blackout if there were no rains in the catchment ares within two weeks. While all these problems were coming up, the government started talking about privatizing the electricity distribution system of the country. It is common knowledge to anyone that no matter what country you are in, the employees of government institutions will oppose any moves to privatize their organization. so the government should have expected all this. But what's amazing is the fact that, when the country was going through a severe power crisis and knowing full well at the same time there might be problems with thetrade unions, the government decided to go ahead with its privatisation plans. This is nothing but pure stupidity on the part of government. What the government should have done was to first, increase the power generation capacity of the country and some how come out of the power crisis and then go for the privatization. Although there would have been opposition from the trade unions, the impact of the whole strike would have been much less. As the effect of the strike started reaching unbearable propotions Mr Arsirwanathan , the chairman of governemnts' privatisation commission claimed that the government had suspended the privatisation plans because they had not received high enough bids for lanka electricity co. Obviously, because which investor in his correct mind would want to come and put his money it a organization that was going through a major crisis?
But the most outrageous incident of the whole affaire was the way in which the president stopped her own labour minister from bringing about an early end to the power crisis. Instead of trying bring an end to the strike as early as possible she decided to play power politics with her own ministers, because of her jelousy that if Mr Mahinda Rajapakshas solution was accepted then he would get all the credit form it. This is outrageous.
While the president was playing power politics, the country was loosing billions. But the real damage this strike has done to the country be seen in the coming days. Srilankas image as an excellent investment destination has been shattered. It will take years to rebuild the investor confidance. The net result of the arrogance and stupidity of the president and the irresponsibility of the trade unions will be the sharp rise in the level of unemployment and there by more economic and social problems for the country.
In this context it would be wise that somebody tells the trade unions to be more responsible and the president to grow up. If not srilanka will be heading for a disaster that will be much more greater than the distruction the LTTE has created during the past 13 years.
26 June 1996
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