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Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan cardinal calls for govt relief as fuel prices surge

Price hike hits the poor already reeling from the pandemic and the fallout from the recent container ship blaze

UCA News reporter, Colombo

UCA News reporter, Colombo

Published: June 17, 2021 07:12 AM GMT

Updated: June 17, 2021 07:59 AM GMT

Sri Lankan cardinal calls for govt relief as fuel prices surge

A fishing boat at Kurikadduwan harbour in the Jaffna region of Sri Lanka. Many people connected to the fishing industry have lost their jobs recently. (Photo: AFP)

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo has urged Sri Lanka's government to provide relief to people hit by rising fuel prices.

The government has increased the price of 95 octane petrol by 23 rupees to 184 rupees (93 US cents) per liter, auto diesel has gone up by 12 rupees, while the price of kerosene has risen by 7 rupees.

The hike in fuel prices is a heavy burden for fishermen, plantation workers, street vendors, private bus owners and low-income families. Due to the increases, the prices of all essential goods have also gone up.

Cardinal Ranjith said thousands of fishing families have been affected by the Covid-19 outbreak, the ecological damage caused by a blazing container ship and rising fuel prices.

"The increase in fuel prices has taken a heavy toll on the lives of many low-income earners. If it is necessary to increase fuel prices, it should not have been done at a time when the people have fallen into such catastrophes. I request the government take necessary steps to protect the families from such price increases," the prelate said in a statement on June 16.

Antony Sebastian from Sea Street in Negombo said fishing families cannot repay bank loans and have even lost their daily meals.

My husband can't go out to sea and I can't work with dry fish, so there is no way to feed the children

"Not only fishermen but also many people connected to the fishing industry have lost their jobs," said the fisherman, who hires a day boat.

"Fishermen across the country have demonstrated against the increase in fuel prices but so far the government has not offered any concessions or price cuts. It is a wrong decision to increase fuel prices in the midst of the pandemic." 

Petroleum Minister Udaya Gammanpila said the government could no longer bear the loss.

"The cabinet’s cost of living subcommittee, after a long discussion, decided to raise fuel prices," he said.

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Mary Ranjani from Negombo said many women work with dry fish and most of them have lost their jobs.

"My husband can't go out to sea and I can't work with dry fish, so there is no way to feed the children," she said.

Cardinal Ranjith said that when fuel prices were increased before, previous governments provided relief to low-income families.

"I urge the government to take steps to provide some relief, especially to the people who use fuel," he said.

Analysts have pointed out that this is a wrong decision by the government and the increase in fuel prices will lead to higher commodity prices.

The country has failed to buy more stocks when crude oil prices are low

Janak Kumarasinghe, economics professor at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, said the increase in fuel prices will have both short-term and long-term impacts on the economy.

"Many countries use various methods to maintain fuel price stability. One method is to buy more fuel in bulk when crude oil prices are low in the world market. The country has failed to buy more stocks when crude oil prices are low," said Kumarasinghe.

The All Ceylon Private Bus Owners' Association said bus fares will be increased by 25 percent after the removal of travel restrictions due to the increase in fuel prices.

The National Christian Council of Sri Lanka (NCCSL) said less advantaged social groups like the urban and rural poor, the agricultural community and the fishing community all face deteriorating livelihoods arising out of the profound failure to manage the health crisis.

"The fishing community received another serious blow due to the incompetence demonstrated in handling the X-press Pearl [container ship] disaster and the ensuing calamitous environmental consequences. We call for a credible and independent inquiry into how such a crisis could have occurred," said the NCCSL.

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