Northern plight - Jaffna MP carts in protest
[TamilNet, Wednesday, 06 December 2000, 14:44 GMT]
United National Party MP for Jaffna Mr.A.Maheswaran led a protest Wednesday against the high price of goods in Jaffna and the government embargo on essentials to the Vanni by riding a bullock cart to the Sri Lankan Parliament. Six UNP Parliamentarians, including Dr.Jayalath Jayawardena and Mahinda Samarasekera joined him in the protest. Mr. Maheswaran told TamilNet that he was protesting over the exorbitant rates charged for taking goods to Jaffna by sea, adding that it is very much cheaper to ship things from Pakistan to Sri Lanka than from Colombo to Jaffna.
Mr.Maheswaran said that the government has given the Merchantile Shipping Company, a private firm in which former Presidential advisor Mr.Bradman Weerakoon is a director, the monopoly on the transport of all essentials and other consumer goods to Jaffna. The MP said that this company is charging 10 US dollars per metric ton, which comes to 500 USD per lorry load of goods.
To this is added the Goods and Services Tax (GST) 12.5 percent, the National Security Levy (NSL) of 6.5 percent and defence clearance and documentation costs. The Jaffna consumer has to bear the massive and unreasonable burden of all this, Mr.Maheswaran said.
It costs only 12 USD to ship a metric ton of goods from a port in Pakistan to Colombo the MP pointed out.
"The government is now charging 6000 rupees for a round trip by air to Jaffna. This is unreasonable. There are private operators who can do it for 3000 rupees." "The government is actually fleecing the Jaffna people thus to fill its depleted coffers" Mr.Maheswaran charged.
The MP said he could not see why the government has placed an unofficial ban on taking things such as paracetamol, kerosene and bicycle spare parts to the Vanni.
"The ban is severely affecting the ordinary people and particularly the Vanni farmers who depend on kerosene to pump water to their fields. The price of kerosene is 230 rupees a litre in the Vanni. How can farmers and ordinary people survive under such hardships created by the government's embargo?" "The LTTE surely does not need aspirins, kerosene and bicycles to fight the war?" he asked. (The price of kerosene elsewhere in the island is 17 rupees a litre)
The Sri Lankan government should stop transporting people to Jaffna on the Cargo ship Lanka Muditha and instead resume the service of the passenger vessel "City of Trinco' according to the MP.
He decided to come on a bullock cart to Parliament to draw the attention of the world to the plight of the people in the north Mr.Maheswaran said.
The Jaffna Parliamentarian deplored that the other Tamil MPs did not join his protest.