Life in lockdown land

Thursday, 26 March 2020 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • The virus of patronage politics 

Does politics take a break during the COVID-19 pandemic? Apparently not. 

Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutara Districts have been identified as high-risk zones. 

In this dismal instance people want to live by surviving the pandemic. The people must be protected. They must be fed. The appointment of Basil Rajapaksa to head this task force sends a clear, unmistakable, loud signal


The Government has directed wholesale dealers to deliver essential consumer goods to the doorstep of each household until the situation is brought under control. 

Sathosa, Keells, LAUGFS, Arpico, Food City, Araliya, Nipuna and other wholesale dealers will be involved in this operation. Providing these essential consumer goods such as food, medicine, gas and other services will commence from yesterday (25) says a communique issued by Director General of the President’s Media Division. 

To ensure the smooth operation of delivering essential consumer goods to each household, a special task force has been established under the leadership of Basil Rajapaksa. 

I am puzzled. This is the first time that we are told that he is an expert in logistics and supply chain management.

Basil Rajapaksa has built himself a reputation as doer, a proven performer. He is the architect of the ‘Pohottuwa’ juggernaut that delivered a majority of the majority in the last Presidential Elections. 

In the business of elections his admirers don’t hesitate to call him a “magician”. Until the ’70s, even our English newspapers serialised Mandrake the Magician who lived in a high-tech mansion called Xanadu near New York but which he never owned. It was owned by sidekick Lothar. 

I digress. Delivering day-to-day essentials to doorsteps of citizens would be a challenge that calls for great ingenuity of supply chain and logistics experts. We have Sri Lanka’s own Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport which is affiliated to the world body in London. Pandemic or not, the idea and concept is known to the industry. 

Part of progress in e-commerce is that consumers have increasingly turned to door-to-door delivery for their shopping needs. That is how Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Jack Ma of Alibaba made their billions. 

Life in lockdown mode is fun. When you want expert advice you look for it. This business of delivering to the doorstep has been fine-tuned into a science.

It is called last mile delivery. It is the movement of goods from a transportation hub or a warehouse to the final delivery destination which is typically a personal residence. The focus of last mile logistics is to deliver items to the end user as fast as possible and in the best condition and as per the needs and expectations of the end user. 

The haughty Madam Madira Demalasinghe wouldn’t come down from her seaside penthouse. Instead she would instruct the last mile logistics chap to leave the stuff with the security. Down-to-earth Mallika says thank you and another ‘theruwan saranai’.

This operation of logistics leading up to the doorstep requires consistency and engagement. That demands expertise and professional insight gained by years of multi-channel and omni-channel marketing. 

We have a lockdown in order to prevent the spread of the virus which is the one single enemy. When you involve a politician neck deep in politics in the exercise, you reduce an existential threat to all humanity into partisan gimmickry. It is shocking. It is disgusting.

To stop the virus, you need to identify and stop discreet outbreaks. Needless to say the discretion I should say superlative discretion of some infected Sri Lankans returning to the country and silently dissolving themselves made our crisis worse. 

Health officials and others involved must be capable of rapid responses to altering circumstances. This lockdown exercise requires the near total cooperation of the populace and not only the 6.9 million that Basil Rajapaksa has access to. 

The three high security districts also happen to have the highest number of parliamentary slots per district. Now that is not a coincidence. It is a political happenstance. 

For Government measures to work, the Government must earn the trust of all or nearly all citizens. Trust of the people in the ability of the Government to contain the crisis is the one and only key to contain the pandemic. 

India has placed its 1.3 billion in a lockdown. It must tell something to our Government. No one disputes the need to impose restrictions to limit the spread of the virus. Some of these measures cause extreme hardship to some segments of the populace. This is not the time and place to digress on justice and equity. Rich or poor, privileged or ordinary people must voluntarily obey the directives by the State. We must also not hoard food and other necessities. 

If people are convinced or suspect that most others are not going to play by these new restrictive rules, they will not follow them for themselves. 

The problem of collective action is well known to social scientists who have studied the problem. No doubt Basil Rajapaksa has himself studied the problem from the angle of patronage politics. 

In this dismal instance people want to live by surviving the pandemic. The people must be protected. They must be fed. The appointment of Basil Rajapaksa to head this task force sends a clear, unmistakable, loud signal. 

The Government must protect the people from the pandemic. There cannot be a transactional cost to it.