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Running on full in a “Fuel’s Paradise”

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Friday, 10 November 2017 00:10


It would be punny if it weren’t pathetic. I won’t floor the pedal on the issue – even though it is quite a gas. Because by now (even if your tank is still empty – and especially if it is) you must have had it ‘up to here’ with all the witticisms, silliness, and plethora of gifs, gaffes, faux pas, and (last but not least) memes, on the government’s latest fiasco. So you’re probably thinking, let’s not fuel any more idiocy than a single republic can lap up in the space of seven days…

But in the midst of the empty tank syndrome and queuing up mayhem, it is precisely this hilarity that has kept islanders of a certain ilk unhappily afloat in a sea of administrative highjinks. There is a specific density of humour in a high-octane crisis like this. Have can, will queue. And it is not only high-spenders who have shouldered the burden of a stricken economy by sharing a litre of laughs. Those hoi polloi have their own pungent whiff of petroleum that even super-luxury Lexus drivers will appreciate. One that was clearly the winner in a wicked and witty week was this: “Rajaya balaya bedaa-ganna issella, indana-tika bedaa ganna oney…” – Good if Govt. can distribute fuel supplies before it seeks to do the same with power.

Be that as it may, wicked or witty or both, there is an uncomfortable sense that Govt. has lost the plot. Or is hatching one at budget-time. On the one hand, the charitably minded are inclined to agree with the spokespersons who attribute at least the exacerbation of the fuel crisis to sabotage. On the other, the conspiracy theorists see some state-manipulating lapdog minister making a mint out of this and other exigencies. In the middle of the road are those who analyse policy, critique Govt.’s ability to do business or deliver the goods, and blithely tweet ‘policy’ as if it was easier than saying “full tank gahanna” to a flunkey in the finance ministry. 

Some well-intentioned thinkers have already essayed studied analyses of the root causes, symptoms, and proposed solutions to the state of affairs as they persist today. So I’m not going to even try and reinvent that wheel. Sad to say that like some others who put their hope and faith not in horses and chariots but in the present powers that be, I’m also increasingly convinced that it’s best to remain apathetic to and ignorant of good government’s worst intentions. So that the little they do by way of living and letting die will be good or good enough. 

Still there is the cynic and sceptic and enraged promethean in me who can’t let things be as they are. If only so that critical engagement such as ours will light a fire somewhere. Such that in the long run the mediocrity of government bureaucracy will be set ablaze for the public benefit. Someone look for Guy Fawkes, quick! So here goes… TGIF – a little more levity at state and Govt. expense, because they owe us big time.

It’s a conspiracy!

The Govt. has struck back. While accepting responsibility for the shortage, it blames its underlings for the root causes. Administrative blunders, ill-preparedness, even sabotage. Market share for fuel distribution (CPC 85%, LIOC 15%) places the onus on state supply. So any short fall must redound to Govt. policy lacking foresight and/forward-planning, to say nothing of contingency plans in the event of rejection of external suppliers. Let’s simply put it down to the subject minister being not-so-cool and/or lbw to ground realities.

(This is the CHARITABLE view.)

It’s a chaotic state of affairs!

The Govt. has struck a bad balance in business terms. It must further liberalise the petroleum products market, bringing in opportunity for business players while partnering with regulators in safeguarding public interest. Since consumption patterns are known, stocking and distribution must step up to the plate with a better plan.

(This is the CONVENTIONAL view.) 

It’s a charity!

The Govt. has struck gold. It’s budget time. Nothing like making a little hay while the sun shines. And hey, what’s the first thing clean green motorists think of when they’re running on empty? I’ll Leaf that to your imagination. I’ll eat my best summer bonnet if there aren’t interesting concessions for importers of eco-friendly vehicles – or some other scheme to help self-serving, oops people-oriented, parliamentarians make a quick buck, um, serve the masses better. 

(This is the CYNICAL view.) 

So, are you a cynic or a charity case? Take the exam below!


(Sit down. Buckle up. Inch forward. Get out, stand up, shout aloud. Slink back in. Fret and fume. Alternate with bouts of venting at every MP’s mother’s son and sundry policymakers. Join the queue.)


1.In the old days, there were “lies, damned lies, and statistics”. Today, we have “lame excuses, damned lame excuses, and strategic politics” to cover up faux-pas while pounding the pulpit on Transparent Efficient And Strategically Effective (TEASE) government. [Discuss. Comment. (Don’t start any rumours. Come on, don’t be a TEASE, please.)]   

B.Short Answers.

1.‘You can fuel some of the people all the time. And all the people some of the time. But you can’t fuel all the people all the time.’ True? False? Win? 

2.‘The nation-state is tanking.’ This is a. a pun. Or b. boru-shoke. Tanks.

3.‘All this waiting for our ship to come into port has made Sri Lanka an island of naval, er, navel-gazers.’ See if you can stomach this joke. It’s all we can do to keep our heads above sea-level. (To pass, you have to keep it above C-level.) 


1.The biggest mistake that Administration made this week was:

a.To lack policy planning and foresight 

b.To have no back-up or contingency plan

c.To try and make a competitor the villain of the piece

d.To accept responsibility but delegate blame, whatever that means

e.All of the above – and don’t forget being poor communicators to boot


2.If the fuel crisis was handled like this, then what about these:

a.Transitional Justice – remember that…

b.North-East merger as part of devolution 

c.China as the biggest landlord in the South

d.India as the largest stakeholder in the North


3.What’s the best thing that motorists stuck in a fuel queue can do? 

a.Take a cup, can, or other container and leg it. 

b.Take a leak, or get that leg up.

c.Take the piss, or try to get one’s leg over.


4.What does TGIF mean?

a.Thank God It’s Friday

b.Terribly Good Intentions Fail

c.Trust Govt. If-all-else Fails

d.This Govt. Is Foolish/Foolhardy/Futile/Facile (etc)


5.What would you trust this Govt. to do, get done, do it right?

a.Administrative efficiency

b.Bureaucratic reduction

c.Constitutional reform

d.Democratic normalisation

e.Everything under the sun

f.Few things left, really, now that it’s botched up some big ’uns

g.Go on, pull the other one

h.Hay. While. Sun. Shines.


6.Do you tend to compare and contrast THIS Govt. with THAT Govt.?

a.Yes – definitely/naturally/almost all the time

b.No, for sure – there is no comparison, only sharp contrasts 

c.Yes, but even apples and oranges sometimes get compared

d.No, but there is such a thing as taking a contrast far too far


f.Almost all the time…



7.If you think that the state of the nation is parlous at present…

a.You’re absolutely spot on.


c.Could you rethink your analysis in a kindlier light, pls?

d.Do me a favour – join the club.

e.Expectations must be lowered.

f.Feel free to fuel your futile sense of frustration.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks – and congrats. It’s a lot shorter than some folks had to stay in long queues for a cup of cold comfort. By now the fuel crisis might have become yesterday’s news. And we would have all moved on. Being the resilient island race we are. But the darker deeper dimensions of the crippling governmental syndrome persist. Do we continue to like or lump it, and – in the limit – trust Govt. with the bigger picture of running the country? Or do we feel that with so much at stake – sovereignty, territorial integrity under federalism by any other name – it’s likely to be running the country into the ground?

The only consolation is that this lot is (probably) a lot nicer and cleaner and less likely to let lead fly in your face than the last ugly bunch to pull the public’s nose. And that’s cold comfort indeed.  

(A senior journalist, the writer was once the Chief Sub Editor of The Sunday Leader, 1994-8, and is ex-LMD, having been its Editor, 2004-8. He has made a career out of asking questions, and not waiting for answers.)

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