More than 90 % of respondents of a Business Times-Research Consultancy Bureau (BT-RCB) poll this week have disagreed with a government minister’s assertion that Rs 7,500 per month is enough as ‘living expenses’ for a family of three. Some respondents said this calculation is even less than the UN poverty index of the poor being defined as those living below US$1.25 (Rs 150) per day.
The Business Times (BT) and the Colombo-based Research Consultancy Bureau (RCB) have been conducting polls and surveys for a long time to gauge public opinion on a range of national, social and economic issues, without any bias.
The poll is conducted through email and street interviews. These polls give an opportunity to the public to express their views as public expression on national issues is paramount in any society and it is through the media that this is possible.
Some respondents, during the current poll, were critical saying such surveys should not be held while the country is pitted against the international community on human rights issues in Geneva.
As far as the BT is concerned, the cost of living and the Geneva event are two different issues and totally unrelated. How could cost of living and the struggle to make ends meet relate to alleged human rights violations
In fact the BT decided against conducting a poll cum survey on Minister Wimal Weerawansa’s call for a boycott of US goods for the very reason that it was connected to the US olution which many Sri Lankans are strongly not in favour of.
The poll, through email and street interviews, sought public response on comments made by Education Minister Bandula Gunawardene earlier this week that Sri Lankans need to live in an austere manner and that Rs 7,500 per month was sufficient for a family of three.
Asked for their comments, a majority of the respondents ridiculed the Minister’s calculations and assumptions with most saying it was unfortunate that Mr Gunawardene, being an economist, a former tuition teacher and now Education Minister, should make ‘silly’ statements without considering the cost of LPG, firewood, electricity, water and transportation, among other costs. “What about tuition fees, a culture that he began in the late 1970s?” one respondent asked.
The Minister’s comments, in response to growing discontent over rising cost of living, were made at a public meeting where he took as an example the life of students in hostels. He said each student pays Rs 2,500 per month for three meals and two cups of tea, and using the same yardstick, this was sufficient for a family of three.
The poll drew one of the largest responses received in recent times in BT-RCB polls on issues of national importance. There was a lot of ‘name-calling’ of the Minister for his statement some of which the Business Times is not publishing because they are inappropriate and of an insulting nature.
Such was the overwhelmingly criticism of the Minister’s view of a household budget that one respondent simply quoted famed writer Mark Twain as saying, “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”
Comments were received from a cross section of society and quite a few from middle-income, government workers.
Here is a selection of the comments:
This amount (Rs 7,500) contains only the food and lodging in a hostel for only three members of a large number of boarders, where economies of scale are possible. The Minister has forgotten other bills like tuition fees, extra feeding of younger children, medicine and medical services, transport costs, etc.
Recently it was stated that the Dept. of Census and Statistics had calculated the cost for a market basket of goods and services required for a family of four at Rs 39,721.62 cents. With the latest price hikes, this figure is now not enough.
The media should ask Parliament to cut his allowances and ask him to live on his basic salary (not Rs 7500) and travel by bus.
This calculation is like comparing apples to apples. You cannot apply research for a family based on students living in a school hostel. What about school fees, travelling costs, medical expenses (government may give consultations free but a lot of the time medicine has to be purchased), water, electricity, gas, rent, housing loans, etc.
He has forgotten the economics he taught as a tuition master
He has forgotten the difference between wholesale and retail.
The latest government data shows movement of people from rural to urban which means improvement in peoples’ quality of life and therefore exposed to the conveniences on offer. That’s why there is a growth in TVs, telephones, refrigerators, mobile phones, other electrical appliances, etc. The monthly rental of these alone without food will cost over Rs 7,500.
Rs 7,500 per month would mean Rs. 250 per day for three individuals and Rs. 83(US$ 0.69) per day per person. This is well below the UN poverty standards of US $1.25 per day classified as poor in the global context.
If Rs 7,500 is sufficient, the government can then easily reduce the salaries of parliamentarians by 10-fold.
If he can survive on that same sum for a month…then this is a valid statement
This is an insult to all the citizens of this country trying to survive with dignity, bringing up families and eking out a living on wages that are not a ‘living wage’. He is clearly living in a time warp, in fairyland. This kind of comment demonstrates how completely out of touch our politicians are with the people’s day—to-day realities
The Minister should set an example and forgo his allowance which would help the government save a lot of money and pass that benefit to the people.
When it comes to students, the rent alone for room/rooms in any of the main towns would cost much more.
He must live the talk.
The ‘meal’ he is talking of in students hostels must be based on Pol sambol, Parippu and bread with two plain teas.
Perhaps he meant they (family of three) can live on a tree, not “three can live”.
His statement borders on the ludicrous.
He is absolutely right. The newspapers have made a slight mistake I think he meant US$7500 dollars and not Rs. 7,500!
It’s more than enough. You can save as well
I wonder whether the Minister who is a pragmatic person has been misquoted. He was Deputy Minister of Finance in 2002 and 2003 and should be aware of the UN poverty line index figure.
This amount is acceptable only if a family is self-sufficient with food such as vegetable, coconuts, fruits and water, etc from their own home garden. And only if there is no transport cost, tuition fees, no meat and only fish from the lake, no functions to attend and not buying clothes, or using slippers instead of shoes.
The President should advise Ministers not make nonsensical statements.
Hostels can provide food for the price mentioned because it is overloaded with the wrong kind of food that are low in nutrients and high in carbohydrates. Next, they can pool the cost of producing the food because they cook for many, which is not the case for individual families. Based on average prices published on the web by state authorities, and assuming you consume a balanced diet including a decent intake of protein each day, I would put this figure at a minimum of Rs 17,000 for food alone. Add more for gas and utilities for cooking and the number is closer to Rs 25,000. Few people pay attention to the long term impact on their health by eating cheap food in Sri Lanka. It may be cheaper now, but the cost in non-communicable diseases like Type 2 diabetes will destroy their lives later on.
A foolish statement made with no concern for today’s cost of living in the country.
And we though he was an economic pundit
This could happen once the ‘Api Wawamu Rata Nagamu’ programme becomes a success.
There were a few comments (from the street poll) that were critical of such a survey being conducted.
Don’t be a traitor to the country highlighting the minister’s stupidity, specially at a time when outsiders (issues in Geneva) are giving Sri Lanka many problems.
We must learn to tolerate such statements even if they are untrue. Do not damage the patriotic mindset.
At a time like this when patriotism is very high, do not resort to such surveys which can aggravate the situation.
It is not nice to display our internal problems at this time and hurt the government