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Friday December 8th, 2023

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis compels Uber, PickMe drivers to cancel credit card hires

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s prevailing crisis situation is prompting drivers of ride-hailing services Uber and PickMe to ask for cash instead of card transfers, as drivers require cash in hand to obtain fuel from the island’s ever growing fuel lines. Charges levied by card processing service providers also mean that drivers end up getting paid less for card transactions.

Many drivers who spoke to EconomyNext said that getting reimbursed for card transfers was often a time consuming process, which was not practical as they would have to pay for fuel more frequently than before due to the shortages.

However, Uber drivers in particular have been resistant to card payments since before the economic crisis.

While credit transactions do not pose a massive obstacle for drivers who provide transport services only as a secondary means of income, it hits daily wage earners hard.

“If I run a whole day and get paid only by card, at the end of the day I go home with nothing to feed my family. I need to have at least some amount of cash on hand to buy a meal to eat,” said Murthi Prasan, who started doing Uber hires around Colombo a few months back.

Sri Lanka’s fuel shortage can be clearly seen by the long lines of vehicles in front of the island’s fuel filling stations, and the boards that hang on fuel pumps saying “No Fuel Available.” Vehicle owners are having to drive out of their way in search for fuel, which is a huge waste of money, time, and also petrol, they say.

While Lanka IOC, a unit of the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), raised prices in line with global market rates, Sri Lanka’s state-run Ceypetco resisted raising prices for a time. Currently, prices are matched at a record 338 rupees a litre for Octane 92 and 289 rupees a litre for auto diesel.

The fuel crisis has also impacted the productivity of the country, as people are unable to find transport to go to work or their place of study.

Dhanushka Sampath, who has been driving for both Uber and PickMe, told EconomyNext that customers who don’t pay by cash are more likely to go without paying.

“We have no way of knowing if the customer has paid or not, because it takes some time for the money to enter our accounts. Sometimes, people will get in saying that they have paid with the card, but they haven’t and we end up taking a huge loss,” he said, though the apps don’t seem to confirm rides for which payment hasn’t gone through.

From the customer’s perspective, almost all the regular riders who spoke to EconomyNext said that they had been asked to pay by cash instead of card.

“It is actually very inconvenient. I rarely ever withdraw money so when they ask for cash, I usually don’t have it to pay, especially with the increased rates nowadays,” says 20-year-old Hansini Seneviratne from Mount Lavinia.

She adds that it is understandable why drivers prefer cash.

Tharindi Gunasekara, who uses PickMe regularly to go to work says, “If I don’t change [the payment method] to cash, they will cancel my trip. Honestly it is very inconvenient, but I stopped using my card because I feel bad about the situation right now. We always pay them extra as well.”

Like many things in Sri Lanka, transport has also become expensive, and more people are using apps like Uber and PickMe as they have lower rates than independent meter taxis. However, this also means that the service providers often work at a loss, or struggle to tide things over, with credit card processing fees, the rising cost of living, and lack of fuel to keep running. (Colombo/May05/2022)

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SLPP enjoying “great demand” from potential presidential candidates: Namal

FILE PHOTO – President Gotabaya Rajapaksa with nephew Namal at the opening of the last part of the Southern Expressway/PMD

ECONOMYNEXT – The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) enjoys “great demand” from potential presidential candidates, and the party will have to take a call on working with incumbent President Ranil Wickremesinghe, MP Namal Rajapaksa said.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday December 07, Rajapaksa claimed several names have come up concerning the SLPP’s candidate at next year’s presidential election.

“There is great demand: entrepreneurs, businessmen, politicians, are all there. There are presidents too, ready to come forward with our party,” he said.

“Out of all these people, we will put forward on behalf of our party the candidate that can take the country forward while stabilising the economy,” he added.

Commenting on continued support for President Wickremesinghe, Rajapaksa said the while SLPP at present works with the former in the present government, the party will have to decide whether that relationship continues going forward.

“The matter of whether we work with the United National Party (UNP) in the future – this is not a politics dependent on individuals; the SLPP is a party. We will talk as a party with other parties, but no discussions will be held centred around individuals,” he said.

Rajapaksa noted that Wickremesinghe was the only member of parliament representing the UNP at the time of his election by parliament following the resignation of his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa .

“If we are to collaborate with the UNP in the future, we’ll have to discuss that. Once the party has decided on that, we can get a start on those discussions. Today, we work with the president in the present government,” he said.

Last month, when asked to comment on President Wickremesinghe’s 2024 budget, MP Rajapkasa sounded rather sceptical of the president’s ambitions for turning the crisis-hit economy around.

“We must study the budget. He had presented a lot of these proposals in last year’s budget too. They don’t seem to have been implemented,” Namal Rajapaksa said, speaking to reporters after the budget presentation Monday November 13 afternoon.

Rajapaksa’s father and leader of the SLPP former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, however, spoke in favour of Wickremesinghe’s budget.


Sri Lanka’s “forward-looking” 2024 budget will instill fiscal discipline: MR

While not without its shortcomings, the older Rajapaksa said, the 2024 budget is a forward-looking one that aims to ensure fiscal discipline and put Sri Lanka on the path to recovery. (Colombo/Dec07/2023)

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Sri Lanka ruling party MP contradicts poll to claim his party is overtaking president’s

ECONOMYNEXT – The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is rising from the ashes albeit at a slower than anticipated pace, while President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) still commands only 1-2 percent of the vote, an SLPP legislator said.

MP S B Dissanayake, who is not a member of the cabinet of ministers headed by President Wickremesinghe, told reporters on Thursday December 07 that support for any major political party of the island nation is on a downward trend while the SLPP alone is gaining ground.

An independent poll by the Institute for Health Policy (IHP) however shows that this is decidedly not the case. Polling data for October showed that the leftist National People’s Power (NPP) had enjoyed support from 40 percent of likely voters, having dipped 2 percent from September, while the main opposition the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) stood at 26 percent, increasing four percent from 22 percent in September. President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP’s support decreased marginally to 11 percent in October from September’s 13 percent. The SLPP also saw a decrease to 5 percent from the previous month’s 8 percent.

“You can’t gamble with elections. The election must be held. We always say electrons must be held. The presidential election must be held next year. There is no alternative,” said Dissanayake.

“Parliamentary elections can be called if needed. But that’s not how it is with the presidential election. Nominations for that will have to be called by September, October next year,” he added.

Asked by a reporter if the SLPP is ready for elections, Dissanayake acknowledged that support for his party had eroded, to nothing.

“We crashed to zero. We were turned to ashes. But we will rise from those ashes. We’re not where we thought we were. The 6.9 million [votes received at the 2019 presidential election] no longer applies. We’re at about half of that. But we’re rising, like this,” he said, gesturing upwards.

“As other major parties go in the opposite direction, we’re rising slowly. But the UNP is not. It’s still on the ground, and still at 1 to 2 percent,” he claimed.

“The SLFP is there too. Those who left us are the same. Even together they cannot form 1 percent. But we’re climbing,” he said. (Colombo/Dec07/2023)

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Sri Lanka president appoints main opposition MP advisor

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe has appointed MP Vadivel Suresh as a Senior Advisor aimed at “fostering the integration of Hill Country Tamils into Sri Lankan society”, the president’s office said.

A statement from the President’s Media Divison (PMD) said Suresh’s “pivotal role will centre around overseeing the comprehensive integration of Hill Country Tamils, particularly focusing on the districts of Badulla, Nuwara Eliya and Rathnapura”.

“The Senior Advisor will play a key role in coordinating various initiatives related to the welfare of Plantation Companies, the promotion of women, safeguarding children, addressing disparities in Tamil schools and upgrading the delivery of health services,” the statement said.

In May this year, Suresh, who represents the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) in parliament and also serves as the general secretary of the Lanka Jathika Estate Workers’ Union, made headlines when he issued an ultimatum to opposition and SJB leader Sajith Premadasa, demanding an apology for a perceived slight on the Indian-origin Tamil community that Suresh represents. He also spoke favourably of President Wickremesinghe, hinting at a possible cross over.

Sri Lanka’s Indian-origin Tamils, most of whom have historically worked in the plantation sector and live in dire conditions on wages widely considered unacceptably low. Speaking at a May Day rally, the Badulla district MP said Premadasa must apologise to the estate Tamils for allegedly snubbing them at an event in Madulsima that he failed to attend.

“I would like to say to our leader, sir, do not take us for granted,” said Suresh.

“If you need us to stay with you, come right now to Madulsima and apologise to my people and then we shall restart our journey. Otherwise I won’t be part of that journey. There will be no Vadivel Suresh. If you don’t apologise to my people, I won’t be with the SJB,” he said.

Making matters worse, the MP also expressed a willingness to join President Wickremesinghe if he was able to raise the daily wage of plantation workers and resolve their grievances. He also said the president has been successful in containing the disruptions caused by the currency crisis.

“On this May Day, we say to both the opposition leader and the president, I and my people would join hands with a leader that worked to increase [estate workers’] wages and give them [access to the Samurdhi welfare scheme] and include them in national policy,” he said. (Colombo/Dec07/2023)

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