AMERICA WORKS FROM IMPROVISED SHEDS: A Lesson on How we have to act fast to win the War on Cost of Living
Posted on October 16th, 2019

By Garvin Karunaratne, Ph.D.

Clearing my RV at Baltimore Docks reminded me of my Marketing Departments days in 1955 when we worked from sheds and temporarily built structures. Today our plan to bring down the Cost of Living needs brand new shops to house the Coop and CWE Outlets.

 I was told that I could clear my RV at the Mid Atlantic Terminal (the Docks) on Broening Highway and when I phoned in I was told that I had to get an Escort to the Docks and the escort was to be met at another office at Broening Highway. When I went to that number by taxi, we found a lone jeep with two cars. There was no building. An officer working in the jeep hailed us and she checked my papers. Finding them in order she said that I had to pay $ 40.00 for the escort and told me to go in one car with the driver as my escort. Other lorries came in and the lady officer in the jeep barked out orders to them. This was Homeland Security at work. Had it been in Sri Lanka today a building would have to be put up for the officers to work. Not so in 1955 when we in the Marketing Department worked out of wooden sheds. Wilfred Saparamadu the Assistant Commissioner at Kandy worked in a wooden shed and so was my office at Ratnapura. The work was all-important; we did not care about the accommodation.

 At the Baltimore Docks, I had to carry my release papers- the Delivery Order from the Customs Authorities to three offices and all three offices were in very old buildings, partly rusted because of the proximity to the sea. The officers sat in old chairs and old desks- just like the old unkempt furniture out of which we officers worked in the Marketing Department. The officers were very careful in checking my papers but what was prominent was that they were not working from offices that were streamlined like the Highways Buildings and the Agricultural Complexes at the various Payas at Battaramulla. There one would find the furniture all imported and even the partitions made of imported chipboard and plasterboard.

 Back in the Marketing Department, our aim was to buy from the producer and most of the purchases were done at the back of our lorry parked in a corner of the Producer’s fairs, where all the officers had to be on their feet for hours on end without a chair to sit on. We had a board displaying our purchasing prices and had to buy everything that was bought by the producers. At times Saranasiri or Clarence Delwala the assistants would hog around junctions where the producers were due to bring their produce. It reminded me of the improvised office of the lady officer working from the jeep.

 In the Marketing Department, the cost of living was kept down by selling to produce cheaply. There were at least fifty retail shops established in small buildings that were rented out which housed an officer and the vegetables, sugar, dhall and other essential items that were needed as essential food items. There were a large number of small vans running around replacing stocks that were sold and the Triploi Market, the hub of the system of which I was in charge was a hive of activity taking in calls every minute and ordering officers to take things to replenish stocks.

 I am not writing about any fantasy. That was the way we worked and worked fast to combat the cost of living.

 What is happening today is that there is no Marketing Department to buy the produce at the Fairs; So the traders in a gang work in collusion to get the producers to sell at cheap rates. The traders keep a hundred percent as their profit- transport the goods to Colombo and sell them at a high price. The tomatoes cannot fetch Rs. 30.00 a pound is retailed at Rs. 80.00 or more in Colombo. The Marketing Department purchased the tomatoes at over Rs. 30.00 giving the producer a fair price and sold to the consumer in Colombo at around Rs 40.00 a pound. We kept around ten to fifteen percent to cover handling and transport costs. Thus, in fact, the Marketing Department reduced the profits that the traders make today. In the process, the producer got a fair price and the consumers too got goods at a cheap price.

The full economics of this system is available in my Paper published in the Lanka Web: The Proven Sri Lankan Solution to the spiraling Cost of Living- the malady of UNP policies.(Monday, March 29th, 2010)

We have to act fast to reduce increases in the cost of living and this need not await the building of offices and sales outlets. Today instead of controlling inflation we are increasing the salaries. That will be a never-ending task. The Marketing Department mechanism has to be established at least as a cooperative enterprise to help both the producer as well as the consumer. Buildings should be improvised and established quickly like in the 1950 days of the Marketing Department or in the manner that Homeland Security works at the Baltimore Docks in the USA today.

 Garvin Karunaratne
Former Government Agent,
First written at  Baltimore, Maryland, USA, 19 th June 2010

Edited today 16/10/2019

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