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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Local experts appeal to President : Trust us to rebuild

Sunday Observer: 11/12/2005" by Lionel Yodhasinghe

Clear the present administrative red-tape and other hurdles and give us an opportunity to enable us to contribute towards the task of building a new Sri Lanka concept introduced by President Mahinda Rajapakse, local engineers and businessmen say.

An electrical engineer, senior lecturer of the Moratuwa University now serves as a UNIDO Consultant in rural electrification and poverty alleviation in Rwanda and Burundi Dr. Nishantha Nanayakkara who claimed the successful completion of Rs. 100 million worth mini hydro power projects in the country, said many development projects of other kind could be implemented successfully if the local professionals and experts concerned are given partnership.

Dr. Nanayakkara who is also the President of the Grid Connected Small Power Developers Association told the Sunday Observer that local engineers and prospective entrepreneurs would come forward in numbers to contribute their expertise and invest in manyfold projects earmarked in the President's action policy program for rapid development, provided, he takes pragmatic actions to remove the present stumbling blocks in the way of local professionals.

It is a well known fact that since independence, successive rulers from the elite used election pledges to cajole the common man. The man who rode them to the throne was neglected later, while a privileged class of people thronged around the rulers, used political power to plunder the national assets which brought the same rulers with defeats and destruction to the nation.

Although the people knew this cycle of political injustice, there was no opportunity availed for them to react until Mahinda Rajapakse, a true representative of the masses was picked to run the race.

People responded vehemently in the Presidential elections 2005, and taking over the seat of the head of state by a man of their hope has invigorated the nation. As local experts, we believe that a man who is down- to earth as Rajapakse would value the local assets, talents of the locals and use them fully in his development efforts under Mahinda Chintanaya.

We also believe that this is the correct time for us to intervene, putting our skills and talents into use, which is our duty towards a patriotic and national agenda of the President. Therefore, we are ever ready to work hand in hand with the new President to make his development effort victorious.

The task in front of the President is hard. Among them two issues are vital, reviving the country's depreciating economy, and finding a new strategy in achieving lasting peace. As a leader, he would have to take firm decisions and stern action perhaps that would not go well with some parties.

The major ongoing projects in the country funded by the World Bank and the IMF have been given over to foreign contractors, thereby pocketing huge amounts of money as commissions and other perks to a few privileged persons, including politicians and other biased officers in the state sector. This has deprived local entrepreneurs as well as professionals and as a consequence, many local experts who may know the job better, have gone abroad on well-paid jobs.

Exorbitant

Removal of this clique of the corrupted from the political and official grip, and changing the system to give way equally to the local professional is imperative in getting their services for the development.

And this would enable the government to reduce the cost of every project comparatively to exorbitant estimates by foreign companies.

No developing country would achieve its goals without foreign investors, foreign aid and loans. But the government should not allow foreign companies to implement these projects under their sole entrepreneurship. Government should mediate and allow local collaborators to join such project, under a win-win situation, if a nation is to thrive from foreign debts. Other countries such as India were able to gain success using WB and other foreign debts accordingly, he said.

Several examples of great blunders that we made in the past are giving a monopoly to multinationals such as Shell Gas and Prima Flour. It is imperative to regularise the agreement with such world giants and allow other competitors to enter the race. Similarly, luring foreign investors to the country should also be arranged in such a manner as to ensure that the investor brings money to the country.

Investors such as IOC which efficiently offers a small portion of shares at the Colombo Stock Exchange (IPO was oversubscribed more than three times) and without paying any tax, the company took back the total money invested within a short time. This is clear evidence that there are prospective investors in the country who should be given a chance to invest their money efficiently.

Therefore government mediation, collaboration of foreign and local partnership, mixed project management system, using the enterprise skill and money is the most apt method to develop our country.

Half of the country's development could be achieved through small and medium projects which could be implemented with a capital less than Rs. 10 million. Projects of this nature should not require any foreign assistance.

Low interest loans should be provided to investors through government sponsored financial institutions, state banks and so on, he emphasised.

National woe

An energy crisis by 2008 would not be prevented if the country does not take remedial measures without delay. This is another challenge the country faces in its development goals. All facilities should be made available to produce power through low cost means such as mini-hydro and bio gas production.

Renewable energy is an energy economical source of power for a country like ours, and the present thermal power system which costs several times more than the selling price of an electricity unit should be discouraged, he said.

It is evident that individual interests of certain politicians, CEB officials and private businessmen are taking every possible action to stop any remedy to this national woe, because they fear that millions of money pocketed unscrupulously by international thermal power dealers would stop, if the country finds its own source of energy. Commencing of the Norochcholai and Upper Kotmale power projects were still pending as a consequence to such conspiracies.

Today 35 per cent of the population has no access to electricity but such people too pay to provide electricity to the rest of the population because electricity is heavily subsidised.

The CEB loses Rs. 135.5 million a month and CEB takes loans from state and private banks at higher rates to settle these losses.

The banks take this as an excuse to charge the same rates from small entrepreneurs too because of the competition. This situation has stopped the small time enterprising people from thriving themselves and, this has prevented newcomers to small and medium sector businesses and other ventures. Currently, CEB needs another 300MW of low cost power to meet the present demand, and there is a shortage of power generation in this capacity.

This situation will be worsened with the increasing demand of eight per cent annually. Therefore the Government should commence the 300MW renewable power project as proposed in a previous UPFA budget, he said.

He said that the communication sector could be taken as an example of development through state and private sector partnership operation and management. Making a call to any end of the world is that simple today, due to the rapid change and development in the sector. Companies belonging to state and private sector are doing well while offering competitive rates which are reasonable and affordable to any wage earner or the poor man today.


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