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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. 

Saturday, July 23, 2005

The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

The Nation Lookout The Rise of Disaster Capitalism Naomi Klein: posted April 14, 2005 (May 2, 2005 issue)

Last summer, in the lull of the August media doze, the Bush Administration's doctrine of preventive war took a major leap forward. On August 5, 2004, the White House created the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, headed by former US Ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual. Its mandate is to draw up elaborate "post-conflict" plans for up to twenty-five countries that are not, as of yet, in conflict. According to Pascual, it will also be able to coordinate three full-scale reconstruction operations in different countries "at the same time," each lasting "five to seven years."
Fittingly, a government devoted to perpetual pre-emptive deconstruction now has a standing office of perpetual pre-emptive reconstruction.
Gone are the days of waiting for wars to break out and then drawing up ad hoc plans to pick up the pieces. In close cooperation with the National Intelligence Council, Pascual's office keeps "high risk" countries on a "watch list" and assembles rapid-response teams ready to engage in prewar planning and to "mobilize and deploy quickly" after a conflict has gone down. The teams are made up of private companies, nongovernmental organizations and members of think tanks--some, Pascual told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in October, will have "pre-completed" contracts to rebuild countries that are not yet broken. Doing this paperwork in advance could "cut off three to six months in your response time."
The plans Pascual's teams have been drawing up in his little-known office in the State Department are about changing "the very social fabric of a nation," he told CSIS. The office's mandate is not to rebuild any old states, you see, but to create "democratic and market-oriented" ones. So, for instance (and he was just pulling this example out of his hat, no doubt), his fast-acting reconstructors might help sell off "state-owned enterprises that created a nonviable economy." Sometimes rebuilding, he explained, means "tearing apart the old."
Few ideologues can resist the allure of a blank slate--that was colonialism's seductive promise: "discovering" wide-open new lands where utopia seemed possible. But colonialism is dead, or so we are told; there are no new places to discover, no terra nullius (there never was), no more blank pages on which, as Mao once said, "the newest and most beautiful words can be written." There is, however, plenty of destruction--countries smashed to rubble, whether by so-called Acts of God or by Acts of Bush (on orders from God). And where there is destruction there is reconstruction, a chance to grab hold of "the terrible barrenness," as a UN official recently described the devastation in Aceh, and fill it with the most perfect, beautiful plans.
"We used to have vulgar colonialism," says Shalmali Guttal, a Bangalore-based researcher with Focus on the Global South. "Now we have sophisticated colonialism, and they call it 'reconstruction.'"
It certainly seems that ever-larger portions of the globe are under active reconstruction: being rebuilt by a parallel government made up of a familiar cast of for-profit consulting firms, engineering companies, mega-NGOs, government and UN aid agencies and international financial institutions. And from the people living in these reconstruction sites--Iraq to Aceh, Afghanistan to Haiti--a similar chorus of complaints can be heard. The work is far too slow, if it is happening at all. Foreign consultants live high on cost-plus expense accounts and thousand- dollar-a-day salaries, while locals are shut out of much-needed jobs, training and decision-making. Expert "democracy builders" lecture governments on the importance of transparency and "good governance," yet most contractors and NGOs refuse to open their books to those same governments, let alone give them control over how their aid money is spent.
Three months after the tsunami hit Aceh, the New York Times ran a distressing story reporting that "almost nothing seems to have been done to begin repairs and rebuilding." The dispatch could easily have come from Iraq, where, as the Los Angeles Times just reported, all of Bechtel's allegedly rebuilt water plants have started to break down, one more in an endless litany of reconstruction screw-ups. It could also have come from Afghanistan, where President Hamid Karzai recently blasted "corrupt, wasteful and unaccountable" foreign contractors for "squandering the precious resources that Afghanistan received in aid." Or from Sri Lanka, where 600,000 people who lost their homes in the tsunami are still languishing in temporary camps. One hundred days after the giant waves hit, Herman Kumara, head of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement in Negombo, Sri Lanka, sent out a desperate e-mail to colleagues around the world. "The funds received for the benefit of the victims are directed to the benefit of the privileged few, not to the real victims," he wrote. "Our voices are not heard and not allowed to be voiced."
But if the reconstruction industry is stunningly inept at rebuilding, that may be because rebuilding is not its primary purpose. According to Guttal, "It's not reconstruction at all--it's about reshaping everything." If anything, the stories of corruption and incompetence serve to mask this deeper scandal: the rise of a predatory form of disaster capitalism that uses the desperation and fear created by catastrophe to engage in radical social and economic engineering. And on this front, the reconstruction industry works so quickly and efficiently that the privatizations and land grabs are usually locked in before the local population knows what hit them. Kumara, in another e-mail, warns that Sri Lanka is now facing "a second tsunami of corporate globalization and militarization," potentially even more devastating than the first. "We see this as a plan of action amidst the tsunami crisis to hand over the sea and the coast to foreign corporations and tourism, with military assistance from the US Marines."
As Deputy Defense Secretary, Paul Wolfowitz designed and oversaw a strikingly similar project in Iraq: The fires were still burning in Baghdad when US occupation officials rewrote the investment laws and announced that the country's state-owned companies would be privatized. Some have pointed to this track record to argue that Wolfowitz is unfit to lead the World Bank; in fact, nothing could have prepared him better for his new job. In Iraq, Wolfowitz was just doing what the World Bank is already doing in virtually every war-torn and disaster-struck country in the world--albeit with fewer bureaucratic niceties and more ideological bravado.
"Post-conflict" countries now receive 20-25 percent of the World Bank's total lending, up from 16 percent in 1998--itself an 800 percent increase since 1980, according to a Congressional Research Service study. Rapid response to wars and natural disasters has traditionally been the domain of United Nations agencies, which worked with NGOs to provide emergency aid, build temporary housing and the like. But now reconstruction work has been revealed as a tremendously lucrative industry, too important to be left to the do-gooders at the UN. So today it is the World Bank, already devoted to the principle of poverty-alleviation through profit-making, that leads the charge.
And there is no doubt that there are profits to be made in the reconstruction business. There are massive engineering and supplies contracts ($10 billion to Halliburton in Iraq and Afghanistan alone); "democracy building" has exploded into a $2 billion industry; and times have never been better for public-sector consultants--the private firms that advise governments on selling off their assets, often running government services themselves as subcontractors. (Bearing Point, the favored of these firms in the United States, reported that the revenues for its "public services" division "had quadrupled in just five years," and the profits are huge: $342 million in 2002--a profit margin of 35 percent.)
But shattered countries are attractive to the World Bank for another reason: They take orders well. After a cataclysmic event, governments will usually do whatever it takes to get aid dollars--even if it means racking up huge debts and agreeing to sweeping policy reforms. And with the local population struggling to find shelter and food, political organizing against privatization can seem like an unimaginable luxury.
Even better from the bank's perspective, many war-ravaged countries are in states of "limited sovereignty": They are considered too unstable and unskilled to manage the aid money pouring in, so it is often put in a trust fund managed by the World Bank. This is the case in East Timor, where the bank doles out money to the government as long as it shows it is spending responsibly. Apparently, this means slashing public-sector jobs (Timor's government is half the size it was under Indonesian occupation) but lavishing aid money on foreign consultants the bank insists the government hire (researcher Ben Moxham writes, "In one government department, a single international consultant earns in one month the same as his twenty Timorese colleagues earn together in an entire year").
In Afghanistan, where the World Bank also administers the country's aid through a trust fund, it has already managed to privatize healthcare by refusing to give funds to the Ministry of Health to build hospitals. Instead it funnels money directly to NGOs, which are running their own private health clinics on three-year contracts. It has also mandated "an increased role for the private sector" in the water system, telecommunications, oil, gas and mining and directed the government to "withdraw" from the electricity sector and leave it to "foreign private investors." These profound transformations of Afghan society were never debated or reported on, because few outside the bank know they took place: The changes were buried deep in a "technical annex" attached to a grant providing "emergency" aid to Afghanistan's war-torn infrastructure--two years before the country had an elected government.
It has been much the same story in Haiti, following the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. In exchange for a $61 million loan, the bank is requiring "public-private partnership and governance in the education and health sectors," according to bank documents--i.e., private companies running schools and hospitals. Roger Noriega, US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, has made it clear that the Bush Administration shares these goals. "We will also encourage the government of Haiti to move forward, at the appropriate time, with restructuring and privatization of some public sector enterprises," he told the American Enterprise Institute on April 14, 2004.
These are extraordinarily controversial plans in a country with a powerful socialist base, and the bank admits that this is precisely why it is pushing them now, with Haiti under what approaches military rule. "The Transitional Government provide[s] a window of opportunity for implementing economic governance reforms...that may be hard for a future government to undo," the bank notes in its Economic Governance Reform Operation Project agreement. For Haitians, this is a particularly bitter irony: Many blame multilateral institutions, including the World Bank, for deepening the political crisis that led to Aristide's ouster by withholding hundreds of millions in promised loans. At the time, the Inter-American Development Bank, under pressure from the State Department, claimed Haiti was insufficiently democratic to receive the money, pointing to minor irregularities in a legislative election. But now that Aristide is out, the World Bank is openly celebrating the perks of operating in a democracy-free zone.
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have been imposing shock therapy on countries in various states of shock for at least three decades, most notably after Latin America's military coups and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yet many observers say that today's disaster capitalism really hit its stride with Hurricane Mitch. For a week in October 1998, Mitch parked itself over Central America, swallowing villages whole and killing more than 9,000. Already impoverished countries were desperate for reconstruction aid--and it came, but with strings attached. In the two months after Mitch struck, with the country still knee-deep in rubble, corpses and mud, the Honduran congress initiated what the Financial Times called "speed sell-offs after the storm." It passed laws allowing the privatization of airports, seaports and highways and fast-tracked plans to privatize the state telephone company, the national electric company and parts of the water sector. It overturned land-reform laws and made it easier for foreigners to buy and sell property. It was much the same in neighboring countries: In the same two months, Guatemala announced plans to sell off its phone system, and Nicaragua did likewise, along with its electric company and its petroleum sector.
All of the privatization plans were pushed aggressively by the usual suspects. According to the Wall Street Journal, "the World Bank and International Monetary Fund had thrown their weight behind the [telecom] sale, making it a condition for release of roughly $47 million in aid annually over three years and linking it to about $4.4 billion in foreign-debt relief for Nicaragua."
Now the bank is using the December 26 tsunami to push through its cookie-cutter policies. The most devastated countries have seen almost no debt relief, and most of the World Bank's emergency aid has come in the form of loans, not grants. Rather than emphasizing the need to help the small fishing communities--more than 80 percent of the wave's victims--the bank is pushing for expansion of the tourism sector and industrial fish farms. As for the damaged public infrastructure, like roads and schools, bank documents recognize that rebuilding them "may strain public finances" and suggest that governments consider privatization (yes, they have only one idea). "For certain investments," notes the bank's tsunami-response plan, "it may be appropriate to utilize private financing."

As in other reconstruction sites, from Haiti to Iraq, tsunami relief has little to do with recovering what was lost. Although hotels and industry have already started reconstructing on the coast, in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia and India, governments have passed laws preventing families from rebuilding their oceanfront homes. Hundreds of thousands of people are being forcibly relocated inland, to military style barracks in Aceh and prefab concrete boxes in Thailand. The coast is not being rebuilt as it was--dotted with fishing villages and beaches strewn with handmade nets. Instead, governments, corporations and foreign donors are teaming up to rebuild it as they would like it to be: the beaches as playgrounds for tourists, the oceans as watery mines for corporate fishing fleets, both serviced by privatized airports and highways built on borrowed money.
In January Condoleezza Rice sparked a small controversy by describing the tsunami as "a wonderful opportunity" that "has paid great dividends for us." Many were horrified at the idea of treating a massive human tragedy as a chance to seek advantage. But, if anything, Rice was understating the case. A group calling itself Thailand Tsunami Survivors and Supporters says that for "businessmen-politicians, the tsunami was the answer to their prayers, since it literally wiped these coastal areas clean of the communities which had previously stood in the way of their plans for resorts, hotels, casinos and shrimp farms. To them, all these coastal areas are now open land!"

Disaster, it seems, is the new terra nullius.
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“Aid Promoting Big Business”

Global Policy Forum: 15/07/2005" By Stefania Bianchi

Post-tsunami aid destined for Indonesia and Sri Lanka is not reaching those most in need but is promoting ”big business” in the region instead, social and agricultural groups from the region are warning. Representatives from farming, fishing and anti-corruption groups from the countries hit by the December 2004 disaster say post-tsunami rehabilitation efforts have been marred by ”inequity, top-down policies and a lack of coordination, financial and policy transparency, and community participation” and are urging the European Union (EU), as the largest donor to their countries, to take responsibility for efficient delivery of aid.

Delegates from Sri Lanka and Indonesia visiting Brussels this week warn that more than seven months after the tsunami disaster, which killed at least 200,000 people in 13 countries, hundreds of thousands of affected people are still living in ”desperate” circumstances amidst ”complete uncertainty” about their future. The delegates say aid has still not reached certain ”invisible” sections of affected populations, particularly those not seen to have been directly affected by the tsunami.

”In many cases they have been reduced to the state of passive, subservient receivers, as immediate relief is dumped hurriedly without consideration of their needs and desires or of the problems of poverty and in some cases conflict in which they were living even before the disaster,” Sarath Fernando, secretary general of Sri Lanka's Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform, a small-scale farmers organisation, told IPS.

Fernando says the reconstruction of his country is being used to implement government plans which have been drawn up ”without consultation with civil society” and which ”do not target the most affected communities” such as people working in the fisheries sector. One of Fernando's biggest concerns is that Sri Lanka's so-called Task Force to Rebuild the Nation (TAFREN) set up shortly after the tsunami is dominated by a group of elite business leaders. ”There are no representatives of the affected people or of any organisations operating in the affected areas, and no academics or scientists or any professionals with experience of rebuilding after disasters,” he said.

Fernando insists that tsunami rehabilitation is now being used to promote ”big business” and tourism in the country, disregarding the needs of those hit by the disaster. Fernando adds that poor communities are being pushed away from Sri Lanka's coastlines to make way for large hotel complexes. Shortly after the tsunami the Sri Lankan government announced that people should not rebuild their houses on the coast, but Fernando says the measures are not aimed at protecting the fishing communities.

”The government is not trying to protect fisher people, but is forcing us to make way for tourism. Promoting high-end tourism seems to be one of the driving forces of the TAFREN plan. This modern society includes high-end tourism, export agriculture and manufacturing and large-scale fisheries. It clearly does not include small-scale fishing, subsistence farming or community-based tourism,” he said.

Joined by Herman Kumara, secretary general of the World Forum of Fisher People in Sri Lanka, Luky Djani, vice coordinator of Indonesia Corruption Watch, Adli Abdullah, secretary general of Panglima Laot (a fishery community organisation in Indonesia) and Arjun Karki, coordinator of the South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication, Fernando appealed Thursday to the European Parliament's development committee to ensure that aid reaches those most in need and that civil society groups and representatives of the most affected communities are involved in the tsunami rehabilitation.

People from across the world responded to the Dec. 26 tsunami disaster with tremendous generosity. Approximately 10.7 billion euros (13 billion dollars) was pledged in aid from around the world to rebuild the lives and livelihoods of the survivors. However, the pace of rebuilding has been slow and thousands of people remain homeless. The United Nations says reconstruction work across the whole affected region could take up to five years, and may cost 7.4 billion euros (9 billion dollars).

The civil society groups from Sri Lanka and Indonesia also warn that much of the money that is being used for the rehabilitation process will not solve long-term problems in their countries. In a statement released to coincide with their visit to Brussels the delegates say that although they appreciate the ”sense of urgency” among all people who donated to relief and reconstruction efforts, the ”compulsion to disburse such funds within short-term time targets has lead to the undermining of local structures and organisations.”

The group says serious problems remain in their countries that can only be addressed through a ”people's process that recognises that all resources pledged in the name of affected people genuinely belong to them.” ”This can be achieved by setting up reserve funds, to be managed and administered with representation from affected populations. These funds must be available for long-term use and should be transparent and accountable to local people's organisations,” they said.

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Sri Lanka fishermen protest over Sethusamudram

Colombo Page : Tuesday, July 19, 2005, 13:07 GMT, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.
July 19, Colombo: Fishermen in Mannar district have staged a protest against the Sethusamudram project launched by the Indian government, saying that it is detrimental to their trade and livelihood.

The protesting fishermen asked Sri Lankan Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Minister Milroy Fernando to request the Indian government to stop the project.

Minister Fernando, who assumed duties as the new Minister of Fisheries yesterday, said he would speak with the Foreign Minister and try to do his best to resolve the issue.

Due to the protest launched this morning in Mannar, all fisheries activities came to a standstill.

Mannar police said the fishermen’s protest was held from the early morning hours. They demanded that construction work on the Sethusamudram project stop temporarily, police said.

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Friday, July 22, 2005

Role of universities

Daily News: 18/07/2005" by Calestous Juma

Leaders of the industrialised world, who met at the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland last week, have agreed to help develop professional skills through networks between higher education institutions and centres of excellence in science and technology. This is a big shift in aid policy from the current focus on primary education.

But funding for such activities will have little impact unless African countries reform their universities and research institutions to focus on solving local problems. Many African universities were created to train civil servants, but times have changed. Today, Africa needs to stimulate economic growth so it can work its way out of poverty. Universities must contribute to this task.

The good news is that Africa can learn from successful efforts to bring technical knowledge to development. In 1948, Costa Rica abolished the army and used part of the saved revenue for higher education. This helped the country prosper and become an economic force in Central America. Costa Rica's Earth University pioneered a new teaching model that focusses on training young people to create enterprises. A large part of the reconstruction of Rwanda after the genocide was done through the Kigali Institute of Science, Technology and Management. The institute is at the forefront of providing alternative energy sources such as biogas. Its students have built footbridges.

Universities can also play a role as social entrepreneurs. Students at Ghana's University of Education, Winneba, tune into Radio Windy Bay to listen to lectures. The university could use radio and other tools such as podcasting to extend its mission to the wider community.

African countries will need to take steps to benefit from a new focus on support for higher education. They must align their policies and government structures with the need to put science and technology at the centre of development. This will involve the appointment of science and innovation advisers to help leaders focus on the role of innovation in development.

Governments will need to rehabilitate university infrastructure, especially their communications and information facilities, to become part of the global knowledge community. Such links will also help them to tap into their experts in diasporas. Outmoded curricula that focus on training students to become paper shufflers and pen pushers must be replaced by new approaches that encourage creativity, enquiry and entrepreneurship. It is also crucial that emphasis is placed on bringing research, teaching and community outreach together.

Medical schools should be more directly integrated into hospitals, just as agricultural research stations should have a strong teaching role. Finally, universities should enjoy greater autonomy from state control so that they can adapt in a timely manner to a changing world.

If African universities do not make these changes, they will become increasingly marginal and their status will decline. Governments will do no better if they fail to make knowledge the driving force for improvement. These reforms need to be made even if financial aid is not available because the times have changed. As philosopher Eric Fromm once observed, in times of change only learners inherit the earth.

(Calestous Juma is professor of the practice of international development at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.)

(Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004)

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Eighty percent of donor pledges already committed - Tittawella

Major post-tsunami infrastructure projects to commence in January:

Daily News: 20/07/2005" BY CHANNA Kasturisinghe

ABOUT 80 percent of total donor pledges for post-tsunami reconstruction has been converted to commitments already enabling the major infrastructure projects to start construction on the ground from January, the Chairman of the Task Force for Rebuilding, Mano Tittawella said.

He said the Government has signed commitments with the donors funding the road projects covering the entire tsunami affected area of the country which is expected to cost about US$ 350 to 375 million.

"The donors have signed the commitments and now their teams are on the ground actually working out the detailed feasibility to estimate the actual cost of these projects.

In some cases that stage is already completed and we have gone to the procurement stage following the signing of which the funds will be disbursed enabling constructions to start." Tittawella said.

He said that construction stage of some projects might take time till next March due to delays in the procurement process.

According to the assessments done by the donors and the Government the total cost of post-tsunami reconstruction is USD 2.3 billion dollars. However, the donor pledges have exceeded that amount and therefore there will be no shortfall of the funding for the reconstruction process," Tittawella said.

He made these comments addressing a meeting organised by the American Chamber of Commerce in Colombo yesterday.

Tittawella also said that implementation of the Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure (P-TOMS) is not essential for re-construction activities to take place in the Eastern coastal belt.

"However, it will allow the two parties to engage in this activity with co-operation which will be more beneficial," he said.

He said scarcity of building materials and human resources were among the challenges in building houses for the tsunami affected which is an immediate need.

Housing projects for the tsunami affected areas have already started and about 3000 houses have already been built and the construction of about 17,000 houses is underway, according to TAFREN sources.

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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Export proceeds: Facts on leakage/mismanagement

Daily News: 18/07/2005" by Nihal Sri Ameresekere, F.C.A., F.C.M.A.

Central Bank reaction to COPE report

The Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) in its recent Report to Parliament has, inter-alia, reported as follows:

"The Committee was seriously concerned over the activities of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) and wishes to report to the Parliament on matters that need immediate attention of the house"

"The Auditor General and the Department of Public Enterprises have highlighted the following in their reports....."

* "Decline in the remittances of export earnings to the country as the Bank did not monitor the remittances of such export proceeds to the country and the foreign exchange loss to the country."

"Your Committee in conclusion recommends the following:"

* Carry out investigations on the non-repatriation of export proceeds to Sri Lanka and take corrective action appropriately to avoid drain of foreign resources."

The Statement published in the 'Financial Times' section of the 'Sunday Times' of July 10, 2005 attributed to the Central Bank does not curiously disclose the name/s of the Official/s, who has/have taken the responsibility for the issuance of such a Statement. Given the contents of the Statement, it has to be presumed that the hierarchy of the Central Bank, the Governor and the Deputy Governors and the Members of the Monetary Board take full responsibility therefor.

Given the above findings and recommendations made by COPE in its Report to Parliament, specifically recommending the carrying out of investigations and to take corrective action to avoid the drain of foreign resources, the cogent question arises, as to whether this Statement issued and caused to be published by the Central Bank, tantamounts to the contempt of COPE and Parliament? If so, ought not those who are responsible, be answerable?

It is patently clear, that the Statement of the Central Bank had endeavoured to cloud and camouflage casting a 'smoke screen', with deliberate intent to pre-empt the very investigations recommended by COPE to Parliament being carried out. Ought this be the attitude of a responsible Central Bank on such a matter of national economic and public importance?

In fact, the above findings on the decline in the remittances of export earnings to the country and the consequent foreign exchange loss to the country due to the non-monitoring of remittances of export proceeds by the Central Bank, had been reported by COPE, as a matter that had been highlighted, by none other, than the Auditor General of the country, and the Department of Public Enterprises, which gives credence to such findings.

Revelations by survey suppressed?

The multi-billion dollar question is, as to why the Central Bank in its Statement has knowingly and deliberately suppressed the findings of its own survey of remittances of export proceeds received by December 31, 2004 of the exports made during the quarter ended September 30, 2004, which had revealed that only 81.07% of the export proceeds had been repatriated to the country by that date. The balance 18.93% reportedly had been accounted as shown below:

US$ %

Repatriated to Sri Lanka 958,640,082 81.07

Used Abroad for Foreign Expenditure 121,111,158 10.24

Used Abroad for Foreign Loan Repayments 4,302,571 0.36

Retained in Commercial Banks Abroad 878,392 0.07

Value of Short Shipments 8,620,554 0.73

Defaults by Foreign Buyers 1,439,411 0.12

Export Proceeds due from Foreign Buyers 87,531,779 7.40

Total 1,182,523,947 100.00

In view of the value volume of exports, one must not be misled into complacency by mere percentages, in that, it is admitted that US$ 121.1 mn. has been used abroad for unauthorised expenditure from the exports of one quarter i.e. 3 months. Similarly, foreign loan repayments during the quarter and monies retained in Commercial Banks abroad had admittedly amounted to US $ 5.2 mn. The export proceeds reported yet to be received had been US $ 87.5 mn. All these are in respect of exports during just one quarter i.e. 3 months. Can a general average over 10% be conceded as permissible for traditional exports such as bulk tea which is a cognisable component of the total exports?

Ought not one compare the foregoing quantums of foreign exchange so utilised during a mere quarter, i.e. three months, with the foreign exchange borrowings with documentation signing by the Secretary to the Treasury photographically depicted in the media ranging in the region of US $ 3 mn. to 50 mn? Comparatively, the CEB re-structuring is to borrow US $ 60 mn.! The sale of 100 Petrol Filling Stations to IOC was to raise US $ 75 mn.! It is beyond comprehension, as to why one cannot simply understand the significant comparison? How could one endeavour to cast a 'smoke screen' to cover up and camouflage the foregoing?

The above data reported by the Controller of Exchange had been in terms of responses received to a Questionnaire laboriously circularised to 3,054 reported exporters, disclosed as per data of the Customs Department. Only 1,554 exporters i.e. 51% had responded, whilst in respect of 194 exporters i.e. 6% the Questionnaire had been returned undelivered, and a further 136 exporters i.e. 4% has stated they had not exported, which is a total of 330 exporters i.e. 10.1%. Since the exporters data had been extracted from the Customs Department data of exports effected during the quarter to September 30, 2004, then are these 330 exporters 'ghost' exporters? Would this alone not warrant investigation? Surely, one cannot believe that there was 10% error made by the Controller of Exchange!

Furthermore, the Questionnaire circularised by the Controller of Exchange merely required the exporters to report information, without any proof or bank certification, whatsoever, to confirm the repatriation of export proceeds. In such circumstances, the exporters were at liberty to have indicated whatever data. Indeed is this not an incredible manner of verifying the extent of export proceeds leakage?

Leakage 19% to 20%?

The Controller of Exchange H. A. G. Hettiarachchi had reported on May 5, 2005 the data of the survey to the Governor Sunil Mendis, Deputy Governor, Dr. Ranee Jayamaha, Asst. to the Governor, R. Jayatissa and Director Economic Research, Dr. H. N. Thenuwara, giving the data separately for BOI and non-BOI companies. Not only had the disclosures made by this report, knowingly and deliberately been suppressed, but also the very leakage of such report disclosing such factual findings had been inquired into and the officers berated. The legitimacy of 'squealing' in the public interest is recognised both in the developed and developing world. The disclosure of the famous mega corporate failures, with startling fraud and corruption were as a result of 'squealing'! Such suppressed report had been made available to none other than a Member of Parliament, who is elected to uphold and protect public interest.

Prior to carrying out the above survey, the Governor of Central Bank by his Letter dated October 20, 2004 had admitted thus:

"The Central Bank has also done a special study on the receipt of export proceeds by matching Customs data with export proceeds of banks. This study has revealed that over 80 per cent of export proceeds have been brought into the country. In the case of garment exports where inputs (fabric and other accessories) are provided by the buyer, it is only the value addition that is derived at this end. Once the Customs export data is adjusted for this impact, it is estimated that 88 per cent of export proceeds are brought into the country. The balance could be due to holding of export proceeds abroad to cover up exporters' foreign currency expenditure; identification and categorisation problems; and payment defaults by importers etc. These indicate that there is no large-scale retention of export proceeds abroad."

Quite significantly, the 20 per cent leakage admitted by the Governor, as per a study carried out at that time, is further confirmed by the above unauthenticated survey carried out of the exports during the quarter ended September 30, 2004, where export proceeds remittances had reportedly been only 81 per cent and the balance 19 per cent specifically accounted by the exporters as reported above. In such circumstances, how could one honestly ever state that the leakage is only 1 per cent?

There is no disclosure by such survey that 8 per cent of the 20 per cent leakage has been in respect of garment exports, where fabric and other accessories are provided by the buyers. Surely, are not such garment exports invoiced for the value addition of cutting, making and trimming? If the total value of the made garments is invoiced for, then would not there be the need to pay for the import of fabric and other accessories? The percentage of non-repatriation of export proceeds reckoned is a mere average, where one exporter would have repatriated 100 per cent, whilst another exporter would have not repatriated at all, thereby having in effect, exported his 'Capital' in the form of goods, in violation of the Exchange Control Act.

One cannot cover-up with a 'smoke screen' the reality on ground, that several export industry companies had continuously exported with bank borrowings, and the owners thereafter having decamped, without the exports proceeds having been repatriated to the country, leaving the workers in the lurch, with statutory, bank and other liabilities! The gravity of this matter had even warranted the appointment of a Cabinet sub-committee to deal with the same. Had there been the enforcement of stringent requirements for the repatriation of export proceeds, then would not this flight of capital, with other social consequences, have been prevented?

Mandating repatriation requirements

There is no argument, whatsoever, for not mandating the export proceeds repatriation requirements, particularly when exporters had been given import duty concessions, even before the commencement of exports, and several other tax and other concessions, foregoing public revenue. This would be the Government's investment to achieve exports, not mere reported figures, but the actual realisation of the export proceeds to boost the much needed foreign exchange requirements of the country. Would not there be a contractual obligation that would come into force, when an exporter obtains such concessions at the cost of public revenue, promising and/or holding out to effect exports to bring in valuable foreign exchange, for which purpose alone, the Government invests such monies forgoing public revenues? One simply cannot understand, what is so sensitive for mandating export proceeds repatriation requirements and enforcing the same, when there is a contractual legal obligations to do so?

IMF Article VIII status is essentially, vis-a-vis, the liberalisation of imports and exports, that too, subject to, quotas, restrictions and sanctions, and does not prevent countries from monitoring and enforcing the correct repatriation of export proceeds. Exports must necessarily result in proceeds being repatriated back to the country, within a stipulated period of time, and exports ought not be permitted to be effected, without the export documentations being channelled through the banking system. To avoid doing so, on the pretext that bank charges are prohibitive would be nonsensical, given the overall impact on the national economy. Where any exceptions are warranted due to emergencies and/or bank holidays, separate procedures and guidelines ought be adopted as in other countries. The banking system is not costly as baselessly made out!

As per the IMF Report 2004 on Exchange Arrangements and Exchange Restrictions, it is disclosed that 98 countries enforce exports proceeds repatriation requirements, whilst 75 countries further enforce export proceeds surrender requirements, where export proceeds are compelled to be converted into the currency of that particular country. Countries that had done away with export proceeds repatriation and surrender requirements are those developed countries with considerable foreign exchange reserves and attracting the inflow of foreign capital.

Among the countries in the region that enforce both export proceeds repatriation requirements and export proceeds surrender requirements are India, Pakistan, China, Malaysia, Thailand and South Africa. All these countries, like Sri Lanka, are Article VIII status countries. Hence the question arises, as to how and why Sri Lanka had not and does not enforce export proceeds repatriation and surrender requirements from 1993, or in the least enforce exports proceeds repatriation requirements? Even the Republic of Korea enforces exports proceeds repatriation requirements. Are not the economies of these countries very much larger and stronger, than that of Sri Lanka?

Ironically, Sri Lanka, on the other hand, in fact borrows in foreign exchange from some of the above countries; and whilst these countries have procedures to enforce export proceeds repatriation requirements and exports proceeds surrender requirements. Sri Lanka on the other hand since 1993, does not enforce such requirements, not even exports proceeds repatriation requirements.

To compare Sri Lanka, with practices in developed countries, who enjoy substantial foreign exchange reserves and attract capital is puerile and misleading. On the other hand, to compare with those practices in countries such as Indonesia and Philippines is far worse! To adduce that at contemporary times in 2004, several countries are moving away from export proceeds repatriations and surrender requirements, is no justification to cover-up what had happened in Sri Lanka since 1993! The cogent question is, what were the procedures and practices in those very countries, during the years 1993 to 2003?

Warrants investigation and action

This whole episode warrants investigation to ascertain the extent and volume of foreign exchange leakage over these several years. On the contrary, it would be pertinent to postulate, as to what the prevalent foreign exchange rates, level of foreign exchange reserves and level of foreign borrowing would have been, had foreign export proceeds repatriation and surrender requirements been continuously enforced since 1993. To begin with ought not the top 100 exporters be investigated to examine the malignant malady and 'ghost' exporters investigated promptly?

The Central bank recently permitted indirect exporters to maintain foreign currency accounts, strictly for the purpose of utilising such foreign exchange for the purpose of importing input requirements of the indirect exporters, and the Central bank stipulating that no cash or travellers cheques should be issued from such foreign currency accounts, and further stipulating that nay excess at the end of each month over US $ 5,000 should be surrendered and converted into Sri Lanka Rupees at the end of each month.

Does it therefore not stand to logical reason, that the direct exporters also necessarily must be subjected to the same restrictions and enforcement procedures, without any discrimination and unequal treatment before the law? What is the reason not to have done so, and not to do so? Why such discrimination of the small indirect exporter entrepreneurs?

Recently, the Central Bank carried out a 'hue and cry', with much publicity and full page advertisements and educational programs on alleged 'pyramid' scams, enacting special legal provisions therefore; and also, vis-a-vis, the abuse of Credit Cards to remit over US $ 3,000; even involving Her Excellency the President to issue a public statement!

The Central Bank's estimation of the loss of foreign exchange reported in the media was in the region of US $ 30 Mn. Ought not this be compared with the extent of leakage of export proceeds disclosed above? In this context, one simply cannot comprehend the duplicity, and the evasive and lukewarm reaction, and the endeavour to cast a 'smoke screen' to cover-up the foreign exchange leakage of far greater proportion!

There is existing legal provisions in the Exchange Control Act for the Controller of Exchange to enforce the requirement for the repatriation of export proceeds. The Exchange Controller had been precluded from exercising his power to enforce such legal provisions of the Exchange Control Act by Gazette Notifications Nos. 759/15 and 813/14 published by then Minister of Finance, Hon. D.B. Wijetunga dated 25.3.1993, when R. Paskaralingam was the Secretary, Ministry of Finance, and 29.3.1994, when R.V.K.K. Weragoda was Secretary, Ministry of Finance, respectively. The Gazetted orders read as follows:

Order dated 25.3.1993

"Exemptions hereby granted from the provisions of Section 22(4) of the Exchange Control Act No. 24 of 1953 as amended by the Exchange Control (Amendment) Law No. 39 of 1973, with regard to payment for goods exported from Sri Lanka."

Order dated 29.3.1994

"The order published in Gazette Extraordinary of the Republic of Sri Lanka No. 187/2 of 27.10.1975, by the Minister of Finance by virtue of powers vested in him under Section 22(3) of the Exchange Control act is hereby rescinded."

The question arises, as to whether these dubious Gazette Notifications referred to above published on 25.3.1993 and 29.3.1994, without full disclosure and debate in the public domain, had been approved and sanctioned by the then Monetary Board, realising the full implications and consequences thereof? Had it been done surreptitiously, on the pretext of Sri Lanka then becoming an IMF Article VIII status country?

Prior to the above Gazetted orders, export proceeds had to be repatriated to the country within six months of the export, as had been required under Section 22 (4) of the Exchange Control Act.

As per the Central bank annual reports, Sri Lanka's exports for the years 1993 to 2004, as per export data of the Customs Department, had amounted to US $ 53,949 mn. 19% leakage thereof without the incidence of interest over the years would have amounted to US $ 10,250 mn.

The 10.67% admittedly unauthorisedly utilised for foreign expenditures and monies retained abroad, as per the sample survey carried out by the Controller of Exchange for the quarter ended September 30, 2004, would amount to US $ 5,756 Mn. also, as per Central Bank's annual reports the foreign inward remittances since 1998, essentially from poor Sri Lankan employees working abroad, particularly from those undergoing hardships in the Middle Eat, had amounted to US $ 8,635 mn. this is the reality! On the other hand, why enact anti-money laundering laws, if not to be strictly and effectively enforced?

Given the foregoing facts, how could one baselessly espouse that 'wrong signals' would be sent in enforcing export proceeds repatriation requirements, whereas this is not a matter of sending 'wrong signals', perhaps to 'robber barons', but a grave matter of national and public importance of acting to protect the interests of the broad spectrum of poverty stricken masses, whose rightful resources have been mismanaged, perhaps permitted to be pillaged and plundered! On the contrary ought not 'correct signals' be sent to these very masses, who are the real stakehodlers, who brought this government into power, and action taken to protect their very interest and future.

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Import bill reductions through pear cultivation

Daily News: 15/07/2005" BY Dr. P. M. Wijeratne, Deputy Director (Research) Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Land and Irrigation and M. G. B. Hemachandra, Research Officer-In-Charge Agricultural Research Station Rahangala

SRI LANKA is a tiny island with a wide variation in soil and climate; its 24 agro-ecological zones are characterised by specific climatic conditions making possible the cultivation of a wide range of fruit crops.

Probably no other country of equal area can show as great as an assortment of fruits as may be seen in Sri Lanka.

However, our really indigenous fruits are few in number and many of what have come to be regarded as natives are introductions from other countries.

Many of the present day popular fruit crops such as pineapple, avocado, cashew-nut, papaw, passion fruit, mangosteen, rambutan and durian are introduced species. Even mango and jackfruit are introduced species from India.

Except for introduction and acclimatization, the local fruit industry has been an all beer and skittles in the past.

The question as to whether Sri Lanka is capable of elevating the fruit industry to a level of commercial significance has attracted private and official attention on a number of occasions and various spasmodic attempts have been made at furthering the local interest in the matter.

Irrespective of these attempts, fruit growing in the country remained an auxiliary means of livelihood, and there had been no sufficient inducement to make it a business venture.

This is because Sri Lanka used to import plenty of canned fruits and fresh fruits from America, Australia and Europe; as a result of these huge imports, the locally produced fruits fetched no demand at the local market.

Pears have been introduced to Sri Lanka from the West Indies by the Portuguese who held sway in the coastal belt in Sri Lanka about five centuries ago. Yet it remained an unattended fruit crop for about four centuries.

However, during the period of British occupation, a few enterprising private individuals have worthily contributed towards the expansion of pear cultivation in the District of Nuwara Eliya.

During this period a number of European cultivars have been introduced to Sri Lanka and fairly large-scale cultivations have been initiated in Ragala, Welimada and Uva-Paranagama areas.

All these attempts have been based on self-gained experience, and no research attention has ever been focused on the scientific aspects of cultivation.

The yield of these introduced varieties remained very low without an appreciable progress in the expansion of pear cultivation.

Later it was found that the European varieties introduced to the country are not suitable for Sri Lanka, and what really suits Sri Lanka are the varieties of Asian pears derived from the species of Pyrus pyrifolia.

The account that follows gives the reader some basic knowledge about the two commercial groups of pears which are widely cultivated in the different parts of the world, and the scientific aspects of pear cultivation with some strategies for improvement.

European and Asian pears

Pears (Pyrus) are second only to apples in the world production of deciduous tree fruits. There are about 20 species of Pyrus distributed all over the world. However, there are two groups of commercial pears - the Europeans cultivars and the Asian cultivars.

The European cultivars mainly belong to Pyrus communis and Pyrus nivalis, whereas the Asian cultivars belong to five important species; Pyrus pyrifolia, Pysus ussuriensis, Pyrus pashia, Pyrus calleryana, and Pyrus betulaefolia.

It should be mentioned here that a large number of popular Asian cultivars have been selected from Pyrus pyrifolia.

These cultivars that belong to Pyrus pyrifolia are known as sand pears due to the presence of stone cells in the flesh of the fruit.

Since Pyrus pyrifolia is native to Central and Southern China and Japan, the cultivars derived from this species can be successfully grown in the countries which have similar environmental conditions of the above two countries.

Basically these pears are considered to be less cold hardy and the chilling requirement for fruiting is less than that for apples.

Research on pears

In the early part of 1970s the Department of Agriculture (DOA) initiated a research programme to explore the scientific aspects of pear cultivation.

Two research centres of DOA, Regional Agricultural Research and Development Centre located in Bandarawela and its substation at Rahangala, figure prominently in research and development phase of the Pear Improvement Program with the major focus on various aspects of production technologies which include the introduction of scion and stock varieties, selection and adaptability trails, studies on tree management, nutrient management, and insect pest and disease management etc.

The natural requirements of pears seem to be a subtropical climate with moderate rainfall and cool temperature regimes. Research findings indicate that the ideal climatic conditions for successful production of pears prevail in certain areas of Nuwara Eliya and Badulla districts where the elevation is above 1200m.

Ragala in the district of Nuwara Eliya, and Boralanda, Gommelikanda, Haputale, Ohiya, Diyatalawa and Bandarawela in the district of Badulla have been identified as the best localities for the cultivation of pears.

During the early stage of the research phase, a large number of scion varieties and stock plants have been imported to Sri Lanka from Europe, USA, China, New Zealand and Japan, and tested for adaptability.

The constant effort of the research scientists of DOA became a reality when they were able to develop a high quality and high yielding cultivar which was christened as Rahangala Pear and released for cultivation in 1996. This variety is a selection from the Japanese germplasm introduced to Sri Lanka about 30 years ago.

The plants of this cultivar bear fruits at 5-6 years of age. The fruits of this variety are convex in shape and yellow-green in colour with white flesh. The average weight of a fruit is about 240mg and a single plant produces about 300 fruits per annum.

This cultivar has become extremely popular among the farmers because of the apparent disadvantages of the traditional cultivars with low quality traits such as high levels of acidity, lower level of sweetness, unattractive fruit shape and low yield.

Presently a number of promising cultivars imported from USA are being tested at the Agriculture Research Station, Rahangala for possible release in the future. These cultivars include, Hood, Florida Home, Sian Sai, TsuLi, Kosui and Gommelikanda selection.

The choice of rootstock can have a profound effect on the performance of the pear cultivars. The rootstocks can be obtained from cuttings as well as from seeds.

However, seed producing capacity of edible pear species are very low, and therefore, major pear producing countries in the world use the seeds of two wild pear species for raising the rootstock; the species mostly used are Pyrus betulaefolia and Pyrus phasia.

The vigour and the growth of the seedlings are always better as compared to the stock plants obtained from the cuttings which have about 20-30 per cent survival rate.

The pear cultivars presently grown in Sri Lanka do not produce seeds in adequate quantities. In order to resolve this problem, Department of Agriculture has imported a number of rootstock varieties of above two species, viz, Pyrus betulaefolia and Pyrus phasia from New Zealand.

The seed producing ability of these varieties are now being tested at the Agricultural Research Centre, Rahangala under local climatic conditions.

Elevation

We usually receive frequent queries from the interested groups about local pear cultivations. Most of them were anxious to know whether the pear fruits sold in major cities in the country, eg. Colombo and Negombo, were exactly the locally produced fruits as the sellers would say.

It should be mentioned here that we import more than 1000mt of pears worth of Rs. 30 million, annually and these are the stocks being sold in the open market in the name of 'Diyatalawa pears'. Presently local pear cultivation is confined to Ragala and Gommelikanda covering an extent of about 20-30 ha with the annual production of 500mt.

A pertinens question that should strike the mind of the reader is that 'Do we have the capacity to elevate our local pear industry to curtail imports?' Yes we do have a country which possesses a wide assortments of climatic conditions; we do have technologies.

What we really lack is the dedication and a national plan. We need an effective mechanism to discharge technologies heaped up in the Agricultural Research Centres and put them for practical use.

As indicated earlier, this country spends annually Rs. 30 million for the import of pears. If we stop the import of pears for one year and utilise that money for the cultivation of 150 ha of some infertile tea lands which are located at the elevation of above 1200m, we will be in a position to reap the harvest of 3750mt of pears after five years.

The lifetime of a pear tree is 25 years which means that we can reap the harvest continuously for 20 years. On the other hand pear tree is hardy enough to survive under the stressed conditions.

The management of a pear tree is extremely easy and does not require much expenses as the crop does not invite many insect pests and diseases; the tree training system has to be adapted at the vegetative stage of the crop growth.

In addition pear can be used as a shade tree or as an avenue crop in the tea estates which may fetch an additional income for the tea growers. At present Agricultural Research Station, Rahangala, has undertaken planting production and a training programme to popularise pear cultivation among the farmers.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Some post tsunami houses lack professionalism - SLIA

Daily News: 18/07/2005" by Edward Arambewala

Some of the post-tsunami houses that are being built today lack professionalism. The Sri Lanka Institute of Architects (SLIA) whom the government has appointed recently as coordinators and monitors of the new tsunami housing projects that are coming up, said SLIA President Architect Rukshan Vidyalankara at a press conference held at the SLIA Auditorium at Vidya Mawatha.

He said: "Some of the reports coming from the residents of new houses are not heartening - newly built houses sinking into the ground, walls that cannot withstand simple pressure, poor material being used for housing, infrastructure facilities being neglected. It is heartbreaking to watch helplessly as all one's possessions are destroyed.

"The flaws that have appeared in some of the housing projects that have been completed speak of the lack of professionalism in achieving a noble objective. The houses that are built today should not be the slums of tomorrow. These structures should not only be habitable homes but also be of better quality than the ones they replace. This would automatically ensure better living standards for the people," SLIA President said.

"The social system that has appealed to the Lankans over the ages is the neighbourhood concept of a cluster of around 30 houses - not mass housing projects of over 300 houses. Careful attention would have to be given to this aspect as the no. of houses are almost one lakh.

"As professionals it is our duty to educate the general public, Donor Agencies, NGOs, individuals, and corporate sector that are involved in housing projects that each project has to go through a series of milestones for the successful implementation. These "milestones" and the processes have been outlined in the handout provided. All housing projects have to pass them successfully ensuring that the rainwater will not run into the houses, that sewage would not flow into the neighbouring waterways or that houses lacking the provision of basic facilities would be constructed," he said.

Some of the housing projects that are ongoing have not been provided with professional design inputs. Some are producing housing units of very cheap quality. It is clear that most of these projects favour quantity over quality concept. It is important that the highest quality be maintained in all housing projects carried out and thus avoid creation of the slums of tomorrow!

"The Sri Lanka Institute of Architects has been co-ordinating several housing projects on the request of the government and these projects are progressing smoothly. In addition, members of our Institute are involved in providing their professional inputs in no small measure. Large number of houses is being designed and planned by our members. Our institute also has a mechanism to assist those Donors who need such services. Those interested should contact General Manager SLIA for further details," Vidyalankara said.

Archt. Ranjan Nadesapillai, FIA (SL), Hon. Secy. SLIA and Senior Vice President Archt. H.J.K. Perera FIA (SL) were also present.

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Rural knowledge revolution: a road map

Daily News: 12/07/2005" by M.S. Swaminathan

Technology helps to achieve a paradigm shift from unskilled to skilled work and thereby move large numbers of the rural poor from the primary to the secondary and tertiary sectors of economic activity.

The country is at long last becoming sensitive to the serious consequences of the growing rural-urban divide in terms of investment, infrastructure and opportunities for income and employment. The rural-urban divide also leads to an expanding rich-poor divide.

Since crop and animal husbandry, fisheries, forestry, and agro-processing are the main sources of rural livelihoods, the current agrarian crisis is adding to the problems of hunger, poverty, and unemployment. According to the Union Planning Commission, we are off-track in achieving most of the UN Millennium Development Goals.

No wonder, the President of India has been calling for an accelerated provision of urban amenities in rural areas (PURA). The Prime Minister has also proposed a massive Bharat Nirman programme.

A major cause for the growing rich-poor divide both between and within nations is unequal access to modern technology.

Technology helps to achieve a paradigm shift from unskilled to skilled work and thereby move large numbers of the rural poor from the primary to the secondary and tertiary sectors of economic activity.

If technology has been a major factor in promoting economic and social divides in the past, the challenge now lies in enlisting technology as an ally in the movement for economic, gender, and social equity.

Keeping the above in view, the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation has been working during the Past 15 years on the skill and knowledge empowerment of the rural poor based on a pro-nature, pro-poor and pro-woman orientation to technology development and dissemination. Further, the aim has been to substitute jobless economic growth with job-led growth.

This is particularly essential in the present day context when unemployment and under-employment are taking a heavy toll on the morale of the youth.

Similarly, "technology fatigue" in agriculture caused by inadequacies in research and extension efforts, has led to increasing indebtedness among farm households.

According to the latest report of the National Sample Survey Organisation (May 3, 2005) nearly 48.6 per cent of the 90 million farm households are caught in the debt trap. In Andhra Pradesh, 57 out of 100 indebted households are beholden to moneylenders. Although there has been much effort to increase and streamline institutional credit, small farmers still depend upon moneylenders for a variety of reasons. Farm women have by and large been bypassed by the institutional credit system, since they do not have ownership rights over land.

Modern agriculture is becoming knowledge intensive.

Farmers need both generic and dynamic information on matters relating to farm operations and markets. The extension system by and large has not been able to respond to their needs, particularly in the area of dynamic information and advice on economically viable crop diversification and land and water use based on meteorological and marketing factors. Trade, quality and genetic literacy is low both among farm and fisher communities.

The work undertaken by MSSRF in setting up community centred and managed Village Knowledge Centres (VKCs) in Pondicherry based on modern information and communication technologies (ICT) has shown that ICT helps to improve the timeliness and efficiency of farm operations and enhances income through producer-oriented markets.

Also, experience has shown that bridging the digital divide is a powerful method of bridging the gender divide.

Knowledge connectivity therefore confers multiple economic and social benefits. The VKCs operate on the principle of social inclusion.

The information provided, which includes location-specific data on entitlements to different Government schemes, is demand driven and is in the local language.

For example, in Pondicherry there are over 150 schemes designed to help the poor; yet nearly 20 per cent of families are below the poverty line. After the onset of the digital age, knowledge on entitlements and how to access them has grown rapidly.

Encouraged by the ability of rural women and men to take to ICT like fish to water, the MSSRF initiated in 1993, two major steps to take ICT to every one of the over 600,000 villages in India by August 15, 2007, which marks the 60th anniversary of "our tryst with destiny." The first is the organisation of a National Alliance for Mission 2007: Every Village a Knowledge Centre.

The second is the establishment of the Jamsetji Tata National Virtual Academy for Rural Prosperity with generous support from the Tata Education Trust.

There are a large number of innovative initiatives both in the government and non-governmental sectors to take ICT to agrarian communities. A few examples are: ITC's e-choupals, EID Parry's Agri-line project, Kissan Kerala, Akshaya in Kerala, Bhoomi in Karnataka, Drishti in Haryana, SEWA in Gujarat, MSSRF's VKCs in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, E-Sewa in AP, N-Logue of IIT, Chennai, Gyandoot in Madhya Pradesh, Maha agrinet, Maharashtra, and Tarahaat of Delhi.

Government should provide community radio licenses to VKCs through a single window clearance system. The Internet-community radio combination is a powerful method for delivery of dynamic information. Public policy in promoting the use of community radio should be based on the following principle enunciated by the Supreme Court in its judgment delivered in December1995: "Air waves constitute public property and must be used for advancing public good." This is the same principle enshrined in the Dandi March movement of Mahatma Gandhi in relation to seawater.

While connectivity can be achieved if there is the requisite political will, content will decide whether or not rural families find the VKCs useful. The content must be demand driven and dynamic.

At a recent meeting held at MSSRF, panchayati raj leaders have promised that they will provide space, electricity, and telephones for establishing VKCs on the panchayat office premises. Thus, all the 2,34,676 village panchayats in 31 States and Union Territories as well as traditional councils in the northeastern States can be brought together under the umbrella of the National Alliance.

A hub-spokes model will help to reach all villages from panchayat VKCs. Such centres can be operated by ICT-self-help groups of rural women and men.

(Courtesy: The Hindu)

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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Sri Lanka Supreme Court blocks sections of P-TOMS

ColomboPage: 15/07/2005"

The Sri Lanka Supreme Court today issued a stay order to block sections of the Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure (P-TOMS) agreement signed between the government and the LTTE.

The ruling was made by Chief Justice Sarath Silva after a case was filed by the JVP and Jathika Hela Urumaya asking the Court to make the P-TOMS agreement null and void. The stay order will be valid until the Supreme Court reviews its final determination. The case will be taken up again on September 12, 2005.

The bench was comprised of Chief Justice Silva and Justices Gamini Amaratunga and Raja Fernando.

The Chief Justice also said that an aid coordination committee, composed mostly of Tiger representatives based in the LTTE stronghold of Kilinochchi, is illegal and must be moved to an alternate location.

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FAO to assist farmers in northern and eastern Sri Lanka

ColomboPage: 14/07/2005" Salinity in the soil remains a problem for tsunami-hit farmers.

Farmers in the districts of Jaffna, Mullativu, Batticaloa, Ampara and Trincomalee who were affected by the December 26 tsunami will receive help from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to better their livelihood.

The farmers selected by FAO will receive seed, fertilizer to begin crop cultivation, and material assistance for paddy cultivation and the planting of fruit trees. If needed, the farmers will also be given material to put up fences. FAO will provide water pumps and electrical conduct meters to measure salinity in the soil.

In addition, FAO will provide necessary help to farmers in the Batticaloa district to restart betel cultivation, which was damaged by the tidal wave. This project will benefit over 10,200 farmer families in the district.

In Batticaloa, a special variety of betel peculiar to that soil is grown and according to the Provincial Department of Agriculture, there are over 1000 small holdings growing the variety. This variety is different from the betel grown in Jaffna.

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Monday, July 18, 2005

U.N. Faulted for Jettisoning Development Agenda

CORRECTED REPEAT/POLITICS: U.N. Faulted for Jettisoning Development Agenda: by Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 7 (IPS) - The United Nations is increasingly focusing its attention on terrorism, human rights and peacekeeping to the detriment of one of its primary mandates: advancing the economic agenda of developing nations, which comprise over two-thirds of the 191-member world body.

”Donor governments never have really prioritised development,” complains Stirling Scruggs, a former director of information, who also headed the resource mobilisation division at the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA).

A few donors have, but they are relatively few, including the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Norway, he added.

”But the big powers have not,” Scruggs told IPS, ”because ideology and greed have interfered. There is a stubborn refusal to do something about debt service, and now U.S. religious groups that make up the base of the (Republican) party in power have interfered.”

Scruggs said that ”development is something industrial governments pay lip service to because non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the United Nations and developing countries make noise.”

He argued that development must be given the topmost priority because ”we will then be joined in a global effort that will address the roots of human rights problems and terrorism, and in time lessen the need and burden of peacekeeping.”

At the recently-concluded summit meeting of the 132-member Group of 77 developing nations in Qatar, speaker after speaker criticised Western nations for hijacking the U.N. agenda by placing higher priority on terrorism and the reform of the Security Council over economic development.

Iran's first vice-president Mohammad Reza Aref set the tone when he told delegates that ”it is problematic and challenging that 'security discourse' has crowded out 'development discourse' on the international agenda.”

”This unfortunate trend,” he said, ”represents an almost total reversal of the premises and promises of the U.N.'s major conferences in the 1990s which helped usher a period of close North-South cooperation on major development issues and priorities in almost all fields.”

Beginning with the children's summit in New York in 1990, the United Nations hosted more than a dozen major conferences, mostly on social and economic issues, including the environment (in Rio), human rights (Vienna), population (Cairo), social development (Copenhagen), women's rights (Beijing) and habitat (Istanbul).

”In recent years, however, the international community has witnessed a concerted effort at shifting the dominant discourse from development to that of security. For us in the South, security can only be defined within the overall framework of development,” Aref added.

Therefore every effort should be made to return the ”development discourse” to its rightful position and primacy on the U.N. agenda, he said.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe pointed out that despite the priority given to social and economic issues in the Millennium Declaration adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in the year 2000, development is not at the centre of the activities of the United Nations.

”We expect to see those organs of the United Nations that play a key role in coordinating development issues, such as the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the General Assembly, being accorded the centrality and prominence they deserve in order to enable them to be more effective in fighting poverty, hunger and disease,” Mugabe noted.

In a 162-page report titled ”What U.N. for the 21st Century: a New North-South Divide”, the Geneva-based South Centre says ”there is widespread criticism of the ECOSOC as its functions today” because its authority and prestige as a principal organ of the United Nations stands ”vastly diminished.”

Consisting of 54 member states, ECOSOC coordinates the work of some 14 U.N. specialised agencies, 10 functional commissions and five regional economic commissions. Additionally, it receives reports from nine U.N. funds and programmes, and issues policy recommendations to the U.N. system and to member states.

But the South Centre report, released during the South Summit in Qatar last month, says that ”there is a general feeling that ECOSOC has failed to discharge its charter responsibility to coordinate the activities of and provide policy guidelines to the organisations of the U.N. system in the economic, social, cultural and human rights fields, and that it has ceased to be an effective forum for deliberation and decision-making on global economic and social issues.”

Scruggs said the marginalisation of development issues at the United Nations has had a devastating impact on the world's poorer nations.

”As a consequence, we live in a world where millions are worse off today than they were a generation ago; where AIDS, which could have been stopped in its tracks with massive prevention programmes, has instead become an epidemic; where 42 percent of the world's mothers deliver their children without medical assistance; where half of the world's citizens live in poverty; and where the global environment is slowly being destroyed.”

He said that the world has reached a crisis point. ”Governments and politicians must prioritise development now.” Luckily, he said, there is a plan on the table in the form of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which calls for urgent action on poverty, hunger, education, maternal health, the environment and HIV/AIDS, among others.

”The world, led by donor governments, since they have the power and money to make it work, can either embrace it or they can engage in endless debate once again and relegate development to its accustomed place on the backburner. And then they can do as they are now, and continue to deal with the consequences of their inaction,” Scruggs added.

The Washington-based Population Action International says that according to a new U.S. State Department document, ”development is at the bottom of a U.S. priority list for its work with the United Nations.”

The five major U.S. priorities, according to the State Department, are budget, management and administrative reform (of the United Nations); peace building commission; human rights council; the U.N. democracy fund; and comprehensive convention on terrorism.

PAI research shows ”that an increased investment in development -- which furthers progress towards goals such as access to education, better nutrition, poverty reduction, and expanded access to reproductive health programmes -- would decrease global security problems and improve the quality of life for all.”

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who predicts that the upcoming Millennium Summit in September in New York is going to be ”the largest gathering of world leaders ever”, is expecting the talkfest to approve a new agenda not only to reform the United Nations but also advance the economic agenda of developing nations.

Suzanne Ehlers, senior associate at Population Action International, told IPS that member states can play a critical role in trying to get development high on the U.N. agenda.

But she predicts that the top of the summit agenda will not be development, ”plain and simple”, so member states and their NGO friends are ”trying to build the understanding of development and human rights as key to the larger agenda of security (read: U.N. Security Council), as well as U.N. reform”.

Ehlers says a declaration or plan of action, in addition to the outcome document, is unlikely to come out of the Millennium Summit either. She said that even a high-level ECOSOC meeting last week concluded without a declaration.

That's ”not a good thing, in my opinion. If these folks cannot agree on a declaration about development issues, what sort of signal does that send to the larger summit process, where innumerable other issues are taking centre stage?” she asked.

*Corrects paragraphs 24, 27 and 28. (END/2005)

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Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka Score Well: New Education Report

News Archive - Millennium Campaign:

Press Release


Mumbai - June 29, 2005 - The Asia Pacific School Report Card is out. This report investigates the performance of 14 developing country leaders in their commitment to basic education and concludes that governments Must Do Better.
The report uses the format of a 'School Report Card' to rank the leaders of these developing countries as 'class leaders' or 'poor performers'. Of the developing countries covered, only two received an 'A' grade, one a 'B' and another two scraped through with 'C's. Class giants Hu Jintao of China (5th rank; 63/100; 'C' grade) and Manmohan Singh of India (10th rank; 43/100; 'E' grade) did not fare impressively.
The Asian South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education (ASPBAE) - a network of more than 200 organisations and individuals promoting adult education in the Asia Pacific region- and the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) - a coalition of international and regional development NGOs, national coalitions and teachers unions in over 150 countries - published this report. This will be released in regionally coordinated campaign activities through June 29 to July 1 in countries all over the Asia South Pacific as part of the July 1 White Arm band day campaign of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (G-CAP).
Must Do Better marks countries on five basic indicators: Complete Basic Education, State Action on Free Education, Quality Inputs, Gender Equality and Overall Equity.
The report demonstrates that 11 out of 14 countries are doing poorly in ensuring free, basic education of good quality to their citizens. Eight countries get marks of 'C' to 'F' indicating poor performance even in just ensuring access to basic education. Half of the countries in this report fail the gender equality marks. This observation comes at a crucial time. In the year 2005, the first of the Education for All (EFA) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) targets - ensuring gender parity in classrooms - falls due. It is already admitted that 75 countries all over the world (representing 60 per cent of the countries who pledged to this goal) will miss the 2005 targets.
Inaction now would be a scandalous loss of opportunity since achieving the gender targets in education is not impossible as the performance of seven countries in this report demonstrates. Of those who have achieved gender parities, Sri Lanka and Thailand set good examples in working towards sustaining these gains with state action curbing user fee charges. User charges in education had been identified as a major deterrent to poor girls entering and completing their schooling, thus affording them a fair chance to change their future through learning.
Bangladesh's commitment to eliminate user fee, along with cash stipends to support poor girls has therefore earned it a high mark in this report - a 'B' for 'state action'- recognition of the state's hard work to end the historical disadvantage of girls and women in education, worth emulating. Thailand, China and Malaysia matched their high scores in gender equality with equally high marks for quality education demonstrating further that firm commitment by states and adequate investments in education benefiting girls is eminently possible.
This is how the class and its students are placed in July 2005 from the highest to the lowest rank (A-F): Thailand and Malaysia (A), Sri Lanka (B), Philippines and China (C), Vietnam (D), Bangladesh, Cambodia, India and Indonesia (E), Nepal (F), Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Pakistan (F).
Even if all developing countries substantially increase their own education investments, however, many would still need additional support from rich countries in order to achieve the Education for All targets and the MDGs. It is therefore deeply worrying that bilateral and multilateral aid to basic education in low income countries, although it increased to $1.7 billion in 2003, is still only about one-fifth of what is needed. For only $5.5 billion more per year, quality, free education can be provided to every child, unlocking the full power of education to beat poverty. This amounts to less than two and a half days' global military spending. The positive examples in this report, notwithstanding, the poor performance of countries covered in this report represents an over-all failure of political commitment and woefully inadequate investments to education, thus consigning 216 million boys and girls away from primary and secondary schools and 508 million women and men denied literacy skills in the countries covered in this report alone.
Must Do Better seeks to serve as a wake-up call to world leaders and citizens alike to make education for all a reality.
Must Do Better is available at the ASPBAE website. The report will be launched in 8 countries in the first week of July. In Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea the National Coalitions for Education would launch the report inviting ministers; ambassadors of G8 countries; government officials; media and civil society.
Further Information:
For more information, please visit the Asian South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education (ASPBAE) or Global Campaign for Education (GCE) websites.
You may also contact Maria Khan, secretary-general, Asian South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education (ASPBAE) at aspbae@vsnl.com or Anne Jellema, Global Coordinator, Global Campaign for Eucation (GCE) at anne@campaignforeducation.org.

Date Created: 6/28/2005 11:09:10 PMCopyright 2005

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Sunday, July 17, 2005

Amano develops low cost houses

Daily News: 12/07/2005" by Sarath Malalasekera

Amano Lanka Engineering has developed a low cost house for tsunami affected people in the country.

The design of the low cost house is in line with the guidelines specified for such housing by the Government and has a floor area of 507 sq. ft. Amano has been associated with the construction industry for over 25 years in Sri Lanka.

Amano also manufactures SLS certified cement concrete blocks. Each unit of low cost house consists of two bedrooms, verandah, living and dining, storeroom and a toilet. The roof is insulated to keep the inside comfortable, Chairman and Managing Director Sarath de Costa said.

The items required for construction will be supplied in dismantled form. Locally available materials such as sand, metal and cement could be purchased near the site for construction purposes.

The Chairman said that the package supplied by Amano is priced at Rs. 375,000, standard type and Rs. 400,000 enhanced type. These are ex-factory prices excluding VAT. The unit can be completed without sophisticated tools and they will provide necessary training for workmen at the Amano factory premises, he said.

Amano Group General Manager M. Weerakkody said that at the request of several NGOs and donors Amano set upon the task of designing a low cost, easy to construct quality housing unit conforming to the laid down criteria of the Government.

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