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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, October 08, 2005

Tropical storms, public policy and Sri Lanka's development path

Daily News: 30/09/2005" BY PROF. S. T. HETTIGE, University of Colombo

JEREMY Rifkin, a world famous environmental scientist, in an article published in the 'Guardian' (London), (as quoted in 'Times Sunday' on September 25, 2005.) has pointed out that the devastating storms that struck the US Gulf coast are linked to rising temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean, the result of global warming that most people have heard about.

He also points out that the US population accounting for just 5% of the world population consumes 25% of the global supply of fossil fuel. Increasing and unsustainable use of petroleum products to run an immense fleet of private transport vehicles in the United States has exerted enormous pressure on supplies of fossil fuel in the world market.

Rapidly rising demand for oil in China and India that together account for 2.5 billion people threatens to disrupt the demand -supply balance further, thereby pushing up the price of oil higher.

The countries that will be adversely affected by any further increase in the price of oil are poorer countries like Sri Lanka that are totally depended on imported oil. It is reported in the media that the profits of the Sri Lankan Airlines has been already wiped out by the increasing cost of jet fuel.

The impact can have a ripple effect across different sectors of the economy leading severe consequences.

In order to face the impending crisis, the country needs to adopt rational policies, in order to reduce our dependence on imported oil. Such policies should be inter-sectoral in scope, encompassing such areas as transport, industrial production, domestic consumption, and rural agriculture.

The necessary policy interventions are complex and a range of experts from different fields should work together to evolve an appropriate policy mix. It is not as simple as either adopting an open economic policy, lock-stock-and barrel or naively advocating a "national economy".

Unfortunately, the two main Presidential contenders do not seem to have the capacity or the motivation to grasp the complexities involved. Both seem to think that the only way to meet the challenge is to achieve a higher rate of economic growth.

They do not seem to realize that a higher rate of economic growth will not lead to sustainable development unless the liberal, market-driven model is tempered by sustainable transport policies and appropriate social sector policies.

Declining social standards

On the other hand, concerned Sri Lankan citizens have begun to wonder whether the continually declining standards in society are indicative of an irreversible trend.

Even though much of the changes we witness in the country are by and large the result of social and economic policies adopted as part of the broadly neo-liberal development strategy followed by successive governments since the late 1970s, the intervening variables connected with the unresolved ethnic conflict have allowed the proponents of the liberal development model to turn back and argue that it is lack of economic growth and the half-hearted implementation of economic reforms due to political pressure that have prevented the country from addressing issues of poverty, unemployment and poor socio-economic infrastructure.

In other words, if we did not have the war and, if we had implemented economic reforms, the country's economy would have grown at a much faster rate, leading to the creation of wealth and employment.

They point to Asian tigers as illustrative examples. The point they make is that political stability allowed these countries to concentrate on the management of the economy. They ignore the critical role that the State played there, in disciplining society, combating corruption, etc.

It is true that the war has been a critical factor over the last two decades. But, many people forget that we had five full years before the war broke out, following the ethnic riots in 1983. Developments during the period had nothing to do with the war.

They were very much the result of economic and social policies as well as the governance practices of the regime in power at the time. The issues that we are confronted with today had already begun to surface and that they got worse thereafter, to reach the dismal situation that we find ourselves in today.

The only variable that has been constant over the last two decades has been bad governance with its diverse manifestations. In other words, bad governance had been the underlying factor, far more critical than the war itself.

Bad governance

As already mentioned, negative outcomes of bad governance and unmitigated open economic policies were already evident within a few years after the adoption of open economic policies in 1977.

Corruption, widening gap between the rich and the poor, deterioration of public services, suppression of civil liberties, manipulation of the electoral process in favour of the ruling party (i.e. 1982 referendum), spread of poverty in all parts of the country, collapse of rural industries, etc. were cases in point.

The creation of a large number of ministerial positions, politicization of public institutions, heaping of undue privileges on politicians at public expense, etc. at a time when the vast majority of people in the country were struggling to meet the basic needs frustrated the ordinary masses, in particular youth. These trends continued unabated in the years that followed.

The Late Professor Ediriweera Sarathchandra, in his book with the intriguing title "Dharmista Samajaya" (lit. "righteous society"), engaged in a critical analysis of the post- 1977 developments and faced intimidation and physical harassment at the hands of ruling party activists.

He and many other critics pointed out, that unmitigated liberal economic policies contributed to a process of dehumanization of society, whereby long cherished humanistic values had given way to naked material interests.

Widespread poverty, inequality, corruption, abuse of power, misuse of public resources, undue privileges of politicians, crime and violence, spread of alcoholism, drug abuse, deterioration of public services, ad hoc decision making, cronyism, nepotism, etc. continue to be the order of the day. This is in spite of change of governments several times over the last two decades.

Social regulation

Why have we failed to arrest the trends outlined above? As mentioned above, two factors have been critical, though there are no doubt others. They are: (a) bad governance and (b) socially unregulated liberal economy.

Bad governance is the result of arbitrary rule by and unenlightened and arrogant political elite, guided by a coterie of cronies. Under such conditions there is little room for rational policy making.

In the absence of serious policy analysis, and rational decision -making, the market led liberal economy has remained socially unregulated, giving rise to all forms of distortions. For instance, distribution of wealth has been guided by the market forces, leading to a highly skewed distribution.

On the other hand, public investments have been guided by narrow political considerations, rather than social demand. For instance, public education system has lagged far behind the liberal economy and the products of the system of education remain almost totally alienated from the labour market.

Even after twenty eight years since the introduction of liberal economic policies, and twenty two years since the major ethnic riots in the country, authorities have failed miserably to provide schoolchildren with the necessary language skills.

We know that a young child can learn a second language in a few years. Similar failures are evident in many other areas such as transport, health, social security, and environmental sanitation. Pathetic conditions in these areas are well-known.

It is unfortunate that the current Presidential election campaign has not taken the form of a rigorous policy debate. If we leave aside the ethnic conflict, the two main parties have not articulated their economic and social policies in any detail.

While the UNP seems to uncritically follow the neo-liberal model, the SLFP talks about a national economy without spelling out what it means. Both talks about a high rate of economic growth, but do not say how they are going to achieve it.

If the UNP intends to leave it to the market, without making necessary interventions to address socially harmful market distortions, the negative trends mentioned earlier will be further reinforced leading to disastrous consequences.

The situation can be worse if they allow the same bad governance practices to continue. Crime, violence, unrest, and instability will be the outcome, impeding economic growth itself.

If we look at the issue of employment creation, it would be virtually impossible to give employment to thousands of youth, unless the economy expands very rapidly, a remote possibility. If such promises are not kept, unrest is bound to follow, undermining the prospects of economic growth.

Good governance

Those who intend to take the reins of power in the near future have a duty to make a public statement whether they are going to promote good governance in the country or not. Today, almost all the ruling party MPs are holding ministerial appointments.

If Ranil Wickramasinghe keeps his promise to accommodate some of the PA leaders as well, the country may end up having even more ministers and deputy ministers, all in the name of economic growth and prosperity for all.

Such a development would be disastrous for the country, as it can only lead to corruption, abuse of power and waste of public resources.

A senior Malaysian social scientist who addressed a seminar on corruption in Colombo last week pointed out that one of the secrets of rapid economic development in Singapore was zero tolerance for corruption and indiscipline there. It is unfortunate that our leaders who talk about development do not want to learn from other countries.

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Friday, October 07, 2005

Sri Lanka's 'forgotten' tea workers

BBC News: 28/09/2005" By Dumeetha Luthra

There is no electricity for daily tasks in Malar Malligai's simple, concrete home in central Sri Lanka.

Gripping her baby with one hand, she pounds the flour for the family's daily meals with the other.

Two generations of her family have worked on tea plantations in the country, which are some of the most deprived places on the island.

There is a growing resentment among tea garden workers in the hilly part of the country - home to most of the tea plantations.

For them, the tsunami has highlighted how much they have been ignored. They feel money has come in for tsunami relief but their plight has been forgotten.

Opportunities scarce

The hills in this part of the island resonate with the past and the present. It is an idyllic scene with tea plantations as far as the eye can see.

However, the beauty is only skin deep, for this is one of Sri Lanka's poorest regions.

The tea pickers' wages depend on how many leaves they collect. Their average earnings are about $60 a month.

The workers want something different for their children.

But as Malligai's brother, Perumal Thirulogasunther, explains, opportunities are scarce.

"We are angry because we are not getting any help. No assistance is given to the hill country people. We need houses, electricity."

Spokesman for the think-tank Foundation for Co-Existence, Sathivel Balakrishnan, says the plantation workers have been deprived for decades.

"They feel sympathy for those affected by the tsunami. But definitely, the amount of aid that's coming and the way the government has been generating and mobilising resources for tsunami reconstruction will invariably have an impact among the tea plantation workers, especially the youth," he says.

"Why is the government not generating assistance for their development?"

Barely touched

Even basic facilities for the tea plantation workers are rare.

There is no running water here, only the back-breaking slog of pulling up buckets from a well.

The houses here were built under the British more than half a century ago.

They have been hardly touched since.

Tea brought in over $700m last year but less than one per cent was spent on workers' living conditions.

Each kilogram of leaves, carefully weighed and signed for, brings in foreign exchange to the country.

For more than a century, these leaves have helped sustain the island.

The government argues things are improving.

"We have not neglected them. We are trying our best to allow the next generation at least to be able to stand up and live as normal citizens of this country," says Anura Yapa, the plantations and industry minister.

The government accepts their living conditions are bad, but it denies the accusation that they have been forgotten.

The tea plantation workers are thankful they have not suffered anything like a tsunami. And the disaster relief effort is certainly not without serious problems.

But for tea workers watching the relief money pour in, it again shows that they are the abandoned and isolated of the island.

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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Mini Hydro power plants boost village level economy

Colombo Times: 27/09/2005" Sunil C.Perera

According to the government figures, most houses in the rural sector need electricity to illuminate their houses and crush the darkness.

Most villagers are now changing their attitude to face the Internet era from their houses through modern communication devices. The solar industry initially reached the rural houses to illuminate the houses with many concessions, but failed to provide cheap electricity due to the high prices of the solar panels.

Ratturugala, a rural village in the Ratnapura district faced similar difficulties due to lack of electricity and the common infrastructure. After the commissioning of Rathganga Mini hydropower project in last year, the residents of the area became interested in electricity and the electrical devices from the hydro power plant.

They have seen high voltage electricity lines, which are over their houses, but never use electricity to illuminate their houses before the commissioning of the Rattganga Pan Asia hydropower project.

However the power station connected to the national grid, the staff of the power station and their mother company had assisted to bring micro level power generation system for the Ratturugala area after a series of lengthy discussions with authorities.

According to the government data the village hydropower projects which are operating mainly in three districts in the country serve thousands of poor masses to illuminate their houses in rural villages.

When the media visited Rathturugala, Rathganga off 25 kilometers from Ratnapura, the resident of the area said that they received free electricity after the commissioning of micro hydropower project in their village.

Responding to queries of media a farmer, R.P.Kamal Premajayntha of Ratthurugala, Gilimale said that they received electricity without political interference to illuminate their houses.

The Ratthurugala Micro Hydro power project was commissioned in last year with the assistance of the Japan Postal savings for International Voluntary Aid Channeled through Terra People Association, World Bank RERED project, Hatton National Bank and the Sabaragamuwa provincial Council.

The Udawatta Ratthurugala Rural Electrification Project now serves over 48 houses of the area and wishes to expand its capacity.

However, the residents are now paying block payment for bank loans and member fee for the Udawatta-Ratturugala Electricity Consumers Association.

Another resident of the area and a worker of the power station G.G.Nayanananda said he received electricity.

“We will free from bank loans after two years, but our association has decided to charge one hundred rupees as a maintain cost, said Nayananada who needs to start a small industry in his house.

I am waiting to start my sown industry, he said.

According to the industry sources if the government and the international donors support the micro hydropower sector, the rural masses can access the new world using electricity.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Refugee voices: Sri Lanka tsunami victims hope for permanent housing

ReliefWeb: 26/09/2005" Source: Refugees International (RI)

Sooriya is a 34 year old woman living in a temporary shelter in the south of Sri Lanka near the tourist areas of Galle in Sri Lanka. Her family was luckier than most --- she and her husband, two daughters, and a son all survived the tsunami. However, they were all displaced by the tsunami and they have been living for seven months in a two room temporary shelter made of metal siding and wood with a cement floor.

She gave Refugees International visitors a tour of her house. While her family was fairly well off before the tsunami, they did lose many of their belongings. They have bought clothes and school supplies and decorated their temporary shelter with posters. However, the family of five is cramped in a two-room structure. They have two beds, a table with the sewing machine, and one cabinet to store their clothes. They have improvised by creating storage areas above and below the sleeping area but their belongings create a cramped environment.

The temporary shelter area that Sooriya and her family live in is several kilometers from the sea. "My husband owned a boat before the tsunami. He is a fisherman but his boat was destroyed by the tsunami. However, it is being replaced by an NGO. We lived on the beach and he could walk out to his boat every day. Now that we are in temporary shelter, my husband has to travel to the sea everyday to make money. It costs us approximately 900 rupees ($9) a month for him to go to the sea. This is a lot of money for us so I sew to make extra money for the family. A Japanese monk came through the area and was giving away sewing machines to families. He gave one to me and two other ladies to share but I keep it here in my house."

Before the tsunami, Sooriya and her family lived in a multi-room house made of concrete in a community on the beach. Their house was only partially destroyed by the tsunami. When asked if she wanted to return to her house if it was rebuilt she was adamant: "We will never go back to that house - even if it were a mansion. We are afraid of another tsunami. We were lucky that we all survived the tsunami. My youngest daughter is afraid of the ocean now. When the wave hit our house, we were all inside it and this saved us. My daughters [who are 17 and 12] have attended psycho-social programs sponsored by NGOs here but my youngest is still afraid of the sea. Generally, she is okay but I worry about her. There is also very little privacy for my older daughter here. She is becoming a woman and she needs her privacy. I am worried about her. A 9 year old girl died here two days ago. No one knows why - she suddenly took sick and died. I am very afraid for my children."

Sooriya took us to her front porch of her temporary house, which was filled with containers of plants and flowers. "We have planted these plants here in containers to take with us when we move to our permanent house. We really want to start our life properly in a permanent house. I don’t mind if we are not near the sea. The government will provide for us. But right now, they have no proper plans for where our houses will be. We have not seen anything from the government that tells us where they will move us and these other families. The rainy season is about to start," she said looking at the overcast skies. "When it rains hard in this house, we get wet."

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Micro Cars goes to court against non registration

Daily Mirror: 27/09/2005" By Leary Beekmeyer

The Court of Appeal issued notice on the Director General of Excise, the Minister of Finance and two others in a case filed by Micro Cars Limited of Peliyagoda protesting against an order not to register their newly manufactured vehicles.

The Court of Appeal comprised Justice K. Sripavan and Justice Sisira de Abrew.

The petitioner Micro Cars Limited of Peliyagoda cited The Director General of Excise, Minister of Finance, The Commissioner Department of Motor Traffic and Attorney General as respondents.

The petition of the petitioner filed by Sudath Perera Associates stated that the petitioner Company is a B.O.I. approved project which was incorporated with the main object of the company being to manufacture motor cars locally. They were the pioneering automobile manufacturer in Sri Lanka and they set up a manufacturing plant in Sri Lanka for the purpose of manufacturing motor cars.

The petitioner stated that on or about 14.11.2003 the petitioner company received a letter from the first respondent directing the petitioner company to register himself under Section 14 of the Excise (Special Provisions) Act No. 13 of 1989.

The petitioner stated that a Gazette Notification was published on 01.09.2004 levying excise duty of 12.5% on newly manufactured motor cars of the petitioner company. Accordingly, the company has registered himself at the first respondent under Section 14 of the Act as directed by the first respondent and submitted the excises returns as demanded by the first respondent for the period of O1.09.2004 to 31.03.2005 and paid the excise duty accordingly.

The petitioner respectfully submitted that when all these events were taking place the first respondent has informed the third respondent Commissioner Motor Traffic to the dismay of the petitioner on 04.11.2004 ~ not to register the newly manufactured vehicles of the petitioner's without a certificate from the first respondent to prove that relevant excise duty has been paid.
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This was illegal, arbitrary and against the provisions of the Excise (Special Provisions) Act of 1989.

The petitioner stated that the third respondent has refused to register newly manufactured vehicles of the petitioner company in the light of letter which caused grave hardships to the petitioner and paved the way to the petitioner company getting to a great financial crisis and the pioneer automobile manufacturer in the island is on the verge of collapse.

The petitioner stated that the third respondent was under a public duty in terms of the provisions of the Motor Traffic Act No 14 of 1951 as amended to duly register motor vehicles manufactured by the petitioner provided such motor vehicles comply with the provisions of the Motor Traffic Act without taking into consideration whether or not excise duty has been paid in respect of the such motor vehicles and that, therefore, the third respondent's refusal to registered motor vehicles manufactured by the petitioner without a certificate issued by the first respondent is arbitrary illegal, ultra vires his powers and a breach of public duty.

The petitioner stated that irreparable loss and irremediable damage will be caused to the petitioner which might even have to go to liquidation causing its employees who number 306 to lose their employment unless interim relief is granted before final determination of the case.

The petitioner asked court to grant and issue a Writ Certiorari quashing the first respondent's order and direction by which first respondent has purported to order and direct the third respondent that locally manufactured motor vehicles may be registered under the provisions of the Motor Traffic, only upon the furnishing to the third respondent of a certificate issued by the first respondent that excise duty has been paid upon such motor vehicles. The petitioner also asked a Writ of Mandamus directing the third respondent to duly register motor vehicles manufactured by the petitioner provided such motor vehicles comply with the provisions of the Motor Traffic Act without taking into consideration the question whether or not excise duty has been paid.

Attorney at Law S.L. Gunasekera with Prasanna Jayewardene instructed by Sudath Perera Associates appeared for the petitioner.

This was illegal, arbitrary and against the provisions of the Excise (Special Provisions) Act of 1989.

The petitioner stated that the third respondent has refused to register newly manufactured vehicles of the petitioner company in the light of letter which caused grave hardships to the petitioner and paved the way to the petitioner company getting to a great financial crisis and the pioneer automobile manufacturer in the island is on the verge of collapse.

The petitioner stated that the third respondent was under a public duty in terms of the provisions of the Motor Traffic Act No 14 of 1951 as amended to duly register motor vehicles manufactured by the petitioner provided such motor vehicles comply with the provisions of the Motor Traffic Act without taking into consideration whether or not excise duty has been paid in respect of the such motor vehicles and that, therefore, the third respondent’s refusal to registered motor vehicles manufactured by the petitioner without a certificate issued by the first respondent is arbitrary illegal, ultra vires his powers and a breach of public duty. The petitioner asked court to grant and issue a Writ Certiorari quashing the first respondent’s order and direction by which first respondent has purported to order and direct the third respondent that locally manufactured motor vehicles may be registered under the provisions of the Motor Traffic, only upon the furnishing to the third respondent of a certificate issued by the first respondent that excise duty has been paid upon such motor vehicles. The petitioner also asked a Writ of Mandamus directing the third respondent to duly register motor vehicles manufactured by the petitioner provided such motor vehicles comply with the provisions of the Motor Traffic Act without taking into consideration the question whether or not excise duty has been paid.

Attorney at Law S.L. Gunasekera with Prasanna Jayewardene instructed by Sudath Perera Associates appeared for the petitioner.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Sri Lanka's tsunami fishermen not all at sea

ReliefWeb: 25/09/2005" by Amal Jayasinghe

MANALKADU, Sri Lanka, Sept 25 (AFP) - Fishermen who survived the tsunami in this small village in northern Sri Lanka are no longer in the same boat -- some have their own, the rest wish that they did.

Almost nine months after the catastrophe, 32 of the 235 families who lost everything to the giant waves have received replacement fishing boats from foreign donors. The others are still waiting.

The formula worked out by the authorities was simple: the families who lost the most would be the first to be compensated.

Since everyone lost their houses, the test became one of how many family members were lost to the crashing seas.

Out-of-work fisherman V. Anthonymuttu, 50, who lost his wife and three grandchildren, aged five years, one year and 10 days, has no quibbles with the system, although it dashed his hopes of an early return to the ocean.

"The village got 32 boats in two batches and they went to people who lost most members of their family," Anthonymuttu told AFP here. "There are many others who lost more family members than I did."

The waves left nothing of Manalkadu village except the St. Anthony's church that turned into a safe haven for the villagers until temporary shelters were built with contributions from seven countries.

The village, sandwiched between the Indian Ocean and sand dunes of the Jaffna peninsula, saw a rush of local and foreign relief agencies after the December 26 disaster, but the international wave of sympathy has since receded. The promised money has been slow to trickle through.

The government's main agency coordinating relief, TAFREN, or the Task Force for Rebuilding the Nation, estimates it needs 200 million dollars to revive the fisheries sector, but pledges by foreign donors add up only to 125 million dollars. The actual funding received so far is even less.

It says over a million fishing nets and 17,000 boats were completely destroyed but aid for replacing them has been slow.

"We haven't got a single donor to replace the (bigger) multi-day boats that were lost," said TAFREN official in Colombo, Rasika Hewage.

Of the 31,000 people killed in the tsunami, 27,000 were members of fishing communities, according to official figures.

The families in Manalkadu are better off than those in other parts of the Jaffna peninsula. Here around one in seven families were given boats, while elsewhere the figure is one in 18.

"We have been forgotten by the rest of the world," says fisherman Joseph Udayan, 34, who is desperate for a boat so he can get back to work to earn enough to build a new home.

The tsunami was a double whammy for the villagers who had been displaced several times due to heavy fighting between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels in the past three decades.

Most were rebuilding their bomb-damaged dwellings after the February 2002 truce when the tsunami washed away all their homes in this area held by government forces.

Now they are living in tin-roofed sheds covered by white plastic sheets marked with the logo of the UN refugee agency. The shelters are barely habitable in the sweltering temperatures.

Only a few children could be seen playing in the open space under palmyrah palms. Of the 73 people who perished in the tsunami here, 50 were young boys and girls and toddlers.

S.K. Thambimuttu, 32, lost his three children -- aged six, four and two. Their bodies were found three days later.

He has no savings and no relatives to help, but he clings to the hope that he might yet get a boat and fishing gear to go back to work.

Fisherman S. Ratnaseelan, 42, says the flood of foreign aid workers has vanished and it appears the village is off the radar of aid agencies.

"How many NGOs (non-governmental organisations) came here just after the tsunami? But today you don't see them," Ratnaseelan said at the refugee camp.

A white sign board written in English, which many here do not understand, lists Germany, the United States, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Japan and the Netherlands as having contributed toward the temporary shelters.

Villagers say they can build their own homes, provided they can get back to work. A fishing boat complete with gear costs around 3,000 dollars, a small fortune for anyone here.

Placida Arulananthan, 24, who is studying to be a Catholic nun, says the villagers simply want to go back to what they love the most and do the best -- fishing.

"These people say they are not waiting for the government to build houses for them," she said. "What they desperately need are boats."

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Unrealistic rates hit seafood exports

Sunday Observer: 25/09/2005" by Elmo Leonard

Sri Lanka's seafood exports, which were thriving till recent months, making use of supplies brought in by foreign ships, and the scrapping of GSP - General Sales Preference to the EU, following the tsunami, is now finding supplies dwindling.

The reason: the authorities are now charging unrealistic rates from foreign vessels calling at local harbours, the Seafood Exporters' Association of Sri Lanka (SEASL) said.

Fish catch landed in the Mutwal Harbour has declined from 7,000 tonnes in 2002 to an estimated 2,000 tonnes for 2005, according to Ceylon Fisheries Harbour Corporation data.

Among many recommendations SEASL made to the Ministry of Fisheries (MF) is the removal of most levies charged on foreign vessels which land their catch here, and motivation to unload in Colombo, not as a transit port but a port with facilities for value addition and reexports.

Sri Lanka's exports of tuna is mainly to the EU, USA and Japan; processed fish in value added form is totally exported to the EU. Foreign fishing vessels contracted under BOI and those calling here, continued to feed the island's fish exports, notwithstanding that 50 percent of the island's fishing fleet was lost to the tsunami.

The Maldives, which was Sri Lanka's largest supplier, has in recent months opened five privately owned tuna processing plants, in addition to the state processing unit MIFCO, all capable of meeting EU and US export standard specifications.

The Maldives, which for long enjoys duty free access to the EU, for the first five months of this year exported 669.3 tonnes of tuna (197 tonnes in May) in comparison to 251 tonnes from January to end-May 2004, according to Infofish, Malaysia.

The Maldives, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, in the region continue to offer concessions to lure foreign catch, while improving their export processing activities.

While Sri Lanka is within the main tuna migratory routes and Malaysia nowhere near, $180 million has been invested to upgrade the Penang Port. Singapore which has no fishing grounds or EEZ is a major exporter of frozen tuna and swordfish products to USA. In 2003 Singapore exported 67,782 tonnes of fish filets and in 2004, 92,923 tonnes to the US, according to international statistics.

The BOI encourages foreign companies which fish outside Sri Lanka's EEZ to land fish here, by offering tax holidays, fiscal incentives and exchange control exemptions, A BOI official said.

The Maldivian government charges a royalty of $50 per tonne of fish landed and a licence fee for catching fish within her EEZ. Singapore does not levy any charges. Sri Lanka does not charge royalty or a licence fee as no foreign vessel is allowed to fish within its EEZ.

Among the representations made by SEASL to the authorities are the gradual levies charged by the Ceylon Fisheries Harbours Corporation (CFHC) and the Ceylon Fisheries Corporation (CFC) is driving out foreign fish companies to ports outside Sri Lanka, SEASL president, Roshan Fernando said.

CFC charges US cents 20 per kilo for vessels landing in Mutwal, Colombo, while the Maldives charges $50 per tonne (US 0.05 per kilo). Twenty-five percent of the catch which is exportable to the EU should be sold to the CFC at approximately Rs 200 per kilo below current market price.

No such practices are carried out by other tuna fish exporting countries, a senior director of the Ministry of Fisheries said. Among other charges, CFA intends charging Rs 10 per kilo from October 2005, now put on hold.

On the contrary, with the liberalisation of charges levied, Sri Lanka could earn much foreign exchange from the handling of fish, supply of fuel and water, processing of fish, exports, and a host of other funds coming into the country, the Fisheries Ministry director said.

Already, 100,000 persons of both sexes are employed in the fish processing and export industry and some of them would loose their jobs if immediate action is not taken to rectify the matter, Fernando said.

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Monday, October 03, 2005

Tragedy beyond compare

The Island: 25/09/2005" By Namini Wijedasa

The lives of some human beings are too tragic to even contemplate. Trapped in a cycle of birth and death, they grapple to survive with a grief so acute that it leaves them questioning their very existence.

Koneshwari Kiripeswaran stares out the door of the tsunami camp, eyes heavy with sadness. Nothing remains of her home in the village of Thiruchenthur. Her four-year-old daughter is dead, killed by the waves. Her parents are dead; they too had been swallowed by the swelling sea.

Her husband is also gone, shot by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the self-professed sole representatives of the Tamil people. "I have nobody," she said, blandly, speaking through a translator.

Koneshwari is 36-years-old. She lives at the Paddy Marketing Board warehouse in Batticaloa. She has no job and is supported by other friends at the camp. They had been neighbours back then`85 when their village was still standing and when little Vithuja was still alive.

"She was only four," said Koneshwari, the inevitable tears springing to her eyes. "I was carrying her on my shoulders as I ran but when the sea came, I couldn’t hold on to her."

They found Vithuja’s body at the morgue. They also stumbled across the bloated corpses of Koneshwari’s parents. Ironically, it was more than what hundreds of other people could wish for — most of them could find no remains of their loved ones.

The tragedy caused Alagiah Kiripeswaran, Koneshwari’s 37-year-old husband, to come rushing back to Sri Lanka from his job in Qatar. A former member of the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), he had left the country in search of a new life.

"He left PLOTE," Koneshwari said. "He wanted to live a normal life. But he knew that he was under threat. Once, in 2002, they (LTTE) summoned him to their camp but he didn’t go because he was scared they would kill him."

Alagiah secured a job as a domestic driver and left for Doha. He worked there for one year and three months, before the tsunami swept him back to Sri Lanka. "He was sending money for us and we were able to build our house," Koneshwari noted, relating a common enough tale.

Distraught and anxious, Alagiah returned on December 27 with Rs 400,000 in hand. Much of it was spent on funeral arrangements. Later, he and Koneshwari moved into a camp for the displaced set up at St Michael’s College, Batticaloa. They shifted again to Hindu College before moving into the Paddy Marketing Board warehouse. He was living there when he was killed, in March.

"He went out on an errand," Koneshwari said. "They shot him in front of the Batticaloa police station."

It wasn’t what Alagiah had been planning for himself. "He said he will go back to Doha for six months, to earn a little more money," Koneshwari said. "He promised to come back after six months. We needed the money because we had nothing left."

Those dreams went nowhere. Today, Koneshwari waits with 38 other families to move into temporary housing. Shelters have been erected in Thiraimadu but they have requested electricity supply from the benefactors. "The houses have been built in what was earlier a jungle area and we’re scared to take little children there because there can be snakes and other animals," explained Ahamed Sabamalai Mary, the 53-year-old acting camp leader. "We are also worried about security. The divisional secretary has promised us protection but `85"

Three men from this camp have so far been shot by the LTTE. Several children have also been taken.

Koneshwari doesn’t weep. She even wears gold jewellery. Occasionally, she stares at nothing. She appears deceptively normal. "She’s depressed," commented Mary. "She really has nobody to turn to."

"He never thought he would be killed," Koneshwari mutters, remembering her husband. "He thought humanity was alive after the tsunami."

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Sunday, October 02, 2005

Central Bank’s latest report on living conditions across Sri Lanka

Daily Mirror: 26/09/2005"

The Central Bank of Sri Lanka formally launched its Report on the Consumer Finances and Socio-Economic Survey (CFS) 2003/04 at the Auditorium of the Centre for Bank Studies, Rajagiriya, on September 14th. Since the start of the CFS series in 1953, this is the eighth survey in the series conducted by the Bank, the previous one being in 1996/97. The CFS 2003/04 Report has been published in two parts.

Part 1 analyses the findings, while Part 2 provides statistical tables derived from the survey data with detailed disaggregation by the nine provinces, three sectors (urban, rural and estate) and gender, wherever the data enable such disaggregation. A highlight of the launch was the release of the CFS report in the electronic media, using state of the art technology in data dissemination, in parallel to the release in print.

The CFS series is regarded both nationally and internationally as one of the most reliable and representative sources of socio-economic information on Sri Lanka (Table 1). The recent launching of the survey report was the culmination of nearly 4 years of continuous work from start to finish, as the planning cycle for the survey began in January 2002. A major achievement of the CFS 2003/04 was its coverage of most of the Northern and Eastern provinces after a lapse of over 20 years (Table 2).

This was made possible by the conduct of the Population Census 2001 and the ceasefire agreement in early 2002. The main objective of the survey was to collect comprehensive socio-economic data on households, covering individual characteristics of household inhabitants such as gender, age, marital status, health status, education level and labour force status, physical characteristics of households such as housing conditions and ownership of household amenities and land, and financial characteristics of households such as their income, expenditure, savings, investment and borrowing patterns.

Distinction has to be made between a large scale sample survey in the nature of the CFS, that covers the entire country using a scientifically chosen sample based on a sampling frame, and small, survey-type case studies with relatively small population coverage that do not use a sampling frame. Since the resources, both human and financial, involved in small case studies are relatively much smaller, they are more frequently conducted than large-scale sample surveys. Quite often, however, public perception and opinion is influenced by unwitting extrapolation of evidence from small case studies to the entire population.

It is therefore extremely important to note that the estimates from a large-scale sample survey provide for a balanced representation of the entire population, while the statistical estimation from a case study is limited to its coverage only, and cannot be extrapolated under any circumstances to, or taken to be representative of, a larger population. In fact, findings from the latter can deviate considerably from overall population characteristics, as such case studies are usually focussed on specific issues relevant only to the small sub-populations they cover.

The process of selecting a sample of households in the CFS that ensured representation of the population of households in the country at province, district and sector level was carried out using well-established scientific sampling techniques. The sample of households was first divided into 4 equal sub samples to be covered in 4 different rounds of 3 months each, spanning a full calendar year. Then, each sub-sample was selected in proportion to the household densities across districts and sectors, as identified from the Census 2001 household lists.

This ensured the quality and representation of the statistical estimates, which captured both the calendar year seasonality in income and expenditure, as well as household density across the country. Moreover, the survey covered a representative sample of around 12,000 households across the entire country. The statistical information generated in the CFS Report 2003/04 therefore provides reliable estimation of key socio-economic indicators up to the provincial level.

The quality of socio-economic data from the CFS series was also maintained, as the field visits to households was conducted by a dedicated team of trained field investigators under the strict supervision of officers of the Central Bank with years of experience in statistical surveys. Most of the information provided by the survey respondents in relation to demographic characteristics and physical assets of households were verified by the field investigators during three visits to each household, and information on household finances were internally cross checked by matching income with expenditure against movements in household assets and liabilities during the reference period, thus forming a database of hard evidence of high quality.

Since a large-scale survey of the nature of CFS covers many socio-economic dimensions, the CFS 2003/04 Report Part 1 published by the Central Bank does not encompass detailed analysis of each socio-economic issue that could be of interest to different stakeholders. Instead, the report highlights the salient broad findings of the survey, and key issues that need to be further investigated to establish causes and remedial action, which could be addressed by macro level policy makers and other interested parties.

Following the release of the CFS 2003/04 Report, the micro data from the CFS could be made available to prospective researchers for deeper analysis in their areas of policy and academic interest. It is anticipated that deeper and more detailed studies on various socio-economic dimensions will be undertaken by the relevant authorities and stakeholders using the CFS micro data.

The CFS data also provides vital information for the private sector on consumption and consumer preferences, investment patterns and investment preferences and savings and borrowing patterns of the household sector. The statistical data derived from the CFS can be used to measure socio-economic characteristics of the present Sri Lankan society and the effectiveness of policy initiatives launched by successive governments to improve the quality of life and living conditions. In addition, the concurrent availability of statistical information across provinces makes it possible to measure regional disparities in socio-economic conditions and the degree of penetration of government policies and plans, as well as access to goods and services provided and marketed by the private sector.

It is against this background that the Consumer Finances and Socio-Economic Survey Report 2003/04 was released by the Central Bank. The Central Bank invites decision makers in the both public and private sectors, both national and international, researchers, journalists, social workers, students and the general public to make use of this reliable and representative source of statistical information to better understand the country’s social and economic progress, as well as for deeper analysis of the findings, towards evidence based decision making in the future.

The CFS Report 2003/04 Part 1 and Part 2 are now available to the public. In addition, for the first time, summary reports of the key findings have been published in both Sinhala and Tamil, and are also currently available for sale.

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