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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, November 26, 2005

Economic targets can be achieved by using fallow land

Sunday Observer: 20/11/2005" by Elmo Leonard

Sri Lanka has over two million hectares of uncultivated and under-cultivated land which must be put to gainful use, if the 8 and 10 per cent economic growth rates are to be achieved, the Chamber of Construction Industry of Sri Lanka (CCISL) says.

Simultaneously, the nation's human resources are grossly under-utilised. If the government developed the infrastructure of water supply, irrigation, power, transport, expressways and highways, sea ports, fisheries harbours, airports and railways, the nation's human resource could be put into more gainful use, CCISL president, Surath Wickremesinghe said.

Different government agencies and the National Physical Planning Department (NPPD) in particular had carried out studies for several projects to be implemented, including comprehensive regional physical plans for most of the regions of Sri Lanka except for the north and east.

These studies had revealed the economic potential of the different regions, including agriculture, fisheries, livestock, tourism and industries. These studies had also identified sources of water, new road traces, conservation areas, heritage sites and other land uses, Wickremesinghe told the Civil Engineering Society of the University of Paradeniya.

NPPD had commissioned the firm, Surath Wickremesinghe Planning to undertake a physical plan for the southern region.

The southern region comprises five districts, Galle, Matara, Hambantota, Ratnapura and Moneragala. In the Hambantota and Moneragala districts, there are about 5,000 hectares of land, both state and privately owned, cultivated or under cultivated, available for commercial agriculture, inland fisheries, livestock, tourism, industries and for other economic activity on a mega scale, Wickremesinghe said.

To accelerate implementation of such projects, the government should give priority for land acquisition where necessary, which had been a drawback in the past.

The law for the immediate acquisition of land for urban development should be used as a model for the acquisition of land for priority projects of economic infrastructure.

If the government could provide the physical infrastructure similar to the Mahaweli development project and the free trade zones, these lands would be gainfully developed for productive use.

These projects could be implemented through public/private partnership with BOI incentives on land areas exceeding 500 hectares. When no private investor is at hand the government could offer potential investors funds, obtained from by and multilateral donors.

In the case where there is interest from the private sector, within the island or in partnership with other international private sector organisations, the projects identified for implementation will have a kick start since the preliminary work had already been completed, Wickremesinghe said.

Wickremesinghe also advocated the use of alternative building materials and building methods for lower cost and stronger building and infrastructure.

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What is Brewing?

Lanka Business Online: 20/11/2005" By Charitha Fernando

Plantation workers are the poorest segment in the country despite tea being an export crop and heavy private sector involvement in its trade.

Government divested ownership in plantation companies in the early 1990's which led to productivity gains and some improvement in living conditions of workers. But incidence of poverty in estates increased during the last few years according to Central Bank.

Kumari, a mother of four returns home after the first session of plucking on the hilly slopes of Talawakelle.

Before the second session starts in the afternoon, Kumari hastily prepares a meal for her family.

Being the main breadwinner in an estate family is not easy says Kumari especially with four schooling kids.

"My day begins at five o'clock in the morning. After sending my children to school I go for plucking. After work I have to cook lunch and collect firewood. Afterwards work in our vegetable plot," says Balakrishnan Kumari, Mattakelle Estate, Talawakelle

Kumari says plucking earns her on average around Rs. 3,000 a month, Rs. 125 a day.

However, the management says an average plucker earns around Rs. 300 a day if the yield is good.

But she doesn't know what happens to the salary she earns, as at the end of every month, it's her husband who collects pay from the estate management.

Attempts by the plantation management companies to get everyone to the pay table have also failed.

"When it comes to wages the men still seem to think that 'That is my prerogative' and I go and collect the money and distribute it the way I want," says Dan Seevaratnam, Deputy Chairman, Kahawatta Plantations.

"Because he thinks he is the more educated one. This has lead to misuse and abuse of the women's salary. We brought it as one of our tenets that we will handover the pay packet to women but there was a subtle resistance to this. They said 'look you don't worry about that.... I'm the husband and I know what to do'," Seevaratnam says.

The Socio economic survey report published by the Central Bank says the estate sector records the highest per capita expenditure on alcohol beverages and tobacco products.

Higher consumption of alcohol has increase abuse and violence across the plantation sector.

"Money is wasted on drinks. We get beaten if we question," says Kumari.

"They spend quite a bit of it (salary) in consuming liquor so definitely on the subsequent day he or she doesn’t report to work and it affects the productivity," pointed out Saman Edirisinghe, Group Manager, Mattakelle Estate.

Management companies say ignorance among estate workers has led to hard earned money being wasted on alcohol.

A recent study by an NGO found that about 80 percent of the households consume liquor.

What is even more frightening is over 40 percent of women are addicted to liquor.

"The survey says that between 40-50% of earned wages goes on alcoholism," says Seevaratnam.

Lack of savings is forcing workers to generate extra income for day-to-day living expenses.

According to the Department of Census and Statistics the highest level of poverty is in the estate sector.

According to statistics around 30 percent of the population in estate areas is poor.

Instead of making an effort to save, Murthi, Kumari's husband is clearing a 15 perch plot of land given by the estate to grow vegetables as an extra income.

He says the income earned by Kumari is hardly sufficient to manage the family.

"She earns around Rs. 2500 to Rs. 3000 a month. We have four children. It's not enough for food and schooling needs of our children," Karupiah Murthi Worker.

He says he hopes to earn an extra fifty thousand Rs. 50,000 next year by selling potatoes.

But how much of it Murthi would save, only he would know.

However, they are lucky to own this little cottage instead of a 10 by 10 'line' room.

This little cottage was built with the help of the estate management.

"We have been able to change their traditional living systems -that are 'line rooms'. We have been giving them individual cottages and seven perch land and bank loans on a self help basis to put up their little cottages. In addition paid leave and medical facilities and transport for patients," says Saman Edirisinghe.

First attraction when entering Kumari's little cottage is the electrical items on display.

According to the consumer finance and socio economic survey report, there is a mark increase in access to television and radio in the estate sector.

Access to television in the estate sector had doubled from 23 percent in 1997 to 55 percent last year.

Even in line rooms elsewhere in the estate living conditions in general seem better than ten years ago.

Management companies say since privatization of estates, housing, education and sanitation facilities have improved.

"There has been a tremendous development in the quality of life in the workers of plantations. If you take the sector as a whole after privatization in 1994 there has been an increase in production. This has brought some prosperity to the workers. In the case of housing there has been tremendous improvement," says Seevaratnam.

"In fairness to the community there has been a lot of self help as well where they have chipped in; the banks have chipped in; and plantation companies have chipped in," says Seevaratnam.

Though there are signs of better quality of life that is not attractive enough for the younger generation to remain employed in the plantations.

Many have already left as housemaids to Middle-eastern countries.

Students who have done well in their academics are looking for white-collar jobs in the city.

"I don't like estate jobs. I will try, try and try to get a government job," says Nagalingam Thibappriya, Mattakelle Estate.

Despite tea being an export crop and heavy private sector involvement in its trade, the slow progress of living conditions in the plantations is driving out its greatest asset; its work force.

-Charitha Fernando: charitha@vanguardlk.com

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OLC proposes allowance to public servants for language competency

Daily News: 22/11/2005" by Bharatha Malawaraarachchi

The Official Languages Commission (OLC) has proposed the introduction of a sufficient "language allowance" to be paid to public servants who achieve the required degree of competence in the Second Official Language and the Link Language.

"The payments made at present as incentives are wholly inadequate to induce interest in public servants to learn the second official language," OLC Chairman Raja Collure told a conference yesterday.

The conference was held to brief the media and the donor agencies on the OLC's recommendations on the implementation of the Official Languages Policy at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute.

He explained that the Official Language Policy in Chapter IV of the Constitution as amended by the 13th and 16th amendments in their view, is comprehensive enough to cover the present needs relating to the use of the official languages in the administration field .

However, Collure noted that these appreciable provisions have not been adequately implemented although eighteen and seventeen years respectively elapsed since the adoption of 13th and 16th amendments which are most relevant in this respect.

"Successive Governments have failed to take necessary steps for the realisation of the objectives laid down in Chapter IV. This is the main reason that compelled the present commission to come out with a set of recommendations," he noted.

Other members of the commission Prof. Somaratne Balasooriya, Prof. S. Thillainathan, Senior Lecturer N.M. Saifdeen and Secretary to the Commission and Commissioner of Official Languages Senarath Gunasena were also present.

Collure explained that the recommendations are divided into four parts: "the first contains a statement of the law, an assessment of the present state of implementation of the policy is made in the second part while the third covers the problems encountered in the implementation. The final part deals with the recommendations proper."

He stressed that an examination of the provisions of Chapter IV reveals that the establishment of a bi-lingual administration throughout the country is necessary for the Official Language Policy to be properly and fully implemented.

"It is pertinent to note that very few citizens could benefit from the provisions enabling communications in the English language or translations being available in English.Therefore, much emphasis has to be on the use of the two official languages in the administration of the country."

Collure noted that speedy action needs to be taken to develop a bilingual administration in the country as a whole beginning with the Secretariat Divisions with a high percentage people speaking the second official language (the term "second language" is used to denote Sinhala for the Tamil speakers and Tamil for the Sinhala speakers).

Of the total number of public servants only 8.31 per cent are Tamil speaking."The commission recommends that in order to overcome the dearth of such public servants in different categories of the public service necessary personnel proficient in the Tamil language should be recruited without delay," added Collure.

The commission also recommends that training in the Link Language should be targeted firstly to personnel in the public service whose functions require proficiency in English.

The commission also proposes to create a separate institution for the development of national languages similar to ones that exist in France and several other countries.

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Friday, November 25, 2005

Tsunami village highlights Sri Lanka tensions

Telegraph: 17/11/2005" By Peter Foster in Peraliya

On one level it is a petty village squabble. But almost a year after the Boxing Day tsunami struck, killing 40,000 people, tiny Peraliya's problems could represent those of the whole country.

It was in Peraliya, on Sri Lanka's southern coast, that the tsunami swamped a passenger train killing 1,500 and destroying every house in its path. Some called the place "Sri Lanka's ground zero".

After the tsunami, however, came aid and sympathy which, while rebuilding houses, schools and clinics, left many villagers bickering among themselves.

Visitors to the site, where three carriages stand as a reminder of the disaster, are greeted by a group of women. Each has a story to tell and all are after one thing: money.

One, Sujatha, 51, is ready with a packet of documents and photographs showing the property and family members she lost, including a son.

Soon others are joining in the chorus of misery, all with desperate stories of financial loss and bereavement.

But as tourists put their hands in their pockets - and most do - another voice warns that such generosity may be misplaced.

Alappu Darunadasa, Peraliya's self-styled village chief, accuses the women of behaving "like beggars". Some, he adds, even exaggerate their losses in the hope of receiving a more generous donation. The women call Alappu a cheat and liar, pointing at the only two-storey house in the village - his - and accusing him of embezzling part of a million-rupee (£5,650) Peraliya trust fund to build it.

Alappu vigorously denies the charge, saying the fund's accounts can be inspected and the money is to be spent on a maternity clinic to benefit "all the people of Peraliya, not just these women".

At the national level, Sri Lanka's politics and the post-tsunami aid effort are just as short of harmony. Today, the country votes in a presidential election billed as a choice between "peace" and "war", and divisions over aid and ethnic tensions between Sinhalese and Tamils return to the surface.

The ceasefire signed in 2002 to end the 20-year civil war that claimed 65,000 lives looks increasingly fragile. Tamil factions are pursuing a campaign of violence and assassinations that culminated in the killing of the foreign minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, in August.

For all the world's generosity - the £1.8 billion pledged in aid was enough to rebuild the damage to Sri Lanka twice over - the money appears to have heightened, not healed, political divisions.

Attempts to share aid with areas controlled by the separatist Tamil Tigers caused Sinhalese hardliners to quit the coalition government.

The two main candidates for president reflect a split down the middle, with polls suggesting that the winner could be decided by as few as 200,000 votes from an electorate of 13 million.

On one side is the moderate, Ranil Wickremesinghe, a former prime minister who brokered the 2002 ceasefire and is described as the "Peace Candidate" for pledging a deal to give Tamils autonomy in a federal Sri Lanka.

His overtures have met with a cool response from an increasingly bellicose Tigers' leadership which has ordered a boycott of the election.

However, Mr Wickremesinghe still argues that resolving the Tamil question is essential to economic revival.

To his rival, the sitting prime minister, Mahinda Rajapakse, such concessions amount to a selling out of the majority Sinhalese people.

Called the "war candidate" by some, Mr Rajapakse has stoked up nationalist sentiments, allying himself in an ultra-nationalist coalition with Sri Lanka's monks and the extremist Sinhalese party, the JVP.

In his final speech before polling day, Mr Rajapakse, who also faces claims of misappropriating tsunami funds, summed up a choice facing Sri Lanka in the kind of language appealing to Sinhalese hardliners for whom Tamils are Hindu "aliens" in an historically Buddhist land.

He said: "On one side there is the force of patriotic citizens who stand for national identity, on the other is the force hostile to national culture... kicking aside everything indigenous in order to serve the alien interests."

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Alternative approach for employment and sustainable development

Daily Mirror: 17/11/2005" By Prof. J.A. Karunaratne

The current situation in the labour market with relatively high youth unemployment and underemployment makes one of the main political, economic and social issues of contemporary Sri Lanka. As it is the economically disenfranchised who for the most part are inclined towards committing criminal offences, there are some who make the connection between economic disenfranchisement and criminality. There are even those who make the connection between widening ethnic divide, ethnic conflicts and economic depravity.

It is perhaps for this reason that the contemporary politicians of Sri Lanka have vowed to remedy the evil of unemployment. But it is not the politicians of one particular ideological persuasion or another that have vowed to remedy this problem. When and if they become elected to the good office of the land the presidential candidates of every different persuasion have vowed to remedy this problem.

But the high prevalence of unemployment does not constitute itself as the only aspect of the labour market problems for concern. The high prevalence of underemployment (to work less than eight hours a day and/or to earn less than sufficient to help the individual worker concerned maintain a decent standard of living) is also a major issue for concern. Then the absence of sustainable economic growth that pertains with labour market situation too makes it a major issue for concern. Further the warped distribution of income also is a major issue for concerns.

Hence it is not fully correct to consider the prevalent situation in the labour market to concern only with unemployment situation in the country. As a matter of fact the prevalent situation in the labour market of Sri Lanka concerns predominantly with (1) equitable distribution of income, (2) growth of output, (3) sustainable growth of the economy, and (4) political and social stability. Thus the prevalent situation in the labour market of the country concerns every aspect of the economy and every individual of the country.

Therefore, it should be correct that the politicians of Sri Lanka have undertaken to tackle at least some of the most pressing labour market issues i.e. youth unemployment of Sri Lanka. Therefore, one is not at conflict with politicians about their intensions in tackling the labour market problems.

One may, however, question the modes and methods that these politicians use in resolving these labour market problems. One may ask how sustainable are the solutions sought by these politicians to the labour market problems. One may question what ramifications that these solutions give to other realms of the economy.

The purpose in here, therefore, is to outline some of the follies that pertain with some means and methods proposed by some legislators, and propose some alternative approaches to the problems in the labour market.

In view of assuaging the harshest repercussions of youth unemployment for the individuals concerned and for the economy, the legislators of Sri Lanka have undertaken to expand public sector employment so as to be able to absorb the unemployed youth into the public sector. It has already allocated tens of thousands of jobs in benefit of the unemployed youth of Sri Lanka.

It has also vowed to allocate several thousands jobs more with similar intensions.

But these modes and methods of resolving the labour market problems are far from safe and appropriate. When the largest number of the economies of the world, particularly those that are referred to as the ‘transition economies’ as well as some of the developing economies including India and Malaysia are downsizing their public sector activities in favour of the private sectors of each of these individual countries, Sri Lanka is hastening in the opposite direction.

Both in terms of the share of the Gross Domestic Production (GDP) consumed by the public sector as well as in terms of real employment, the public sector of Sri Lanka has, over the past year, been expanding rapidly. This constitutes the first anomaly.Secondly, according to available economic literature any expansion in public sector through expansion in public sector employment is bound to stimulate the demand for goods and services over and beyond the capacity in the economy for expanding the supply thus yielding for inflation. Predictably therefore the inflation of Sri Lanka has over the past year been galloping fast.

But growth in inflation renders ramifications for equitable distribution of income as well as (through Fisher hypothesis) for the rates of interest on loans. For example, if inflation was at 15%, the rate of interest on bank loans (commercial bank interest rates) would have jumped to a level over and above 15%.

Thus with galloping inflation, the incomes are going to be distributed unevenly between the wage earning and contractual work force, on the one hand, and the propertied class of people, on the other. Then at the same time as the interest rate on bank loans runs high as inflation pushes up the interest rates, the indigenous investment level is going to decline to a corresponding degree. Hence at long stretch, any expansion in the public sector would have caused decline in private sector growth. Consequently decline in private sector would have caused decline in private sector employment. Much of the private sector economic activities would be ‘crowded out’ by growth of the public sector.

Thus expansion of the public sector through, inter alia, allocation of job opportunities in favour of the unemployment youth would not have yielded much desired sustainable economic growth.

The state that seeks to guarantee sustainable economic growth with equitable income distribution should have considered an alternative economic formula, instead. (1) It should have held the interest rates on bank loans low by holding the inflationary pressures down. (2) It should have developed the infrastructure with, amongst other things, the increased tax income that it earns from growing private sector and from foreign aid. (3) It should have reduced prevailing fraud and corruption and improved on the essential institutional facilities that could develop the private sector employment and the entrepreneurial activities.

Then the state should have given the opportunities for the unemployed and underemployed youth to secure themselves apprenticeship opportunities in the private sector of the economy where they could have secured themselves the appropriate experiences with the help of which they could have increased their private income at the same time as they would have contributed to growth in output both in terms of quality and quantity. This has been the employment and development model followed by most of the progressive moderate governments of the world including those of Scandinavia.

The state would have found it acceptable to help the unemployed and underemployed youth secure themselves apprenticeship opportunities in the private sector by way of offering those private sector enterprises that are forthcoming in this endeavour with tax holidays or other wage subsidies.

Such a measure would not have contributed to galloping inflation that warps the income distribution. Lower rate of inflation would have given correspondingly lower rate of interest on bank loans which in its turn would have helped the expansion of private sector investment activities and which in its turn would have improved the rate of employment and organic and sustainable development of the economy.

In resolving the most pressing problem of the decade, namely, the youth unemployment and underemployment, the next president must embrace a pragmatic and rational approach.

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Tragic plight of Sri Lankan Economy

Daily Mirror: 17/11/2005 By Dr. S. M. Ashraff

In, today's, heated period of pre-presidential poll, it is highly appropriate to analyse the highly shocking true economic trend, prevailing in Sri Lanka. This article is mainly based on market statistics of Central Bank (as published on Monday, 31 October 2005)

The total government revenue, for the eight month period, from January to August had been Rs.190.7 billion (Rs. 286.2b) for year 2004, Rs. 236.9 billion (Rs. 350.8b) for year 2005 and the targeted figure for the whole year 2006 is around Rs. 480 billion. The total government expenditure, for the eight month period, from January to August had been Rs. 299.6 billion (Rs. 438.4b) for year 2004, Rs. 355.5 billion (Rs. 533.2b) for year 2005, and the provisional figure for the whole year 2006 is around Rs.670 billion.

This leaves a staggering budget deficit forecast of around Rs.190 billion for year 2006. Provisional figure for external trade deficit for the year 2005 also has skyrocketed to a staggering level of Rs.236.1 billion. The out standing government debt stock has shockingly sky rocketed to the level of about Rs. 2.2 trillion, without the much expected and highly needed productivity and fruitful dividends.

Even though the GDP has grown by 6%, which is mainly due to the strong positive momentum created by the CFA, agriculture has shown a tragic negative growth of -2.7% even with the highly publicised Daha Dahasak weva program, for the second reference quarter of year 2004/2005. Gross coconut production has suffered a massive set back of 8.4% and the industrial output index has tragically declined to -0.5% for the first eight months reference period of 2004/2005.

The unemployment rate has deteriorated from 7.9 in fourth quarter of2003 to 8.2 in the same quarter of 2004. For the same period the total labour force participation rate in economic activities has declined and worsened from 49.6% to 48.8%. Sector wise there has been a marginal increase in participation in agriculture and industry but in service sector and others there had been a decline from 45.3% to 42.6%, for the same reference period. These figures have been drawn excluding the northern province. In this context, promising millions of jobs by the left wing contemplators, is going to be not only a dream but also hallucinations and illusions.

For the reference period of first eight months of 2004/2005 the total number of tourist arrivals has increased by 11.7% but in terms of earning, there is an alarming paradoxical decline by 11.7%. This may be due to the fact that the number has increased because of increase in the arrival of low spenders mainly from Asian countries and paradoxical decrease in high spenders from western countries, because of the anti-west political climate.

Because of the spiralling petroleum price, the state has to incur the cumulative earnings of tea, rubber and coconut, to meet the import cost of present petroleum bill. This situation is going to be worse in the near future because of the escalating trend of petroleum price.

In addition to ever increasing cost of power and energy, the cost of transport and finance have also increased. The cost, risk and vulnerability of investment, both local and foreign, also has increased tremendously, because of the high cost of inefficiency, unfavourable and degenerated political culture, and adverse, incompatible and incomprehensive foreign policies and relations. Consequently foreign investment, grants and loans have been driven away and diverted to other countries and we have lost a gigantic share of our vitally needed and valuable development.

The price indices and inflation rate reveals the grave plight of our consumers because of the totally incompatible policies prevailing today. One year reference period from September 2004 shows that, Greater Colombo Consumer Index (GCPI) has spiralled to 13.2 from 2.9, Sri Lanka Consumer Price Index (SLCPT) has sky rocketed to 14.3 from 3.1 and Whole Sale Price Index (WPI) has heaped up to 18.6 from 3.4.

Nominal wages figures show that, for the same reference period, even though there had been some attractive wage hike for state sector employees, the increase had been marginal for the private sector employees who constitute the majority. Common man has to commit around half of his income to foot even the utility bills and trapped in a tragic plight of spiralling cost of living against meagre increase of the earning.

In this malignant socio-economic scenario, the right thinking Sri Lankan polity, would wonder, weather the present policy planners and administrators are suffering from severe myopic vision and thoughts with pathological illusion, while tragically and seiously discouraging and endangering private sector and vitally needed foreign investment. Effective and successful pro poor and pro growth programs and strategies, ideally in a macro scale, are eagerly waiting, to see the light of the day, even after 11 long years.

The present alarming and crusading trends show that, the strong platform of socioeconomic build up by Ranil Wickramasinghe in 2001 with strongly positive socio economic developmental momentum, is getting eroded and collapsing and we are heading for a socio economic disaster and carnage, with the recurrence of the black era of pre 1977 and pre 2001, if the left wing policies and programs, concentrating only in national economy, and neglecting the open economic system, is going to get on to the track. This imminent socio economic calamity and disaster have to be highlighted to enlighten the Sri Lankan polity.

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

Tsunami survivors hit by floods

Daily Mirror: 22/11/2005"

KILINOCHCHI: Thousands of tsunami survivors in LTTE-held areas were evacuated to higher ground yesterday after lashing monsoon rains flooded their camps, an official said.

“Around 4,000 families have been evacuated from transitional camps in the Mullaittivu and Vadamarachi East districts,” Laurence Christy, planning director of the Tamils Rehabilitation Organisation said.

He said another 20,000 families, many of them living in mud shelters after being displaced by 30 years of civil war, had been affected by drenching rains which began pounding the north on Sunday.

“We collected 300 volunteers and have evacuated those in the camps to public schools on higher ground,” Mr. Christy said.

“Because there are not enough schools, we also gave tarpaulins and plastic sheeting to some families,” he added. “We are concerned about the hygiene situation.”

The monsoon rains flood this area annually and some families may have to be accommodated at schools or in makeshift shelters until January when they abate, he said.

Some of those being evacuated, Mr. Christy said, were being displaced for the third time -- first by the war, then by the tsunami and now by the floods.

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Information Society Must Block Paedophiles

IPS NEWS: Marwaan Macan-Markar
BANGKOK , Nov 11 (IPS) - A major U.N. conference that aims to bridge the gap in information technology between the world's affluent and poorest societies is in danger of inadvertently catering to the needs and fantasies of the world's paedophiles.

For leading child rights activists it is a threat that cannot be taken lightly, in the wake of growing evidence of the lengths paedophiles have gone to in exploiting cyberspace to prey on children in societies where the Internet and information and communication technology (ICT) are easily accessible.

At issue is a reluctance on the part of the forthcoming World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to embrace concrete language that calls on the ICT industry and other ICT decision-makers to generate safeguards to protect children from abuse.

''This is unacceptable. You cannot promote development and the equitable access of ICT yet have a benign neglect of children's rights,'' says Paulo Pinheiro, the independent expert appointed by the U.N. secretary-general to study violence against children.

''The conference cannot simply focus on the positive elements like the expansion of people connected to cyberspace because the expansion brings very negative elements too,'' he argued during an interview. ''We cannot pretend that this negative elements are not present.''

''I hope the declaration of the WSIS will reflect this language,'' he added, referring to the final document, or 'Plan of Action,' expected to emerge at the end of the WSIS, being held in Tunis, Nov. 16-18.

In 2002, the U.N. General Assembly asked the International Telecommunication Union to lay the groundwork for a conference to find solutions to the digital divide between the developed and the developing world. A primary objective of the planned global Information Society due to grow out of the conference in Tunisia is to ensure universal and equitable access to information and knowledge through the ICT sector.

Pinheiro's concerns are being backed by a leading global child rights lobby, the Bangkok-based End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT).

Fragmented industry action to develop safeguards in ICT is ''exposing children around the world to increasingly serious violence through the Internet and other cyberspace technologies,'' declared an ECPAT report released here Friday.

In addition to the exchange of child pornography, the Internet has enabled adults who prey on children to indulge in ''live'' online sexual abuse for a fee, online sexual solicitation, cyberstalking and bullying and the use of cyberspace to ''network for child sex tourism and trafficking,'' states the 91-page report.

''By 2000, police across several countries were encountering individuals who had collected hundreds of thousands of images of children being sexually abused,'' reveals 'Violence Against Children in Cyberspace'. ''Now, cyberspace is host to more than one million images of tens of thousands of children subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation.''

It is, furthermore, a lucrative trade, since the ECPAT study estimates that the production and distribution of abusive images of children runs into billions of dollars. ''Estimates of annual business volume range widely from three billion U.S. dollars to 20 billion U.S. dollars.''

And it is a pattern that could only worsen, given the latest developments in technology that makes it easier for abusers to exploit. The report singled out innovations such as phone-cams, global positioning system technology and third-generation technology.

What makes children even more vulnerable is the ease with which they keep embracing the development in ICT and being among its leading users. ''Children and young people are in the vanguard of the almost one billion people who log into cyberspace, and they will account for a significant proportion of expansion in useage of new ICTs in coming years,'' according to the report.

Yet despite such growth in ICT and the dangers it has been creating to children, countries have been slow to respond with concrete measures, either through laws or by strengthening national agencies like the police to go after those who violate children's rights through the Internet.

''Police departments do not have the technology to deal with this crime (of abusing children in cyberspace) in most countries,'' Carmen Madrinan, ECPAT's executive director, told the media on Friday. ''We are still lacking forensic efforts and tools to track crime in cyberspace.''

While laws to protect children from such abuse are absent in most countries, even in the few countries that have implemented some measures the legislation is weak, she said. ''Child protection should be at the core of ICT development to make it safe for children.''

And the forthcoming WSIS offers a testing ground to measure the industry's and governments' commitment to protecting children from current and future predators, says Deborah Muir, author of the report. ''Child protection measures must be implemented within the structures of the new information society.''

''The safeguards must be considered right at the R and D (research and development) stage,'' she said in an IPS interview. ''And when they (ICT sector) does its consumer surveys of how a certain technology will be picked up by the child as a consumer, we are also calling for complementary measures that address how the technology may be used in a way that would harm children.'' (END/2005)

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FAO supports women's livelihoods through model nurseries

ReliefWeb - Document Preview: Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Date: 10 Nov 2005,
Hambantota, November 10 – The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations constructed 5 model horticulture nurseries to enhance the livelihoods of more than 350 tsunamiaffected women. This livelihoods component of the FAO tsunami emergency relief and rehabilitation programme is part of two projects funded by the Italian Cooperation and the Italian Civil Protection Department.

"Community horticulture nurseries enable women's farmer's organizations to establish benefit schemes for their members and thus help women and their households to become more food secure and earn extra income." said FAO Horticulture Expert, Giuseppe De Bac The five model nurseries were built by women's groups with FAO technical support in Rekawa, Wadunruppuwa, Walaw and Yodakandyia. The nurseries are made by local available material and they can easily be constructed and replicated by other communities. They are designed to produce fruit, vegetable seedlings and ornamental plants.

Close to 150 women from the four women's farm organisations will be trained to ensure the sustainability of the nurseries. The training component foresees the training of trainers in nursery management and marketing. These trainers will then pass on the skills learnt through practical "hands on" training of the beneficiaries.

FAO is the UN's coordinating agency for the rehabilitation of the fisheries and agriculture sectors in Sri Lanka. Whilst FAO and the Sri Lankan government's immediate priority following the tsunami disaster has been to get the fishers fishing and farmers farming again as soon as possible, the longer-term strategy is to improve the sectors as a whole with a view to raising the incomes of coastal communities.

For more information contact Mona Chaya, FAO Emergency Relief and Rehabilitation Coordinator in Sri Lanka Tel: 011-2689363 / 4

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

ADB water policy failed, says group

SriLanka-NGO-Link: Wednesday, November 16, 2005ADB water policy failed, says group
CONTRARY to claims made by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), its Water for All policy is a huge failure rather than a success, said Hemantha Withanage, executive director of the NGO forum on ADB.
Based on ADB's key findings, 54 percent of ADB's water loans approved for water policy adoption are consistent with the policy and the 20 percent of the water technical assistance projects examined, among others.
But Withanage said that the Asian lender failed to identify the countries in which these initiatives were implemented.
"The communities are struggling with their own governments against the pushing of ADB model policy. If the ADB water policy implementation is successful, why do communities in many Asian countries engage in these struggles?" asked Withanage, who represents an Asian-led network of nongovernment and community-based organizations.
Withanage cited the situation in Bangladesh in which the natural ecological cycle and diversity of fish, animal and plant life within its rich and alluvial delta has been irreparably disturbed by flood-control structures and drainage works by the Khulna Jessore Drainage Rehabilitaion Project.
Meanwhile, the Left Bank Outfall Drainage Project in Pakistan caused seepage into the agricultural land, which was exactly the opposite of what the project intended to accomplish.
"[These projects] lacked understanding and consideration for the numerous factors that contribute to the ecological balance and the benefits that can accrue from respecting the ecosystems," Withanage said. "Certainly, the environment is a complex thing, and extreme caution is needed in developing projects that tamper with the environment. In fact many groups contend that the projects should not alter the ecosystem."
He added that the ADB did not conduct comprehensive reappraisal of the project before it approved the project design and changes. A reappraisal would have delved deeply into potential social and environmental cost, he said.
He said that the ADB, in its headlong rush to implement projects in the water sector was consistently heedless of fostering and establishing genuine people's participation in each project.
"In the country experiences, it was consistently cited that for the most part, the people were unaware of project plans and purposes, especially the ones who were most affected by the projects. This has resulted in the grave consequences in many of the projects already mentioned," Withanage added.
--Mercedes E. Rullan
Realted posts
ADB wants Sri Lanka to privatize and charge money for water given to farmers
National water resources policy - why can't we achieveconsensus?
FORUM-ASIA Open Letter to the ADB
Water, Development and Health

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U.S. Fights to Remain the Ultimate Webmaster

IPS NEWS: Haider Rizvi
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 11 (IPS) - International efforts to break down the digital barriers facing the world's poor will backfire if governments fail to work out their differences on the issue of internet governance, diplomatic observers here say.

Many heads of state and technical experts from around the world are due to attend the United Nations Summit for the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis next week, where, among other things, they will try to negotiate the legal and technical future of the internet.

But with the United States unwilling to embrace any changes in the network it helped create in the 1960s, and other nations seeking to alter the current system, indications are that negotiators could pack up without a concrete agreement.

The most contentious among the issues to be discussed at the summit is Washington's role in overseeing the internet's address structure known as "the domain name system" (DNS), which enables millions of computer users around the world to communicate with each other.

Currently, the system is managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), a California-based nonprofit private organisation that works under contract to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Despite certain differences on the issue, both the developing countries' bloc led by China, India, Brazil and others, and the European Union are stressing that the internet should be governed internationally with multiple stakeholders involved in the decision-making process.

While many developing countries want internet governance to be controlled by an international body such as the U.N., the Europeans have proposed what they call a "cooperation model" to deal with Icann. The model points to a "forum" that would allow governments, interested organisations, and industry to discuss internet issues.

But Washington continues to oppose such suggestions, arguing that internet security and stability are best maintained through the current systems of technical controls overseen by Icann.

"As important as internet governance discussions are, I don't think anybody believes that as a result of them there will be one more computer or one more cell phone in rural parts of Africa, South America, Asia or any where else," said David Gross, who has led the U.S. delegation at the previous U.N. meetings on information technology.

The plan of action adopted at the conclusion of the first U.N. summit on the information society held in Geneva in 2003 laid out clear targets for increasing information and communication technologies (ICT) access and internet connections for rural areas, hospitals, libraries and universities in the developing world.

The plan also set targets for online access for local governments, for the availability of content in all languages and for developing primary and secondary school curricula to meet the challenges of the information society.

Developing countries argue that meeting such goals requires changes in internet governance, but the U.S. says the current system is already producing positive results.

"I think, as I look around the world, that a lot of progress has been made in those areas," Gross says. "But of course there is a lot of work still to be done."

While the vast majority of people without access to the internet live in developing countries, there are also millions of people within the developed world who are unable to use the web for economic reasons.

At recent U.N. meetings on information-related issues, diplomats from developing countries have consistently contended that internet governance must be more transparent and inclusive in order to foster economic and social development.

"Internet governance should not be the prerogative of one group of countries or stockholders," Maria Luiza Viotti, a Brazilian diplomat, told a recent forum at U.N. headquarters in New York. "Governments have a stake, and the concerns of developing countries should be taken into account."

But U.S. officials countered this position on the ground that governments' involvement in internet governance in certain countries would cause further erosion of the freedom of expression and independent political opinion.

Michael Gallagher, U.S. President George W. Bush's internet adviser, believes that countries seeking changes in internet governance are seizing on the only "central" part of the system in an effort to exert control.

"They are looking for a handle, thinking that the DNS is the meaning of life," he says. "But the meaning of life lies within their own borders and the policies that they create here."

The European Union and Canada share many of the U.S. concerns over governments' control. But at the same time they also appear to be equally wary of Washington's dominance over internet governance.

Those closely watching the negotiating process say it is too early to suggest that the summit will prove to be a fiasco, yet there is a possibility that it may conclude without any meaningful agreement signed.

"It would be foolhardy and unrealistic to assume that the U.S. would not continue to play a major role in the future governance of the internet," writes Irmran Chaudhry, an information technology expert at the of George Mason University in Virginia.

"It seems implausible the U.S. would cede any ground to a U.N.-sponsored regulatory body," he goes on to say. "In that sense, it is possible that the current debate may be an exercise in futility, because no matter what ultimate proposals are presented to the Secretary-General Kofi Annan, they will be subject to de facto U.S. veto."

Others fear that such a scenario could lead China, Russia, Brazil and other nations to launch their own versions of the internet.

"We have to have a platform where leaders of the world can exercise their thoughts about the internet," Viviane Reding, the European Information Technology Commissioner, told the Guardian newspaper.

"If they have the impression that the internet is dominated by one nation and it does not belong to all the nations, then the result could be that the internet falls apart." (END/2005)

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Tsunami survivors hit by floods

Sri Lankan tsunami survivors hit by floods: Source: Agence France-Presse (AFP) Date: 21 Nov 2005
KILINOCHCHI, Sri Lanka, Nov 21 (AFP) - Thousands of tsunami survivors in rebel-held areas of northern Sri Lanka were evacuated to higher ground Monday after lashing monsoon rains flooded their camps, an official said.

"Around 4,000 families have been evacuated from transitional camps in the Mullaittivu and Vadamarachi East districts," said Laurence Christy, planning director of the Tamils Rehabilitation Organisation, a Tamil relief group.

He added that another 20,000 families, many of them living in mud shelters after being displaced by 30 years of civil war, had been affected by drenching rains which began pounding the north on Sunday.

The area is controlled by the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which has been fighting for independence for the Hindu Tamil minority in the mainly Buddhist Sinhalese island.

"We collected 300 volunteers this morning and they have evacuated those in the camps to public schools on higher ground," Christy said.

"Because there are not enough schools, we have also had to give out tarpaulins and plastic sheeting to some families," he added. "We have also been giving out food and water. We are concerned about the hygiene situation."

The monsoon rains flood this area annually and some families may have to be accommodated at schools or in makeshift shelters until January when they abate, he said.

Some of those being evacuated, Christy said, were being displaced for the third time -- first by the war, then by the tsunami and now by the floods.

The December 26 tsunami killed some 31,000 people in Sri Lanka and displaced about a million. Many are still living in hundreds of camps.

Peace talks between Colombo and the Tigers have been deadlocked since April 2003 although a truce signed in February 2002 still holds.

Sri Lanka's new president, Mahinda Rajapakse, offered to hold fresh peace talks with the LTTE when he was sworn in on Saturday after narrowly winning the presidential ballot boycotted by Tamils in the rebel-held north and northeast.

Elusive rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, a self-styled Sun God whose picture is displayed in virtually every building in Kilinochchi, is expected to respond to the offer during his annual Heroes' Day address to cadres at a secret venue on Sunday.


Copyright (c) 2005 Agence France-Presse
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 11/21/2005 06:16:33

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Leaked documents reveal EU plans for Developing World

GCAP Update - 8 November : The World Development Movement has copies of leaked documents which reveal the EU’s hidden agenda to introduce compulsory targets for service liberalisation for the forthcoming World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks in Hong Kong, this December. The leaks directly contradict the recent statement by UK Trade Secretary Alan Johnson that "We must not force liberalisation on developing countries…we must leave it for them to decide the what, when and how of their market openings." (1)
The documents include a “Draft Ministerial Text on Services” which clearly calls for "numerical targets and indicators" for service liberalisation (2), and an EU proposal to the WTO setting out exactly what targets it wants. The leaked proposal shows the EU is demanding developing countries make commitments in 93 of the 163 sub-sectors listed under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).(3) These have been introduced despite persistent developing country opposition to having mandatory targets for forcing open their economies to foreign companies.(4) The EU is also demanding that developing countries engage in “sectoral negotiations” and implement “model schedules” of GATS commitments. The EU's attempt to force minimum standards for services liberalisation fundamentally changes the agreed process for the GATS talks. Currently, these talks are conducted on a bilateral “request-offer” basis. In other words, countries can choose whether they want to make any GATS commitments at all and, if so, how many. Previously, this flexibility has been lauded by the EU and the UK Government as being “development- friendly”.(5)
WDM Head of Policy Peter Hardstaff said:" This is a classic example of how the WTO works. Developing countries have spent most of the last month fighting against GATS benchmarks. Now they find that their demands have been totally sidelined by rich nations wishing to force open poor country markets for the benefit of their companies. This clearly exposes Alan Johnson's public call for an end to forced liberalisation as empty rhetoric because the UK is supporting policies which do the opposite.
"This is in direct contradiction to the UK and EU's arguments that GATS is pro-poor. What could be more development unfriendly than forcing open poor country markets for the benefit of rich country companies? The EU's “benchmarking” proposal also contradicts the UK Government's claim that there are no plans to change the negotiating approach.(6).The EU is attempting to force developing countries into a liberalisation straightjacket that will undermine their ability to pursue pro-development, pro-poor policies. The EU's insistence on pursuing the “benchmarking” issue, and the Chair of the services negotiating group's decision to ignore widespread developing country opposition, means this looks set to be one of the key battlegrounds at the WTO Ministerial in Hong Kong. The EU has clearly not learned the lesson from Cancun where the talks collapsed because it ignored developing country opposition to its demand for new WTO agreements on issues such as investment."
Contact : Jo Kuper, WDM Press Officer 0207 274 7630 / 07939 245 864jo@wdm.org.uk
Notes (1) Alan Johnson MP, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, United Kingdom, The Wall Of Shame, Speech at The Foreign Policy Centre, London, Thursday 20 October 2005
(2) Council for Trade in Services Special Session. Draft Ministerial Text on Services. 26th October 2005. Job(05)/262, paragraph 9 (Word)
(3) Communication from the European Communities and its Member States. Elements for "Complementary Approaches" in Services. 27th October. Council for Trade In Services Special Session. TN/S/W/55 (PDF)
(4) The EU's benchmarking push has angered developing countries, with those speaking out including Brazil, Rwanda (representing Least Developed Countries), South Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Phillipines, Bangladesh, Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, and Antigua and Barbuda (representing a range of other Caribbean countries).
(5) For example, according to the EC, "the GATS is probably one of the most development friendly agreements in the WTO system because of its [flexible] structure" (European Commission. (2002). Concept paper on development provisions. Communication to the WTO's Working Group on the Relationship between Trade and Investment WT/WGTI/W140 12 September 2002).
(6) According to the UK's Department for Trade and Industry, "Negotiations proceed on the basis of requests and offers; that is, countries request each other to consider liberalisation in particular sectors, and respond with offers. Agreement to liberalise is not reached until all participating Members – including developing countries – are satisfied with the total package being offered. There are no plans to change this approach." (DTI. (2005). General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS): The GATS (www.dti.gov.uk/ewt/service.htm) viewed on 21/09/05).

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Monday, November 21, 2005

Latin America - not dancing to Bush's tune

yapapolitics : Message: Latin America - not dancing to Bush's tune: NEWS YOU WON'T FIND ON CNN
The Rise Of America's New Enemy
By John Pilger
11/10/05 "ICH " -- -- I was dropped at Paradiso, the last middle-class area before barrio La Vega, which spills into a ravine as if by the force of gravity. Storms were forecast, and people were anxious, remembering the mudslides that took 20,000 lives. "Why are you here?" asked the man sitting opposite me in the packed jeep-bus that chugged up the hill. Like so many in Latin America, he appeared old, but wasn't. Without waiting for my answer, he listed why he supported President Chavez: schools, clinics, affordable food, "our constitution, our democracy" and "for the first time, the oil money is going to us." I asked him if he belonged to the MRV, Chavez's party, "No, I've never been in a political party; I can only tell you how my life has been changed, as I never dreamt."

It is raw witness like this, which I have heard over and over again in Venezuela, that smashes the one-way mirror between the west and a continent that is rising. By rising, I mean the phenomenon of millions of people stirring once again, "like lions after slumber/In unvanquishable number", wrote the poet Shelley in The Mask of Anarchy. This is not romantic; an epic is unfolding in Latin America that demands our attention beyond the stereotypes and clichés that diminish whole societies to their degree of exploitation and expendability.

To the man in the bus, and to Beatrice whose children are being immunised and taught history, art and music for the first time, and Celedonia, in her seventies, reading and writing for the first time, and Jose whose life was saved by a doctor in the middle of the night, the first doctor he had ever seen, Hugo Chavez is neither a "firebrand" nor an "autocrat" but a humanitarian and a democrat who commands almost two thirds of the popular vote, accredited by victories in no less than nine elections. Compare that with the fifth of the British electorate that re-installed Blair, an authentic autocrat.

Chávez and the rise of popular social movements, from Colombia down to Argentina, represent bloodless, radical change across the continent, inspired by the great independence struggles that began with SimOn Bolívar, born in Venezuela, who brought the ideas of the French Revolution to societies cowed by Spanish absolutism. Bolívar, like Che Guevara in the 1960s and Chavez today, understood the new colonial master to the north. "The USA," he said in 1819, "appears destined by fate to plague America with misery in the name of liberty."

At the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City in 2001, George W Bush announced the latest misery in the name of liberty in the form of a Free Trade Area of the Americas treaty. This would allow the United States to impose its ideological "market", neo-liberalism, finally on all of Latin America. It was the natural successor to Bill Clinton's North American Free Trade Agreement, which has turned Mexico into an American sweatshop. Bush boasted it would be law by 2005.

On 5 November, Bush arrived at the 2005 summit in Mar del Plata, Argentina, to be told his FTAA was not even on the agenda. Among the 34 heads of state were new, uncompliant faces and behind all of them were populations no longer willing to accept US-backed business tyrannies. Never before have Latin American governments had to consult their people on pseudo-agreements of this kind; but now they must.

In Bolivia, in the past five years, social movements have got rid of governments and foreign corporations alike, such as the tentacular Bechtel, which sought to impose what people call total locura capitalista - total capitalist folly - the privatising of almost everything, especially natural gas and water. Following Pinochet's Chile, Bolivia was to be a neo-liberal laboratory. The poorest of the poor were charged up to two-thirds of their pittance-income even for rain-water.

Standing in the bleak, freezing, cobble-stoned streets of El Alto, 14,000 feet up in the Andes, or sitting in the breeze-block homes of former miners and campesinos driven off their land, I have had political discussions of a kind seldom ignited in Britain and the US. They are direct and eloquent. "Why are we so poor," they say, "when our country is so rich? Why do governments lie to us and represent outside powers?" They refer to 500 years of conquest as if it is a living presence, which it is, tracing a journey from the Spanish plunder of Cerro Rico, a hill of silver mined by indigenous slave labour and which underwrote the Spanish Empire for three centuries. When the silver was gone, there was tin, and when the mines were privatised in the 1970s at the behest of the IMF, tin collapsed, along with 30,000 jobs. When the coca leaf replaced it - in Bolivia, chewing it in curbs hunger - the Bolivian army, coerced by the US, began destroying the coca crops and filling the prisons.

In 2000, open rebellion burst upon the white business oligarchs and the American embassy whose fortress stands like an Andean Vatican in the centre of La Paz. There was never anthing like it, because it came from the majority Indian population "to protect our indigenous soul". Naked racism against indigenous peoples all over Latin America is the Spanish legacy. They were despised or invisible, or curios for tourists: the women in their bowler hats and colourful skirts. No more. Led by visionaries like Oscar Olivera, the women in bowler hats and colourful skirts encircled and shut down the country's second city, Cochabamba, until their water was returned to public ownership.

Every year since, people have fought a water or gas war: essentially a war against privatisation and poverty. Having driven out President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada in 2003, Bolivians voted in a referendum for real democracy. Through the social movements they demanded a constituent assembly similar to that which founded ChAvez's Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela, together with the rejection of the FTAA and all the other "free trade" agreements, the expulsion of the transnational water companies and a 50 per cent tax on the exploitation of all energy resources.

When the replacement president, Carlos Mesa, refused to implement the programme he was forced to resign. Next month, there will be presidential elections and the opposition Movement to Socialism (MAS) may well turn out the old order. The leader is an indigenous former coca farmer, Evo Morales, whom the American ambassador has likened to Osama Bin Laden. In fact, he is a social democrat who, for many of those who sealed off Cochabamba and marched down the mountain from El Alto, moderates too much.

"This is not going to be easy," Abel Mamani, the indigenous president of the El Alto neighbourhood Committees, told me. "The elections won't be a solution even if we win. What we need to guarantee is the constituent assembly, from which we build a democracy based not on what the US wants, but on social justice." The writer Pablo Solon, son of the great political muralist Walter Solon, said, "The story of Bolivia is the story of the government behind the government. The US can create a financial crisis; but really for them it is ideological; they say they will not accept another Chavez."

The people, however, will not accept another Washington quisling. The lesson is Ecuador, where a helicopter saved Lucio GutiErrez as he fled the presidential palace last April. Having won power in alliance with the indigenous Pachakutik movement, he was the "Ecuadorian Chavez", until he drowned in a corruption scandal. For ordinary Latin Americans, corruption on high is no longer forgivable. That is one of two reasons the Workers' Party government of Lula is barely marking time in Brazil; the other is the priority he has given to an IMF economic agenda, rather than his own people. In Argentina, social movements saw off five pro-Washington presidents in 2001 and 2002. Across the water in Uruguay, the Frente Amplio, socialist heirs to the Tupamaros, the guerrillas of the 1970s who fought one of the CIA's most vicious terror campaigns, formed a popular government last year.

The social movements are now a decisive force in every Latin American country - even in the state of fear that is the Colombia of Alvaro Uribe Velez, Bush's most loyal vassal. Last month, indigenous movements marched through every one of Colombia's 32 provinces demanding an end to "an evil as great at the gun": neo-liberalism. All over Latin America, Hugo Chavez is the modern Bolivar. People admire his political imagination and his courage. Only he has had the guts to describe the United States as a source of terrorism and Bush as Senor Peligro (Mr Danger). He is very different from Fidel Castro, whom he respects. Venezuela is an extraordinarily open society with an unfettered opposition - that is rich and still powerful. On the left, there are those who oppose the state, in principle, believe its reforms have reached their limit, and want power to flow directly from the community. They say so vigorously, yet they support Chavez. A fluent young arnarchist, Marcel, showed me the clinic where the two Cuban doctors may have saved his girlfriend. (In a barter arrangement, Venezuela gives Cuba oil in exchange for doctors).

At the entrance to every barrio there is a state supermarket, where everything from staple food to washing up liquid costs 40 per cent less than in commercial stores. Despite specious accusations that the government has instituted censorship, most of the media remains violently anti-Chavez: a large part of it in the hands of Gustavo Cisneros, Latin America's Murdoch, who backed the failed attempt to depose Chavez. What is striking is the proliferation of lively community radio stations, which played a critical part in Chavez's rescue in the coup of April 2002 by calling on people to march on Caracas.

While the world looks to Iran and Syria for the next Bush attack, Venezuelans know they may well be next. On 17 March, the Washington Post reported that Feliz Rodríguez, "a former CIA operative well- connected to the Bush family" had taken part in the planning of the assassination of the President of Venezuela. On 16 September, Chavez said, "I have evidence that there are plans to invade Venezuela. Furthermore, we have documentation: how many bombers will over-fly Venezuela on the day of the invasion... the US is carrying out manoeuvres on Curacao Island. It is called Operation Balboa." Since then, leaked internal Pentagon documents have identified Venezuela as a "post-Iraq threat" requiring "full spectrum" planning.

The old-young man in the jeep, Beatrice and her healthy children and Celedonia with her "new esteem", are indeed a threat - the threat of an alternative, decent world that some lament is no longer possible. Well, it is, and it deserves our support.

First published in the New Statesman - www.newstatesman.co.uk

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Committee against Torture hears response of Sri Lanka

ReliefWeb - Document Preview: Source: United Nations Committee against Torture
Date: 11 Nov 2005
Committee against Torture
11 novembre 2005

The Committee against Torture this afternoon heard the response of Sri Lanka to questions raised by Committee Experts on the second periodic report of that country on how it is implementing the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Responding to a series of questions raised by the Committee members on Thursday, 10 November, the delegation, which was led by Sarala Fernando, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said human rights cells were set up in the police force to deal with internal allegations of human rights violations in the force, and for the dissemination of information in relation to human rights. A confession made by any person to a police officer as a result of torture or any confession made by any person whilst in police custody to another under duress was inadmissible under normal law. On a question on the interpretation in case law on what was considered bodily harm, humiliation and others, this area of law had received legislative expression in 1995, and there had only been a few cases, and as a result the jurisprudential aspect was yet to be developed by the courts.

In conclusion, the delegation said that Sri Lanka had always been mindful of its obligations, and respected, secured, and advanced human rights to its society. The Constitution of Sri Lanka confirmed to its people that fundamental rights would be recognised as an intangible heritage that guaranteed the dignity and well-being of mankind.

The Committee will submit its conclusions and recommendations on the report of Sri Lanka towards the end of the session on 25 November 2005.

As one of the 140 States parties to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Sri Lanka is obliged to provide the Committee with periodic reports on the measures it has undertaken to fight torture.

When the Committee reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Monday, 14 November, it is scheduled to hear the response of Ecuador to questions posed this morning.

Response of Sri Lanka

Responding to a series of questions raised by the Committee Experts on 10 November, the delegation of Sri Lanka said concerning non-extradition or refoulement, there was no express provision on the non-extradition of persons on the grounds of the person being subjected to torture. However, extradition required a court process, and in their interpretation of extradition law, they would necessarily give expression to any international agreement to which Sri Lanka was party, including the Convention. In agreeing on the extradition, the State would necessarily be guided by its international obligations, in particular article 3 of the Convention.

Since signing the Peace Agreement, there had been a number of instances when LTTE leaders had flown in and out of Colombo airport. On the right to try non-Sri Lankans who had committed crimes outside the country but were in the country and who had not been extradited, there was no such provision to deal with this aspect in domestic legislation. Statistics showed, the delegation said, that there was a vast reduction in the number of cases relating to torture that had been filed in the courts. The procedure for visits of places of detention had been agreed upon in consultation with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, whose officers could visit, at any time, without notice, any police station. However, if they were to visit any place within the police station where the public had no access, the police had been directed to provide the assistance of a senior police officer to escort the members of the Commission for reasons of security.

The National Police Commission had been established and could not in any way be abolished by executive action. On law delays, the delegation said, the Government and the Chief Justice were presently considering legislative steps as well as administrative procedures to accelerate the process of the criminal justice aystem. On language in which statements were recorded, it was conceded that statements of accused persons as well as witnesses had been in certain instances recorded in a language other than in the language in which the oral statement was made. This problem had been recognised and every endeavour was being made to ensure that the problem was addressed.

Human rights cells were set up in the police force to deal with internal allegations of human rights violations in the forces, and for the dissemination of information in relation to human rights. However, the administrative structure of the police did not require human rights cells to investigate human rights violations within the police, and the Human Rights Directorate of police ensured the dissemination of information on human rights to all police stations. All military personnel and police officers had been fully apprised of the fact that they were not obliged to follow any illegal orders of a superior officer, and that such an order made by a superior officer would not be a defence in any court proceeding or disciplinary inquiry. On how findings of reports of inspection visits to prisons were communicated to the relevant authorities for implementation, NGOs would always inform the relevant authorities of their findings, conclusions and recommendations, if they were of the view that remedial action was required.

As to why police officers against whom allegations of torture were made were not immediately interdicted, in practice, it had been found that very often persons accused of offences made false allegations for purposes of stifling the investigations that were being conducted against them, the delegation said. In the circumstances, it would be unfair to interdict a police officer on a mere allegation; however an officer against whom a prima facie case had been established would be interdicted by the National Police Commission. On the issue of the offending party paying compensation in lieu of a prosecution, there was an earlier practice in the Human Rights Commission in this regard. However, the Attorney General's Department had taken up the position that such settlements did not bind the Attorney General from forwarding indictments against perpetrators of torture. The present Commission had now discontinued this practice.

A confession made by any person to a police officer as a result of torture or any confession made by any person whilst in police custody to another under duress was inadmissible under normal law, the delegation said.

In terms of the Prisons Ordinance, serious offences such as mutiny, escape from prison, or causing grievous harm to a prison officer were inquired into by a prison tribunal chaired by a judicial officer. These tribunals were empowered to impose punishments of imprisonment in addition to the sentence the offender was serving. With regard to minor offences arising as a result of violation of prison rules, the Superintendent of Prisons was empowered to impose punishments such as solitary confinement and closed confinement, as well as a punishment diet. All serious offences committed by a prisoner against a fellow prisoner were tried under normal law, the delegation said.

The outcome of police disciplinary inquiries was not made public, the delegation said. However, if such disciplinary procedure was based on a complaint made by any person, the complainant had the right to know the outcome of the disciplinary inquiry. There were no statistics on compensation awarded to victims at this time. On a question on the interpretation in case law on what was considered bodily harm, humiliation and others, this area of law had received legislative expression in 1995, and there had only been a few cases, and as a result the jurisprudential aspect was yet to be developed by the courts. In all reported cases of custodial rape that had been committed before 2002, the Attorney General had examined the available material, and initiated criminal proceedings in all cases where there was sufficient evidence.

With regards to a question on whether there was any mechanism within the LTTE to deal with human rights violations, considering the flagrant violations of human rights by the LTTE, it was inconceivable that there were any mechanisms within the LTTE to deal with these, the delegation said. On whether there were statistics of discontinued cases against police officers, the delegation noted that there had been such cases on applications made by the victims, although no statistics could be provided. In all cases where the State had been ordered to pay compensation, this had been paid on the due date. However, in cases where public officers were directed by the Court to pay compensation personally, the Court could grant sufficient time to make such payments.

In conclusion, the delegation said that Sri Lanka had always been mindful of its obligations, and respected, secured, and advanced human rights to its society. The Constitution of Sri Lanka confirmed to its people that fundamental rights would be recognised as an intangible heritage that guaranteed the dignity and well-being of mankind.

ANDREAS MAVROMMATIS, Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Sri Lanka, said most of his questions were either partly or fully answered. However, three cases had been mentioned. Sri Lanka had done a lot of work to comply with recommendations made the previous time, and had done many other things in compliance with the recommendations of other United Nations bodies, and yet the number of credible complaints of torture or cruel and inhuman treatment whilst in police custody showed no decline. It was clear that something therefore remained to be done to reduce the incidents of torture. The Human Rights Commission appeared to have identified something that was of concern in this regard, and that was the pervading culture of impunity. The Government had to look into the causes for the continuing situation in greater detail, and to ensure that this was the case from the highest levels of the police force, right down to the most local of police officers in each little village. On the question of the National Human Rights Commission and the National Police Commission, which were statutory bodies, when these were not appointed, there was a need to clarify who took over their tasks.

OLE VEDEL RASMUSSEN, Committee Expert serving as co-Rapporteur, said that all questions had been answered, but he had a few comments, in particular with regard to the argument against the suspension of police officers in the case of allegations of torture, and Mr. Rasmussen suggested that this be reconsidered. It was up to the police force to conduct an investigation and get rid of rotten apples within its ranks. Further information was required on the maximum length of solitary confinement, and the suppression of the punishment diet was also suggested. Further information on convictions and those still on remand was also required, as this would help to clarify problems related to the numbers of those convicted.

Other Committee Experts then made further comments and raised questions. An Expert noted that a question on monitoring and follow-up measures that prevented sexual violence had not been answered. Sexual violence was also not exclusively carried out by men against women, an Expert reminded the delegation, and that persons in custody were often subject to abuse, including from other detainees, and asked whether there were any laws or provisions to prosecute such crimes.

Responding briefly, the delegation said the Attorney-General's office had a public complaints section, to which the public were entitled to write and complain about any offence or mistreatment that they had received at the hands of any public servant. If these matters were brought to the attention of the Attorney-General and he was informed that the police were trying to sweep such a matter under the carpet, then he would investigate them thoroughly. With regards to close confinement, this was for three days, and normal confinement was for a maximum of 14 days. As far as the prisons were concerned, there were both convicted and remanded persons in their walls, but they were confined to separate sections. Remand was the exception, generally speaking. On laws on sexual harassment that took place in prisons, there was a law on sexual abuse as well as harassment. With regards to rape, it only applied to women. The Constitutional Council had not been disbanded, and could not be disbanded, but there had been a delay in its constitution. The Human Rights Commission had no right to order compensation, as it was involved in the monitoring of human rights, and compensation was a matter for the courts.

In concluding remarks, Sarala Fernando, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that Sri Lanka had made great progress since the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement in 2002, and there was broad international recognition that a better human rights situation prevailed in the country. There had been no allegations of disappearances, extra-judicial killings or torture against the security forces. The police was also in the process of transition from a force that had to combat a brutal insurgency into a community-oriented civilian police force operating under normal law. Sri Lanka welcomed all international assistance provided for human rights education, civilian police training and national capacity building. It was only through strengthening national capacities that Sri Lanka would achieve the final goal of safeguarding all human rights for its people. There was no impunity for torture or any other human rights violation in Sri Lanka, and it was in this spirit that the country welcomed the dialogue with the Committee.

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SLEJF to identify best tsunami projects

Daily News: 17/11/2005"

The Sri Lanka Environmental Journalists Forum (SLEJF) is organising a promotional programme in coincidence with the first remembrance of Tsunami Disaster on December 26 to identify best tsunami projects that have been carried out last year and have been continuing. Projects that are being carried out at present aiming at tsunami rehabilitation and reconstruction will also be included into this programme, a SLEJF media release said.

Through this programme the forum hopes to identify 10 best tsunami rehabilitation projects in Sri Lanka, verify their authenticity and publish them through media, books as well as by website. This information will be distributed nationally and internationally.

Any project relating to social welfare, youth and children, counselling programmes, agriculture, fisheries, development, schools and housing construction targeted to tsunami affected or tsunami reconstruction and meet the basic criteria of the programme may apply.

Applications can be made by any individual who is attached to the government, NGOs, INGOs, international organisations, welfare organisations or public and private sector. From the entries the forum will shortlist at least 10 of the most promising projects and verify the authenticity of those projects by field investigations and other means. The details of Tsunami Rehabilitation Projects must be sent to the Co-ordinator, Sri Lanka Environmental Journalists Forum, 7B, Albert Perera Mawatha, Nugegoda or by phone 011 - 2817803, 2769592.

Total number of deaths in Sri Lanka by tsunami disaster amounts to 31,229 and 4,100 have disappeared, 516,150 were displaced and 250,000 houses were wiped out by tsunami within few minutes.

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Sunday, November 20, 2005

Economic Reform, Restructuring and Privatization -A Pro-Poor Growth Strategy

Daily Mirror: 16/11/2005"

“Any responsible Government, which has a Vision for the Nation-which I often describe as a Vision of - Political Stability, Economic Strength and Social Responsiveness - will adopt, Reform, Restructuring & Selective Privatization or let me call it Selective Divestment of State Owned Enterprises, (SOE) as a strategy to restructure and reposition the Nation’s Balance Sheet. A Government or Political Candidate who publicly pledges to adopt a Policy of “No Privatisation” is participating in rhetoric rather than engaging the minds of a voter community in what is reality.

This can either be the result of inability to understand the formidable challenge before us as a Nation, the implications thereof, or absence of courage to grapple with the challenge. It could of course, also be a strategically placed pledge, to win the votes of a less than aware voter community. That would be sad indeed and that we must resist as Stakeholders of the Nation-whether in the Professions, in Business or in Civil society. I say so since that pledge, will hold out hope – temporary hope – to the workers of a loss making, under-performing, subsidized SOE, and will give them a false sense of security. Living up to the pledge after elections will result in the need to perpetuate mediocrity in non-performing and underperforming SOE’s, and the need to finance subsidies, rather than the socially responsive stance of “building strength and sustainability” within the SOE and “medium to long term job security” for the worker. It would be a subsidy for a minority at the expense of public investment in urban and rural infrastructure - basic needs - for the larger majority.

In an overall sense the Nation will be held to ransom. Growth with Equity will not be achieved. The statistic of 10%, 8%, or 6% which I regard only as a target - while some indulge in the luxury of arguing about, ad nauseam- will be of academic value. That will be like trying to sprint while someone else is pinning you to the ground.

But, as one who has had hands–on experience, in advising and consulting to many indigenous, small, medium and large enterprises, over a 15 year period, on Privatization of entities such as Puttalam Cement, Veytex, MILCO, Lanka Canneries, Leather Products Corporation, Tea Small Holder Factories, Steel Corporation, Sevanagala Sugar Industries, Hambantota Salt, Puttalam Salt etc, - just to name a few, I have a clear understanding of the merits and demerits of the rationale for, timing, formula, sequence , and medium ( whether through an IPO or a Strategic sale or other) adopted by several regimes.

I have, also, as in the case of a Multi-Lateral Bank funded recent project in the agricultural sector, where the GOSL was the recipient of the advice, evaluated the, risks and safeguards- as I called it - from the perspective of all stakeholders- Govt and Private in particular. Co-incidentally it was during the latter assignment, that I took a stand, against the written recommendations of the Donor, to retain a local institution, rather than “a foreign institution”, to provide expertise for executing a certain project. My recommendation was accepted after much debate and exchange of correspondence over several months, and is now contracted for. Here, I fought for what was right based on available local expertise.

My fight was not based on rhetoric to engage “indigenous expertise”. The indigenous entity, would not have become that much richer or poorer, and owes me no obligation. I was just being a consultant, with the nation and the survival of the sector at heart, while living up to the expectations of my profession.

I would have persisted in the same manner, even in Tajikistan! This comment is particularly for those who now present theories on the virtues of indigenous talent, entrepreneurship and small business - a theme of many of my writings, public pronouncements and recommendations for years, which resulted in tax and investment incentives therefor and which many benefit from to date. It was not stylish and vote-getting to talk about then but I spoke on this and achieved the incentives for SME’s since I thought it was simply the right thing.

With regard to reform or restructuring, whole or partial divestment, a socially responsive Government, will have to manage the challenge of ensuring that the displaced worker if any, is financially cared for and found alternate employment-either through re-training, and re-employment or otherwise. There are many models we can follow in connection with finance, structures and strategies for these.

As a product of a small village in the Deep South, let me envision for a moment the life of a less than privileged resident there, one among many I regularly converse with. I would expect a Government which provides me with a road that is tarred, a bus that travels on it, a low cost house to live in, access to safe drinking water on tap, electricity for my son who is about to sit the Ordinary Level Examination, to study with the aid of, a telephone, a doctor and a dispensary at hand, a hospital close by, a school to go to, a temple to worship at.

I do not wish to see a Government that makes cement, paint and bricks, shirts, trousers and shoes, salt, sugar or steel. I will expect a Government that provides an environment that generates enterprise, small or medium that provides these at competitive and affordable cost. I will expect a Government that has the courage to step in and stricture any private provider, who is monopolistic and socially irresponsible and who is in conflict with the Consumer Affairs Protection Act. I wish to see a Government that will bridge the income and wealth disparity, the regional disparities that I have spoken publicly on, in print and electronic media, by helping me make my lot better rather than reduce the net worth of those who have, simply to make the gap narrower. I need a Government that bridges the “Opportunity Gap” between that of my son and that of the son of the owner of the land that I till.

This and much more I would like to say. But today, I will close with these words only; as I launch “The Thought Leadership Forum” which will regularly share “Independent National Perspectives” on matters of public interest, through both English & Sinhala, print and electronic media. I dedicate this and all future thoughts and experiences of mine to the memory of my late father-Attorney at Law, E.G.Wijesinha of Getamanna, in the Hambantotata District. I wish both candidates, who I know, the best of health and security as they engage in their quest for Leadership. On my part, I will continue to think and share thoughts and experiences, to bridge gaps between perception and reality, as well as to enhance awareness, in my own quest for what is best, for my motherland.”

The writer is a Chartered Accountant and former President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka and Confederation of Asian Pacific Accountants.

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Lanka poisoned by oil fired power plants

The Lanka Academic: 15/11/2005" by Munza Mushtaq in Colombo,

While highly questionable opposition by certain groups against the proposed Norochcholai coal power plant continues, nine oil burning plants in the country are grossly violating the Central Environment Authority's (CEA) stack emission standards by emitting large quantities of sulphur dioxide.
Energy expert Dr.Tilak Siyambalapitiya disclosed to the Weekend Standard that seven of these power plants were privately owned while the remaining two belonged to the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) situated at Sapugaskanda.

"The emissions from these nine power plants are four times more than what was authorized by the Central Environment Authority in the event the Norochcholai coal power plant begins operation in the country," he noted.

A future coal power plant in the country cannot emit more than 0.65% in stack emission, but at present these nine thermal power plants emit harmful gasses (sulphur dioxide) in the range of 2.7% to 3.5%.

The majority of these plants generate electricity from furnace oil, even though they got approval to generate power from diesel. Sources claimed that the change of oil to generate electricity maybe due to the high cost of diesel. The price of Furnace Oil is nearly 50% less than that of diesel.

Two of the private power plants are also situated at Sapugaskanda, one at the Colombo Port, and one each at Matara, Horana, Ambilipitiya and Puttalam.

However, Dr. Siyambalapitiya notes that the CEA reviews the operation of these power plants on a regular basis, if not on a monthly basis more often on an annual basis. "Some plants have to report to the Authority every three months. But not all emission parameters are measured in all power plants" he noted.

Sulphur dioxide in the air is caused due to the rise in combustion of fossil fuels. Its negative impacts on the human being includes the aggravation of existing lung diseases, especially bronchitis, it can also constrict breathing in asthmatic people. It also causes wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing.

A total of 530 MW is generated from these nine power plants, the CEB operates 160 MW in each of its two oil fired plants, while the seven privately owned power projects have a total capacity of 370 MW

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