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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, March 25, 2006

UN tsunami envoy chides Sri Lankans, praises India for response to disaster

ReliefWeb - Document Preview: Source: Voice of America (VOA), Date: 08 Mar 2006

By Patricia Nunan
New Delhi, 08 March 2006 - United Nations tsunami recovery envoy calls it "unfortunate" that Sri Lankan leaders did not rise above their political differences to seize the opportunity for peace after the December 2004 tragedy ravaged the country. But, Eric Shwartz praised India's government for its efforts to rebuild following the disaster.
When the Indian Ocean tsunami struck on December 26, 2004, Sri Lanka had been mired in more than 20 years of fighting between the government and the Tamil Tiger guerrilla group, which wants greater rights for the country's ethnic Tamil minority. Peace talks supervised by Norwegian mediators had ground to a virtual halt.
The deadly waters killed more than 30,000 people in Sri Lanka and devastated thousands of towns and villages. But within days of the disaster, attention shifted to the question of whether some good could come of the tragedy.
The international community pledged some $5 billion in assistance to Sri Lanka alone, raising hopes that talks between the government and the rebels over aid distribution could restart the stalled peace process.
That did not happen.
Eric Schwartz is the United Nations Deputy Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, working alongside former President Bill Clinton. He says it was a mistake to think that money alone could override Sri Lankan antagonisms.
"Recovery assistance can improve the climate somewhat, but it's not going to drive politics. What the tsunami did do - the tsunami itself, not the assistance - the tsunami did provide a window for governments and opposition movements to recalibrate their priorities, recognize what was really important, and make some very difficult but important decisions about how to move forward," said Schwartz.
He points to the northern Indonesian province of Aceh, which had also been locked in years of fighting between separatist insurgents and the government. After the tsunami devastated the province, the two sides finally signed a peace accord.
In Sri Lanka, Norwegian mediators, the government and the rebels agreed to the Post Tsunami Operational Management Structure, or PTOMS. The mechanism was meant to ensure the fair distribution of tsunami aid across ethnic and geographic lines, including devastated rebel-held areas, and to serve as the framework for future peace talks.
But analysts say political differences between the government and the rebels, plus opposition to the PTOMS agreement within the government, prevented the Sri Lankans from achieving the same success as the Indonesians.
"In Sri Lanka, we saw a similar dynamic, which I think played a role in the development of the PTOMS agreement, but the opportunity, for a variety of reasons, was not completely seized," he continued. "And that's very unfortunate."
Last month, the Sri Lankan government and Tamil rebels held an emergency meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. The meeting reaffirmed the two sides' commitment to a ceasefire, but it did little to advance the stalled peace talks.
Schwartz was in India to visit the tsunami-affected southern coast, where he praised officials for assistance provided to the thousands affected by the disaster.
The U.N. says that nearly 230,000 people died or disappeared in the 12 countries around the Indian Ocean hit by the deadly waves - making international assistance necessary for years to come. The vast bulk of the casualties came in Aceh, Sri Lanka and India.
So far, Schwartz says, tsunami-affected countries have not been affected by donor-fatigue, because pledged funds are earmarked to be spent over a number of years. Still, he says, President Clinton, whose visits to crisis zones generate huge publicity, remains committed to the recovery effort.
"One of his major objectives is to ensure that well after the media has departed the tsunami-affected region and has moved on to other crises, the international donor community, affected governments and others stay the course in the recovery effort. We have to demonstrate that the process of recovery assistance is not a hit-and-run affair, because you have to persevere," he noted.
Schwartz says the focus of tsunami assistance now is to provide livelihoods and promote entrepreneurial activity among people who lost everything in the disaster.

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Friday, March 24, 2006

A passport anarchy!

The Island: 10/03/2006" by I. P. C. Mendis (Retd. SLAS)

On March 01 2006, a writer referred to the serious constitutional crisis facing the country due to the non-operation of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution and the woeful lack of responsibility, commitment and initiative on the part of those legislators who seek to represent the people in the sacred task of democratic governance on the basis enunciated by the great Abraham Lincoln.

The country is now governed by the people, for the people and on behalf of the people. The country is now aware, or at least should be aware, that the Constitutional Council (CC) and the independent commissions for Police and the Public Service Commission are dysfunctional while the Judicial Service Commission by reason of the resignation of two of its three members, stands without a quorum. Nothing can be done to revive these Commissions unless the CC itself is given oxygen in the first instance. The parent body (CC) is effectively paralysed by a piece of legislation, the terminology, interpretation and provisions of which are so involuted that one cannot resist the evil thought that the whole 17th Amendment has had its own agenda, despite the initial enthusiasm to cater to the demand of the people for a just and equitable society.

Such an evil thought is supported by the existing universal political indifference. Yet, all are aware of this Catch 22 situation! The stalemate has enough power to generate a spontaneous reaction by the people if those who are ever ready to organise demonstrations at the drop of a hat, resort to strikes and go-slows, sick notes, so-called fasts unto death and threats at occasional immolation, were half as ready to take this cause of the non-operation of the 17th Amendment.

Appointments, promotions, transfers, discipline administrative and appellate functions are all at stake and there are extra-constitutional steps being contemplated in the absence of an alternative, to fill the void created by the inoperative institutions, all of which affect the public services and trade unions. The people themselves are affected through the immobilisation of the National Police Commission, the PSC and the JSC.

There are none at Lipton Circus, Fort Railway Station or on the Galle Road from Dondra to Colombo to espouse the cause.

The diffident opposition and independent parties need to act fast with the government to breathe life into the good intentions and spirit of the Amendment. The 17th Amendment is as at present, a 'dead letter'. The CC, in any case, even if revived cannot function in the event of a vacancy occurring, which will take a month of Sundays to fill.

The whole Amendment is basically flawed. The government is helpless with the unworkable provisions of this 'pearl of great price' which is tottering in its keens after a short life-span of less than 05 years. The cracks in its literary architecture are manifest, inter alia, in total failure to appoint an Elections Commission as envisaged in Article 103(1).

These submissions by me are designed to signal a Red Alert to the country and its people of the dangers that lie ahead in permitting this matter to drift exposing the democratic system to erosion. There can be no extra constitutional steps without a backlash in Courts and elsewhere, however much it is argued as being necessary to get over the stalemate. The suspension of any of the provisions of the Constitution is permissible only where Public Security is involved. The situations are dealt with in articles 154 J to Article 154 N of the Constitution. It is, therefore, not in the public interest or in the interests of the government to let the issue drift into limbo and to display indifference to the cause. Chaos is staring us in the face!

Elections Commission

Quite apart from the predicament the Elections Commissioner, Dayananda Dissanayake, finds himself in, the present situation is heavily laden with various possibilities that would be inimical to the interests of the Nation and good governance. Article 26 (2) of the Amendment provides as follows:

"The person holding office as the Commissioner of Elections on the day immediately preceding the date of the commencement of the Act, shall continue to exercise and perform the powers and functions of the office of Commissioner of Elections as were vested in him immediately prior to the commencement of this Act, and of the Elections Commission, until an Election Commission is constituted in terms of Article 103, and shall, from and after the date on which the Election Commission is so constituted, cease to hold office as the Commissioner of Elections."

The provision is totally subjective vis-a-vis the Elections Commissioner, Dayananda Dissanayake, who has absolutely no option but to continue the work he had been performing prior to the commencement of the Amendment. It was in terms of this provision that the Supreme Court ruled that it was unable to help him to retire. It would indeed be logical to conclude that this rigid provision leaves no quarter for anyone else to act in the post of Elections Commissioner nor be appointed permanently until the establishment of the Elections Commission. If not, he would have been permitted to retire.

A crucial issue arises as to what would happen if the person holding the post of Elections Commissioner is so incapacitated that he cannot perform his functions anymore or God forbid! (with all my prayers for good health and long life of the present incumbent I mention this only for argument sake only!)

The result: no elections, no referendum, or nothing in the absence of an Elections Commission. It is a far cry from the 1994 situation when Mr. Dissanayake was hospitalised and Mr. Dassanayake from the SAAS was entrusted with the task of conducting the general elections. Or more specifically considering the impending local government elections - are we not "playing roulette" depending too much on Providence or the Stars?

What if there is no one to conduct the elections or certify the results? These are questions which need to be addressed notwithstanding human decency sometimes compelling one to desist from openly focusing them lest it hurts personally.

I crave the indulgence of Mr. Dissanayake to bear with me in the name of his own plea made to President Rajapakse. (In fact, the Court of Appeal had reportedly dismissed recently a plaint against rejection of nominations on the ground that the appeal should have been against the Elections Commission (non-existent).

Such is the magnitude of the confusion. In the event of such a situation, the constitutional crisis will be complete and it will be fertile ground for subversive forces, coup karayas, and ambitious individuals backed by foreign vested interests and some NGOs to fish in troubled waters.

Revocation of the 17th Amendment

The 17th Amendment is unworkable - let's face it. In the circumstances, until such time as a revision of the entire provisions and procedures laid down in the Amendment is undertaken, there appears to be no viable alternative to restoring the status quo ante by the revocation of the 17th Amendment forthwith by harnessing a two-third majority.

No right-thinking person who has the future of the country at heart could possibly oppose the move. It is no doubt an emergency move. It will instil self-respect to the government and the country and more importantly preserve democracy.

The government need not wait till the county is in a dilemma giving more ammunition and support to inimical forces which are waiting in the wings to cash in on such opportunities to de-stabilise and to bring the government into disrepute internationally and locally. Indeed, a passport on a platter for Anarchy!

Let the coolness of the "DEW" that drips on the heads in the ministry of Constitutional Affairs not lull them into a false sense of security and complacency but jerk them into the reality of an impending inferno.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Massive fraud at Public Trustee Department

The Lanka Academic: 08/03/3006" By Munza Mushtaq in Colombo

The Committee appointed to investigate activities of the Public Trustee Department has recommended the removal of the Public Trustee and his two Deputies for allegedly committing fraudulent activities with monies taken from Trusts that are currently under the Department's purview.
"Public Trustee N.S.A.S. Seneviratne, and the two Deputies F.R. Fernandopulle and Tilak Dewagiri Bandara are not fit to hold office any longer," the Report stated.

The three member committee headed by retired High Court judge and Ex Governor of North Central province G.M.S. Samaraweera citing an example of a fraudulent activity, disclosed that the Samarakoon Trust, which is a very wealthy Trust has instructed the Public Trustee to use the monies for the benefit of poor children in a certain rural village, the Department has however utilized the Trust's monies to send an Officer to India on a 'scholarship' at a cost of Rs. 300,000.

The Public Trustee is also alleged to have sold properties belonging to this Trust and utilized the money derived from this sale to purchase two vehicles for the personal use of certain Department officers.

"This is a clear violation, what is more, the vehicles have been registered under the Public Trustee Department. But this is the money of a trust, and at least even if they utilized the money for other purposes the vehicles should have been registered as an asset of the Samarakoon trust and not under the Department," Mr. Samaraweera, the Chairman of the Committee told the Weekend Standard.

Meanwhile, even the Department's Finance Director has been allegedly found guilty of cheating. He is reported to have sold the coconuts from these estates at higher prices but shown the Department documents containing a lower price.

"We have recommended for his transfer, now its upto the authorities to take action," Mr. Samaraweera said.

The committee which included two other members K.E.S. Nanayakkara and T. Piyasoma took approximately ten months to prepare this report. The report was completed on January 31, 2006, and a copy of it was handed over to President Mahinda Rajapakse on February 27, for the execution of their recommendations.

"When we first began investigations, it was obvious to us that the entire Department was in disarray, and the beneficiaries of the Trusts too had suffered owing to discrepancies, because we learnt that the money from these trusts have been utilized for various other purposes other than the beneficiaries," Mr. Samaraweera noted.

The Chairman also pointed out that the Public Trustee is a department that caters to the masses to create trusts for the benefit of beneficiaries. "But the beneficiaries have not been able to get the real benefits from their trusts, and so our main aim was to go into this aspect as to why the intended intension of the public trustee department was not functioning properly," he noted.

The Committee has also pointed out that the Public Trustee Department has not been audited since 1976 till 2000 by the Auditor General's Department.

The Samarakoon Trust clearly states that a sum of Rs. 10,000 should be given to the Director, Education Ceylon to be held and invested by him and out of the income thereof award at his discretion periodically scholarships called the 'Samarakoon scholarship' to deserving poor students born at Wewalle and Dumbawila. However these monies were instead utilized by the Department to send one of their officers to India.

"This is a clear example where the Department has violated the law," the Retired High Court Judge pointed out.

The Department has also failed to maintain many tea and coconut estates which belonged to several trusts, therefore the income derived from these estates have also crumbled over a period of time as the productions from them have decreased.

He also emphasized that from the time he along with his two other Committee members set foot upon their task; they had to undergo numerous obstacles. "And the Public Trustees Department officers never cooperated with us," he highlighted.

The committee has also recommended a complete 'cleaning up' of the entire department and the implementation of a new structure. The new structure will comprise a head called the executive president who should be appointed by the Constitutional Council under the recommendation of the President of Sri Lanka

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

North-east rated poorest province

SAMN: 08/03/2006"

The recent wave of violence in the north and east has pushed poverty figures higher than usual, the Department of Census and Statistics said. While the north-east has been rated the poorest province in the country, Director General, Department of Census and Statistics, A. G. W. Nanayakkara said Hambantota, Kurunegala and Moneragala also suffer from acute poverty.

The official poverty figure for January, the latest available stood at Rs. 1,928 per person per month.

Of the 17 districts reviewed by the department, nine fell below the national line.
However, the districts in the north and east were not included in the review.
The figure for Hambantota , the lowest for the island was Rs. 1,812. For Kurunegala it was Rs. 1,832 and for Moneragala it was Rs. 1,851.

Meanwhile, the richest areas recorded were Colombo with Rs. 2,082 in January and February.Kalutara came second on the list with Rs. 2,063 while Gampaha came third with Rs. 2,044.

However, Nanayakkara warned that poverty had caused many people, especially in the north and east to flee the country and seek refuge overseas. "The only way we could reduce the national poverty line is by restoring peace in the country," Nanayakkara said.The figures adopted by the department are lower than the international poverty line of US$ 1 (Rs. 100) per day. If the figure was applied, all of the 17 districts fall below the line.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Crisis in the paddy harvest

Daily Mirror: 09/03/2006" By Upali Cooray

It is understood that a new authority to buy paddy has been established under the ministry of trade. This organization will never be able to break away from the shackles of the political authorities. One wonders whether it will also end up with the same fate that befell the P.M.B.?

The chances are very high. With nearly 1.9 million m/tons of rice expected this year and a self sufficiency ratio of over 93 %, a planned system of marketing is sadly lacking, just like in the past years. Every thing that has been done is an exercise of dousing fires. One has not seen at least a list of buying centers of this organization in the media, which is a preliminary requirement. It is also understood that farmer identity cards would be required to sell paddy to the buying centers operated buy the government. A farmer would be allocated a quantity of paddy he could sell to a purchasing center, depending on the acreage he has cultivated. Unfortunately the ground level realities show that all these controls brought in to ensure genuine farmers from selling their paddy at the guaranteed price will not work smoothly.

The government with all its resources would purchase around 10% of the marketable surplus of paddy. The balance is purchased by the private sector millers and other stockists. Most farmers do not bother to sell their crop to the state or to the co-ops because they have either kept their harvest as collateral to a middleman through indebtedness or it is convenient for them to sell the stock at the threshing floor itself rather than bothering to find transport and take the stock to the government paddy centers many miles away. So, the buying agents in the private sector purchase the stock at much reduced price from the farm gate. The farmer identity cards are touted for a price by the collectors who travel to remote areas and bring the paddy to the centers. For that matter many so called “middle men” as indicated in the letter of Mr. D also hold farmer identity cards with them.

The system of purchasing of paddy by the co-operative societies is also rampant with irregularities and weaknesses. This is not an ideal method of purchasing paddy. The biggest weakness in this system according to my experience is that one cannot ensure that the farmer would get the price guaranteed by the government. Though the records might show that the farmer got the guaranteed price, the possibility of part of the price to the farmer being siphoned off is great. The co-ops are expected to get the paddy milled and transfer the rice such milled to food dept. for sale.

All indications are that towards Sinhala New Year the paddy crisis will be out of control whilst the government at best would do a stabilizing exercise of prices in scattered areas where the paddy buying centres are located. The state was never able to procure more than 10% of the total harvest even when the P.M.B was in operation. The letter written by Mr Dissanayake to the President states that paddy prices have come down to Rs10 and 9.50 per K.G in the Trincomalee district.

This is a vital factor to note. An important factor among many other reasons for this situation is the quality of paddy harvested. The quality of paddy grown in certain marginal areas is not of satisfactory quality. One rarely hears a problem in selling paddy in Hambantota district or Mahaweli H and C areas. Similarly the paddy from Ampara Muslim areas fetches good prices on account of quality. It is a practice in the Hambantota and Ampara districts for the farmer to thresh paddy on a thick canvass or thick carpet of Jute Hessian (Padangu) to ensure extraneous matter from getting mixed with the threshed paddy. Why this simple practice cannot be spread to other areas?

It adds value to the crop and enhances the quality. No one except the state would pay the minimum guaranteed price for a quality of paddy which does not produce good marketable rice when converted. Cleaning sorting and grading of paddy are done only at the commercial level after moving the stock to urban areas. This is a loss of income to the farmer due to low quality offered.

Subsidy, yield
Agricultural scientists are of the belief that subsidizing fertilizer is not at all the answer to increasing national rice production. The subsidy on fertilizer will have very little impact on national rice production. It is hard to believe how the economists in the treasury too have joined the band wagon to proclaim that the fertilizer subsidy is an investment!! Rice scientists express concern that encouraging usage of Urea would lead to a nutrient imbalance causing adverse effects. Scientists in this country claim that fertilizer subsidy of over Rs. 5 billion if used in demonstrating the technology packages developed by them would increase the traditional average yield of 70-80 bushels to 120 bushels/acre. The fertilizer use in rice has doubled in the last decade but average rice yields increased only about 8%.

Post harvest handling, storage and processing of agricultural products have been a relatively neglected area in agricultural production in Sri Lanka. It is estimated that 20%-45% of the food crop is lost due to poor pre-harvest and post - harvest practices.

Assuming that correct course of action was taken to increase the paddy harvest so that this country has achieved full self sufficiency; the exercise in increasing yield should go hand in hand with lowering cost of production. Inculcating productivity consciousness and entrepreneurship is more important than just getting the farmer to increase yield.

Exporting rice
Though Sri Lanka is higher to other Asian nations in respect of yield per hectare, the cost of production is one of the highest in Asia. So there is no possibility of Sri Lanka exporting any excess rice at these cost levels. A government subsidy on export would be a better investment than the so called ‘investment’ of giving Urea at Rs.350/- The policy makers from time to time proclaim that rice will be exported. To sight an example the agriculture minister in the U.N.F government in 2002 said in Parliament that 20,000 tons of rice would be “exported to Indonesia in a week”. The export was on paper only. The truth is that Sri Lanka cannot compete with export giants in Asia such as India, Thailand, Vietnam, and Pakistan unless the cost of production is brought down and exportable quality rice is produced. We are a long way from this.

The government and specially the three authorities concerned, the Treasury, Ministry of Agriculture, and Ministry of Ttrade would do well if more attention is given to exporting rice than giving Urea cheap. There are many possibilities for Sri Lanka to become competitive in rice exports. Our country produces only 0.4% of the world’s production of rice. Therefore, attempting to export commonly sought after rice varieties to the international market will be a futile exercise. Selling specialty rice to the world market is a better option.

At least one private company has commenced such an operation in Sri Lanka. This should be encouraged. Cultivating organic rice is one such option. The red rice and samba rice grown in Sri Lanka has no equal in the world market. The super markets in the west carry rice similar to local red rice. This rice is called Wild rice. These products are sold at high prices in those countries. These are potential niche markets which have to be explored. The attention of professional marketers and the export development board should be drawn to create markets for these unique rice varieties.

The Uva provincial Council a few years back had a project to sell organic rice locally. This project done in collaboration with private sector was a success. The rice packed in attractive 5 K.G packs was a draw at the CWE super markets at that time. The Colombo consumers were prepared to pay a premium for this rice. I am not sure what went wrong, but the project has been abandoned.

Sri Lanka rice should have a unique selling proposition in the local and international markets. This can only be done if the exercise begins with the farmer.

Paddy milling industry in this country is far behind in technology to process good rice. It is said that uncertain government policy making at different time such as permitting of importation of rice has led to Millers going out of business or not improving their mills. Paddy cultivation and marketing in this country has become the domain of vote hunting short sighted politicians and not the specialist in the field. What is now required is not a division of strategies into short term and long term. The so called short term strategies have been repeated in the long term to douse fires. Long term strategies should be given priority than short term. It is vice-versa now.

The paddy farmer of this country should be made to understand that he has to produce a marketable product and should not just expect the market to accept what he grows. The market includes the international market also. The government’s role is not to create wasteful systems and procedures. With this in view an appropriate technological package plus risk management avenues should be opened.

An organization devoid of any governmental control, but with government backing probably funded by the stake holders in the rice industry should be formed to provide solutions to post and pre harvest risks faced by the stake holders. Some have called this as “Paddy Banks” but these organizations should cover a wider spectrum in the industry. There has to be Commodity Multi Link Points(MLP) where the designing and implementing of risk management solutions are carried out. The risks which should be managed by the MLP are, post harvest risk to the growers, pre and post harvest risk management for traders and millers pre and post harvest risk management for government agencies and Bank (lenders), pre-export risk management to exporters and a host of other risks. This field left alone to specialists but should be facilitated by the government. If proof is necessary we can turn to India where this field of activity in commodity risk management is fast gaining ground.

Paddy cultivation and marketing should be the domain of specialists .The politicians have encroached it. This encroachment is creating disastrous results harmful to Sri Lanka as a country. The best politicians could do is to keep their hands off .

The writer is a former General Manager of the CWE.

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The Left revival, poverty and 'terror'

Daily Mirror: 09/03/2006"

SOCIALISM: In this "brave new world" where markets and money glitter alluringly, how does one account for the "Socialist backlash" in Central and South American countries, such as, Venezuela, Bolivia and to a lesser extent Peru?

This is the poser the ardent advocates of economic globalization - the eloquently enunciated mantra promising, "progress and prosperity" - need to grapple with and answer.

The increasing election of Socialistically - inclined governments in the backyard, so to speak, of the US, with a history of vibrant Socialist governance, is stark proof that economic globalization is not the great leveller it promises to be.

Broadly speaking, the quick-fix formula of economic liberalization has helped the already economically powerful countries to reap vast benefits from the world of money and markets which has opened-up, but if the continued squabbles in the WTO between the world's poor and rich nations are anything to go by, then the globalization mantra should be seen as having let the developing countries down.

To be sure, over the past decade many a Third World country has moved into the upper rungs of the league of prospering nations, but for the vast majority of developing countries, economic globalization has only proved a great divider - relentlessly widening the gap between their rich and poor. Sri Lanka is a case in point.

We are now believed to be a "middle income" country but a substantial number of Lankans are continuing to languish below the poverty line, with unofficial estimates putting this at almost 40 percent of the population.

Nevertheless, in even Sri Lanka, a microscopic minority continues to thrive and grow rich, thanks to the exuberant endorsement of market principles by the power elite and its backers.

Interestingly, the "development paradigm" of "deregulation, liberalisation and privatisation", is receiving fresh, enthusiastic endorsement at an economic forum currently being held in Britain.

Titled "Asia 2015: Promoting Growth, Ending Poverty", the forum which was organised by Britain's Department for International Development, quoted speakers such as Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair and Pakistani Premier Shaukat Aziz as saying that growth and global trade hold the key to easing Asia's poverty problem.

Stating that in the past 20 years, 75 percent of world poverty reduction had happened in Asia, Blair went on to say that the number of people living on under two dollars a day will halve by 2015, but "the road to get there will be long and hard."

The most thought-provoking points in Blair's address, however, were to follow. Tackling poverty, he said, was "a way to tackle extremism. We've seen in Afghanistan how terrorism can take root in a failed state." The stimulant to thinking is in this "tail".

True, economic deregulation and unfettered access to markets promotes growth, but growth only. The challenge is to make this growth filter down to the poor and this is unlikely to happen unless the State intervenes in the redistribution of economic goods and services.

This is the point that does not find sufficient emphasis in the current advocacy of globalization and its perceived benefits. In this era of globalization the State cannot afford to "wither away" because wealth would then tend to accumulate in the hands of the wealthy and powerful.

The State has to remain vibrant to ensure that the wealth thus gained, trickles down to the masses. If it fails in this task, poverty would grow, leading to social discontent, lawlessness and indeed "fundamentalist" violence.

Blair has done well to see this link between poverty alleviation and the State, coupled with the growth of poverty and the upswing in "extremism", but would have contributed more substantially to the current debate on development if he had elaborated on the positive role of the State in this context. Besides, the link between poverty, deprivation and "terrorism" needs to be greatly expanded.

One could only hope that Blair's counterparts in Washington would also see these inter-relationships with the same degree of clarity. Helping in alleviating poverty in the developing world is one of the most effective ways of containing extremist violence and "terrorism".

Rather than the West militarily intervening in trouble spots in the Third World, a far more cost-effective exercise would be to enable these Third World states to avail of development opportunities, besides strengthening their democratic institutions. This holds good for Iraq as well as for the Palestinian Authority areas.

What better way to neutralize any perceived threats to the West, from the Hamas administration in the Palestinian Authority region than by supporting it in the development process?

Rather than go in for heavy-fisted military intervention in those hot spots which are seen as the breeding ground of "terror", the West would do well to ensure that developing countries' primary exports find ready Western markets and that development opportunities and assistance go the way of the Third World. On the other hand, Western military intervention, as could be seen, only leads to spiralling bloodshed and further intensifies "terror".

So, economic liberalization without strong, even-handed States, would only sow the seeds of social discontentment and deprivation in the developing world. Perhaps it is growth only and no equity or redistributive justice which has prompted some Central and South Asian publics to give Socialist governments another try.

This trend would intensify to the degree to which the wealth gap goes unaddressed by particularly Third World administrations.

If China and India are seen as economic powers on the rise in Asia, it is because the problem of balancing growth with equity is to some extent being addressed by their governments.

It would not do, therefore, to minimise the importance of the State in the development process. On the contrary, the State should be revived.

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Sri Lanka guinea pig for foreign funded education projects

Daily Mirror: 08/03/2006" By Kelum Bandara

The Education Ministry said yesterday that Sri Lanka had now become a guinea pig for some foreign organizations to carry out education-related researches.

Ministry Secretary Ariyaratne Hewage told a news conference yesterday that he had observed several such organizations operating in the country, under the pretext of improving our education system, through various projects.

However, Mr. Hewage was reluctant to reveal the names of the organizations.

“These organizations have made Sri Lanka a research ground for projects to be implemented in their countries. They carry them out here as pilot projects. They have done this for the last four years,” he said.

He said that now that they had taken a decision to implement foreign funded projects only, under the ‘Education Sector Development Framework’, established by the Ministry, in terms of the country’s interests.

“Hereafter, when we seek foreign assistance for education projects, we will do it according to the parameters laid down by us to suit our values and interests,” he said.

The news conference had been organized to enlighten the media about the progress of the education sector during the last three months, under the education policy of the ‘Mahinda Chintanaya’ programme.

Commenting on the future plans, he noted that they would ensure equal access to education for all, under the new Government’s policy, by increasing the number of students entering secondary and university level education.

He said that plans were under way to improve the subject curricular, while training teachers to suit modern educational trends.

The provision of free mid-day meals for school children and initiatives to expand IT education in the schools system, were cited as great achievements during the last three months.

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Sunday, March 19, 2006


The Island: 07/03/2006" by Parakrama Karunaratne Former Chairman, NHDA
(April – November 2005); Retired Deputy Solicitor General; Past President
– Organization of Professional Associations of Sri Lanka.

Many articles and reports have been published, comments made, about the failure of the Government to provide housing for those affected by the tsunami. Angela Evans commenting from the Report from Miloon Kothari, UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing cites that 90% of the people living in the areas hit by tsunami were dwelling in sub-standard conditions; people and communities were still living in make shift shelters, health and nutrition needs were being compromised and safety and security, particularly of women and girls, were under threat. The Rapporteur’s Report "highlights a culture of failure to deliver to some of the neediest."

Meanwhile, daily news reports have underscored the failure of the government and the donor agencies as well as the NGOs to address the housing needs of the affected, and as reported, only around 5000 of the promised 30, 000 houses have been completed by the NGOs. The Minister in charge of Housing has reportedly complained that the foreign donors as well as the NGOs failed to deliver on the promises and there is a question as to what happened to the funds received by these organizations. What actually did happen when the most severe catastrophe befell on this Island commanding world-wide sympathy and assistance and 15 months later people are still living in make-shift, inhabitable shelters and suffering untold hardships?

Lack of leadership

Primarily, the present problems could be attributed to the lack or the abdication of leadership and the failure to acknowledge the right organization to lead the reconstruction work. Why the National Housing Development Authority (NHDA) which is the premier organization in the country for housing was totally sidelined would, for some, may be a mystery. However, it is well known that the Ministry in charge of NHDA failed to take the initiative and concentrated only in the Eastern Province leaving the balance parts of the country to tend to itself. In the absence of leadership by the Ministry it befell on the Ministry of Urban Development and the UDA to take the primary role, which role should deservedly have been with the NHDA, to take the initiatives to address the issue of housing and reconstruction. The question still remains as to why a regulatory body such as UDA was given the prime task of housing reconstruction and NHDA was kept out of the entire process.

In the absence of NHDA and the Housing Ministry playing the key role, which they were fully capable of and expected, the entire programme on housing lacked the necessary expertise that NHDA could have easily provided and for which it had the experience, other organizations took over. Sidelining of NHDA became very apparent when KFW Bank of Germany offered Euro 25 million for tsunami housing and this was flatly rejected on the basis the programme on housing was over subscribed and further objected to the participation of the NHDA.

Unfortunately for the NHDA, other than the General Manager there was not a single person of authority to raise the vital issues relating to housing and it was astonishing that the GM was not involved in any of the high-powered discussions or meetings till early May 2005.

Failure to tender proper advice

Not only the Ministry of Housing but other governmental agencies failed to advice the government on key issues. One such issue was the buffer zone. The authority in charge of the coast is the Coast Conservation Department (CCD) and it inextricably failed to advice the government with regard to the relevant laws and regulations. When at the very outset it was pronounced that an area of 1000 meters would constitute the buffer zone (BZ) and no building of any structure within this area would be permitted, CCD maintained a deafening silence which extended even when the BZ was reduced to 500 meters and then to 300 meters. The Coast Conservation Act has designated an area of 300 meters as the Coastal Zone (CZ) and the Plan prepared under the law has identified no-build areas extending from 25 meters to 125 meters. Why CCD failed to advice and guide the government on the legality of the various pronouncements of BZ remains still a mystery.

Additionally, it was the bounden duty of the Housing Ministry and the NHDA to have tendered relevant advice to the government with regard to construction and reconstruction of houses in the affected areas. As far as it is known the NHDA failed in this aspect though the officers of the NHDA were making every effort to be useful in many areas. NHDA, with as many as 28 district offices in every district of the country and having been engaged in housing for nearly three decades with the participation and cooperation of the people at the grass root level and possessing technical expertise was reduced to data collection.

NHDA contribution

Immediately after tsunami, the then GM of NHDA gathered its resources and the expertise of the staff of district offices, especially those offices that suffered from tsunami, and prepared guidelines to address the short-term and long-term issues on housing in the affected areas. These guidelines, which provided a vision and a framework to approach the rebuilding, focused on the following issues:

i. Sustainable approach to building and reconstruction;

ii. Depleted and depleting resources for large scale construction work;

iii. Dearth of skilled workers;

iv. Shortage of labour;

v. Community participation;

vi. Framework to motivate the people;

vii. Dependency syndrome which accompanies catastrophes and plan for self reliance;

viii. Training programmes in the building sector (carpentry, masonry, electrician, etc.) with a view to creating alternative employment;

ix. Addressed the vast sums of money coming into the country and the need to retain these funds within the country. In this sphere, it was advocated to desist from prefabricated housing, which needed to be imported thereby returning the funds back to the sources;

x. Type plans for houses.

One key issue addressed in the guidelines was phasing out the construction of the house. The plan was to first build a core house to facilitate the immediate return of the family from the camp in order to make the victims confident and secure in shorter time. This would have helped the participation of the beneficiaries in the next phase of the house; plan the house to meet the family needs, train the youth in construction skills to later take up construction. Additionally it would have helped to ease the peak demand of resources during a period of time, reduce the possibility of harm to the environment by avoiding the extraction of sand and it would have had an effect in the fewer requirements of imports. Buildings would have been gradually constructed to avoid continuing stay in the camps. A house would be partly constructed where the family could move in and the balance work to be continued thereafter.

These guidelines, drawn up immediately after tsunami, were forwarded to the High Level Steering Committee through the then Chairman but whether this was ever taken up or discussed is not known.

In addition to the guidelines referred to above, NHDA on the initiation of the then GM also proceeded to draw up the "Guidelines for Housing Development in Coastal Sri Lanka." The initial draft was revised with the assistance provided by GTZ and the contribution of many experts in the field and was released two months ago.

Additionally, NHDA on its own initiative with the participation of donors began work on 20, 000 houses for the affected. Most of these have now been completed.

It is important to note that NHDA generally construct, with the people’s participation around 60, 000 houses annually. This figure was increased to 80, 000 last year.

Sidelining of NHDA

Even with its impressionable record and preliminary work undertaken on its own motion, NHDA was never entrusted with any important part in rebuilding houses. It was indeed shocking when, as the newly appointed Chairman in April last year, I discovered that not one single officer in the NHDA knew the government programme, other than what was published and even the GM, who is the CEO, was kept in the dark over the happenings. It appeared that only the previous Chairman has attended the meetings of TAFFREN and THRU and the other officers were not participants at these meetings. This was immediately remedied by appointing the GM as the main representative with an expert team to assist.

Even though NHDA was not directly engaged in the tsunami housing programme, in addition to the work done and already stated, the technical staff of the NHDA rendered invaluable service in damage assessment and reconstruction. This is continued even today. These technical officers know the ground situation as well as the people in the affected areas; they are capable of obtaining the participation of the people to successfully implement any housing programme. The question remains as to why NHDA was sidelined. Is it due to lack of initiative by the Ministry and the NHDA? Or was there a hidden agenda by the interested parties for reasons best known to them?

A point of view that needs to be advocated in relation to the several pronouncements that the expected houses have not been constructed and some donors have disappeared, is that all these housing programmes including the pledges of funds should have been with the direct participation and consultation of the NHDA. I cannot recall a single instance (at least from April to November 2005) that NHDA was consulted by any governmental authority or even by the Ministry. The foreign funding for several housing programmes including the capacity building programme were initiated and negotiated by NHDA. And only these have been successful. The participatory approach that NHDA has adopted over the years has served all communities devoid of any bias or prejudice. Through this NHDA successfully completed many housing development programmes even in the uncontrolled areas.

While TAFFREN and now RADA may have a supervisory role in the reconstruction work in the tsunami affected areas, the direct participation and major voice in housing programme should have been with the NHDA. This includes even negotiations with foreign donors and overseeing that pledges are not restricted to words only.

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