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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, April 01, 2006

US firm threatens to quit

SAMN: 17/03/2006"

A major US BoI venture furious over large scale theft of its products at the Bandaranaike International Airport, has asked local authorities to take counter measures to neutralize a gang of thieves operating at the airport. In a letter dated December 5, 2005 addressed to Sri Lanka Electronic Manufacturers and Exporters Association, R. N. Patney, Managing Director of Celetronix Lanka, has said regular thefts were making it impossible to operate cost effectively in Sri Lanka.

He expressed disgust at organised thefts of memory modules despite controls by freight forwarders, airport security and Customs. Inquiries made by The Island revealed the presence of organised gangs of thieves. Last year’s rape of a woman passenger at the BIA by workers including security personnel bared the unprecedented breakdown of discipline within the organisation, the sources pointed. "Removing cargo seems relatively an easy task," an authoritative official said, acknowledging the danger in Celetronix Lanka shifting the Sri Lanka-based operation.

Celetronix Lanka claimed that the thieves were active since 2000 and pilferred equipment worth USD 671,265.75. "Looks like a gang is operating at the airport who are somehow or other managing to steal our products every now and then and it has become a nightmare for us to get justice even if the culprits are apprehended red handed," Patney said in his letter addressed to SLEMEA President Merrick Gooneratne.
The company said that it made representations to the BOI in the past. The company is faced with increasing rates due to the high risk factor involved and their failure to stop pilferage.

The SLEMEA chief has taken up this with Airport and Aviation Services Ltd. Merrick Gooneratne quoting freight forwarder Dart Express pointed out that a pilferage taken place on March 10 clearly indicated that it took place at the SriLankan Airlines terminal. Freight forwarders acted swiftly thereby managing to locate the missing carton along with its valuable contents, in an unused container lying in the container backyard. During the search they also found one of the previously missing boxes lying in another container in an area belonging to Expo Aviation. According to a confidential report seen by The Island, airport authorities initially claimed that the missing container could have been loaded. A search was undertaken only after freight forwarders demanded a thorough search. Gooneratne warned of injurious impact on the industry unless action was taken to apprehend organised gangs.

A furious Patney last week warned BOI chief L. R. Watawala that unless immediate action was taken to safeguard their cargo they would not be able to continue operations here. "A stage has come where airlines do not want to lift our cargo, insurance companies do not want to insure our cargo and freight forwarders not willing to carry the cargo unless they are protected against claims of losses. Each one of them wants extra charges which we are unable to bear in this competitive world," he said.

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Friday, March 31, 2006

Sri Lanka: Post-Tsunami Update Jan/Feb 2006

ReliefWeb: 17/03/2006" Source: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

Successes to build upon

As reported in this issue the Reconstruction and Development Agency (RADA) is reviewing the housing sector in order to clarify policy issues and strengthen coordination mechanisms between Colombo and the Districts. This should translate into more coordinated support for the districts, improved communication and faster progress on the whole reconstruction process.

We are seeing slow but steady recovery in the livelihoods sector. Finding both short-term employment and longer term sustainable opportunities was always going to present one of the greatest challenges. However, as can be seen by initiatives discussed in this Post Tsunami Update, progress is being made with both training and real job creation. It is essential that the successes to date are built upon and that positive models are replicated in all tsunami affected areas.

Obviously challenges will remain. But with initiatives like the Disaster Relief Monitoring Unit of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) of Sri Lanka partnering with UNDP to establish Help-Desks in the affected districts, this will increase awareness among tsunami-affected persons on their rights and entitlements. The UN remains committed to supporting the government in its efforts to ensure that those rights and entitlements are realized.

Miguel Bermeo
UN Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator for Sri Lanka

Focus on Housing Policy Bears Fruit

A recent sharper focus on housing has produced a flurry of positive policy activity which will lead to families receiving housing solutions sooner rather than later.

The home-owner driven housing programme, building back on the home owner's original land, continues at a steady pace with government sources predicting that all the partially damaged house owners outside of the original buffer zone will receive their final grant payment before the end of May 2006. Including those affected by the December 2005 'buffer zone' changes, more than 60,000 families have received first installment housing cash grants (fully and partially damaged).

As a result of the December changes it is now estimated that there are an additional 15,000 families who have the opportunity to return to their original land (assuming that they have not already been housed). Currently they would receive the government grant of either Rs. 250, 000 for a fully damaged house or 100,000 for a partially damaged house. Many NGOs have also made additional payments or provided labour and materials to support families rebuilding their own homes. When full surveys of the new 'buffer zone' are completed it is likely the 15,000 figure will increase, which may reduce the number of houses required in the new relocation sites (donor-driven programme).

The government is also actively seeking NGO assistance to supplement the home-owner grant in order to get families back in to houses as quickly as possible. Home-owner driven housing is increasingly seen as far better value for money, and some argue that the quality is higher as families participate in the whole building process. In addition, the active engagement of families is seen as a positive developmental approach to reducing some of the dependency created by the tsunami. Clearly some professional and technical support is required as many families will not have individual capacities to rebuild their own houses and it is imperative that quality standards are maintained through active monitoring.

The authorities are keen to ensure that beneficiary lists, clearly showing the names of all families entitled to housing, are transparently developed and displayed in appropriate locations in the districts. There is an urgent need to ensure that every family entitled to a house is informed of which housing solution is available to them, and approximately when that family could expect to move in to the new house.

There will continue to be a large number of families whose houses are still in the new 'buffer zone' and these will have to be relocated to land further from the sea. These donor-driven relocation scheme sites will therefore be made up of all the families from within the new buffer zone (as defined in December 2006), plus any other categories of beneficiaries who are entitled to a donor-driven relocation house.

Housing policy is complex and there are several types of beneficiary depending both upon where they lived in relation to the 'buffer zone' and also what type of land tenure 'agreement' was in force at the time of the tsunami (owner, renter etc). Depending on policy, some beneficiaries will clearly be presented with a choice regarding what type of housing scheme they join. To enable people to make the right choice it is important that they have the correct information on any entitlements or support that they will receive, either from the government or from donors/NGOs. In the absence of such clear information people will be unable to decide which choice is most appropriate for them, and the delay caused will not be in the interest of families, the authorities or the donors. A large number of housing agencies are now strongly advocating for a clear nation-wide public information campaign to begin as soon as policies have been clarified.

The government's current estimate is that approximately 30,000 houses are required to be built in the donor-driven relocation programme. To date 5,481 houses have been completed and a further 8,582 are under construction. In the Home-owner driven programme almost 20,000 houses are now estimated to be complete (both partially and fully damaged houses). Construction is expected to significantly increase throughout 2006 and further increase in 2007.

The Reconstruction and Development Agency (RADA) is reviewing the housing sector in order to clarify policy issues and strengthen coordination mechanisms between Colombo and the Districts. This should translate into more coordinated support for the districts, improved communication and faster progress on the whole reconstruction process.

(Accurate at time of going to press)

Calming Down the Fear

Adults and children around the country continue to suffer the psychological impact of the tsunami. Guidance and counselling programmes in Sri Lankan schools are providing long-term assistance to teachers and students in providing emergency preparedness skills and training people to address and support the well-being of teachers and students affected by the tsunami.

The training programme implemented in 423 tsunami-affected schools around the country is part of the Ministry of Education's National Plan to Mainstream Psycho-social Well-being Through the Educational System, which will support 2,500 schools from across the Island.

It provides teachers with the skills to develop supportive relationships with their peers and students, initiate a school based emergency preparedness programme, as well as identifying vulnerable students in need of additional support, says UNICEF Psycho-social Advisor, Sarah Graham.

"The training tools allow teachers to develop relationships with students who are still coming to terms with the ordeal of the tsunami. They are based on materials developed in other disaster situations, but are specifically tailored to meet the needs of Sri Lankan students and teachers .

"The creative activities allow children to share their thoughts, fears and aspirations in a safe environment which in turn, leads to a better understanding of one another. It allows children and teachers to see that their reactions to and interpretations of events are normal and with a supportive network, the majority of children can thrive. Children identified as needing additional help are referred on to appropriate support networks".

The Devi Balika girls' school in Galle is one school that is benefiting from psycho-social training. On a morning in February, a bell rings in the school yard and children stop their activities to follow an emergency drill. The movements are familiar to the children now but, say teachers, their confidence in knowing what to do has empowered them to take responsibility if another tsunami should happen. The drills build confidence among children and teachers and calms their fears, says the Guidance Teacher at Devi Balika School, Ms. K.A. Chitra

"The psycho-social training we received after the tsunami has improved the level of support we can provide to children. If there is another tsunami, we can overcome fear and anxiety sooner. We can also identify specific problems among individual children, Mrs. Chitra says. "I've found that talking to a child is often the most important, and most effective, approach to the problem."

And getting teachers trained in this area is important not only in improving academic but also social outcomes, says Graham.

"By developing a teacher's communication skills, we improve the full learning environment. This allows not only for academic learning but the social development of all children," she says.

(By Jens Laerke and Leanne Mitchell, UNICEF)

The Tsunami Recovery Impact Assessment & Monitoring System (TRIAMS)

The tsunami witnessed an unprecedented multi-stakeholder effort to ensure a stronger level of accountability to the beneficiaries and donors as well as the general public alike, which was demonstrated in all the progress reports presented at both country and international levels on the occasion of the one year anniversary. Furthermore, there is a consensus among most tsunami recovery agencies that concern should not only be with operational outputs but also with the impact of our efforts on the lives of the population affected by the tsunami.

'Tsunami Recovery Impact Assessment & Monitoring System' (TRIAMS) is a World Health Organisation (WHO) /International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) joint initiative in close collaboration with the Office of the Special Envoy to the Secretary General (OSE), which was presented by WHO at the Global Consortium for Tsunami-affected Countries held in Washington DC on 22 September 2005. This initiative has also been given a special recognition in the one year report of the Special Envoy to the Secretary General, where it is listed as one of the priority activities to be undertaken in 2006. This project covers the five tsunami-affected countries in South-East Asia over the period 2006 to 2010. The project aims at assessing and monitoring the impact of tsunami recovery efforts, using various data collection methods, and will consist of core common indicators for five countries, and additional indicators that are country specific. IFRC and WHO in Geneva will coordinate at the global level with the political support of OSE, and each Office of the Resident Coordinator's of the UN will coordinate the activities at the country level. The policy and technical details of the initiative will be discussed among the five countries and other partners involved during a meeting in Bangkok to be held from 2-4 May 2006.

Full report (pdf* format - 413 KB)

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Colombo Dockyard Ltd. Creates history launching first tug for international markets

The Island: 17/03/2006" By Ashwin Hemmathagama

The 58 Ton Bollard Pull Capacity Harbour Tug hitting waters at Colombo Dockyard. Pic by Nishan S. Priyantha.

Colombo Dockyard Ltd. (CDL) yesterday launched the first 58 Ton Bollard Pull Capacity Harbour Tugs for the international market, designed and manufactured in Sri Lanka.

This new vessel is the first of such three tug boats built at a cost of Rs. US $ 4.7 million on a order placed by Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

According to CDL sources the vessels are designed and built to prestigious Lloyd’s Classification Rules, SOLAS & IMO regulations and will carry the Class Notation LR +100 A1 Tug Coastal Service FIFI1,+ LMC, UMS, when commissioned. The fully electronically controlled main engines; two nos. WARTSILA 8L 26 generating a 1800kW @ 1000 rpm each, is connected to a LIPS Azimuth Thrusters, with Controllable Pitch Propellers via an Auto Pilot System developed by SIMRAD, all of whom are world leaders in the manufacture of state of the art marine equipment.

CDL Managing Director Mangala P.B. Yapa giving the success story of the dry docks said that these three tugs were ordered by A.A. Turki Corporation of Dammam, Saudi Arabia from Sri Lanka pursuant to a comprehensive techno-commercial evaluation amongst many international contenders.

"We built our first boats with borrowed tools. The 58 Ton Bollard Pull Capacity Harbour Tugs is the 241 hull launched since then" he said.

CDL currently enjoys an enviable reputation as one of South East Asia’s leading ship repairers and builders. The port of Colombo in sun-drenched Sri Lanka is home to CDL. The ability to conduct business from within the port of Colombo gives CDL a strategic advantage and has proven to be a boon to ship owners.

For sheer convenience and accessibility, one would be hard-pressed to suggest a port other than the Port of Colombo. Shipping lanes joining the West, Middle East, Far East, Africa and Australia all have to acknowledge the vital presence of Sri Lanka’s deep water port of Colombo. The history of present Colombo Dockyard Limited starts with Colombo Dockyard (Pvt.) Limited (CDL) which was incorporated in 1974 to take over and operate three dry docks with the capacity of 30,000 Dwt, 8,000 Dwt, 9,000 Dwt then owned by the Port Commission.

Late 1970’s former CDL felt the need of expanding ship repair business in the international market and embarked on the construction of new dry dock with a capacity of 125,000 Dwt. The new company Colombo Dry Docks Ltd. (CDD) was formed in 1982 which was converted to a public quoted company with GCEC status to construct and operate the new dry dock of 125,000 Dwt. CDL and CDD both were parallely in operation since 1987.

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Tsunami reconstruction: Slow but steady

TML: 15/03/2006" By Jamila Najmuddin

Senior Coordination Advisor for Recovery, United Nations, Pablo Ruiz Hiebra says that one of the difficult challenges the government faces even 14 months after the tsunami is to provide permanent houses to those displaced by the disaster.
Hiebra says the UN agencies are working closely with the government and other local institutions, but it was doubtful if the time-frame of 2007 set by the government to finish constructing permanent houses could be achieved. "I do not know how long the government will take to provide permanent houses to the tsunami victims but it can very well exceed 2007 as a lot more houses need to be constructed in many parts of the country," Hiebra said.


He added the buffer zone had also been a serious constraint to the tsunami rehabilitation effort, and the government has to soon reach a final decision on the ban. "We are not sure how many people fall within the banned areas and due to the scarcity of land, it is difficult to relocate the victims who fall within the buffer zone. The UN is advising and working closely with the government in solving the buffer zone issue," Hiebra said in an interview with The Morning Leader.

Following are excerpts:

Q: What targets had been set by the UN initially in the tsunami reconstruction effort and what targets have been met to date?

A: The tsunami was one of the worst international disasters and the impact it had on Sri Lanka was great. It killed thousands of people and affected over two thirds of the island’s coastline and outlying 13 districts.

Besides the tremendous loss of life and injuries, the tsunami caused extensive damage to property and disruption of livelihood activities and business assets. Social networks were also severely disrupted. Many lives also became complicated due to the loss of legal documents and the socioeconomic impact was of greater consequence as the tsunami compounded previously existing vulnerabilities.

Taking all these aspects into consideration, the UN implemented its flash appeal project soon after the tsunami to deal with humanitarian activities, food distribution, distribution of aid and sanitation. One of the main aims of the project was early recovery, and issues such as health emergencies and getting the children back to school were also dealt with.

The impact of the tsunami was so great that all institutions — both local and international — had to work together in order to get the country back in order. Alongside the UN’s flash appeal programme, the UN also worked with the government, TAFFREN, the UNDP and the respective government agents and local institutions in the affected areas to offer immediate assistance to the thousands of victims. There was an urgent need to beef up the capacity of rescue workers to help the government cope with such a large crisis.

Following the UN’s flash appeal programme, our second level of intervention in the tsunami recovery and reconstruction effort was working with institutions which came under the UN such as the UNHCR, the UNDP and UNICEF.

The UN also worked closely with the World Health Organisation in coping with any natural disasters which were to occur soon after the tsunami and the World Food Programme to distribute food to the victims in the affected areas including the north east.

A lot of projects were implemented by the UN agencies focusing on humanitarian and recovery issues and these projects were successful due to the intervention of the government and other private institutions. As one of the immediate needs was temporary housing, the UNHCR also provided more than 4,000 transitional shelters to the victims due to which thousands were shifted in immediately.

Although the UN has faced a lot of problems, a number of positive signs were also noticed in the tsunami rehabilitation efforts in Sri Lanka and we will continue to work closely with the government until such time victims are given a new life once again.

Q: What obstacles have the UN faced in the tsunami reconstruction efforts in Sri Lanka?

A: The UN is only one actor amongst many others and like all other agencies, the UN faced several challenges in the recovery process. One of the main issues which continues to raise serious concerns even 12 months after the tsunami is permanent housing as there are thousands of victims who need to be located into permanent houses. We have a lot of victims who continue to live in transitional shelters and currently one of our main issues is the facilities at these transitional shelters.

Most of these shelters were built by NGOs who have now left the country and the conditions at these shelters are not so good as basic facilities such as toilets need to be improved. Currently there are 500 transitional centres and most of them need to be improved due to the lack of necessities such as water, etc.

Another important challenge is to construct permanent houses as soon as possible. While 20,000 houses have been officially completed, another 52,000 are under construction. The government faces a big challenge in completing these houses as there are a further 23,000 houses which have not been constructed yet.

The buffer zone also created complications in the tsunami rehabilitation efforts as there were thousands of people who lived within the buffer zone who did not know where they were to be shifted. Land was also scarce and the lack of information — being able to confidently tell the victims where they were to be shifted and when they were going to get a house — was something that the government was unable to do.

The lack of appropriate infrastructure also posed a severe challenge and as the country had never faced such natural disasters before the local authorities in the affected areas faced a very big challenge due to the lack of power and the lack of competent people to handle such disasters.

Q: How has the buffer zone impacted on the reconstruction efforts?

A: As I said before, the buffer zone has complicated the tsunami recovery to a certain extent. The buffer zone has been a critical issue as thousands of people living in the banned areas did not know where they were to be shifted and when.

While the buffer zone was conceived as a preventive measure, it had become a serious issue due to the scarcity of land. The UN is currently working with the government in this whole buffer zone issue and is also advising the government. We will work together till such time a final solution is reached.

Q: Is the UN satisfied with the reconstruction efforts which have taken place in the 14 months after the tsunami?

A: If you compare Sri Lanka to other countries, the progress has been positive. However, everyone will agree with me when I say that a lot of challenges remain. Along with all the other challenges, physical reconstruction has also posed a great challenge as a lot of schools, roads and bridges are yet to be constructed.

A lot of contractors are needed and one thing that was sadly noticed is that soon after the tsunami prices on housing materials were increased to a great extent. If 100 houses could be built before the tsunami, only 50 could be constructed after due to the high prices of materials. This has been a serious constraint and from the beneficiaries’ point of view this posed a major setback in the tsunami rehabilitation efforts.

UN Special Envoy Bill Clinton said when he visited the country that we should ‘build back better.’ Our aim should be to build back in a way much better than before.

Q: Have the local government elections affected the tsunami reconstruction efforts?

A: I do not know, but in principle it should not. What the country has to realise is that it is important to continue with the tsunami recovery process without any halts as this way the victims will be able to restore their livelihoods as soon as possible.

Q: How has the UN reacted to allegations of expensive living on the part of UN expatriates in the tsunami affected areas?

A: These are all false allegations as those not in contact with the UN have fallen prey to such baseless rumours. The UN has been working with several people and we have taken all corruption allegations very seriously and investigations have also been conducted thoroughly.

All UN information is available to the public through our website and from the very beginning the UN has been working with people at a national level in order to build national expertise.

Everyone will agree it was very difficult to find national expertise soon after the tsunami and we needed international experts as we did not have time to train the locals. This would only delay the recovery and reconstruction efforts further.

The UN has been committed to the tsunami reconstruction efforts and there has also been a huge commitment from the UN Secretary General in New York.

Q: Some of the worst affected areas by the tsunami such as Ampara are currently being ignored in terms of reconstruction and rehabilitation. Why is this?

A: Certainly, one of the worst areas hit by the tsunami was Ampara and this is a very complex area as there are different communities and people speak several different languages. However, although rehabilitation efforts are moving at a snail’s pace we cannot say that these areas are being completely ignored as already 1,763 houses are under construction in these areas. More than 500 houses have already been completed and the government estimates that 4,465 houses will be constructed in the next two years.

Q: With the absence of the P-TOMS agreement, how is aid distribution in the LTTE-controlled areas taking place?

A: The distribution of aid in the north and east has continued to raise serious concerns and the UN Special Envoy has always stressed that aid has to be distributed in an equal manner in all parts of the island. At this stage there is a problem of the rhythm of implementation and since the information we have about the north east is very limited, I cannot comment on the issue further.

Q: What is the time-frame allocated by the UN to complete the tsunami reconstruction in the island?

A: The government has allocated a time-frame of constructing the houses by 2007. However, I do not know the exact time frame as it can very well go beyond 2007.

Rather than speed, we have to concentrate on providing quality as this is the only way that the country will be able to rise from the tsunami disaster.

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U.N. agency urges tsunami-hit countries to make sure fishing boats meet safety standards

The Lanka Academic: 29/03/2006"

where almost 19,000 boats were destroyed, more than 13,000 boats had been replaced by the end of November 2005. FAO estimates that nearly 19 percent -- approximately 2,500 vessels -- are not seaworthy.
The problem encompasses both wooden boats as well as those with fibre- glass hulls, FAO said. Some are simply not safe to use, while others are likely to deteriorate more quickly than properly built craft.

"Fishing is already the world's most hazardous occupation, and working at sea in a sub-standard boat is doubly dangerous," said Jeremy Turner of FAO's Fisheries department.

"Another major problem is that these boats will need to be replaced -- in many cases within the next two years -- and as humanitarian aid shifts elsewhere, fishers will be left to foot the bill," he added.

Missing standards, lack of expertise

Many tsunami-hit countries do not have regulations governing the construction of small fishing vessels. This fact, coupled with the deaths of a number of experienced boatbuilders during the disaster, contributed to the current situation.

As NGOs and other organizations mobilized to help fishermen get back on their feet, they commissioned large numbers of new boats, sometimes from inexperienced builders.

"Following the disaster, new boatyards popped up like mushrooms, but not all of these builders were qualified -- suddenly you had furniture makers building boats," said Turner.

"Everyone has been acting in good faith, trying to do their best to build boats as fast as possible in order to help fishermen as soon as possible," he added. "It's just that many organizations simply don't have the expertise needed to make sure that boats are up to standard."

FAO workshops and training in boatbuilding

FAO has been working with national and local authorities, fishing communities and the private sector in tsunami-affected countries to improve the state of boatbuilding.

The agency published a "how to" primer in Indonesian on proper shipbuilding which is being used by craftsmen in Aceh and other affected areas. It also organized a series of workshops in Indonesia's Aceh Province, during which 42 boatbuilders worked with an FAO master boatbuilder to construct different kinds of craft, learning new skills and modern ship design and construction principles.

And FAO is working with local boatyards in Indonesia to promote the use of better quality timber, adequate metal fasteners and improved wood storage and construction techniques.

In the Maldives, 40 shipbuilders and ship inspectors have participated in FAO fiberglass boat construction workshops.

Safety regulations in the works

FAO's Fisheries Department is also working with national authorities to help them draft safety standards governing construction of small boats.

In Sri Lanka - , new regulations for fiberglass boats, drafted with FAO technical guidance, are being considered for final approval by government authorities; the agency is working with Indonesia to develop similar regulations for wooden craft.

"The longer-term goal is to see governments bring boat construction regulations on-line, and to see the enforcement of those regulations so that only good quality boats can be registered and licensed to fish," Turner said.

"In the meantime, we hope that authorities will find ways to inspect new boats and insist that craft that don't meet basic safety standards be fixed or destroyed -- and that all those involved help shoulder the burden of doing so."

Online news from FAO: http://www.fao.org/newsroom/ SOURCE Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

-0- 03/28/2006

/CONTACT: Michael Hage, Regional Information Officer of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, +1-202-653-0011, Michael.hagefao.org/

/Web site: http://www.fao.org/english/newsroom / CO: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; FAO ST: District of Columbia, Italy, Indonesia, Sri Lanka - IN: AGR FOD CST MAR SU: PSF FOR LM-RJ -- DCTU039 -- 9912 03/28/2006 13:00 EST http://www.prnewswire.com

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Investing in empowerment or sustaining dependence

Daily Mirror: 16/03/2006" By Ranel Wijesinha, FCA (Sri Lanka), MBA (USA)

Are we empowering the poor or hurting them? The Feb 18th 2006 issue of Lanka Business Online, under the caption “Killer Kindness” conveyed very appropriately, that uninformed South Asian governments squander money on consumption subsidies and hurt the poor. In 2005, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation is estimated to have spent about Rs21 billion on fuel subsidies, Lanka IOC Rs7.4 billion and the Ceylon Electricity Board is estimated to have lost about Rs18.8billion – all of which was said to amount to more than 2 percent of GDP.

Investing in the less than privileged or subsidizing the rich

The same news item referred to a World Bank study, which had found that South Asian governments spent more money on fuel subsidies, than on either heath or education and that, the larger part of the subsidy, was going to high-income earners. Shantayan Devarajan, a World Bank economist specializing in South Asia, had mentioned that in studies done by the Bank in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh it had been revealed that 92% of the consumption of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) is by the richest 40% of the population and that 57% of the diesel subsidy goes to the richest 40% of the population.

He had pointed out that “if you eliminate the kerosene subsidy, take the money you save from that and give it as a cash grant just like a transfer payment to people, even if there is a leakage of a significant 40% of that cash grant, you still will be helping the poor more than you would with the kerosene subsidy.” Apparently three East Asian countries; the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia have all adjusted their domestic prices of oil products to international price levels. Indonesia was the last to do it and had suffered badly by continuing to subsidize. We in Sri-Lanka began doing it but abandoned it.

Should CEB’s subsidies be refinanced or re-directed?

Dr Devarajan had made an interesting point about the Ceylon Electricity Board. Referring to the Rs. 50 million a day power subsidy, or the losses of the CEB, which would be the equivalent of one rural hospital a day, he had said, “if you didn’t have that subsidy you could build 365 hospitals in a year!” At a power sector reform workshop organized by ITG, (now known as Practical Action) last Friday, March 10th, a CEB engineer responding to my comments on this issue, explained the rationale for the subsidy and perhaps correctly suggested that it be regarded as owing from the GOSL as part of the latter’s attempt to subsidize the electricity consumer whose capacity to pay is poor. Nevertheless, I believe that, some form of rationalization or reallocation or perhaps part re-financing of the subsidy is due. If not, CEB, whose long overdue Balance Sheet restructuring, which has been already carefully thought out for at least 4 years that I personally know of, will for the foreseeable future be unfairly perceived as a loss making public sector enterprise.

A greater role for Government?

As an active proponent of strengthening small and medium industries; encouraging entrepreneurship; setting up institutions for SME’s and as a founder director of the country’s largest venture capital company, may I add that I have over the years submitted many recommendations to successive governments and engaged in discussions with policy planners and bilateral and multilateral donors in this regard. However, I am concerned with the multiplicity of public sector institutions and hope that the banks set up anew for SME’s and other areas, while remaining in GOSL ownership such as is the case with the Bank of Ceylon and Peoples Bank, will be managed prudently. While giving these institutions the time they deserve in shaping a new future, let me share with readers, a few historical global experiences on state led economic growth initiatives.

An outdated policy
State led strategies for economic growth were popular in the 1950s, 1960s and even the 1970s, when the public sector was regarded as the engine of economic growth. In addition, State Owned Enterprises (SOE’s) were a vehicle to generate jobs. Furthermore, the SOE’s were a medium through which the state engaged in regional development and acted as a hedge against what was then perceived as an undesirable control of the economy by the domestic or foreign private sector. Thus at the start, governments were the sole shareholders of enterprises in major sectors such as fertilizer, steel, telecommunications, banking, automobiles, petrochemicals, hotels and airlines.

The implications
This trend continued in many developing countries such as in Zambia, Burma and Venezuela, which by mid 1980 had SOEs which accounted for over 50% of gross domestic investment. Tanzania had over 350 SOEs more than half of which were loss making. In Mozambique in 1986, 35 percent of total government expenditures went toward subsidizing SOEs. In Argentina, SOE losses between 1989 and 1991 amounted to 9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) — approximately US $8.4 thousand million.

A new realization
Many countries which recognized the need for reform then began Privatization programs to achieve fundamental economic reforms. A survey of economic reform in 32 countries, by the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) in 1990-1991, revealed that countries which were successful in launching privatization programs—such as Malaysia, Chile, Mexico, Jamaica and Argentina—were among the more successful reforming countries.

A few historical examples in the early 1990’s

After Carlos Menem launched Argentina’s privatization program, the country reported a major improvement in its non- financial public sector deficit, which declined from 7.2 percent of GDP in 1989 to 4.9 percent in 1990 and around 0.7 percent in 1991. Chile, after running central government deficits every year from 1982 to 1986, enjoyed a surplus every year for at least 5 subsequent years. Mexico’s non-financial public-sector deficit which was as high as 16 percent of GDP in 1987, declined to 3.9 percent in 1990, with a surplus of around 1 .8 percent in 1991. In Jamaica, central government deficits as high as 14 percent of GDP in the early 1980s gave way to a surplus that reached almost 5.0 percent in 1991.

The Way Forward
Perhaps the challenge is to strike the right balance between public and private sector investment, while also ensuring as far as is practical, that subsidies if continued with, are enjoyed by those who need it. Furthermore, a subsidy, in an enlightened pro-poor environment, will only be an investment if the “dividends” of such subsidy empower the poor not simply in a static sense but in a progressive dynamic sense. In essence it must propel the poor beyond being poor to a higher level of income and opportunity.

Ranel Wijesinha., FCA (Sri Lanka), MBA (USA), was a Founder Director of Lanka Ventures and has served as consultant/advisor to the Frederick Neumann Foundation of Germany, UNESCAP and the United Nations Development Programme in New York with regard to trade and investment issues, foreign direct investment, entrepreneurship and SME’s. He has served in senior roles in industry in a large and diversified local conglomerate; in consulting with globally represented professional services firms operating locally and overseas and has specialist experience in Privatizations and Restructuring. He has also served in Government Advisory and Regulatory roles. He is currently in independent consulting, serving overseas and local clients.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Needed: An entrepreneurial dimension to universities

The Island: 14/03/2006" by Prof. Ranjith Senaratne Vice Chancellor University of Ruhuna

Traditionally, teaching and research have been the main missions of a university. This has gradually changed with the emergence of disciplines such as biotechnology, increased globalization, reduced basic funding and the new perspectives on the role of university ‘in the system of knowledge production. As knowledge becomes an increasingly important part of innovation, the university as a knowledge-producing and disseminating institution plays a larger role in industrial innovation. Thus, in a knowledge- based economy, the university becomes a key element of the innovation system both as human capital and seed-bed of new firms. In today’s global landscape of relentless change and innovation, the mission of universities has thus become multi-faceted and they must see themselves as part of the larger global enterprise of creating, imparting, applying and commercializing knowledge. Research universities around the world are increasingly embracing an entrepreneurial dimension. They leverage on the natural complimentarity between creating, imparting, and applying knowledge and create spin-off companies and produce licenses and patents. Therefore to stay relevant and prosper, universities in the 21st century should play three roles, deliver quality undergraduate and post graduate’ education, conduct high impact research and foster entrepreneurship and industry involvement.

As scientific knowledge and commercialization of research results ("entrepreneurial science’) are becoming increasingly important for innovation and new business development, universities can play an enhanced role in innovation. Hence, universities in the world that were policy makers earlier are now, playing a direct role as actors in regional and national development. For instance, Oulu University in Finland through its entrepreneurial activities brought about considerable industrial growth and economic development in the region, which is now globally known as "Oulu Phenomenon".

Why an entrepreneurial dimension?

Today we are living in a fiercely competitive knowledge-based globalized environment where economic growth is no longer efficiency-driven, but innovation-driven, and innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs have become the critical human resources of economic development. If you look at most successful countries, they have built and sustained vibrant innovation systems.

A society with high levels of knowledge and management skills will not produce breakthroughs in products or processes needed for economic advance without a strong base of entrepreneurs and spirit of entrepreneurship that extends across society. Hence, we need to produce graduates who can transform new ideas, thoughts and knowledge into innovative products and services and who can contribute towards improving the existing products and services. We want our present day graduates not to wait until opportunities come to them. No deer will jump into the mouth of a sleeping lion! We need them to chase after opportunities, capture them and create new enterprises. If no opportunities exist, they should be able to create new opportunities.

In the old economy, the system of education was geared to producing graduates for a career of life, but is the present economy, -we need to produce graduates for a life of careers. That means we got to equip our students with multiple skills and competencies so that they could fit into a wider range of employment opportunities. We would like our graduates to, be bold and adventurous and take calculated risk while being rooted in the reality and embark upon innovative, challenging and novel enterprises rather than seeking "unexciting, non-challenging and traditional pen-pushing positions. In other words, we would like them to charter new courses and get onto untrodden paths rather than treading along the beaten track.

What Munidasa Cumarathunga said several decades ago, "Aluth aluth da nothanna jathiya Iowa nonagi" - A nation that is not innovative will never prosper in the world - is more relevant today than ever before. As Charles Darwin said " It is not the strongest species that would survive nor the most intelligent, but the species most responsive to change". This applies equally to any country, nation and institution. Therefore the universities need to appropriately and swiftly respond to change if they are to survive in the fiercely competitive and rapidly growing global landscape of higher education.

In this connection, as coined by Prof. Shih Choon Fong, the President of the National University of Singapore," innovative intelligence" - the ability to translate ideas and knowledge to improve products and services, as well as create new ones - and "entrepreneurial intelligence" - capacity to create new enterprise from opportunities - assume paramount importance. As S. R. Nathan, President of Singapore once said " By supporting entrepreneurship and fostering innovation, we will encourage more people to dream of new ideas, pursue them with passion and open up new opportunities for economy"

Several decades ago, MIT saw the values of a science and technology-led university education with an enterprise dimension. A study conducted in 1997 revealed that if the companies founded by MIT graduates and faculty formed an independent nation, their revenues would make them the 24 the largest economy in the world with annual sales of US$ 232 billion, which is more than double the GDP of Singapore.

Similarly National University of Singapore (NUS) has taken steps to nurture an entrepreneurial culture by establishing NUS enterprises in Silicon Valley in partnership with Stanford and in Bio Valley with the University of Pennsylvania. In these entrepreneurial hubs, students are immersed in an entrepreneurial environment and imbibe entrepreneurial spirit and work with peers and entrepreneurs. Here they do internships with technology based start-ups for one year while attending entrepreneurship and discipline-based courses at partner universities. As NUS President says, "we have no choice, but to think "global", breathe "global" and be "global". We are globally oriented because there is neither retreat nor hinterland".

Premier entrepreneurial universities in the world such as Stanford, Berkley, Pennsylvania and MIT have learnt to balance their academic and entrepreneurial roles and harvest the benefits. Universities such as MIT and Stanford, which had been considered as anomalies within the US academic system in the past now have become the models for other universities to emulate. We can learn a great deal from the above success stories. However, it should be emphasized that high quality, cutting edge research is required to create new knowledge and new industrial innovations of high value as mediocre or poor research will produce neither new knowledge nor industrial innovations.

Lessons from other universities

If we look at some highly prestigious as well as rapidly developing universities in the world, there are breaking away from traditions and bringing new perspectives and vision to universities by installing those with experience in industry and world of work as the Vice-Chancellors. For instance, Harvard University of USA, one of the most prestigious universities in the world, appointed Larry Summers, former US Secretary of the Treasury as the President. Some years ago, Cambridge university recruited Alec Broers, an Australian research engineer from IBM New York, its first Vice-Chancellor from outside Britain while the Oxford university appointed John Hood, a consulting Engineer and former Vice-Chancellor of Auckland University from New Zealand as the Vice-chancellor of Oxford in 2004. Such a decision was simply unthinkable in the past in the two most prestigious universities in Britain with strong traditions and values peculiar to them. Thus Oxford and Cambridge are fishing and competing in the global market place for talents and ideas. They have made the watershed decision to search globally for their academic leaders.

Prof. Shih Choon Fong, the President of the NUS has worked at General Electrical Company in USA for seven years before joining it. He has now made the NUS a topnotch university, coming within the top 5 in Asia and Australia. In Japan increasing number of universities now have high level administrators who have been recruited from industrial research positions. There are many such examples in the higher education landscape of the world, which show how they have responded to change and the importance of having a leader with an entrepreneurial drive and experience so as to create an entrepreneurial university. In Brazil, in the state of Rio de Janiero, government offered incentives for companies, and universities to collaborate in revising rigid academic structures in order to make undergraduate education both more interdisciplinary and more responsive to the needs of the employers.

If we look at some entrepreneurial universities in Europe, we can learn many lessons and get new ideas. For instance, Chalmers University of Technology (CUT) in Sweden, one of the 10 best technical universities in Europe, has a Vice-Rector for external activities/University-Industry-Government cooperation.

It has a Department of Innovation Engineering and Management. Between 1978 and 1998, it has produced 225 spin-offs. The Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship (CSE) at CUT recruits students from Engineering, Business and Design school. Thus it is not confined only to Management students as in our country. Every year 20-25 students are selected on the basis of comprehensive applications and interviews by the staff of CSE and psychologists.

The aim of the selection process is to identify students who are motivated and capable of becoming entrepreneurs. Here studies are built around a real innovation project where groups of three students are establishing a new venture on the basis of a research-based idea. Thus the students are fully involved as entrepreneurs in the start- up process, from high potential idea selection, team composition, to venture formation and the process of attracting investors.

At Jonkoping International Business School (JIBS) in Sweden, all students in entrepreneurship will have access to an experienced mentor from a company in the region and are provided with incubator facilities. In Malardalen university of Sweden has an idea-lab with creative rooms to stimulate idea generation, idea development and new business formation among students. Idea lab has experienced staff and an extensive network of mentors. In this lab, person with an idea can work a few months to verify if the idea is feasible to start a business or not. Idea lab arranges courses, lectures, meeting points and has a high profile at the university. External entrepreneurs, who constitute role-models contribute to move the project forward. Oulu university in Finland through the spin-off, patents and licenses has greatly contributed to industrial development in that region, which is now globally known as "Oulu phenomenon".

However, some view the entrepreneurial paradigm as a threat to traditional integrity of the university and fear that an intensive pecuniary interest will cause the university to lose its role as independent critic of society. More over some companies concerned about new firms emerging from academic as potential competitor, take a similar position, arguing that universities should confine themselves to traditional academic industrial relationships such as consultation.

How to make an entrepreneurial university?

In our universities, entrepreneurship is still a subject only, for undergraduates reading for degrees in Management and Business Administration,, Science-based faculties such as engineering, medicine, science, fisheries, agriculture etc. generate considerable amount of new knowledge through research that is of great industrial potential and commercial value. However, they are only published in research journals and the findings are hardly commercialized and it is often the foreign countries that benefit from such valuable findings. For instance, I was recently chairing an interview board to promote a Senior Lecturer in Chemistry who has clearly established the strong cobra-repellent properties of a plant called "Andu" (Eryngtum foetidum). The results have been published in a reputed journal, but no attempt has been made to commercialize the finding. This could potentially be developed into a big international industry, but for lack of entrepreneurial skills and drive thousands of such valuable findings in many disciplines that could have given birth to new enterprises promoting industrial growth and economic development in the country, are gathering dust on the shelves of libraries.

Entrepreneurship in my opinion is a cross-cutting discipline and should be taught as a subject in all degree programmes including Engineering, Agriculture, Fisheries, Science, IT etc. In our universities, Entrepreneurship is taught only to students following degree programmes in Management and Business Administration and there is no mix of students from different disciplines. As a result, they do not see the tremendous entrepreneurial opportunities that exist in various sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, IT, chemistry, industry etc. Multidisciplinarity will bring new and diverse perspectives and provides for cross-fertilization of ideas instead of inbreeding. Therefore many developed universities in the world promote the concept of borderless, multidisciplinary university, enabling free diffusion of ideas and confluence of talents across disciplinary boundaries. Hence, we need to properly identify students from different disciplines who have strong entrepreneurial passion and drive for courses on entrepreneurship and as done in some foreign universities, i.e. Bodo Business School in Norway, it should be made mandatory for each student in entrepreneurship to start an enterprise in the first year itself under the guidance of experienced entrepreneurs and mentors. Students in technologically biased fields could be offered courses on Technopreneurship. The staff of such courses should also have the ability and passion to unleash the creative energies of students and get them to think out-of-the box. It is also important to invite the movers and shakers of industry to develop and conduct courses, developing the entrepreneurial skills and igniting the entrepreneurial passion of students thereby helping them to blossom out as entrepreneurs.

Establishment of business incubators attached to universities are now very common in many foreign universities where students are immersed in an entrepreneurial environment which enable them to develop into enterprising, resourceful, independent self-starters and eventually blossom out as successful entrepreneurs. The University of Ruhuna recently established such incubators with the assistance from UNIDO to help the start-ups.

New knowledge and findings of industrial potential or commercial value that emanate from research conducted by the staff are often not commercialized and such a culture does not exist in the universities.. Therefore it will be useful to have an institutional mechanism or structure to provide necessary services to educate and advise the staff on how to commercialize research findings, innovation & inventions and new knowledge and assist transform new ideas and knowledge into innovative products and services. Moreover, courses on creativity, innovation, invention and such like, which will sharpen the faculties of analysis, foster imagination, inquiry, and creative & out-of-the box thinking and ignite the passion to innovate and create new, knowledge should be developed and offered.

In addition, the following measures will prove useful in affording an entrepreneurial dimension to and promoting an entrepreneurial culture in universities..

1. Establishment of partnership with industry and Chambers of Commerce.

2. Establishment of a Chair in Entrepreneurship enabling the universities to obtain services of suitable private sector personnel to conduct rele vant teaching and training programmes.

3. Providing internship to students with industry as part of the academic programme.

4. Establishment of partnership with leading entrepreneurial universities in the world.

5. Setting up of Entrepreneurs & Innovators Clubs.

6. Establishment of encouragement award schemes to honour and recognize the most outstanding student/staff innovator, inventor and entrepreneur in universities.

7. Engagement of students in entrepreneurial activities such as running guest houses, student canteens, bookshops, souvenir shops, day-care centres/early childhood development centres, cyber cafes including web designing, travel offices, tourist information centres with connected services in town as enterprises

Advantages of entrepreneurial universities

An entrepreneurial university will have several advantages over a traditional university. Reduced dependence on state- finds through income generated from licenses, patents, spin-off — companies etc, greater administrative and financial autonomy through generated income, production of more innovative and entrepreneurial graduates, improved employability of graduates and greater contribution to industrial growth, business development and regional development are some major advantages of an entrepreneurial university. If we look at the universities in the world, there are many universities that have become not only a true and effective partner, but also the driving force and engine of regional development. Stanford university of USA, Technology Universities in Aachen in Germany, University of Sheffield in UK, Oulu University in Finland, Chalmers University in Sweden, Punjab University in India are just bto name a few.

There are many youths in rural areas with innovative and entrepreneurial ideas and spirit, but there have no way of developing these ideas into novel products and services. Besides, many technically gifted people in rural areas running small cycle repair shops, garages and such like are just stagnating without blossoming out expressing their full potential. This is because institutions that can give a leg-up to such promising people do not reach out to them. According to the former Director of Innovation and Invention Commission, Dr. L. M. K. Tillekeratne, most of the innovation and inventions in Sri Lanka have come about from rural areas. Invention of the cashew shelling machine by a rural youth is a case in point.

The universities, through Innovators and Entrepreneurs clubs could reach out and unearth such "gems and jewels" and help them blossom out though appropriate interventions. The out-reach arm of the universities with the engagement of right students could do a greater deal in improving viability and growth of such micro and small enterprises and graduating them to medium enterprises. The University of Ruhuna is in the process of repositioning and re- creating itself with an entrepreneurial dimension. It looks forward to becoming a true and effective partner in facilitating, accelerating and directing enterprise development in the region with its strategic partnership with the Southern Development Authority, the Chambers of Commerce in Harnbantota and Matara and other relevant government and non-governmental organizations.

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Monday, March 27, 2006

UNDP released People's Consultation Report on Post-tsunami Recovery

Asian Tribune: 14/03/2006"

Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapakse on Monday, formally received the final report on Peoples' Consultations prepared after extensive discussions with those affected by the December 2004 Tsunami.

The peoples' consultations were the first of its kind conducted in Sri Lanka to ascertain the needs and interests of tsunami-affected people with regard to their resettlement within their communities. The final report of the consultations is available in all three languages and is being disseminated widely.

Consultations were also carried-out with local authorities, INGOs, NGOs and Community Based Organizations in the affected-districts to ascertain their needs and challenges with regard to tsunami recovery.

The Chairman of the Disaster Relief Monitoring Unit [DMRU] Lionel Fernando, UNDP’s Resident Representative Miguel Bermeo and senior UNDP officials were at Temple Trees yesterday morning for the handover ceremony.

President Rajapakse while appreciating the ‘report’ said he believed in a bottom-up approach in the delivering the needs of the people. He stressed the importance of his policy of empowering and involving the Government Agents and AGAs in the country’s tsunami recovery effort.

The Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights Mahinda Samarasinghe and the Ambassadors of Germany and Norway, the two countries which funded the project were also present.

This comprehensive report on People’s Consultation was a collaborative effort of the Disaster Relief Monitoring Unit (DRMU) of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) of Sri Lanka, and University of Colombo and with the patronage of the Task Force for Rebuilding the Nation (TAFREN) supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

When clarifying about the consultation process undertaken in the preparation of the report it was revealed as follows :

The peoples' consultations were the first of its kind conducted in Sri Lanka to ascertain the needs and interests of tsunami-affected people with regard to their resettlement within their communities. The final report of the consultations is available in all three languages and is being disseminated widely.

The consultations were done over a three month period from July 2005 and covered over 800 Grama Niladari (GN) Divisions in over 1100 villages in 13 tsunami-affected districts.

In each village, 15-20 representatives chosen by the villagers themselves gathered in a local community-hall, school, temple or garden to discuss their needs, challenges and ideas about tsunami reconstruction. Representatives from the Human Rights Commission and TAFREN also made use of these meetings to share information and keep the participants informed about the rights and entitlements of the affected communities' and State policies .

Consultations were also carried-out with local authorities, INGOs, NGOs and Community Based Organizations in the affected-districts to ascertain their needs and challenges with regard to tsunami recovery.

The findings from the consultations were made available to relevant stakeholders at local government level such as Government Agents, Divisional Secretaries, and Village Heads etc.

Based on the consultations, UNDP commissioned the University of Colombo to develop a substantive analysis of the findings, through further research and discussion with the communities and authorities and to make area-specific recommendations on issues such as livelihood recovery, housing, education, health, environmental and socio-cultural dynamics.

The UNDP also commissioned the University to conduct a vulnerability mapping of the tsunami-affected districts with the aim of identifying the most vulnerable and marginalized communities in these districts. Both reports are being disseminated to the various stakeholders.

The Disaster Relief Monitoring Unit of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) of Sri Lanka is partnering with UNDP to establish Help-Desks in the affected districts, to respond to the human rights needs of tsunami-affected populations. These help-desks will operate a complaints system for tsunami-related human rights violations; increase awareness among tsunami-affected persons on their rights and entitlements; and increase awareness of local authorities, INGOs, NGOs and CBOs on human rights.

UNDP is supportive of the Government’s efforts to strengthen the human rights dimensions of tsunami recovery in Sri Lanka through institutions such as RADA, the Ministries of Disaster Management and Human Rights.

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Bribery up but convictions down

Daily Mirror: 11/03/2006" By Shakuntala Perera

Bribery and corruption among public officials is rapidly increasing but the number of convictions is low, largely because complainants are afraid to come forward as witnesses, a top official said yesterday.

Piyasena Ranasinghe Director General of the Commission to Investigate Bribery or Corruption told the Daily Mirror that from January 1 to March 10 this year, more than 20 complaints had been received against top public officials.

He said those under investigation included the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Negombo, OIC of the Bibile police station, and top officials of the police, Education Ministry, Department of Emigration and Immigration and the Department of the Registrar of Motor Traffic.

The Commission this week handed over its latest report to President Mahinda Rajapaksa pointing out that the number of public officials being arrested for bribery or corruption was steadily increasing.

The report says 90 public officials had been arrested on charges of bribery or corruption within the period in question.

Mr. Ranasinghe said it was tragic that officers of the police department topped the list of bribery and corruption.

He said another unfortunate trend was that while people were ready to make complaints of bribery or corruption they were not so ready to come forward as witnesses and thus the number of convictions was low, though the law was tough.

He said new laws relating to the freedom of information and to protect complainants or witnesses needed to be introduced.

Mr. Ranasinghe denied allegations that the Commission was largely taking in the ‘sprats’ and letting go the ‘sharks’.

He said in recent years or months many top security personnel, principals of schools and a top railway official had been arrested on charges of bribery and corruption.
Mr. Ranasinghe said in most instances the Commission was only able to neutralise the damage from worsening further.

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Tsunami housing issues – the agencies’ side of the story

TW : 12/03/2006" By Jeevan Thiagarajah

Around 98,000 permanent housing units were to be
provided following the tsunami. They were found inside and
outside buffer zones. The policy was a house for a house if
fully damaged as well as where partially damaged,
allocations to repair. The dimensions per unit was 500 sq. ft
and a unit cost was Rs. 500,000. Recent reports have
highlighted the inadequacy of progress. Many have and are
contributing to the housing enterprise. These include the
government, the World Bank, International Federation of the
Red Cross, Caritas, International NGOs, national NGOs,
philanthropic trusts and funds and private sector
contributions. In an ideal situation a 500 sq. ft. structure
could be completed within four months, whilst a 1500 sq. ft.
and above might take 9 months.

Following the tsunami, the government imposed a
moratorium on the building of houses within what was called
the buffer zone. The buffer zone included stipulations laid
down by the Coast Conservational Act. On the 19th
December 2005, the buffer zone was removed and
stipulations of the Coast Conservational act were the only
consideration.

In the heady days after the tsunami, many an offer of
assistance was found on the ground. So too were MoUs.
Some had revisions done on the run before signing, others
signed and went seeking for funds, signed, had funds and
delivered, signed and had funds, could not find land or land
became expensive, beneficiaries, masons, carpenters,
water, access roads, electricity, engineers, etc. Others
hedged, wanting to see when the buffer zone would go.
Some went and built on alternate land given. Others had
built and given houses which are unoccupied. Most
painfully, there is such a site in Amparai whilst we had the sit
in protest in Kalmunai demanding houses. In Batticaloa the
largest site was totally unsuitable from day one. It has an
illustrious list of agencies waiting to build on the land
allocated which could ideally be described as a mudflat.

We set out to give a house for a house. Many never owned
houses, nor land. Many had neither in many other parts of
the country, whilst scores of others affected by conflict wait
eagerly for the same privileges. Agencies classically need to
know who they re giving houses to. TAFREN did for a while
publicise these lists.

We have had occasions where lists have begun to change.
In our culture in this country the time of commencement of
building of the house, the appropriate date and time to start
using the house, the direction of the front door, the location
of the kitchen are all considerations of custom. Some
beneficiaries may want to contribute in kind and build more.
It requires human contact.

A house alone doesn’t provide security for a family. There
has to be food on the table. You could have food on the
table through rations but be in a temporary shelter. If you
were to be in a permanent shelter, food by rations would not
last very long, it requires meaningful livelihood. If there are
children, there needs to be a nearby school, possibly
decent roads, hopefully electricity, maybe a market for ones
provisions. All of which costs money. The monies are there,
they need to be coordinated.

In the Northeast, we have graciously invited people to return
home following the Ceasefire. Given them a resettlement
allowance and promised them a house 2 years later. In the
interim, they live in huts fit for goats and cows.

It’s also the reality we could not get the housing grants
online, synchronised with the return or for that matter, the
essentials to support a dignified life. Two thirds of the
tsunami needs are requested by the Northeast. Hence the
issues become that much more compounded. Across the
coastal areas land squeeze is evident. Allocating state land
requires demarcation, surveying, planning, approvals and
coordination among key government agencies, working
harmoniously with agencies, all at an electrifying pace.

If all of these are valuable alibis for failure what might be
hopeful solutions?

Humanitarian imperatives respond to human needs where
there is suffering, depravation, iniquity, discrimination.
Humanitarian action from step 1 to 100 is designed for only
one reason and that is to respond to these needs.

That intention needs to be remembered at all times. Benefit
has to accrue to the person in need on time, in adequate
measure, appropriately.

The monies available need to be counted, the unit costs
understood and resources with needs matched. If a Rs.
500,000 house requires another Rs. 400,000 just to make it
buildable the number units fundable becomes less. Top up
programmes are coming on line and will assist. Government
may well be on its way to deciding how to deal with those
who had built within conservation zones whether one turns a
blind eye or finds another reasonable solution. It’s a reality
that land, house planning, funds, infrastructure, schools,
health are all not going to be synchronized so efficiently as
to run at the same speed.

Might it be worth considering housing grants and subsidies
for those who never owned land nor a house to be given the
opportunity to settle as they find fit with a guarantee of non
discrimination of access to services afforded as a matter of
course to all citizens. Planning approvals are being speeded
up, coordination units at local level are being identified
better, collaboration between those funding, planning and
benefiting clearly has to be an ever present phenomenon.

Agencies who never built houses and won’t be building for
very long need to find efficient and rational ways to provide
for houses and allow those who can do it to do so efficiently.
Those who are meant to benefit need to know when they
are going to get the houses. The question of when this
would all end remains hotly contested. Government would
like it by end of this year; others think it would take another
2 to 3 years. People were hoping it would be by New Year
this year. Arguments on this matter have not concluded.
Having done all of this, those affected by poverty, those in
slums, those affected by conflict would like to see similar
policies, practises and benefits. It’s a fair call. [DailyMirror]

(The writer is the Executive Director Consortium of
Humanitarian Agencies)

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