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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, June 16, 2007

Urban renewable energy supports rural Sri Lanka

Daily Mirror: 16/06/2007"

Renewable energy sources in urban areas create better options for rural folk to gain access to electricity made possible through the approval of a US$40 million financing by the World Bank.
The World Bank on Thursday approved additional financing of US$40 million to strengthen the Government's efforts to bring electricity to remote rural communities and promote private sector investments in power generation from renewable energy sources in urban areas.

"We would like to focus on the provision of energy services to some of the 25 percent of the Sri Lankan population that has no access to electricity at home," said Naoko Ishii, World Bank Country Director. "The grid-connecting capacity will be boosted by a further 50 MW and off-grid electricity services will be extended to 60,000 additional households and 500 rural micro- and small-scale enterprises in rural areas," she added.

The primary goal of the first project was to bring electricity to remote communities and individual households through village-led electricity societies and the provision of solar energy services. The productive use of electricity has resulted in an increase of non-farm incomes of rural households; and improved the delivery of social services such as health and education through customized electricity provisions.

"Sri Lanka has made strong progress in terms of promoting private investments in renewable and rural energy," said Mudassar Imran, Senior Energy Economist and Task Leader for the project. "The additional financing for this project will facilitate the development of the renewable energy sector thereby contributing to the country’s energy development goals."

The initial Renewable Energy for Rural Development (RERED) project provided 74,000 solar home systems to 3200 households and nine schools have gained access to electricity. In these schools computer centers have been established, providing school children with computer facilities. A total of 66,267 households have switched from Kerosene to solar home systems. Additionally 750 business enterprises have benefited from off-grid electricity for various income generating activities.

A valuable gain was the strengthening of the generation supply of the national grid through the support given by private sector-owned mini-hydro, wind, and other renewable energy projects that feed into the grid. The generation capacity added to the national grid through renewable energy technologies by the private sector has exceeded 55 MW (about 2.4% of the installed capacity) within a period of four years.

The initial project components will remain the same during this new funding period and include refinancing support for grid-connected renewable energy, investment in solar power technology (photovoltaic) and further commercialization of village hydro and other community-based independent grid systems. Technical assistance to build capacity to enable communities realize both direct and indirect benefits of electrification remains a vital part of the project.

The credit is provided by the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank's concessionary lending arm, and has 20 years to maturity and a 10-year grace period.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Eco friendly means can reduce house building costs

Daily Mirror: 15/06/2007" By Jeevani Pereira

The construction of environmentally friendly houses can reduce building costs by nearly twenty-seven percent, it was revealed at a workshop on environmentally friendly housing technologies yesterday.

Organized to commemorate Environment day by the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS) and Practical Action South Asian Programme (ITDG), the Rat Trap Bond method of building walls and the Filler Slab concrete roofing method were said to cut down on costs.

“With the Rat Trap Bond method you can get a slightly better saving on bricks with not the usual amount being used,” said Priyanth Yaggahahewage of Practical Action adding that 35 percent of the usual cost can be reduced by this method.
Furthermore, even though with the Filler Slab method saving is less proportionate to the walls, it would contribute to lessening unwanted concrete and metal as well as reducing the weight of the slab.

Around 125 houses have already been built in the East and the South while over 300 masons have been trained in the construction technology countrywide.

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Understanding poverty through “Fresh Perspectives”

Daily Mirror: 15/06/2007" By Aamna Mahboob

The outgoing Chairman of the Center for Poverty Analysis (CEPA), Dr Nimal Sanderathne said that the CEPA is not a rigid organization and it provides independent analysis of poverty-related developments issues in Sri Lanka He was speaking to a gathering of people on the launching ceremony of a book ‘Fresh Perspectives: Exploring alternative dimensions of poverty in Sri Lanka”.

The CEPA coordinator of the Poverty Assessment and Knowledge management Programmer, Azra Abdul Cader explained that the book introduces commonly used definitions and indicators of poverty, as well as more alternative methodologies and CEPA’s own definition and approach to understanding poverty.

She further explained that this publication is reflective exercise of the CEPA and an opportunity to pull together lessons and information from work which the organization had undertaken over the 5 years since the inception of CEPA”S concept.

“It has also provided an opportunity to showcase the methods we have been developing, particularly combining quantitative and qualitative approach in poverty analysis” she said.
She hopes that the message through the book, which they continue to stress at CEPA, is the need to take a comprehensive and balanced approach to issue of poverty, using a combination of approaches rather than relying on one or two methods.

Assistance Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka and Director of CEPA, Anila Dias Bandaranaike, said that quantitative information on consumption poverty, from national household income and expenditure surveys, has been available in Sri Lanka for over 50 years, while successive governments, since independence, have placed emphasis on welfare benefits to needy.

“During the recent past, policy discussion and debate on poverty related issues in Sri Lanka have become more focused on the available quantitative and qualitative evidence, rather than on perception” Bandaranaike said.

She also highlighted the book as valuable source of information on poverty both in Sri Lanka and globally. She noted that some information was the starting point of serious research on WHO (who are they), WHERE (where they live), What (what are they deprived of) WHY (why they are poor) WHEN and HOW (when and how they become poor).

She further explained that the book also provides interesting and useful insights into different dimensions of poverty among diverse poor communities those geographically or isolated (estates, ethnic minorities), those isolated from economic and employment opportunities by crises (civil conflict and tsunami) or inappropriate human development (youth).

She said that most recently, the government has selected the 119 DS divisions with the highest incidence of poverty identified by DCS for development, as a part of its “gama naguma” program. There is new recognition that poverty could be a result of economic, social, political and spatial exclusion, therefore we need to take look at poverty from a fresh perspective of its many dimensions, if we are truly understand why it exists and how to reduce it, she concluded.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

“Ganna Ape De” for Sri Lankan brands only

Daily Mirror: 13/06/2007" By Damayanthi Hewamanna

Mawbima Lanka, a non-profit organisation, has come in to recognize brands that are truly Sri Lankan by awarding selected brands the right to use Ganna Ape De logo.

Mawbima Lanka which is committed to creating awareness among Sri Lankan people for the usage of locally manufactured products and services came up with this concept for a marketplace where consumers typically seek out and use Sri Lankan products.

“Without drinking the milk of our very own cows we drink milk that has been produced in other countries”, Master Divers Organisation Chairman and Pelawatte Sugar Corporation Managing Director Ariyaseela Wickremanayake said at a press conference held recently.

“We hadn’t found a way of showing our nation’s products to the people of this country before”, DSI Group of Companies Managing Director Kulatunga Rajapaksa added. Japan is proudly saying “Made in Japan” and we have so many things we could accept as our own for example the gems, but there was no way of showing them any recognition.

As their long term objective the use of locally produced goods and services, a large scale of advertising campaign will be undertaken island wide to create awareness of the Ganna Ape De logo and what it reflects.

This campaign is said to be launched in collaboration with the Ministry of Industrial Development and the Strategic Management Agency (SEMA). Once a person has obtained the logo they can print it on their products and other business communications while making their products more visible and recognisable to consumers as being a truly Sri Lankan brand which will increase the demand for local products and services. Through this they will also be qualifying for other benefits such as the Annual Ape De Awards, guidance for Industrial Marking Specialists, competitive marketing information, the support of experienced negotiators to resolve labour issues and lobbying in the interest of local industries.

For the selection process they have established a set of accreditation standards for the products and services to satisfy to qualify for the Ganna Ape De logo. Then the brands of people will need to meet certain standards and will be then sent to pass inspection by an expert committee which comprises a productivity expert from the Ministry of Industrial Development before been granted for the right to use the logo.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Choices: Onymous or anonymous?; Perils of economic discourse in Sri Lanka

LBO: 12/06/2007"

The theme of this column has been public policy about infrastructure. This time, it will not be about infrastructure as such, but about the ability to engage in public discussion about public policy in this thrice blessed isle.

I am responsible for a website called www.LIRNEasia.net. Over the past two and half years it has built up a significant international audience, on the basis of the over 550 posts (average of over 18 posts a month) we have made and over 3,100 comments that those posts and other comments have attracted.

The website is not a static mode of disseminating information, but an interactive public space, albeit one that is provided by a non-governmental organization.

The blue is the most important column as it shows the total number of unique visitors per quarter (around 200 a day now).

The orange is also significant because it shows the people who make return visits.
For a technical website focusing in telecom policy and regulation, this is pretty good. Very few of the posts are about Sri Lanka though a large number of comments are from those who appear to be Sri Lankans living in the country and abroad, writing on one thread.

A majority of the readers of the website are from abroad. Its success is possibly as much due to its blog format that allows easy interaction as to its content.

Anonymity/pseudonymity of blog comments

Recently, the blog has become controversial. Since April 2006, one thread has been used by various persons to discuss Sri Lankan ICT policy issues, with emphasis on the appropriate standards for using Sinhala in computing.

Not all the comments on this thread have been rational and civilized and some commenters have engaged in personal vilification.

The controversy hit a peak around the time of Professor V.K. Samaranayake’s felicitation event at the University of Colombo in early June and his subsequent demise.

It is fair to say that Professor Samaranayake bore the brunt of the personal attacks on the website, though the President of the Maldives, Mr Milinda Moragoda and I, among others, had also been attacked at various times.

Several people wanted posts they considered offensive deleted and others wanted anonymous posts deleted. People who don’t know how blogs work and have no experience with, or commitment to, public discourse, have tried to associate me with the nasty comments on the blog, even going to the extent of complaining to our international partners.

LIRNEasia’s consistent position was that it had neither the resources nor the desire to exert editorial control over the blog.

The webmaster did make periodic pleas that commenters should stay on topic and maintain civility, but we were very clear that there was no editorial control and no prohibitions against anonymous or pseudonymous postings.

I personally had little use for anonymous or pseudonymous commenters, stating on the blog thread in question that I did not give much credence to people with paperbags over their heads.
Yet, we did not delete any posts, anonymous, psuedonymous or otherwise (with a single exception to prevent people from getting misled by a fake announcement).

A public space is not one where I expect everyone to follow my personal norms of behavior. Plus, identity is fluid on the Internet.

But recently, an incident occurred that caused me to change my personal views on anonymous and pseudonymous postings.

License down the throat

Dr Harsha de Silva hosts a primetime economics program on MTV NewsFirst called BizFirst. Several months ago, Harsha and I had a good discussion on the show about a proposed auction of taxi licenses by the Board of Investment (BOI).

We were teaching a course on economics of infrastructure at that time and had investigated the design of the auction as part of our preparation for teaching.

The auction was nicely designed but just did not make sense because no scarce resource was being auctioned and the market was one that did not meet the criteria of a natural monopoly, justifying the auctioning off of a concession.

All this we talked about on camera. The auction failed for the lack of bidders, primarily because Treasury refused to grant the promised duty-free concessions to the winner.

Recently, I heard from very reliable sources that a very senior official at the BOI, appointed by this government, was very angry about the failure of his pet project and had announced his intention of shoving the licenses down the throats of all who were responsible for the failure of the auction.

Dr de Silva’s throat and mine are said to be on the list because we criticized the auction.
Actually, we held up the design of the auction as a model; but we ridiculed the whole idea of conducting an auction for taxi licenses and even stated that duty concessions would be unfair to the present suppliers of taxi services.

If I contributed to the failure of that silly auction, I am happy.

But the larger issue is the state of public discourse in this country.

If people like Dr de Silva and I are threatened with physical violence by senior government officials simply for expressing our professional opinions on matters of public policy, something is very wrong.

This threat suggests that the roles of anonymity and pseudonymity in public discourse in this country has to be rethought.

At the time of the second JVP insurrection only the gonibillas needed bags over their heads; now it seems that public intellectuals, even those who comment on relatively uncontroversial economic matters (not the emotional hot-button issues of war and peace that invite charges of treason from the highest levels of government), require them.

I am accustomed to this kind of bellicosity. In 1987 I was unjustly removed from an announced speaking slot at the annual sessions of the Computer Society of Sri Lanka by the powers that be for daring to help a small guy in his fight against a then major computer company.

In the early nineties, I was threatened with deportation by a major telephone company in the United States (but the responsible academic leaders backed me up, unlike in Sri Lanka in 1987).
I had the option of taking a job in the United States in 1987 (which I did after abandoning plans to build a Sri Lanka based ICT policy consulting firm because of the CSSL incident among other reasons) and I have options now if the odds are high that a license will be rammed down my throat by the BOI official or his goons.

But there must be solutions for those who lack options, yet wish to engage in high-risk public discourse, which in this country can mean any discourse.

Short of providing paper bags as optional headgear at TV talk shows, we should at least allow for anonymous and pseudonymous comments in fora such as LBO and definitely in the blogsphere. .

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