Connect with us

News

A CRITICAL REVIEW OF SRI LANKA IN 2021

Published

on

by Anila Dias Bandaranaike, Ph. D.

Public discourse everywhere confirms that Sri Lanka is in a parlous situation on several fronts. This paper appraises our current situation against a proposed national development framework.

National Resources

Sri Lanka’s two key resources are its people and environment. People have had access to traditional, healthy nutrition and free preventive and curative health services, as well as two ancient languages (Sinhala, Tamil), a global language (English) and free education up to tertiary level.

Our unique environment provides the natural security of an island, a strategic geographic location and manageable size, with extraordinary biodiversity. It is mostly arable, mainly flat, with accessible mountains, plentiful water and easy road, air and sea access.

Since Independence, successive governments under-utilised these resources. First, they complacently followed the unsustainable colonial development path, without forward-looking reforms for us. More recently, they mimicked the development paths of western industrialised countries and city states, Dubai and Singapore, inappropriate for Sri Lanka. They prioritised infrastructure above people. While lip service was paid to their importance, teaching English, our language issues and labour market reforms were neglected. This trajectory failed to retain Sri Lanka’s human capital. Neglect of minority concerns, inadequate incomes and employment opportunities led to brains and skills drain, as many who benefitted from free health and education left Sri Lanka. We now face a critical human capital shortage.

Governments also failed to recognise our environment’s potential for sustainable food security and earnings from exports and tourism. Instead, we see degradation and contraction of rainforests (Sinharaja), detrimental landfills, garbage dumps and ad hoc construction in wetlands (Muthurajawela), invasive plant expansion in national parks and irrigation tanks (Minneriya, Uda Walawe), violation of building guidelines in historical sites and resort areas (Colombo, Sigiriya, Unawatuna), plastic and chemical pollution (island-wide) and urban air pollution (Colombo, Kandy). Wasteful, thoughtless construction (Mattala Airport, Hambantota International Conference Centre, Colombo evictions and destruction of historic buildings) focussed on means to well-being (GDP growth, FDI, export growth, physical infrastructure, etc.), not the goal.

Lack of a framework and priorities for our key resources has led to multiple crises Sri Lanka faces today.

* Fiscal, foreign exchange and debt crisis – Against wasteful expenditure, inconsistent tax and trade policies have drastically reduced revenue and foreign earnings, leading to ballooning debt. We face financial, monetary and fiscal instability.

* Law and order crisis – Rampant corruption, pardoning of convicted criminals, ad-hoc dismissal of cases, indiscriminate detentions and delays in legal proceedings have destroyed people’s faith in the police and judicial systems to deliver protection and justice.

* COVD-related health, welfare and economic crisis – Mishandling of the pandemic, food distribution, people’s movements, transport and economic activities have many people without health protection, food or incomes.

* Maritime environmental crisis – Sheer bungling of a ship with hazardous cargo in distress created an unprecedented maritime environmental disaster.

* Labour crisis – Skills and brain drain, exacerbated by state support for labour migration, has led to labour shortages in many economic sectors.

* Habitat loss crisis – Unregulated clearing of forest lands, beachfronts and ad hoc landfills for political gain, for unstructured agriculture, for private housing, tourism, agro-industrial and industrial projects, without consistent policies, guidelines and mechanisms to monitor and evaluate large scale infrastructure or agriculture projects, has degraded and reduced our biodiversity.

* Plastic and toxic chemical pollution crisis – Lack of clear policies for a phased reduction plan, monitoring mechanisms and punishments for the harmful use of plastic and agrochemicals and for proper sanitary landfill and solid waste disposal mechanisms, including for e-waste, has aggravated environmental pollution. Meanwhile, the overnight ban on chemical fertiliser, unless reversed soon, will precipitate another food and export crop reduction crisis.

National Goals and Framework

Sri Lanka can overcome these crises. For this, governments need commitment to sustainable national goals and a framework prioritising people and environment.

Basic Premise:

Nations strive to improve the well-being of all citizens, which requires sustainable development and social justice.

Goal for People:

To improve their well -being, which encompasses 3 dimensions – material, intellectual and emotional -, with social justice. Material needs include physical health, food, clothing, shelter, utilities, transport and communication. Intellectual needs include education, skills development, employment opportunities and leisure activities. Emotional needs include mental health and a sense of personal security within the home and country to follow one’s religious beliefs, cultural traditions, sexual orientation, etc., without harm to others. Social justice ensures impartiality in access and opportunities for all citizens, regardless of any differentiating factor.

Goal for Environment:

To safeguard all biodiversity through sustainable development – lasting improvement in the well-being of current and future generations. Biodiversity includes rainforests, dry-zone forests, mountain plains, wetlands, beaches, dunes, reefs, lagoons, mangroves, rivers, waterfalls, reservoirs, tanks and air quality.

These goals are best understood as a government’s responsibility to provide to its citizens, through constant review and reforms, the following:

* Representation – Electoral systems for meaningful representation at national, regional and local levels, including relevant criteria for suitability of candidates. To meet people’s needs not representatives’ greed.

* Justice – Judicial reforms to ensure an independent, accountable judiciary, and law reforms for timely delivery of justice to people.

* Domestic Security – Police and legal reforms to ensure zero tolerance of discrimination on grounds of ethnic, religious, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, social status, income, political affiliation or other differentiating factor.

* A Sustainable Natural Environment – Action plans and guidelines to reverse environmental destruction. Sustained review and reforms of existing laws and procedures which hamper safeguarding of Sri Lanka’s resources.

* An Ethical and Transparent Business Environment – Institutional and legal reforms to rationalise and simplify access, procedures, approvals and licences to facilitate doing ethical business.

* Access to State Services – National administrative system reform to create realistic geographical boundaries for greater efficiency of service delivery. Clear demarcation of what state services are to be delivered at national, provincial and local level. Rationalisation of multi-tiered services where people have to seek multiple levels of authorisation for simple acts.

* Education – Reforms in educational infrastructure, curricula and teacher training to meet current market needs for analytical, problem-solving and writing skills with English proficiency. Regulation of private institutions to supplement state institutions. Removal of inconsistencies in access, with capacity building for national level schools at Divisional Secretariat level.

* Health – Policy reforms and better budgets to improve preventive and curative health delivery systems.

* Nutrition – Policy consistency in land use, agriculture and trade, to ensure food security and price stability.

* Housing – Policy reforms for access to housing markets at all income levels.

* Financial System Stability and Responsible Fiscal Management – Reform of monetary and fiscal authorities to ensure monetary, financial and fiscal stability. Capacity building for Parliamentary oversight of fiscal and financial management.

* Gainful Employment – Labour market and related legal reforms to reverse people migration (200-300,000/year). Recognise and regulate new forms of atypical employment. Ensure liveable minimum wages and decent working conditions. Allow hiring flexibility, while protecting worker rights.

* Social Safety Net –Welfare and social security reforms to support those below the poverty line and ensure retirement benefits for all.

* Access to Information – Access to public data and methodology. Expanded budgets and capacity building to address supply-side constraints in national data agencies.

• National Security – Capacity building for safety against international threats – physical, social or economic. Defined role for Tri-Forces. Foreign policy consistency in geopolitical relationships with global and regional powers.

Current Situation

Sri Lanka has a bloated public service and excessive layers of political representation. The public sector employs about 1.2 million people (15% of total work force) in 1,200 major institutions covering over 30,000 smaller units.

Sri Lanka’s population of 22 million, has a parliament of 225 members with about 30 Cabinet Ministers and 40 State Ministers at national level. In contrast, India’s population of 1,326 million (6 times) has a Lok Sabha of 545, 15 Cabinet ministers and 28 state ministers. Malaysia’s population of 33 million (1.5 times) has 222 members in its House of Representatives, 32 ministers and 38 deputy ministers.

At Local Government level, Sri Lanka has 8,708 elected representatives in 341 local authorities (24 Municipal Councils (MCs), 41 Urban Councils (UCs) and 276 Pradeshiya Sabhas (PS)). If Provincial Councils were in place, there would be about 500 Provincial Counsellors and another level of ministers.

With no clear delegation of responsibilities among these layers and overlapping institutions, there is considerable confusion in policy-making and service delivery. For decades, instead of focussing on their substantive role of policy-making and implementation for longer term national objectives, Cabinet and other ministers have been micro-managing day-to-day activities, such as transfers, promotions, job and school placements, etc. Overlap of functions has killed accountability. Senior bureaucrats, fearful for their jobs in a politicised culture, have forgotten their advisory role. Most muddle around at the bidding of their political masters or hoodwink them, in order to remain in favour. Those with integrity have paid the price for their commitment and professionalism, by removal.

With such a serious breakdown of independence, professionalism, accountability, channel-of-command and decision-making processes in key systems of authority and electoral representation, successive governments have failed to deliver universal rights.

The cumulative outcome has Sri Lanka in an extremely unstable and precarious situation. There is neither time nor space for further bungling or foolish posturing that we see among those responsible for running the country today.

Way Forward

A well-planned path prioritising critical reforms which optimise our key resources, would retain our people at higher incomes and safeguard our environment. To carve such a path, the country urgently needs to rationalise the size and layers of government and have a merit-based selection of professionals to key positions to plan a way forward, implement related policies and much-needed reforms. My wish list:

* National Framework and Goals – A small competent team to prepare it, with goals based on Citizens’ Rights.

* Public Sector Contraction – Professionally review roles and responsibilities of existing institutions under each Right. Cull and combine to rationalise and remove duplication.

* Merit-based promotions and recruitments – Establish guidelines and efficient procedures to fill key positions with professionals of acumen and independence. Reconsider categories of Presidential Appointees.

* Accountability – Establish systems for channel-of-command and responsibility, with continuous monitoring and evaluation. Re-establish Monitoring Authorities – Constitutional Council, Independent Commissions.

* Language – Build official capacity to ensure tri-lingual language rights for all.

Electoral Representation

* Effectiveness – Rationalise existing electoral systems at national, provincial and local levels.

* Consistency – Assign all electoral delimitation to one independent delimitation authority.

* Eligibility – Introduce minimal eligibility criteria to raise quality of representatives.

Conclusion:

Sri Lanka has a wealth of competent professionals of integrity and acumen who can move this country on a path to sustainable development. For this, the Executive and Legislature (President, Cabinet and Parliament), have to admit their abject failure and ask for help. Till then, men and women of ability will remain in the wings until it is too late. Sadly, that day may not be far off.

The author is a former Assistant Governor and Director of Statistics of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. She served on the Delimitation Commission of Sri Lanka from 2015 to 2020.



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Latest News

Enter correct age of children when setting up email accounts for them- Police Crimes Division

Published

on

By

Officials of the Police Crime Division told the Sectoral Oversight Committee on Reconciliation and National Unity that email accounts for school children should not be set up giving parents details but by entering the correct age of the children.

The officials pointed out that as online education has become a necessity it was necessary to provide the children with mobile phones (Smart Phone active) to access computer devices. However, they pointed out that by providing the parents’ data for this purpose when giving smart phones and setting up email accounts, the children will have the opportunity to access any website. But, if the information including the correct age of the children are provided, the internet system itself will control the ability and access of the children to view inappropriate videos and websites.

The Sectoral Oversight Committee on Reconciliation and National Unity met under the Chairmanship of Member of Parliament Dilan Perera in order to discuss the program to be carried out in collaboration with the National Reconciliation and Children and Women Bureau .

 

Continue Reading

News

New legislation being drafted to address land, labour, capital and technology laws – Presidential Advisor

Published

on

By

Addressing the Panel Discussion of the National Law Conference 2023, Presidential Advisor Dr. R.H.S Samaratunga, emphasized the need for a comprehensive review of land laws, labour laws, capital laws, and technology laws in order to meet the requirements of a competitive economy. He noted that the Presidential Secretariat is currently examining a series of new legislation drafts that address these four crucial sectors.

The National Law Conference 2023/24 was held from June 02 to June 04, 2023 at The Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya. The 2nd segment of the conference focused on sectoral views on strengthening the economy and a number of local and foreign key stakeholders gave their comments. They also commended the effort of the BASL in organizing such a conference and appreciated the government’s genuine efforts to recover the country from the crisis and extended their support in rebuilding the country focusing on areas in which they could contribute to.

Continue Reading

News

March 12 Movement, MP Rajakaruna ask Prez to sack gold-smuggling MP

Published

on

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Declaring that Muslim National Alliance (MNA) MP Ali Sabri Raheem couldn’t continue to be an MP after being fined for an abortive attempt to smuggle in Rs 78.2 mn worth of gold and smartphones, the March 12 Movement has appealed to the executive, legislature and the judiciary to sack the MP, who, they say, has brought Parliament into disrepute.

Civil society activist Rohana Hettiarachchi, on behalf of the March 12 Movement, told The Island that MP Raheem should be dealt with the way the late President J.R. Jayewardene had handled the case of Kandy District UNP MP Anura Daniel. Jayewardene had removed MP Daniel, who was nabbed for a similar smuggling offence, Hettiarachchi said, urging President Ranil Wickremesinghe to take the initiative.

Pointing out that Customs had fined MP Raheem Rs 7.4 mn over two weeks back, Hettiarachchi found fault with the President and Parliament for failing to take tangible measures in that regard. The All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC), which fielded Raheem from the Puttalam District at the last parliamentary election (2020), couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for the MP’s despicable action, Hettiarachchi said.

Vanni District MP Rishad Bathiudeen, who entered Parliament on the SJB ticket, is the leader of ACMC.

Hettiarachchi, who is also the Executive Director of PAFFREL (People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections), said that the government conveniently forgot to investigate whether MP Raheem smuggled in gold, smartphones or any other items on earlier occasions, since he entered Parliament. Since 01 March this year MP Raheem had gone abroad (to Dubai) on five occasions before he was caught, Hettiarachchi said, finding fault with Parliament for not going the whole hog.

There should have been no holds barred investigation, Hettiarachchi pointed out and said Customs owed an explanation why a maximum fine was not imposed on the gold smuggling MP. Instead, the MP was fined Rs 7.4 mn and allowed to proceed to Parliament where he voted against a government motion.

Hettiarachchi said that the Customs response to the detection should be examined taking into consideration Customs (Amendment) Act (No 83 of 1988).

Responding to another query, Hettiarachchi said that in spite of leaders of several political parties requesting the Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to take up this issue, the Speaker seemed to be determined not to get involved.

SJB MP Harshana Rajakaruna yesterday told The Island that though ACMC nominee Raheem entered Parliament on the MNA ticket, only President Ranil Wickremesinghe could compel the offending MP to quit Parliament. “That is the reality,” the Gampaha District MP said, pointing out that MP Raheem served the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa administration.

Recalling how MP Raheem voted for the 21 Amendment to the Constitution in October 2020, MP Rajakaruna said that the MP also voted for Ranil Wickremesinghe at the House vote to elect an MP to complete the remainder of ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s five-year term.

MP Raheem voting with the Opposition on the motion to remove Janaka Ratnayake as the Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission hadn’t changed the relationship between the two parties (the government and the MNA), MP Rajakaruna said. According to him, those responsible turned a blind eye to the incident.

Civil society member Hettiarachchi said that they sought information relating to MP Raheem’s case from Customs in terms of the RTI (Right to Information) Act as the crux of the matter is the imposition of a lower fine regardless of the provision to declare harshest fine in terms of Customs law.

Hettiarachchi raised the possibility of the government interfering with MP Raheem’s case as there couldn’t be any other reason for Customs to impose a relatively lower fine.

MP Raheem is on record as having claimed that Customs fined him Rs 7.4 mn whereas a close associate of him who smuggled the undisclosed gold and smartphones was fined just Rs 100,000.

Continue Reading

Trending