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Combination of ill-timed decisions prevented Lanka recover from pandemic shock

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The country has lost several hundred thousand jobs to Covid-19. The impact of the agrochemical ban on agriculture, the mismanagement of the exchange rate, a highly accommodative monetary policy, and the use of foreign exchange reserves for debt repayment thwarted the country’s ability to recover from the initial shock of COVID-19, an ILO study titled, ‘The labour market implications of Sri Lanka’s multiple crises,‘ has revealed.

“These policy decisions generated multiple crises which impacted on businesses, workers, and their families, manifesting in shortages of essential consumer goods including food, fuel, power, raw materials, and capital equipment on the one hand, and the disruption of key public services, such as education and health, on the other. The fiscal bind and looming debt crisis have also left Sri Lanka very little room to manoeuvre. The economic crises have, in turn, generated political instability and further constrained timely decision-making about how to deal with the crisis,” the ILO report said.

The multiple crises have intensified long-standing worrisome features of the labour market: they have expanded unemployment, widened gender gaps in labour force participation, and given rise to job insecurity, uncertainty, and hardship, it said.

“Sri Lanka lost more than 200,000 jobs to the pandemic between the fourth quarter 2019 and the second quarter 2021. The employment share of the informal sector increased because formal sector employment contracted more sharply. Although there was some recovery, during the second half of 2021, extensive job losse, among employers, augured ill for the vigorous regeneration of jobs,” the study reveals.

The report added that the pandemic also impacted the skills development sector. Efforts to provide education and training online were constrained, mainly due to problems of infrastructure access, particularly outside of the Western Province. Enrolment and completion of TVET courses in 2020, relative to 2019, declined by 50 and 57 percent respectively. However, the imposition of power cuts, in 2022, are likely to have disrupted even these limited measures.

“The pandemic also saw the emergence of the new poor — those who fell into poverty because of the pandemic – among the more educated and employed in industry and service sectors, particularly in urban areas and Western Province, the latter which accounted for the largest share of the new poor. These negative developments would have worsened in 2022 as the economic crises intensified,” it said.

Sri Lanka is currently in a full-blown debt and balance-of-payments crisis, leading to massive shortages of essentials and severe disruption to economic activity. As the crisis continues to deteriorate and is likely to lead to a deep impact on the labour market, which will require careful monitoring and analysis over the months to come, the ILO said. The severity of the crisis means that policy-makers need to grasp the nettle of structural reforms needed for recovery and job-rich growth, which will require carefully balancing macroeconomic stabilization with longer-term goals of creating decent, sustainable, and productive employment. The report suggests eight areas of policy intervention for the short, medium and long term.

They are; addressing current macroeconomic crisis through fiscal consolidation and debt restructuring, plus improved fiscal space, restoring investor confidence, reformulating investment, industry, and trade policies to support export-led growth, technological transformation, productive efficiency and job creation, especially for SMEs, increasing R&D and infrastructure investments with a clear focus on 3IR and 4IR technologies, promoting demand-driven skills development and adjustment to a post-COVID-19 economy, including remedial education/training, creating a social dialogue and legislative reform to support flexible arrangements while protecting workers, promoting policies that foster women’s entry into the labour market and support other hard-hit groups, and expanding access to adequate social protection to workers and families (including institutional reforms).

The report also said that Sri Lanka needs to work on improving learning outcomes. Even the TVET sector performs no better than the general education system, the ILO said. According to a 2018 ADB study, a sizable proportion of TVET graduates leave training programmes, without the skills that employers require. Tracer studies on the employability of TVET graduates reveal a high rate of unemployment among TVET graduates who had been trained for employment in even the fast-growing ICT, construction, tourism, and light engineering subsectors.



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Six member committee appointed to inquire into Sri Lanka Cricket Team’s conduct in Australia

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Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs Roshan Ranasinghe has appointed a six member committee headed by Retired Supreme Court Judge Kusala Sarojini Weerawardena to inquire into the incidents reported against some members of the Sri Lanka Cricket team that participated at the ICC T20 World Cup in Australia.

 

 

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SJB MP: Most parents have to choose between food and children’s education

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By Saman Indrajith

Most Sri Lankan parents are compelled to choose between food for their families and their children’s eduction, SJB Matale District MP Rohini Kumari Wijerathne told Parliament yesterday.

Only a few parents were able to feed and educate their children the MP said, participating in the debate on Budget 2023 under the expenditure heads of Ministries of Education and Women and Child Affairs.

“An 80-page exercise book costs Rs. 200. A CR book costs Rs 560. A pencil or pen costs Rs 40. A box of colour pencils costs Rs 570 while a bottle of glue costs Rs 150. If the father is a daily wage earner he has to spend one fourth of his salary on a box of colour pencils for his child. A satchel now costs around Rs 4,000. A pair of school shoes is above Rs 3,500. The Minister of Education knows well how many days a child could use an 80-page exercise book for taking notes. Roughly, stationery cost is around Rs 25,000 to 30,000 per child, MP Wijerathne said, adding that only Rs. 232 billion had been allotted for the Ministry of Education by Budget 2023.

“After paying salaries of teachers and covering officials’ expenses, etc., there will be very little left for other important matters,” the MP said, noting that Sri Lanka would soon be known as the country that made the lowest allocation of funds for education in the South Asian region.

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All crises boil down to flaws in education system, says Dullas

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By Saman Indrajith

All the crises Sri Lanka was beset with were due to the country’s outdated education system, MP Dullas Alahapperuma told Parliament yesterday.

“The political and economic crisis we are facing is the direct result of our education,” he said.

The Sri Lankan education system had not changed with global developments. Our system is not even geared for employment. Our examination system is antiquated and our classrooms are in the 19th Century.

However, the students belong to the 21st century. How can you cater to 21st Century children under an outdated system?” he queried.

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