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Friends I made along the way, meeting in Colombo and on to Malaysia



(Excerpted from Memories that linger: My Journey in the World of Disability by Padmani Mendis)

Barbara McNamee was from Jamaica. She became my friend when we met in the month of October in 1958 as student nurses at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital (ROH) in Birmingham, England. I have shared memories of our time together then in an earlier part of this memoir. We had been together for five years and three months. Mahin and Lyda both from Iran, then Persia were also with us.

The four of us became good friends during our first few days at the ROH. And we have remained close friends since then. In those first months, two calypso songs were particularly popular in the UK. They had just been released by the singer Harry Belafonte and were both about Jamaica. I enjoyed singing these to Barbara, especially when I saw that she was feeling a little low. One, “Island In The Sun” I mentioned a little earlier in this section. You may have heard the other “Jamaican Farewell”. They are available on YouTube. I occasionally send these to Barbara on WhatsApp just to remind her of the old days.

Barbara met Mike Rogers while she was at the ROH and he was a post-grad student at the University of Birmingham. They married soon after we completed our physiotherapy education. They had two children and spent the larger part of their lives in England.

Mahin left Iran much later to live in the USA and is now in Canada. She first had an Iranian husband and then an Egyptian one. Three stepsons living also in Toronto look out for her. Lyda also married an Englishman, Lewin Harris, and settled down in England. She passed on a few years ago. Barbara, Mahin and I still communicate regularly.

We last met five years ago. Mahin and I spent two weeks with Barbara in her home in Surrey, just outside London. Spent most of the time reminiscing with Barbara driving us around the picturesque Surrey countryside. Together with memorable meals in several old English Pubs. Much to the amusement of the other two, I always went for the Fish and Chips.

Following up in St. Lucia

There was every reason to believe that within this brief period CBR (Community Based Rehabilitation) had been well-established in St. Lucia. The country had plans to expand this programme.

One was able to reach the conclusion that the Manual had been an effective tool used by disabled people, their families and the Community Health Assistants. CHAs with a basic training of three months for their Primary Health Care work could with a further training of at least 12 days in a workshop situation and a further three weeks of field training and with regular and adequate support from a higher level carry out their rehabilitation tasks with disabled people successfully. The availability of second level support enhanced quality and coverage.

The Community Health Nursing Service or CHNS, recognising the value of the inputs from the two physiotherapists from the Victoria Hospital, intended to request the Ministry of Health for one of these therapists to be released to the CHNS. The CHNS was continuing its dialogue with the education sector to promote the inclusion of disabled children in local schools. They had started a conversation with employers regarding job opportunities for disabled youth and adults. And an information campaign to increase public participation in what was now a programme and no more a project.

I left St. Lucia confident that disabled people here had hope for the future.

Marcella Niles

But I cannot leave St. Lucia before including Marcella Niles in my story. The Community Health Nursing Service was her responsibility. As my counterpart she went everywhere with me. In Castries she drove me around herself in her own car. To go out of Castries we had access to a larger vehicle from the CHNS but often driven by Miss Niles herself. Marcella Niles was very proud of her island and quite rightly so.

She guided me to the most beautiful parts of St. Lucia. She would, whenever she could, take me through the town of Soufriere so that I could see the Pitons. And she always pointed them out to me – Big Piton and Small Piton, two tall volcanic spurs rising straight up from the sea, adjoining the coast. They were linked by some sort of a ridge.

On a few occasions when we had time to spare, she took me to see tropical rain forests which St. Lucia is well-known for. We in Sri Lanka have our own famous rain forest Sinharaja, which is a World Heritage Site. But these in St. Lucia were somehow different. Maybe had I gone deeper into our Sinharaja I would have found a similarity. In addition to the giant ferns and lush greenery, it was very, very wet all the time – as if a very slight rain was constantly falling. It was surprising that one could also see scrub forests in some parts of this small island.

For my stay in St. Lucia Marcella had found me accommodation in an Apartment Hotel, quite common in the Caribbean. This suited me well. It had a pool which none of the other residents appeared to use. So I had it to myself every evening after work.

After relaxing in the water, I would walk to the little shop at the bend in the road, not far down from me. There I would find something to cook for myself to eat with rice for the evening meal. May be some mixed vegetables or some fish. Whatever it was, it was tasty, cooked with St. Lucian curry powder. And always a luscious mango to follow. However good that mango was, it could not touch our delicious Jaffna mangoes for taste.

A Meeting in Sri Lanka

Before I move on from this phase of my journey in South America and the Caribbean, there was a meeting I must stop for. It was one I was called upon to organise – the WHO Interregional Consultation on CBR held in Colombo in June 1982.

WHO Interregional Consultation on CBR, 1982

It was almost three years since we had started work in the field. We felt the time was ripe to get the people who have been testing the Manual together to share experiences. Einar suggested that I organise the meeting in Colombo. Sri Lanka had also been participating in the field trial.

I was extremely fortunate and overjoyed to welcome to my own country so many friends I had made on my travels to their countries. Dr. Hindley-Smith asked for my help to organise a tour to places of historical interest and to the game parks. Others toured independently after the meeting was over. My country was, after all, a tourist attraction. And although I say it myself – it is beautiful.

When I had been in Jamaica, it had reminded me much of my own country. So much so that I had this in my thoughts. If ever, if ever I had to leave my motherland for some reason or another, I would settle down in Jamaica. That too was beautiful, particularly the northwest where I was, away from the tourist hot spot of Montego Bay. Not just the beaches and scenery, but more importantly, its people.

During our meeting Einar and Gunnel were guests in our home. This was not just enjoyable but also useful to have more time to spend in discussion and planning the next steps. For our meeting, 22 participants came together from all parts of the globe. Countries that had carried out field tests were Botswana, Burma, India (Kerala State), Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, St. Lucia and Sri Lanka. There were also others who were invited as representatives of WHO, other UN organisations and NGOs and some as individuals.

After an exchange of experiences from these countries, they spent much time giving their suggestions in detail as to what revisions should be made in the WHO Manual. These were taken into account when the Manual was revised the following year. CBR had been born.

Back to Asia – Malaysia

My First Contact with Malaysia

The first time I went to Malaysia was in 1983 to represent WHO at the Seventh Asia & Pacific Conference of Rehabilitation International, known globally as RI. It was founded in 1922 as an organisation that led discussion on issues related to disability at a global level. The climax of its work was a World Congress held every four years. On my stopover in Mexico, I referred to Dr. Hindley-Smith telling me about his participation at the RI Congress in Ireland in 1969. It brought about the realisation in him of the extent of neglect of disabled people in developing countries.

At that Congress, RI was promoting new thinking on personnel required for rehabilitation. It was looking at disability as a charity-based concept. In the 1980s it was promoting interventions for people with disability to improve their quality of life in a social context. Then, early in this millennium when the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had been approved, their interest evolved to the promotion of disability rights.

Correspondingly, CBR had been accepted by the World Health Assembly. Increasingly now, more countries were adopting this approach both for policy and implementation. My own CBR story is about the small part I played travelling from country to country assisting them to start putting policy into practice. Just planting a seed as it were. How that seed would germinate and into what kind of tree it would grow was left to be seen. But germinate it did and by the time I got to Malaysia I was amazed at the way CBR was maturing.

It was blending with the particular ethos of each country to meet the needs of its disabled people.Seventh Asia & Pacific Conference of Rehabilitation International, Kuala Lumpur, 1983 RI (Rehabilitation International), the world body had some regional branches. Every two years RI organised a meeting in one of its regions. This first one I was invited to was in the Asia Pacific Region.

I was a speaker at a Plenary Session on the second day of the conference. The speaker before me was Dr. Siti Hasmah binti Haji Mohamad Ali, wife of the Prime Minister of Malaysia who we know as Mahathir Mohamed.

The topic of her presentation was a rather general one, focusing on the family as a vital provider of care. I had an opportunity of speaking with her in the break that followed the panel discussions. She told me her particular interest at that time was improvement in the situation of rural women.

That is why she had agreed to participate at this conference. She felt the discussion we had would help to promote her cause. I learned later that she and her husband had met at Medical School. They had been married soon after they left university.

I had been invited to present a paper on “CBR as a Relevant Approach for Developing Countries’. I included in the paper my thoughts on why a new approach was necessary with data from Sri Lanka. I also included a précis of the approach with examples, that WHO had adopted assisting countries to develop and of how it had impacted the quality of life of individuals and families; and a few results with statistical data from three countries – Botswana, Mexico and Sri Lanka, in three continents; and mention of its relationship to Primary Health Care, which at that time provided an entry point with the infrastructure.

My conclusions were that, “The results to date indicate emphatically that the approach is suited to the needs of developing countries… The quality of results cannot be questioned – for where better to provide freedom of mobility, create independence in daily life activities and enable disabled people to participate in the mainstream of community life than in the environment of their own communities?”

“The integration of disabled children in existing local schools and the provision of income generating opportunities within their own communities has ensured for disabled people full participation with true integration, starting with the family. It has done away with the need for them to be transported to a new and strange environment to be rehabilitated”.

Is CBR a Medical Model?

These results above are those that critics argued made CBR a “Medical Model” propagated by WHO. Some said this was because CBR was concerned also with functional independence. I say that maximal functional independence is an indication of an individual’s health status, beyond a medical condition. Improvement in the health of an individual is a human right. Besides, even an individual’s functional independence is not possible without social change in the community the individual lives in.

My own finding and therefore my argument was that participation in community life be it educational, functional or economic, cannot happen without a change in community attitudes. And with that an acceptance of disabled people on the basis of equality. An approach that was at this time being called “the Social Model”. CBR, based on the responsibility of the community, brought about a social change.

But I also saw CBR go beyond a purely social foundation; it also extended to enabling disabled people enjoy the same opportunities and responsibilities as others in their communities, an approach that is now called “the Human Rights Model”.

The world of disability did not use the words “human rights” at that time. But this was CBR’s needs-based approach, enabling equality in all matters including human rights. What is important is that CBR was not, for instance an individual-based, service-based approach reaching out from centres in districts or elsewhere. In these instances, responsibility lay with those centres, not with the communities in which disabled people lived.

Introducing CBR to Malaysia

It was against this background that the Government of Malaysia requested WHO cooperation to initiate CBR. In response, WHO sent me there for three months from February to May 1994. The mandate for matters related to disability lay with the Ministry of Social Welfare.

Initial discussions were with the Secretary of this Ministry. We talked about what he expected from me and about how I would set about the task he had set me. I said that WHO’s advice to countries was that the Manual, “Training in the Community for People with Disabilities”, be used as a tool for empowering disabled people and families with the knowledge and skills they required to start any change. I said without this tool for empowerment translated into Bahasa Malaysia CBR would be difficult for me to initiate in three months.

The Secretary called together ten members of his senior office staff. He removed the cord that held the different modules of the Manual together and separated the modules into ten lots. Giving one lot to each of his staff he said, “Could you please translate these and let me have them back by Monday?” Typed and photocopied, a sufficient number of Manuals were available to us when we required them. Such was the dynamism of this man who led the Ministry of Social Welfare at that time. I thought to myself, with this leadership anything should be possible.

So far, in other countries I had introduced CBR at the grass roots, promoting the development of a system upwards to support it. The structure for CBR was as yet incomplete in those countries, because appropriate mid-level personnel were lacking. This was a serious constraint for ensuring effectiveness as well as for sustainability.

Here in Malaysia for the first time, I was introducing CBR within a support system which had responsibility for disability – the Social Welfare Ministry. The Ministry had Social Welfare Assistants or SWAs at district level. To support them were Social Welfare Officers or SWOs at state level. Among them would be mid-level workers. They required relevant knowledge and skills in CBR. They required also to have this task included in their job descriptions. Then the focal points for a CBR system would be in place at the two support levels.

It would be up to officials at these levels to build the horizontal linkages within and outside government at each level that would together provide communities with the support they required. In development jargon this was called multi-sectoral collaboration. In reality, it sometimes worked in bits and pieces, often it did not. Much work was required here globally.

Local Accommodation

During the three months that I spent in Malaysia I was to work in Batu Rakit in the State of Terengganu on the east coast. Batu Rakit was a “Mukim” or sub district just over a half-hour drive from Kuala Terengganu, the capital of the state.

Our teaching area was rural. It was a quiet fishing village with the appearance of serenity and tranquillity. I was fortunate to be given accommodation here in a kind of rest house run by the state. This was a simple building set in a large property scattered with very tall coconut trees. There were a few rooms and some common bathrooms and toilets. The female participants from other states were accommodated in this rest house with me. Other participants found lodging in homes in the area. Evening meals to all were provided at the rest house. Because of this the group found much time to get to know each other and to talk about areas of common interest including work.

I liked very much the local food that was served. It was simple. “Nasi” means rice which is the staple in every meal. Here it was white rice served with Malaysian “curry”. Curries were in no way like ours, but this is what the dishes were called in English.

They were cooked with what we may call a raw curry powder – turmeric, coriander, cumin, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and ginger, with such condiments added in different proportions. As a result of these particular condiments, the taste was subtle quite unlike ours which tends to be spicy, even our white curries.

The rice was served with many different vegetables, and always fish from the village. My favourite Malaysian dish was nasi dagang. For special Malaysian dishes such as these, the rice is cooked in coconut milk, and it turns out rather like our milk rice or “kiributh”. Except that it is flavoured with pandan leaf or “rampe”.

The tastiest nasi dagang I had was served in the Hotel in Kuala Terengganu where I stayed for a few days before moving to Batu Rakit. It was served with fried sprats, shrimp sambol, a boiled egg and cucumber. What we eat as nasi lemak in Colombo or even the food in Kuala Lumpur is nothing like the Malaysian food I ate in Kuala Terengganu. There, food was very tasty with the subtle flavours of the food itself.

In Colombo I now eat Malaysian food with a rather spicy chicken curry, adapted to suit the local palate. In all my later visits to Kuala Lumpur staying in international hotels as I did, I was not able to find the original Malaysian food that I had enjoyed in the rest house in Batu Rakit.


UN COP28: What to know about the climate summit in Dubai




At Expo City Dubai, world leaders will reevaluate their implementation of the UNFCCC (pic Aljazeera)

World leaders, government representatives and delegates are set to gather for the annual United Nations climate change summit, known as the Conference of the Parties or COP28  in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Reining in fossil fuels and carbon emissions are expected to be topping the agenda of the 13-day summit (November 30 to December 12). International funding to help countries adapt to climate change will also be hotly debated as developing countries have been demanding more contributions from the industrialised nations.

An ambitious loss and damages fund agreed last year to support poorer nations to help manage the negative effects of climate change has yet to be put into place. World leaders agreed to the fund after COP27 last year, but they have failed to reach consensus on the most important questions of all – which states will pay into it and how much.

Countries will also face the first review of their progress towards the Paris Agreement,  a landmark international treaty on limiting carbon emissions that was signed at the COP21, almost eight years ago.

Although the UAE was the first Middle Eastern country to ratify the agreement, people are deeply divided over hosting the summit in a nation that has been termed as part of the problem for its reliance on fossil fuels, which account for more than 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Some are now also criticising the inclusion of oil and gas-linked representatives in such summits at all.

As the debate around COP28 and its impact continues, here’s what to know about this year’s conference and what makes it significant.

What, when, where is COP28?

COP is the primary decision-making body of The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), established in 1992.

Representatives of 197 countries who have signed or are “parties” to the UNFCCC will participate primarily through debates and negotiations.

COP28 will begin on November 30 and continue for almost two weeks, while the exact schedule for each day will be published a night prior. Pre-sessions for the conference began on November 24.

The conference will be held at Expo City in Dubai, UAE.

(Al Jazeera)

Why is COP28 important?

The COP28 will take place in the backdrop of devastating floods and heatwaves, fierce wildfires and the Earth’s hottest summer on record this year.

The event is considered an opportunity for countries to better rein in climate change by devising improved targets and measures through tools such as finance, technology and capacity-building.

The conference comes weeks after a UN report said greenhouse gases in the atmosphere hit a record high in 2022. Based on countries’ current climate plans, the report says, global carbon emissions by 2030 will be cut by only two percent compared with 2019 levels, far short of the 43 percent fall needed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial levels.

Although the 1.5 degree Celsius target became binding in the 2015 Paris Agreement, the goal was first adopted after COP16, more than a decade ago.

A report from the World Meteorological Organization in May also found that with current trends, the world may temporarily breach the 1.5 degrees Celsius target in 2027.

As states scramble to catch up before climate change risks spike further, they will not be immune to crises around the world.

“For years parties have been struggling to agree to a fossil fuel phase-out, and the challenge to reach an agreement was made worse by the fiscal crises precipitated by the pandemic and energy crisis following the war in Ukraine,” said Olivia Rumble, director of Climate Legal in South Africa.

What is the agenda and theme for COP28 in Dubai?

A primary objective of COP each year is to review and calibrate the implementation of the UNFCCC terms, Paris Agreement,  and Kyoto Protocol, a binding treaty agreed in 1997 for industrialised nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This year, member states will negotiate while facing their first Global Stocktake (GST) – a scorecard analysing countries’ progress towards the Paris Agreement – so they can adapt their next climate action plans which are due in 2025.

“Countries will be hard-pressed to make concessions to agree on the principal reasons for historic failures and what they believe needs to be done going forward to make meaningful progress on the agreement’s goals,” said Rumble.

Parties will also seek to operationalise the loss and damages fund after developing nations proposed in September that developed countries should disperse at least $100bn to them by 2030.

Additionally, this year’s presidency has set four themes to be at the forefront of the summit:

  • Fast-tracking the energy transition:  revolves around renewable energy, and food and agricultural systems.
  • Fixing climate finance: aims to prioritise the Global South in adaptation finance and help vulnerable communities rebuild after climate disasters, among other targets.
  • Nature, people, lives, and livelihoods: geared towards food systems, nature-based solutions, and protecting against extreme weather events and biodiversity loss.
  • Inclusivity, in climate management: includes youth involvement and improved communication between different sectors and agencies.

However, focusing on specific themes such as financing strategies must also be accompanied by a revamping of global structures to be effective across the world.

While this year’s climate financing agenda aims to better support developing nations with emergency funding, such mechanisms currently lack effective needs analysis and involve the inefficient distribution of funds. High debts imposed on such countries through global financing structures also reduce their ability to invest in the maintenance of climate projects.

“Renewable energy and energy efficiency will mean little to African countries without significant reforms to the global financial architecture to make these targets achievable. This includes revising risk ratings and perception of investment risk in Africa,” said Rumble.

(Al Jazeera)

Who will and will not attend COP28 in Dubai?

More than 140 heads of state, senior government leaders and at least 70,000 participants are expected to attend COP28.

Some of the notable figures who have confirmed their attendance so far include:

  • Britain’s King Charles III, who will also deliver an address at the opening ceremony
  • Rishi Sunak, prime minister of the United Kingdom
  • Pope Francis of the Catholic Church
  • Humza Yousaf, first minister of Scotland
  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

US President Joe Biden is not expected to attend but the country will be represented by top officials such as Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry.

The summit will be divided into a “blue zone” with sessions for UN-accredited participants such as state representatives only, and a “green zone” with events and exhibits for registered participants from the public and civil society.

What are the controversies around COP28?

Many environmentalists and other analysts have raised concerns about COP28’s choice of president.

Sultan al-Jaber, CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co, has been tasked with changing the world’s climate course while the company he heads is one of the world’s largest oil producers. The UAE is the world’s seventh-largest liquid fuel producer.

In May, al-Jaber faced criticism for referring to the need to phase out “fossil fuel emissions” — using techniques such as carbon capture — instead of phasing out fossil fuels themselves.

Others have questioned the UNFCCC for involving the fossil fuel industry in its discussions and failing to generate sufficient progress towards the 1.5-degree goal.

In September, more than 200 civil society organisations, including Amnesty International, wrote an open letter to the UAE government to follow certain demands in the lead-up to COP28. On top of calling for labour reforms, and abandoning plans to step up oil and gas production, the letter demanded that the UAE refrain from surveilling COP28 attendees.

The country has said it will allow environmental activists to “assemble peacefully” for protest acts during the summit.


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Budget, Taxation Turmoil and Policy Blunders – Part II



Last week, we delved into a significant event in New Zealand, where a group of affluent individuals expressed a willingness to voluntarily pay more taxes, only to have the tax authority reject their offer. This incident prompts questions about the fairness of the current tax system, particularly in relation to the lower tax rates paid by the wealthiest citizens. Drawing parallels with Sri Lanka, the discussion advocates for the implementation of mandatory Tax Identification Numbers (TINs) in developing economies, underlining the necessity for a more equitable tax system.

We observed a unique situation in Sri Lanka where, despite per capita GDP growth, the tax-to-GDP ratio has been on a decline. The introduction of some naïve tax policies, such as the abolition of mandatory PAYE Tax, the increase in tax and VAT allowances, in 2019/2020, were also discussed.

The projection for Sri Lanka’s tax revenue as a percentage of GDP is expected to rise from 7.3% in 2022 to 12.1% in 2024, with the World Bank emphasizing the importance of maintaining tax revenues above 15% of GDP for economic growth. Projections for Sri Lanka’s GDP per Capita indicate a gradual increase over the next few years, reaching around US$4098.00 in 2025.

Sri Lanka compared

According to a map available on the Internet, depicting global comparison of Tax-to-GDP ratio, Sri Lanka is bracketed with several economically challenged African nations as well as Afghanistan and Bangladesh within its region. Notably, it ranks lower than many neighbouring countries including India, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, and Indonesia etc.

On the contrary, countries with higher income levels, such as US, UK, Australia and any European countries, demonstrate considerably elevated tax-to-GDP ratios, ranging from 20% to 30%, and, in some cases such as UK France, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Denmark, reaching as high as 40% to 45%.

Figure 1 plots countries based on their GDP per capita and tax revenue as a percentage of GDP. Countries with income levels like Sri Lanka (ranging between US $2,000-4,000) are highlighted within the circle. Sri Lanka’s tax-to-GDP ratio falls significantly below the average. For instance, Morocco and Georgia, with GDP per capita figures of US $2,931 and US $3,529, respectively—comparable to Sri Lanka’s GDP per capita of US $3,369—both countries collect 24 percent of GDP as tax revenue, whereas Sri Lanka collects only 11 percent.

The tax revenue as a percentage of GDP for middle-income countries has shown a relatively stable trend over the years. The values range from around 10.7% in 2005 to an expected 11.4% in 2024 (Forecast).

Sri Lanka’s tax revenue as a percentage of GDP has experienced fluctuations during the period. Notable peaks are observed in 2006, 2007, and reaching up to 14.6% in 2015 and was par with the Middle-Income countries, followed by a decline again from 2019. The values have varied, with a dip to 7.8% in 2021, indicating a substantial decrease. Projections for 2022 and 2023 show a gradual increase, with the budget for 2024 aiming at a significant rise to 12.1%. (See Figure 2).

Hence, the tax revenue for Sri Lanka, while exhibiting fluctuations, generally appears to be on a recovery path after a notable decline in recent years. The budgeted figure for 2024 suggests an ambitious target, aiming for a substantial increase in tax revenue as a percentage of GDP.

Not only arbitrage but

also corruption

In countries like the United States, income tax stands out as the primary revenue source. This is facilitated by nearly zero import duties, typically set at 5 percent or less, and the absence of a value-added tax (VAT). In contrast, Europe relies heavily on a value-added tax, often around 20 percent, but does not impose import duties. In Sri Lanka, despite the relatively high import duties borne by the average citizen, the government only receives a fraction of this revenue. This is a result of the diversion of substantial sums to domestic protectionists through the practice of tax arbitrage, coupled with instances of tax avoidance (commonly referred to as tax minimization) and evasion, often involving manipulations and collusion.

Tax arbitrage involves exploiting differences in tax policies or rates across different jurisdictions to gain a financial advantage. In the context of domestic protectionists, individuals or entities within a country capitalize on tax differences among regions. This strategy often involves the strategic use of tax regulations or loopholes to minimize or entirely avoid tax liability. Notably, corruption plays a crucial role in this dynamic. Given the prevalent culture of corruption, extending from the top echelons of the state to even lower-level positions in Sri Lanka, these tactics can be readily implemented by astute business individuals, both on a large and small scale.

Not only anomaly but

also corruption

A noteworthy aberration in Sri Lanka’s tax structure is its disproportionate reliance on taxes related to international trade for tax revenue in comparison to its income level. Global patterns indicate that the proportion of taxes on imports as a share of total tax revenue tends to decrease as income levels rise. For instance, a study by Loewy, titled ‘Taxation: 21st Century Issues and Challenges’, revealed that trade taxes contribute to approximately 25% of total tax revenue in low-income countries, 12% in lower-middle-income countries, 9% in upper-middle-income countries, and less than one percent in high-income countries.

Contrary to these trends, in Sri Lanka’s case, taxes imposed solely on imports constitute nearly 20% of the government’s total tax revenue—a significantly high figure for a lower-middle-income country (Figure 3). The country’s substantial reliance on international trade for tax income has proven to be a risky proposition for the government. While restricting imports is essential to address the trade deficit, it comes at the cost of reduced government revenue and an exacerbated budget deficit. Conversely, increasing imports would boost government revenue but intensify the trade deficit. Consequently, a strategic shift away from trade-related taxes becomes crucial for the government to generate revenue without destabilizing the country’s macroeconomic environment.

Share of expenses on government servants

Government spending in Sri Lanka was 48% in 2019 to public sector salaries and pensions but now only 44% allocated for 2024 as mentioned before. In the most recent budget presentation, over 35% of government expenditure was directed towards public sector salaries, pensions, and public welfare, emphasising their importance in government spending. In a specific breakdown, it is mentioned that Rs. 92 billion was allocated to pay the salaries of public sector employees in July 2022. Moreover, a historical perspective indicates the significance of government spending on salaries, dating back to 1950. Overall, public sector salaries and pensions play a crucial role in Sri Lanka’s government expenditure, reflecting a substantial commitment to the welfare of government employees.

Another anomaly is too many armed forces

Sri Lanka’s armed forces strength of 317,000 personnel is financially unsustainable because of its considerable annual expenditure of Rs.423 billion (410 in 2023), which is 1.88% of the GDP. Comparisons with other nations, including Australia and the Netherlands, reveal significantly smaller military forces. Sri Lanka’s post-civil war armed forces maintenance highlights the country’s unique revenue-based fiscal consolidation strategy, focusing on tax increases without traditional cost-cutting measures.


This analysis reveals three main anomalies in Sri Lanka’s tax structure, including a decline in taxpayers after significant tax cuts. The essay emphasizes the importance of sustaining tax revenues for economic growth and explores the country’s tax-to-GDP ratio, positioning it against global comparisons (over 15% of GDP). Notably, it highlights the overdependence on international trade taxes, the disproportionate spending on government servants, and the financial challenges posed by the substantial size and expenditure on the armed forces. The narrative suggests a need for strategic reforms to navigate the intricate fiscal landscape.

(The writer, a senior Chartered Accountant and professional banker, is Professor at SLIIT University, Malabe. He is also the author of the “Doing Social Research and Publishing Results”, a Springer publication (Singapore), and “Samaja Gaveshakaya (in Sinhala). The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the institution he works for.)

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How Hamas built a force to attack Israel on 7 October




Joint military drills were held between Palestinian armed factions from 2020 onwards (pic BBC)

Five armed Palestinian groups joined Hamas in the deadly 7 October attack on Israel after training together in military-style exercises from 2020 onwards, BBC News analysis shows.

The groups carried out joint drills in Gaza which closely resembled the tactics used during the deadly assault – including at a site less than 1km (0.6 miles) from the barrier with Israel – and posted them on social media.

They practised hostage-taking, raiding compounds and breaching Israel’s defences during these exercises, the last of which was held just 25 days before the attack.

BBC Arabic and BBC Verify have collated evidence which shows how Hamas brought together Gaza’s factions to hone their combat methods – and ultimately execute a raid into Israel which has plunged the region into war.

‘A sign of unity’

On 29 December 2020, Hamas’s overall leader Ismail Haniyeh declared the first of four drills codenamed Strong Pillar a “strong message and a sign of unity” between Gaza’s various armed factions.

As the most powerful of Gaza’s armed groups, Hamas was the dominant force in a coalition which brought together 10 other Palestinian factions in a war games-style exercise overseen by a “joint operation room”.

Prior to 2018, Hamas had formally coordinated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Gaza’s second largest armed faction and – like Hamas – a proscribed terrorist organisation in the UK and other countries.

Hamas had also fought alongside other groups in previous conflicts, but the 2020 drill was billed in propaganda as evidence a wider array of groups were being unified.

Hamas’s leader said the first drill reflected the “permanent readiness” of the armed factions.

The 2020 exercise was the first of four joint drills held over three years, each of which was documented in polished videos posted on public social media channels.

The BBC has visually identified 10 groups, including PIJ, by their distinctive headbands and emblems training alongside Hamas during the Strong Pillar drills in footage posted on the messaging app Telegram.

Following the 7 October attack, five of the groups went on to post videos claiming to show them taking part in the assault. Three others issued written statements on Telegram claiming to have participated.

The role of these groups has come into sharp focus as pressure builds on Hamas to find dozens of women and children believed to have been taken as captives from Israel into Gaza by other factions on 7 October. Three groups – PIJ, the Mujahideen Brigades and Al-Nasser Salah al-Deen Brigades – claim to have seized Israeli hostages on that day.

Efforts to extend the temporary truce in Gaza were said to be hinging on Hamas locating those hostages. The structure was set up in 2018 to coordinate Gaza’s armed factions under a central command.

Images of Palestinian militants during training

While these groups are drawn from a broad ideological spectrum ranging from hard-line Islamist to relatively secular, all shared a willingness to use violence against Israel.

Hamas statements repeatedly stressed the theme of unity between Gaza’s disparate armed groups. The group suggested they were equal partners in the joint drills, whilst it continued to play a leading role in the plans to attack Israel. Footage from the first drill shows masked commanders in a bunker appearing to conduct the exercise, and begins with a volley of rocket fire.

It cuts to heavily armed fighters overrunning a mocked-up tank marked with an Israeli flag, detaining a crew member and dragging him away as a prisoner, as well as raiding buildings.

We know from videos and harrowing witness statements that both tactics were used to capture soldiers and target civilians on 7 October, when around 1,200 people were killed and an estimated 240 hostages were taken.

Telling the world

The second Strong Pillar drill was held almost exactly one year later.

Ayman Nofal, a commander in the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades – the official name for Hamas’s armed wing – said the aim of the exercise on 26 December 2021 was to “affirm the unity of the resistance factions”.

He said the drills would “tell the enemy that the walls and engineering measures on the borders of Gaza will not protect them”.

Another Hamas statement said the “joint military manoeuvres” were designed to “simulate the liberation of settlements near Gaza” – which is how the group refers to Israeli communities.

The exercise was repeated on 28 December 2022, and propaganda images of fighters practising clearing buildings and overrunning tanks in what appears to be a replica of a military base were published to mark the event.

Images of Hamas capturing tank crew members

The exercises were reported on in Israel, so it’s inconceivable they were not being closely monitored by the country’s extensive intelligence agencies.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have previously carried out air strikes to disrupt Hamas’s training activities. In April 2023, they bombed the site used for the first Strong Pillar drill.

Weeks before the attacks, female surveillance soldiers near the Gaza border reportedly warned of unusually high drone activity and that Hamas was training to take over observation posts with replicas of their positions.

But, according to reports in the Israeli media, they say they were ignored. Brigadier General Amir Avivi, a former IDF deputy commander in Gaza, told the BBC: “There was a lot of intelligence that they were doing this training – after all, the videos are public, and this was happening just hundreds of metres from the fence (with Israel).”

But he said while the military knew about the drills, they “didn’t see what they were training for”.

The IDF said they “eliminated” Nofal on 17 October 2023, the first senior Hamas military leader to be killed during the conflict.

Images of Hamas taking hostages

Hiding in plain sight

Hamas went to great lengths to make sure the drills were realistic.

In 2022, fighters practised storming a mock Israeli military base built just 2.6km (1.6 miles) from the Erez crossing, a route between Gaza and Israel controlled by the IDF.

BBC Verify has pinpointed the site in the far north of Gaza, just 800m (0.5 miles) from the barrier, by matching geographic features seen in the training footage to aerial images of the area. As of November 2023, the site was still visible on Bing Maps.

The training camp was within 1.6km (1 mile) of an Israeli observation tower and an elevated observation box, elements in a security barrier Israel has spent hundreds of millions of dollars constructing.

Map showing the location of a Hamas training site

The mock base is on land dug several metres below ground level, so it may not have been immediately visible to any nearby Israeli patrols – but the smoke rising from the explosions surely would have been, and the IDF is known to use aerial surveillance.

Hamas used this site to practise storming buildings, taking hostages at gunpoint and destroying security barriers.

BBC Verify has used publicly available information – including satellite imagery – to locate 14 training sites at nine different locations across Gaza.

They even trained twice at a site less than 1.6 km (1 mile) from the United Nations’ aid agency distribution centre, and which was visible in the background of an official video published by the agency in December 2022.

Map showing 14 training sites in Gaza

Land, sea and air

On 10 September 2023, the so-called joint committee room published images on its dedicated Telegram channel of men in military uniforms carrying out surveillance of military installations along the Gaza barrier.

Two days later, the fourth Strong Pillar military exercise was staged, and by 7 October, all the tactics that would be deployed in the unprecedented attack had been rehearsed.

Fighters were filmed riding in the same type of white Toyota pickup trucks which were seen roaming through southern Israel the following month.

The propaganda video shows gunmen raiding mock buildings and firing at dummy targets inside, as well as training to storm a beach using a boat and underwater divers. Israel has said it repelled attempted Hamas boat landings on its shores on 7 October.

Palestinian fighters training
The fourth and final Strong Pillar drill saw fighters training on raiding buildings (pic BBC)

However, Hamas did not publicise its training with motorcycles and paragliders as part of the Strong Pillar propaganda.

A training video posted by Hamas three days after 7 October shows fences and barriers being demolished to allow motorcycles to pass through, a tactic they used to reach communities in southern Israel. We have not identified similar earlier videos.

Footage of fighters using paragliding equipment was also not published until the 7 October attack was under way.

In a training video shared on the day of the attack, gunmen are seen landing in a mock kibbutz at an airstrip we have located to a site north of Rafah in southern Gaza.

BBC Verify established it was recorded some time before 25 August 2022, and was stored in a computer file titled Eagle Squadron, the name Hamas uses for its aerial division – suggesting the paragliders plan was in the works for over a year.

Images of Hamas using motorcycles

The element of surprise

Before 7 October, Hamas was thought to have about 30,000 fighters in the Gaza Strip, according to reports quoting IDF commanders. It was also thought that Hamas could draw on several thousands of fighters from smaller groups.

Hamas is by far the most powerful of the Palestinian armed groups, even without the support of other factions – suggesting its interest in galvanising the factions was driven by an attempt to secure broad support within Gaza at least as much as bolstering its own numbers.

The IDF has previously estimated 1,500 fighters joined the 7 October raids. The Times of Israel reported earlier this month the IDF now believes the number was closer to 3,000.

Whatever the true number, it means only a relatively small fraction of the total number of armed operatives in Gaza took part. It is not possible to verify precise numbers for how many fighters from smaller groups took part in the attack or the Strong Pillar drills.

While Hamas was building cross-faction support in the build-up to the attack, Hisham Jaber, a former Brigadier General in the Lebanese army who is now a security analyst at the Middle East Centre for Studies and Research, said he believed only Hamas was aware of the ultimate plan, and it was “probable they]asked other factions to join on the day”.

Andreas Krieg, a senior lecturer in security studies at Kings College London, told the BBC: “While there was centralised planning, execution was de-centralised, with each squad operationalising the plan as they saw fit.”

He said he had spoken to people inside Hamas who were surprised by the weakness of Israel’s defences, and assessed militants likely bypassed Israel’s surveillance technology by communicating offline.

Hugh Lovatt, a Middle East analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said Israel would have been aware of the joint training drills but “reached the wrong conclusion”, assessing they amounted to the “standard” activity of paramilitary groups in the Palestinian territories, rather than being “indicative of a looming large-scale attack”.

Asked about the issues raised in this article, the Israel Defense Forces said it was “currently focused on eliminating the threat from the terrorist organisation Hamas” and questions about any potential failures “will be looked into in a later stage”.

It could be several years until Israel formally reckons with whether it missed opportunities to prevent the 7 October massacre. The ramifications for its military, intelligence services and government could be seismic.


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