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Revival of Export Development Council – a far-reaching stride for the acceleration of Sri Lankan exports

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by J. A. A. S. Ranasisnghe

Productivity Specialist and Management Consultant

It is heartening to note that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has re-galvanized the Export Development Council (EDC) of the Export Development Board (EDB), consisting of nine ministries, after a lapse of 28 years, on the initiative of the Minister in charge Bandula Gunawardana with a view to formulating and implementing national export development policies and programmes. Assuming that the duration of Parliament life is five years, it could be safely assumed that the successive six governments have pathetically failed to promote and develop the Sri Lankans exports as per the mandate given to them in terms of the EDB Act No 40 of 1979 in a competitive global trade environment. The revival of the EDC is a formidable far-reaching intervention by the present government, as the need of the hour is to generate foreign exchange by exporting Sri Lankan commodities. No doubt that His Excellency’s inaugurate address would have sent a chilling impetus on the members of the EDC and other stakeholders, as there had been no forceful policy and administrative interventions from the head of the country for almost three decades.

 

The role of the EDB

The EDB is a brainchild of the late Lalith Athulathmudali who foresaw the necessity of a national policy-making body, at the highest level of governance, to facilitate the development of export oriented economy with the advent of the free-market economy in 1976 and it was possible for his to bring an legislative enactment No 40 of 1979 giving birth to the EDB. By virtue of the provisions of the Act, the President of the country is the chairman of the EDC ably assisted by the Ministers in charge of Trade, Shipping, Industries, Agriculture, Plantation Industries, Textile Industries, Fisheries, Finance, Foreign Affairs, Planning and Rural Industries. In its formative years, the EDB played a catalytic role in promoting exports and the award of the annual presidential awards have had an appreciable impact on the export-oriented institutions. It is a moot point why this vital institution (EDC) was forced to a backseat over the last 28 years and the Ministers in charge of Trade should be totally held responsible for their lackadaisical attitude for not invigorating this vital mechanism. Of the Ministers in charge of Trade, Minister Rishard Badudeen had steered the Ministry of Trade for a considerable period, out of the 28 years, but he appeared to have lacked the foresight to set in motion the EDC and as a result the country lost a cohesive and coordinated approach in generating millions of foreign exchange to the national coffers. With the abandonment of the annual presidential award scheme, the exporters have lost enthusiasm and drive and it would be more correct to say that the EDB has been a rudderless ship drifting without a captiain over the last 28 years.

 

Quality Standards for Imported

raw materials

It would be pertinent to revisit some of the critical issues touched upon by the President at the first meeting of the EDC last Wednesday. The President has emphasised that the import of raw materials required for value added products should meet the highest quality standards under strict supervision. It is quite true that a substantial quantity raw material imported to the country annually do not meet the required quality standard. Take for instance the low quality of pepper imported during the yahapalanaya regime under the guise of re-export after value additions, when the country is saddled with a glut situation of pepper and lack of remunerative prices for pepper cultivators.

 

Pepper Industry

With the surge of world production of pepper since 2017, inevitably there has been a deleterious impact on Sri Lankan pepper and the resultant scenario was that pepper prices in Sri Lanka crashed to $ 2,800 from $ 3,800 per tonne. Right from the second half of 2016, pepper prices have seen a falling trend. It was worse in 2017, 2018 and 2019. In this context, what was the rationale to import low quality of pepper from Vietnam and dump them in the local market thus depriving the local pepper farmers. Had there been an EDC in operation, this high-handed scenario would have never taken place. It is quite clear that the non-existence of EDC had given unbridled powers to the Minister in charge to manipulate the pepper market at the cost o

f the interest to the country and the local pepper growers.

It is well known that the demand for local pepper plummeted drastically when the market was flooded with inferior imported pepper and the pepper growers insisted grievance to discontinue the imports of pepper did not fell in deaf ears of the minister! Alas, In the year 2018 alone, 3,519,083 Kg had been imported to Sri Lanka from Vietnam, Indonesia, Brazil etc. One could just imagine the pathetic situation faced by the local pepper industry in this vicious cycle in the absence of a national body, such as the EDC.

 

Rubber Industry

Not only the quality but also the quantity of raw materials matters. It is alleged that rubber latex is imported to Sri Lanka by leading rubber manufacturing companies in excess of her actual requirement as there is a shortage of rubber latex in the country for value addition purposes and export. The statistical information book released by the Ministry of Plantation 2017 says that Sri Lanka imported quantity of RSS sheet rubber 43,727 Mt to overcome the scarcity of natural rubber to meet demand of rubber product manufacturers. Compared to RDD export of 2,940 Mt, the import quantity is much greater Thus, in 2017 total import of NR was 61,801 Mt with the corresponding CIF value of Rs. 15.888 million.

As in the case of pepper, the prices of rubber in major rubber growing countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, China and India have hit low bottom prices due to lack of remunerative prices in the world market and this has compelled our local manufacturers to import rubber latex from countries rather than buying rubber from the rubber smallholders. It is alleged that a well-planned ruse is in operation to release part of the NR consignment to the local market through the backdoor, depriving the livelihood income of the small holders of the country. Hence, it is utmost duty of the EDC to take an urgent decision not to give a blanket approval for the import of natural rubber, thus killing the local rubber industry. If at all, the import of natural rubber is required, it has to be vetted by an expert committee representing the Ministry, EDB, Customs, Ceylon Rubber Traders Association, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, Ministry of Industries. In deciding the quantum of natural rubber to be imported, a mechanism to be designed not to exceed the quantity surpassing the industrial rubber produced and exported. This is the only way to nip this racket in the bud. The members to be appointed to the committee should be above suspicion similar to that of Caesar’s wife, as the unscrupulous players resorted to this high-handed racket are capable of influencing any untrustworthy member of this committee. Trust this proposal will receive the urgent attention of the EDC at the next monthly meeting.

 

Rubber Industry is in the verge

of extinction

The foreign exchange generated by the traditional three crops, namely tea, rubber and coconut used to play a dominant role in the Sri Lankan economy but the dominance of the rubber sector witnessed an alarming trend during the last 25 years as evidenced below.

It would be crystal clear from Table 1 that the annual rubber production has been on a decline for the last eight years and this downward trend is 10% per annum. (Insiders say that the annual production given in the year 2017 is cockeyed, given the unprecedented downfall in the production over the years and the Director General at the time of retirement, prior to taking up a foreign assignment camouflaged the of figures to his advantage). It would thus be seen that the local rubber industry is in the verge of extinction at the present adverse trend of 10% and it will completely routed out from the Sri Lankan soil by the year 2026, if drastic action is not taken to extricate the industry from the bottomless precipice.

The rubber sector is characterized by a series of professional maladies by low productivity, low profitability and low efficiency of operations, alienation of the smallholders from the cultivation due to lack of remunerative prices, dearth of tappers, non-supply of agricultural inputs on time, non-releasing of subsidy payment for new planting and replanting on time, gradual demise of the farmer societies and Group Processing centers, and the high priority being given to subsidy aspects over extension facilities, appointment of non-agriculturist to manage the institution ( Rubber Development Department) for the last 25 years with the amalgamation of the Advisory Services Department of the Rubber Research Board with the Rubber Control Department.

This deterioration trend of the collapse of the rubber industry commenced almost 25 years ago with the termination of the extension services to the rubber smallholders. The absorption of the services of the extension officers hitherto functioned under the Rubber Research Board to a newly created Rubber Development Department was the bane of the downfall. The shortsighted government bureaucrats and the Treasury conveniently were of the view that the rubber smallholders could be easily motivated by way of subsidy payments at the cost of extension services backed by research. The end result which we witness today is the result what we witness in Table 1.

 

New Institutional Arrangement

It will be well-nigh impossible to save the rubber industry unless a radical institutional shake up is made with priority being given to research and extension. It is my considered opinion that the EDC chaired by His Excellency would take a policy decision to create a new institution for the rubber sector.



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Features

Investigative Journalism?

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I usually end up totally exhausted when I finish reading the local newspapers from the Pearl. There are so many burning questions and so much is written about them but there are no conclusions and definitely no answers. For example, we seem to have three burning issues right now and this is not in order of importance.

We have a lengthy report that has been published on the Easter Sunday carnage. Everybody knows what I am talking about. However, no one, be it an editor, a paid journalist or a single one of the many amateurs who write to the papers, has reached a conclusion or even expressed an opinion as to who was responsible. At least not a believable one! Surely there are energetic and committed young people in the field of journalism today who, if asked, or directed properly will go out and find a source that would give them at least a credible hypothesis? Or do conclusions exist and has no one the courage to publish them?

At least interview the authors or should I use the word perpetrators of that report. If they refuse to be interviewed ask them why and publish an item every day asking them why! Once you get a hold of them, cross-examine them, trap them into admissions and have no mercy. It is usually geriatrics who write these reports in the Pearl and surely a bright young journalist can catch them out with a smart question or two, or at least show us that they tried? The future of the country depends on it!

We have allegations of contaminated coconut oil been imported. These are very serious allegations and could lead to much harm to the general populace. Do you really believe that no one can find out who the importers are and what brands they sell their products under? In this the Pearl, where everyone has a price, you mean to say that if a keen young journalist was given the correct ammunition (and I don’t mean 45 calibres) and sent out on a specific message, he or she couldn’t get the information required?

We are told that a massive amount of money has been printed over the last few months. There is only speculation as to the sums involved and even more speculation as to what this means to the people of the Pearl. Surely, there are records, probably guarded by extremely lowly paid government servants. I am not condoning bribery but there is nothing left to condone, is there? There are peons in government ministries who will gladly slip you the details if you are committed enough and if you are sent there to get it by a boss who will stand by you and refuse to disclose his sources.

I put it to you, dear readers, that we do not have enough professional, committed and adequately funded news organisations in the country. We can straightaway discount the government-owned joints. We can also largely discount those being run by magnates for personal gain and on personal agendas. As far as the Internet goes, we can forget about those that specialise in speculative and sensationalist untruths, what are we left with O denizens of the Pearl? Are there enough sources of news that you would consider willing to investigate a matter and risk of life and limb and expose the culprits for the greater good of society? Can they be counted even on the fingers of one hand?

In this era when we have useless political leaders, when law and order are non-existent when the police force is a joke, it is time the fourth estate stepped up to the mark! I am sure we have the personnel; it is the commitment from the top and by this, I mean funding and the willingness to risk life and limb, that we lack. Governments over the last few decades have done their best to intimidate the press and systematically destroy any news outlet that tried to buck the usual sycophantic behaviour that is expected from them by those holding absolute power.

Do you think Richard Nixon would ever have been impeached if not for the Watergate reporting? Donald Trump partially owes his defeat to the unrelenting campaign carried out against him by the “fake news” outlets that he tried to denigrate. Trump took on too much. The fourth estate of America is too strong and too powerful to destroy in a head-to-head battle and even the most powerful man in the world, lost. Let’s not go into the merits and demerits of the victor as this is open to debate.

Now, do we have anything like that in the Pearl? Surely, with 20 million-plus “literate” people, we should? We should have over 70 years of independence built up the Fourth Estate to be proud of. One that would, if it stood strong and didn’t waver and collapse under pressure from the rulers, have ensured a better situation for our land. Here is Aotearoa with just five million people, we have journalists who keep holding the government to account. They are well-funded by newspapers and TV networks with audiences that are only a fraction of what is available in the Pearl. Some of the matters they highlight often bring a smirk of derision to my face for such matters wouldn’t even warrant one single line of newsprint, should they happen in the Pearl.

Talking of intimidation from the rulers, most of us are familiar with the nationalisation of the press, the murder and torture of journalists, the burning of presses to insidious laws been passed to curtail the activities of Journalism. These things have happened in other countries, too, but the people and press have been stronger, and they have prevailed. We are at a watershed, an absolutely crucial time. It is now that our last few credible news sources should lift their game. Give us carefully researched and accurate reports with specific conclusions, not generalisations. Refuse to disclose your sources as is your right, especially now that the myopic eye of the UNHCR is turned in our direction.

All other ways and means of saving our beloved motherland, be it government, religion, sources of law and order and even civil society leadership seems to have lapsed into the realm of theory and rhetoric. Our last chance lies with the Fourth Esate and all it stands for. I call for, nay BEG for, a favourable reaction from those decision-makers in that field, who have enough credibility left in society, DON’T LET US DOWN NOW!

 

 

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Features

The world sees ugly side of our beauty pageants

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Yes, it’s still the talk-of-the-town…not only here, but the world over – the fracas that took place at a recently held beauty pageant, in Colombo.

It’s not surprising that the local beauty scene has hit a new low because, in the past, there have been many unpleasant happenings taking place at these so-called beauty pageants.

On several occasions I have, in my articles, mentioned that the state, or some responsible authority, should step in and monitor these events – lay down rules and guidelines, and make sure that everything is above board.

My suggestions, obviously, have fallen on deaf ears, and this is the end result – our beauty pageants have become the laughing stock the world over; talk show hosts are creating scenes, connected with the recent incidents, to amuse their audience.

Australians had the opportunity of enjoying this scenario, so did folks in Canada – via talk show hosts, discussing our issue, and bringing a lot of fun, and laughter, into their discussions!

Many believe that some of these pageants are put together, by individuals…solely to project their image, or to make money, or to have fun with the participants.

And, there are also pageants, I’m told, where the winner is picked in advance…for various reasons, and the finals are just a camouflage. Yes, and rigging, too, takes place.

I was witnessed to one such incident where I was invited to be a judge for the Talent section of a beauty contest.

There were three judges, including me, and while we were engrossed in what we were assigned to do, I suddenly realised that one of the contestants was known to me…as a good dancer.

But, here’s the catch! Her number didn’t tally with the name on the scoresheet, given to the judges.

When I brought this to the notice of the organiser, her sheepish reply was that these contestants would have switched numbers in the dressing room.

Come on, they are no babes!

On another occasion, an organiser collected money from the mother of a contestant, promising to send her daughter for the finals, in the Philippines.

It never happened and she had lots of excuses not to return the money, until a police entry was made.

Still another episode occurred, at one of these so-called pageants, where the organiser promised to make a certain contestant the winner…for obvious reasons.

The judges smelt something fishy and made certain that their scoresheets were not tampered with, and their choice was crowned the winner.

The contestant, who was promised the crown, went onto a frenzy, with the organiser being manhandled.

I’m also told there are organisers who promise contestants the crown if they could part with a very high fee (Rs.500,000 and above!), and also pay for their air ticket.

Some even ask would-be contestants to check out sponsors, on behalf of the organisers. One wonders what that would entail!

Right now, in spite of the pandemic, that is crippling the whole world, we are going ahead with beauty pageants…for whose benefit!

Are the organisers adhering to the Covid-19 health guidelines? No way. Every rule is disregarded.

The recently-held contest saw the contestants, on the move, for workshops, etc., with no face masks, and no social distancing.

They were even seen in an open double-decker bus, checking out the city of Colombo…with NO FACE MASKS.

Perhaps, the instructions given by Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana, and Army Commander, General Shavendra Silva, mean nothing to the organisers of these beauty pageants…in this pandemic setting.

My sincere advice to those who are keen to participate in such events is to check, and double check. Or else, you will end up being deceived…wasting your money, time, and energy.

For the record, when it comes to international beauty pageants for women, Miss World, Miss Universe, Miss Earth and Miss International are the four titles which reign supreme.

In pageantry, these competitions are referred to as the ‘Big Four.’

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Better use of vanity projects; Cass apologises, and New Year graciousness

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A wise one, with the interests of the country at heart, calling himself ‘A Member of the Silent Majority’, wrote in The Island of Friday, April 9, offering an excellent solution for the better and genuine use of the Mattala Mahinda Rajapaksa International Airport which was built at a stupendous cost to both the Treasury, and wildlife abundant in the area, to satisfy an ego and sycophants’ cries of Hail to the King. Even sans Covid and lockdowns and shut downs of airports, the Mattala Airport was a white elephant, endangering and displacing the black elephants, roaming along their familiar corridors; receiving such few airplanes. Thus, as the writer Cass mentions says, convert the airport to a super hotel with excellent and sure-fire access to wildlife watching, like referred to hotels in Kenya and elsewhere. Yes, it will definitely be a bigger money earner than an airport waiting for a plane to land. Expensive equipment going rusty could be transferred to smaller airports being developed all over the island. There was such a hue and cry when storerooms, within the deserted airport, were used for paddy storage, but not even a whimper of concerted protest when the vanity projects were being built. We also heard that on the rare occasions a plane was to land/take off, peacocks in the area were shot at to prevent them flying into the planes. Aney, what a sin, just to have a name on a nameboard! Use the Suriyawewa Cricket Stadium too for a better purpose and less costly to water and maintain green in near desert climate conditions. What about a residential training institute for youth, perhaps in small industries? If the king-sized ego demands the name be present, OK, leave it. What’s in a name?

Any matter, financial or economic, with benefit to country buttressing it – refer to Dr Harsha de Silva and Eran Wickremaratne. Likewise, anything pertaining to fauna, flora and preservation of natural habitats ask Devani Jayathilake. Cassandra would give two years of her life (she does not have 10 left, she suspects) to know what the answers of the three wise and sincere ones mentioned would be to the proposal to convert the Mattala Airport, oops sorry – Mattala Mahinda Rajapaksa International Airport – to a 7 star hotel for wildlife watching and then tourists proceeding to Yala and other places that were touted to be reached easier if planes brimful of tourists, landed in Mattala. Pipe dream even sans Covid-19.

The thought of the millions, nay billions, our country was indebted to China to construct these vanity projects aka white elephants of the Rajapaksa fiefdom sends Cass’s blood racing in her contracting veins. And now another hair-brained scheme is being exposed, not new but re-exposed: that of the stupendous amount sent direct from the Central Bank with no nod, as reported, from the then Cabinet or Parliament, to an American-resident con-man to improve our appearance on the world stage or at least American stage. My word!! Cosmetics of creams and colours and such like can improve the face of an already beautiful woman. But a country that was once beautiful, glorified, accepted internationally and then politician-spoilt, cannot be redeemed by PR work, however expensively. Nivard Cabraal was the then Govenor of the CB. Of course, as every Banda, Singho and their women say, nothing will come of this. Powerful political sweeping under the carpet in the presence of cardboard administrators and sycophantic hosanna singers, makes the matter disappear and not merely hides it. Unless of course there are enough intrepid outers-of-truths and persistent protestors, brave and national minded enough to continuously tease the matter like a cat its caught rat. Ranjan is locked away in hard labour for four solid years, losing his Parliamentary seat for misusing the gift of his gab, while convicted murderers of the right colour attend Parliament, escorted and all.

Cass apologises

To the reigning Mrs World, Mrs Caroline Jurie, for crowning, uncrowning and recrowning of the winner of the recent Mrs Sri Lanka contest. Caroline Jurie took this stride because the winning contestant was four years on the way to being a divorcee, which status forbids a woman from attempting to wear the crown of Mrs…. (country) with a view to becoming Mrs World. This title and honour is bestowed on a woman who promotes, holds sacred the institution of marriage and is a married woman. Cass castigated Caroline Jurie without knowing then the fact that Jurie had protested about this candidate being considered due to her impending divorce; and allowed to contest. She said she withdrew from the panel of judges since her point was not taken by the others. WHY is the Q. Easy to answer. The new beauty queen of shaky married status was a loud speaker in favour of Presidential Candidate Gotabaya R in Polonnaruwa (captured on social media) and probably spoke on stages for SLPP Parliamentary candidates. So of course she was slated to win; vision impaired over rules and future probabilities, She has her height – one advantage. Beauty can always be dexterously rubbed and painted in. But honesty is important and cannot be cloned or grafted in.

Cass now definitely faults the new Mrs Sri Lanka. She should not have contested, having her papers sent in for divorce and not retracted. What happens when she wins the divorce (or her husband wins it, however the divorce was first mooted). Another local contest? And if the divorce was still pending and she went overseas at great expense and won THE crown or a lesser one. To be returned forthwith when she has to remove the present gold band from her third finger, which probably she has already removed but hastily wore for the contest and when preparing for it? This is why Cass avows that many young women particularly, are so very selfish and forward and uppity and even dishonest now. In Cass’ time and even a decade or two later, a girl would never do what this new beauty has done, flipped aside a core rule and necessity of the contest, just to win by honest means or foul. Way the country’s going, my friend.

Post – Aluth Avurudhu

Cassandra is stuffed gill-high with kavun, aluwa and crunchy kokis, preceded by kiributh and lunumiris. She is fending for herself because a dip in Covid numbers and having had the jab, her domestic wished to enjoy a family new year having missed the last one, locked down as we were. Cass made her own kiributh – tasting somewhat like it should, but the sweets were all gifted her. So, also the offers of help, sleep-ins at others’ homes and solicitous frequent inquiries of ‘how are you?’ Kind and gracious relatives and friends, acquaintances too are thanked; and the most appreciated being neighbouring kitchen helps and care givers. Three-wheeler drivers who spin Cass around on errands too make enquiries. And thus her thoughts when resuming work at the nekath time and word processing this article. Sri Lankans are such good people: kind, caring, willing to share and genuine. And then specters themselves on this very sunny landscape: the dishonest, selfish, revengeful and disgraceful. Shrug them off, clear the mental picture and pronounce thank goodness for goodness around.

May all of us (decent people) have a very good year to follow today –Subha Aluth Avuruddhak!

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