ECONOMYNEXT – Could South Asian administrations put aside political differences to pave the way for a common industrial hub?
As a panel of experts opined recently, it is not that the region is lacking in natural and human resources, both skilled and unskilled, in the case of the latter category.
However, a common platform in terms of policy as well as change of attitude amongst the peoples is critical if South Asia is to attract manufacturers to set up shop in the region.
It’s time,observed the panel, that intra-regional capacities areleveraged to benefit South Asia as a whole.
Wansapriya Gunaseela, the Managing Director of Buildtek Consultants (pvt) Ltd., Sri Lanka,pointed out that even though the region’s labour force is primarily made up of youth, only about half of these young people are actively engaged in industry, therefore, it is important to motivate the other half.
The panel discussion on ‘Unlocking the Region’s Potential: Labour Mobility in South Asia’, held on September 20, was moderated by Waqar Rizvi, a Canadian-Pakistani TV Host and socio-political analyst.
Joining Gunaseela on the panel were Ms. Bhawani Rana, Chairperson of the Fortuna Group, Nepal and Mr. Asim Jamal, CEO of SANOFI, Pakistan. The webinar is part of the ‘Restart Asian Economies’ series organised by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF), South Asia.
Gunaseela said that if South Asia is to effectively compete with other markets, it must increase productivity.
But first, the region must look at the different strengths and resources of neighbouring countries and build a common framework.
COVID 19, he said has increased dependence on digitalisation and automation, and South Asia must seize that opportunity to redesign training modules and upgrade skills, so that a five hundred member workforce would be able to do the work that is now carried out by a thousand workers.
Such improvements he said would result in increased productivity and higher wages for workers.
COVID 19, says Bhawani Rana, has brought many migrant workers back to their home countries. They are mostly skilled workers who have already been exposed to a work culture overseas. South Asia must act now to attract these and other members of the labour force to find employment within the region.
As she points out, though wages may not be equivalent to what workers may earn in foreign countries, awareness must be raised on the advantage of working closer to their homes and on the shared cultural practices and safety aspects of staying within the region. However, she stresses, if labour migration within the region is to be attractive, governments must introduce better and easier cross-border travel.
Says Jamal, the SAARC region is home to more than 20percent of the world’s population; they are mostly young, with good skills.They are comfortable moving between countries.
For decades, he says, there have been Pakistanis working in Bangladesh’s garment sector. It is the same with Sri Lankans.
Moreover, he cited examples from his own organisation where staff was sent from Pakistan to Bangladesh and India on a temporary basis to resolve various situations.
However, staff face issues around ease of movement, and they are also required to report to a police station throughout their stay, which, unfortunately takes up a good part of the day.
While SAARC has expressed the need for a common agenda, it is now up to the administrations of each country to begin a dialogue at all levels, he points out. Joint initiatives, he says, should open up opportunities for research and development in the field of pharmaceuticals, for instances; to make the region a centre of excellence.
Jamal also stated that the pandemic provided the perfect opportunity for South Asia to share their knowledge on vaccine production. Such an endeavour would have produced cost effective vaccines for the people of the region.
Retaining the workers, particularly the women in the region is key, says Rana.
“We need to develop a strategy by which the women workers do not go to the Middle East or West Asia. We need to emphasize the advantages of living and working closer to home. Connectivity among South Asian countries has improved there are many roads, highways, railway lines even sea lines.”
These are the advantages that should be showcased.
While making it attractive for South Asians to remain within the region, Jamal points out that the right of individuals to determine whether they should seek employment outside the region, such as in the Gulf nations must be recognised.
Echoing his co-panelists, Gunaseela says administrations must identify individualneedsand strengths, and irrespective of political differences introduce policies that will promote South Asia as the industrial ‘one stop shop.’
Cricket, he says is the common denominator that binds South Asians. Why, he asks, is that not reflected in building a common industrial agenda, opening doors for companies to hire the best in the trade from across the region.
Such a strategy would improve quality and standards, and pose a challenge to European businesses; in fact the sharing of resources and ease of movement should be the same as in the European Union.Workers may however, consider employment overseas as opportunities to earn better wages in foreign currencies.
Says Rana, if the labour force is to remain within regional boarders they need to understand the value in that; in Nepal for instance the social security fund should be another attraction, apart from the safety factor.
Gunaseela adds, that especially the skilled and unskilled labour force see an opportunity of working long hours to remit money home, though they themselves would actually be left with only a small portion of their wages to survive on in a foreign land. That should be compared against the opportunity to live and work closer home.
To achieve all that policies on education too need a change, where vocational training or business studies are also given importance.
Most importantly, a change of attitude amongst South Asians is necessary; it is time to value products manufactured within the region, instead of believing that ‘foreign made’ goods are of higher standards.
As Gunaseela pointed out, garments and other goods sold in European and Western markets are produced in South Asia and meet those standards. Yet, South Asians continue to subscribe to the myth that goods produced in the region and available in the local market are sub-standard.
Private sector stakeholders obviously see the benefits of promoting regional cooperation in building a strong industrial hub in South Asia. They are ready to tap into the natural resources and the fairly substantial labour force to make this a reality.
However, for workers in South Asia to seek opportunities in neighboring countries would require the mutual lowering of barriers by the countries in the region to that type of migration. For millennia the peoples of these countries have traded their goods and interacted with each other.
Yet barriers, a throwback from Colonia rule, which mostly revolve around security concerns, competing political ideologies and historical reasons, continue to hamper strengthening of ties and building a common industrial agenda.
Other regional groups such as the European Union and the Association of South East Asian Nations are countries which warred against each other for centuries. Although there is still the occasional spat, and statements critical of neighbouring countries are made, on the practical matters of trade and mutual profit and advancement they show solidarity.
It is time that South Asia followed those examples.
Canadian declaration of ‘Tamil genocide’ may influence European parliaments, EU – Maj. Gen. (retd.) Gallage
‘Counter lies, or face consequences’
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Retired Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage says controversial Canadian House of Commons declaration that Tamil genocide took place in Sri Lanka may influence many Western parliaments as well as the EU.
The Gajaba Regiment war veteran said that the recognition of 18th May, the day Sri Lanka defeated terrorism as Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day was an affront to Sri Lanka.
The ex-combat officer said that the government owed an explanation without delay. Perhaps, Sri Lanka parliament should remind Canada of deaths of hundreds of native residential school students, who had been literally snatched from their families, the retired officer said, adding that it would be interesting to see whether any political parties, civil society groups or those who issue statements against Sri Lanka at the drop of a hat would question the Canada’s gruesome past. So far unmarked graves of more than 1000 native children have been found on the grounds of such schools run till the mid-1990s, the retired Major General said.
Liberal MP Gary Anandasangaree, son of veteran Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) leader V. Anandasangaree presented the motion on Wednesday (18). “Canada becomes the first national parliament in the world to recognize May 18th of each year as Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day,” tweeted, Anandasangree, the MP for Scarborough-Rouge Park.
The motion states that “this House acknowledges the Genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka, and recognizes May 18th of each year as Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day”.
The House of Commons unanimously accepted the motion.
Gallage alleged that Sri Lanka lacked political will to counter the campaign against the country. Acknowledging the current political-fiscal -social crisis caused by decades of economic mismanagement, he warned that the Canadian declaration would have disastrous consequences. Would the government care to examine how interested parties could exploit the Canadian condemnation of Sri Lanka? Gallage asked.
Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in the third week of May 2009.
Gallage questioned the responsibility on the part of the Defence and Foreign Affairs Ministries for Sri Lanka’s failure to meet the challenge.
Anandasangaree brought forward the motion on the 13th anniversary of the annihilation of the LTTE fighting cadre at Mullivaikkal.
Retired Maj. Gen. said that those who had failed to throw a lifeline to the LTTE as the military brought the war to a rapid conclusion worked overtime for the realization of the Canadian project.
Responding to another query, Gallage said that declaration of May 18 as Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day should be examined against the backdrop of Sri Lanka co-sponsoring an accountability resolution against itself at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in early Oct. 2015 under the yahapalana regime.
Gallage recalled how Australia denied him a visa during yahapalana administration though there hadn’t been specific war crimes allegations against him. Australia also found fault with Gallage for being in command of the 59 Division from May 7, 2009 to July 20, 2009.
Established in Jan, 2008, the 59 Division, deployed on the eastern flank aka the Weli Oya front, fought under the then Brig. Nandana Udawatte’s command for one year to cross the Anandakulam and Nagacholai forest reserves, which served as natural defences for the LTTE Mullaitivu stronghold.
Maj. Gen. Gallage said that the Parliament should respond to the Canadian House of Commons declaration on Tamil genocide. The former senior officer who was always in the thick of combat reiterated that unless tangible action was taken immediately the Canadian motion would cause irreparable damage. The Tamil Diaspora would exploit their success with Canadian political parties to pressure other countries, Gallage said, the coming Geneva sessions would be quite a challenge.
He urged the current military top brass to make representations to the government as regards the damning unfair Canadian indictment of Sri Lanka. “We should ask Canada to share with us information on the basis its Parliament reached conclusion that genocide took place here. The very basis of their declaration is questionable,” Gallage said, adding that Sri Lanka should officially inform Canada of the Indian intervention that led to the deaths of thousands, both before and after the deployment of the Indian Army (1987-1990), killing of one-time Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by an LTTE female suicide cadre and the sea borne attempt to assassinate the Maldivian President in 1989. “We should set the record straight. We should use wartime British High Commission cables now in the public domain to counter lies,” the Gajaba Regiment veteran said.
Some MPs seek hotel accommodation to attend parliament
Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena told Parliament yesterday that a group of MPs had requested that they be provided hotel accommodations for them to attend Parliament sittings.
Speaker Abeywardena said that the request had been made due to the prevailing fuel crisis.
The Speaker said that some MPs who travelled from outstations were unable to return home due to the fuel shortage.
“Therefore, they have requested me to book a hotel for them to stay in Colombo to attend Parliament proceedings,” he said.
The Speaker’s clarification came as reports of MPs being provided fuel at a subsidised rate were raised in Parliament yesterday.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that fuel had not been given at subsidised rates to any MP.
Many government MPs also lost life possessions as their houses were looted and torched by marauding mobs early last week.
Elder brother says MR should have known when to quit politics
SLPP MP and former Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa told Parliament yesterday that his younger brother former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa should have retired from politics after concluding his second term as President.
“Nearly 50 years of his outstanding political achievements and journey have been lost at present,” he said.
“If we become greedy for power and positions then we face such consequences as we see today,” he said.
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