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South Asia immigration barriers hindering industrial hub potential

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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.



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Vasu defends constituents’ right to differ

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Prez chairs govt. group meeting:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Water Supply Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara has strongly defended the right of the SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) constituents’ to take up contentious issues in public.

Minister Nanayakkara told SLPP parliamentary group meeting at the President’s House on Sunday night (24) that their right to differ on matters of public interest shouldn’t be questioned.

Nanayakkara said so when Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena and MP Tissa Kuttiarachchi faulted some constituent parties for dissenting views on certain issues.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was present at the meeting chaired by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The meeting lasted for about two hours.

The SLPP held Sunday’s meet in the wake of some constituent parties of the ruling coalition asking for a discussion on the questionable agreement between the government and the US New Fortress Energy Company over the Yugadanavi power plant, etc. Sources said that initially, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa indicated that the issue could be discussed with the Premier but subsequently arrangements were made for the Sunday’s meeting.

The New Fortress recently announced that a definitive agreement had been executed for the external investment in West Coast Power Limited (WCP).

WCP owns the 310 megawatts Yugadanavi Power Plant based in Colombo. The deal is also for the rights to develop a new LNG Terminal off the coast of Colombo. In terms of the agreement, New Fortress will acquire a 40 per cent ownership stake in WCP. The US energy firm plans to build an offshore LNG terminal located off the coast of Colombo.

Minister Nanayakkara has said it is not unusual for members of a coalition to hold different views depending on the issues as they also represent the interests of the public.

Nanayakkara has pointed out how the left parties remained with the UPFA though they didn’t agree with the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s decision to enact the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. Parliament passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution with a two-thirds majority on 08 Sept. 2010, enabling the President to seek a third term among other things.

The SLPP constituents have differed with the government on several issues such as fuel price increases announced by Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila on 12 June as well as the abortive bid to transfer 49 percent of shares of the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo port to India and Japan.

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa spearheaded the constituents’ campaign. He sought an explanation particularly as regards Cabinet approval for the controversial energy deal with the US firm, without a discussion among ministers.

NFF sources told The Island that their leader felt the urgent need to take up the matter to prevent further deterioration of relations among the coalition members.

Several parties including government ally the Jathika Sanvidhana Ekamuthuwa moved the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, respectively against the secretive energy deal with the US firm.

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‘Those who hesitate to get vaccinated pose a threat to others’

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Deputy Director General of Health Services, Dr. Hemantha Herath said yesterday a significant number of people had not received the Covid-19 vaccine, and posed a threat to society.

“No matter what your age category is, you will be at a higher risk of being infected and spreading it to others. So please get vaccinated,” he urged.

The DDGHS said that a booster shot would be given to people from 01 Nov.

The Health Ministry would carry out the ongoing vaccination drive until everyone got the first two doses, he said.

“However, we won’t keep hundreds of vaccination centres open. Most likely, those who have not got vaccinated will have to go to designated locations to receive the vaccine.”

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School attendance high as parents have faith in teachers – CTU head

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Teachers and principals protested at Colombo Fort yesterday urging the government to rectify their salary anomalies. The protesters marched from the Fort Railway Station towards the Presidential Secretariat but police did not permit them to proceed beyond the Telecom rounadbout. Pic by Nishan S Priyantha

By Rathindra Kuruwita

School attendance was high Despite inter-provincial travel restrictions, Ceylon Teachers Union (CTU) General Secretary, Joseph Stalin said yesterday. “The government announced on 22 October that primary sections of all schools would be reopened on 25 October. Despite the short notice the attendance was high, and this is testament to the faith parents have in teachers,” he said.Primary sections of 9,155 schools recommenced yesterday.

“However, we will only teach. Teachers do a lot of additional work instead of teaching and most people who slander us have no idea about this,” he said.

Deputy Director General of Health Services, Dr. Hemantha Herath urged relevant authorities to provide safe and adequate transport facilities to students. It was vital that those vehicles were ventilated, and social distancing was maintained.

“We urge parents to buy reusable face masks for kids. If your child has any symptoms of COVID such as fever and cold, don’t send him/her to school until you are certain this is not COVID. Teach your child the importance of washing hands, wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. This is the way we can ensure there is no spread in the school system,” Dr. Herath said.

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