Connect with us

Features

University Education in the 21st Century

Published

on

The basic principles that we should work on include –

a)  Breadth of knowledge in context, not depth that is

essential only for those going on to do research

b) Better communication skills including teaching

skills that will facilitate the sharing of knowledge

c)  Thinking skills that promote innovation and

analysis of different perspectives

d) Social awareness and sensitivity that contributes to

coherent and productive planning and action in the

world of work

———————-

Text of keynote address on ‘The Future of University Education’ delivered by Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha at the Sabaragamuwa Student Symposium, yesterday.

 

It is a pleasure to come back to Sabaragamuwa, and the more so this time as it is after several years. And though I am now old and lazy, and was a bit put out when I was told the text of my presentation was needed in advance, the topic given me, ‘University Education in the 21st Century’ was convenient. For I had been in fact reflecting on the subject, for the posts I now put up daily on what I term my political Facebook Account, that of the Council for Liberal Democracy.

The series that I called ‘Productive Initiatives’, as a contrast to the depressing series I am also writing, about the destruction wrought by J R Jayewardene and his political heirs, also however turned out depressing. For unfortunately most positive initiatives in education in the 20th century were promptly subverted, beginning with Kannangara’s Central Schools which J R Jayewardene soon straitjacketed in monolingualism.

It was the second great educational innovator of the last century, Prof Arjuna Aluwihare, who conceived the idea of Affiliated University Colleges, from which this University springs. He engaged in such innovation because by the eighties it had become clear to many youngsters that the education system was a mess. Though we prided ourselves on our literacy rates, and on providing free education up to university level, it was clear that the quality of the education provided was abysmal as far as many students were concerned and did not help them to gain decent employment.

There were of course many other causes for the radicalization of the young, and the insurgency that burst out at the end of the eighties. But the Youth Commission report that President Premadasa commissioned noted clearly the need to expand opportunities for rural youth. And though the school education system continued a mess, Arjuna Aluwihare as Chairman of the UGC proposed a radical new approach to tertiary education, and set up what were called Affiliated University Colleges, intended to provide a broad education to youngsters, including compulsory English and wider general awareness, instead of concentration on one or more subjects with no effort to relate them to the world of work.

His ideas were not supported by the majority of universities which were happy to continue doing the same thing for a few more decades. The only university which embraced the idea enthusiastically was Sri Jayawardenepura, which had a very dynamic Vice-Chancellor, Prof S B Hettiarachchi. So USJP conducted programmes in five AUCs, including the flagship programme of the AUCs, the English Diploma course.

This was open to students who had not done English at the Advanced Level. Very few schools in fact offered English at that level, so the intake at the three universities which offered English as a Special Subject was largely confined to students from Colombo and Kandy. This meant that only a few students offered English each year at these universities, but the Departments got vast amounts of funding on the grounds that they were producing English teachers for the nation. Given their exclusivity, hardly any of their products went into teaching except at a few elite schools.

I had long complained about restrictions on the study of English at tertiary level, and when I mentioned this to Arjuna he promptly got me involved in his new programme, which I had not known about before. And I believe I have every reason to be proud of what I achieved. One of my brightest colleagues at USJP, where I first returned to the University system, once told me that there was no point in being a teacher unless one’s pupils turned out better than one was oneself. When I look at my students who excel here, and at the Uva Wellassa University, and in the Department of Technical Education and Training, I feel that at least the English programmes I began in the early nineties have succeeded. Those I started later have done less well, but that is another story, once again to do with Ranil Wickremesinghe’s wickedness.

However, while the Science courses that Aluwihare initiated also I believe did well – and full marks again to this university in particular for that – the AUCs and their successors failed in other respects to live up to his vision. For instance the general courses he had thought of, essentially to increase the general knowledge of youngsters woefuly deprived of this in schools, fell into the trap that affected general courses elsewhere. They were stuffed full of specialist knowledge, and did not engage students to think of the realities of the world they lived in. Sri Lankan studies for instance regurgitated what students had learnt in school, without helping students to position Sri Lanka in the modern world. Unfortunately there was no clear understanding of soft skills, which we are now told at every turn is what the Sri Lankan education system fails to inculcate. And no one thought in those distant days of studying what happened elsewhere, of looking for instance at the development of what are called Core courses in American universities.

So where students should have been given first and foremost better communications skills, and the ability to work in teams, they were instead given detailed knowledge of science and history, formulas about systems for the former, catalogues for the latter.

Later, when I joined Sabaragamuwa University, having already been involved in developing curricula for the degree courses it was developing, both for new students and for those who had completed AUC Diplomas, I decided I should study Core courses as they were being developed in the United States where they had first started.

They had developed initially because American schools were not like British ones from which students could proceed to specialize because they had been provided there with soft skills and wider knowledge. American High Schools as they were called provided more basic education and those going on to university needed catch up teaching as to the knowledge and skills better schools provide.

But in the early 19th century there was not too much of this. Later, by the end of the 20th century, the few core subjects introduced a century earlier had to be expanded as the range of skills needed for productive employment in a changing world also expanded. Derek Bok, President of Harvard for many years, led seminal changes to the system, which I was able to study. And though we did not do as well as Harvard, I think the Core courses we started here back in 1997 equipped our students well for the world of work. And I was able to introduce something similar at the Military Academy when we looked after their degree course.

But none of this had a wider provenance. So that is why, a quarter of a century after Prof Aluwihare showed the way, we have the Prime Minister in his budget speech highlighting ‘the need to build a knowledge-based economy, and the need to promote sport, particularly among the young generation. The Prime Minister also points out that education reforms are important to tackle issues especially among unemployed young generation’.

 

I would find this funny, if it were not so tragic. Six years ago, when I wrote to him to say the country needed reforms instead of the elections that had turned into his substitute for action, I drew attention to the need of the following –

a)      A new Universities Act that provides meaningful training that promotes employability free to those who need it, whilst facilitating the establishment of other centres of excellence through private/ public partnerships

b)      A new Education Act that ensures holistic education, with greater stress on skills and competencies that are developed through extra-curricular activities such as Sports and Social Service and Cultural Activities

But of course nothing happened. And if the inaction of the last year is anything to go by, nothing more will happen and instead we will simply hear more and more platitudes about the need for reform.

This is the sadder in that reform would be so easy. I have no regrets personally about having resigned from the post of State Minister of Higher Education five years ago, in time to avoid all taint of Yahapalanaya crookedness and incompetence. But it was sad for the country since those who took over – and indeed had been put on top of me – had no idea about what was required. The last Chairman of the UGC did try, and I am sure the present one will also try. But what the country needs is thoroughgoing reform that is based on general social needs, and that is inconceivable to those stuck in the ivory tower concept which we still cling to, in terms of not 20th century but rather 19th century British models.

The basic principles that we should work on include –

a) Breadth of knowledge in context, not depth that is essential only for those going on to do research

b) Better communication skills including teaching skills that will facilitate the sharing of knowledge

c) Thinking skills that promote innovation and analysis of different perspectives

d) Social awareness and sensitivity that contributes to coherent and productive planning and action in the world of work

Together with these let me draw attention to something that is particularly relevant to what we are concerned with, the research that students have engaged in. I should note though that when I was responsible for preparing a new curriculum for what was a new university, way back in 1997, I was not keen on what was described as a thesis. Not only did I feel that our undergraduates would simply reproduce material culled from others, I also thought that they would not be properly supervised. And though I agreed in the end to what we called a dissertation, I insisted on an oral viva because it was vital to check that students understood what they were presenting.

This may seem excessively cautious, but those were days in which plagiarization was rife in the universities. I recall interviewing someone for a senior position who had no idea of what anything in his master’s thesis meant. His response was that some authority had said this – which the thesis itself had not acknowledged – and I sent a rocket to the Colombo university Vice-Chancellor who was gracious enough to admit their error. He promised that in the future they would insist on an oral test to check on the understanding of the candidate as to what was in the thesis. But whether this happened I do not know, and of course nothing could be done about those masquerading as scholars on the basis of what they had copied.

The oral test was essential, but I am glad Sabaragamuwa has moved further on this and makes students present their research and respond to questions. But I believe too that we should go further, and ensure that research is practical and at undergraduate level oriented towards community development.

This was one of my last proposals when I was Minister, when I suggested to Vice-Chancellors that they should focus all research at undergraduate level on the area in which they were situated. So political science students could for instance look at the work of Grama Niladhari Divisions and Divisional Secretariats, economists could look at enterprises and employment opportunities in the area, sociologists at family structures and welfare statistics, English students at English education, Sinhala students at writing skills amongst students, geography students at water problems – which six years ago I told the then President was one of the greatest problems we had to face, something that thankfully, if six years too late, the current President has acknowledge.

I suggested then to the Vice-Chancellors, who seemed to think this a good idea though they promptly forgot about it after I resigned, that the students of each final year should focus on one administrative division, so that the university could then prepare a comprehensive development plan for that division based on the research of its students. That research would of course have included consultation of the people of the division, consultation that now rarely occurs when development plans are made.

Politicians will of course think this unwarranted interference, but in a context where many politicians can neither think nor plan, there has to be some sensible input. Of course I may be being unfair to politicians in this area, for I had thought of the need for such interventions after much work in the North and East. In those areas what were termed District and Divisional Development Committees had in the period between 2010 and 2014 been entrusted to scoundrels such as Bathiudeen and Hisbullah and Piyasena – and two of them, enthroned then, went on to engage in even greater destruction over the next five years too.

Such individuals would resent academic involvement but I have no doubt sensible politicians would welcome this. Of course the plans prepared by universities would be subject to further discussion, but they would provide a better basis, with greater factual input, and greater input as to what the people want, than any plans prepared by politicians or even any central government agency could have.

So let me leave you with this suggestion, which I hope the Dean and the Faculty will take up, with the support of your new Vice-Chancellor. Focus on a socially productive outcome in your next cycle of research, one that will allow staff and students of the Faculty who are concerned citizens to work together coherently to make things better for the community in which you are situated. That is what the university of the 21st century should make a priority, development with precise knowledge, deeper understanding, and social sensitivity.

 



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Features

THE DEMOCRATIC PARADOX OF SRI LANKA

Published

on

by R.J. de Silva, Attorney-at-law

In the distant past, there were many approaches to running civilizations. Cruel and ruthless dictators perpetrated assault on human rights, with impunity. The best known among these tyrants were ATTILA the HUN (AD 434-453 of present day Hungary ), GENGHIS KHAN ( 1206-1227 in Central Asia and China ), TIMUR ( 1370-1405 of modern Syria, Iran , Afghanistan) and QUEEN MARY alias ‘Bloody Mary’(1553-1558 in England ).

The combination of divine or absolute power and lack of contact with people made Dictators and Autocrats fascinating as well as terrifying. It is unclear if such characters suffered from mental illness as defined by current standards or whether their lives were marked by incidents that made them ruthless.

Hadenius and Teorell ( 2007 ) identified distinct dictatorships in monarchies, military regimes, one party regimes and restricted multiparty regimes. Studies have revealed that many dictatorial regimes, have democratic facades or some functioning democratic institutions, some holding regular elections and some having operational political parties and legislatures.

Dictatorships are a form of government in which all power remains in the hands of one person enjoying unlimited governmental power obtained by force or fraudulent means in sham elections. Dictatorships are often characterized by deaths or killings because of greed, hatred, pride and yearning for power. For instance, Hitler caused millions of deaths of Jews, Pol Pot killed millions of Cambodians to forcibly change its culture and Idi Amin was responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of Indians in Uganda.

Autocracy is very similar to a dictatorship. Here too, the supreme power lies in the hands of an individual with some supported by a slavish political party. Autocrats use little or no consultation when making decisions and exercise independent authority over policies and procedures. Their decisions are not subject to any legal restraints. The system suppresses public debate and makes criticism of the government, a criminal offence.

Like in dictatorships, autocracies also use force and punishments to those who disobey the leader’s commands. Autocrats manifest in many ways in despotism, oligarchy and fascism.

In the ideology of benevolent or enlightened despotism (popular in the 18th Century Europe),a absolute monarchs enacted a number of changes in political institutions and enlightened governance. Most of the despots started their careers as “freedom fighters”. Many of them amassed wealth abroad while the world was in denial.

An oligarchy is a form of government where power is in the hands of a small group of elite people, holding wealth or family or military prowess. Oligarchies are where a small minority rules the government and exercise power in corrupt ways. Such governments are frequently ruled by prominent families whose children are raised and coached as oligarchy’s heirs.

Fascism is a political ideology that elevates the nation and race above the individual and advocates a ‘Consolidated Autocratic government’ led by a dictator under strict economic and social regulation while suppressing the opposition. Fascist administrations were seen in Italy’s Fascist Party under Mussolini ( 1925-1945 )and the National Socialist German Worker’s Party ( Nazi Party ) under Adolf Hitler ( 1925-1943). Interestingly, the majority of the modern dictatorial regimes refer to their leaders by a variety of titles such as President, King and Prime Minister.

The 20th and 21st Century dictators and autocrats ruled with tyrannical power and never tolerated dissent. Some of them were VALDIMIR LENIN ( 1917-1924 Russia ), JOSEPH STALIN ( 1924-1953 Russia ), BENITO MUSSOLINI ( 1925-1945 Italy ), ADOLF HITLER ( 1933-1945 Germany ), FRANCISCO FRANCO ( 1939-1975 Spain ), MAO ZEDONG (1949-1976- China ), IDI AMIN (1971-1979 Uganda), AUGUSTO PINOCHET ( 1973- 1990 Chile ), GEOGIS PAPANDUPOULUS ( 1967-1974 Greece ), COL MUAMMER GADAFI ( 1969-2011 Libya ).

Dictator led countries are also associated with severe poverty, repression, decreasing health and life expectancy, famine, poor education and rising mental illnesses. Eight of these brutal and repressive autocracies which caused poverty in their countries were : KIM JONG UN since 2011 ( North Korea- 40% poverty ), NICOLAS MANDURO since 2013 with his Presidency in dispute ( Venezuela – 82% poverty ) , BASHA AL ASSAD since 2020 ( Syria -82% poverty ), PAUL KAGME since March 2000 (Rwanda -39.1% poverty ), RECEP ERDOGAN since 2014 ( an elected President in Turkey- 21.9% poverty ), and NGUEMA MBASOSGO longest standing President in the world since 1979 for 40 years to date ( Equatorial Guinea -76. 8% poverty). Two of them – PIERRE NKURUNZIZA ( Burundi ) and IDRIS DEBBY ( Chad ) died in June 2020 April 2021 leaving 64.6% and 46.7% poverty respectively, in their impoverished countries. However, VADIMIR PUTIN (since 2000 Russia ) and XI JING PING ( since 2013 China ) are leading economic powers, but these two countries have also never tolerated dissent.

It is common to see dictators and autocrats appointing prominent members of armed forces in civilian positions and show disrespect towards the independence of the judiciary and freedom for the media. Such systems and their rulers show no concern for human rights or dissent. For instance in China, when a popular national movement for democracy was precipitated by Chinese youth and students calling for greater accountability, constitutional due process, freedom of the Press, speech and association drawing about one million people to the Tiananman Square and about 400 other cities, China’s Paramount leader Deng Xiaoping violently suppressed the movement in one day on June 4, 1986, similar to what happened in Rathupaswela in Sri Lanka, subsequently.

The suppression of the Pro- Democracy movement by the use of the army was followed by the wide spread arrest and deportation of foreign journalists and the strict control of the Press. In Russia, VADIMIR PUTIN, characterized his rule with endemic corruption, jailing political opponents, intimidating media freedom and free and fair elections. When Russia invaded Ukrain in February 2022, Putin ordered the arrest of thousands of its own citizens for protesting against the war. Tsarist minded Putin decreed that the independent media and journalists will be will be given 15 year jail terms if the cruel destruction of Ukrain’s infrastructure, historical monuments, hospitals and bombing civilian targets are reported to the Russian people.

Dictators and Autocrats are prone to create personality based autocracies surrounded by family members. Family bandyism weakened State infrastructure in Sri Lanka after 2005. The Rajapaksa family based autocracy weakened the State, democratic practices and institutionalized corruption. Family members and lackeys of Iraq and Libyan leaders weakened the State apparatus of Iraq and Libya. The weakened States of Iraq and Libya were such that, it failed to produce nuclear weapons as planned, to meet the threat of Israeli expansion. Saddam Hussain ( Iraq ) appointed his son- in- law and notoriously brutal Hussein Kamil, to fast track the production of nuclear weapons. That resulted in scientists in Iraq intentionally further slowing down the programme and nicknamed it the “unclear power”.

In contrast, the tyrant Gadaffi ( Libya ) was surrounded by ‘yes men’ and female bodyguards and an ego trip as a result of which, had no inclination to produce scientists and engineers for the country capable of dealing with complex technicalities associated with the production of nuclear power.

Dictators and Autocrats are prone to interfere with the sovereignty of other countries. Chinese dictator XI JING PING despite being an economic power, is accused of subtle problematic debt trap diplomacy since 2018 in many poor countries in Africa and Asia ruled by corrupt and mismanaging leaders. PUTIN is facing credible allegations of gross violation of human rights in Ukrain and widespread calls for investigation leading up to a trial for war crimes.

Citizen tired of being oppressed and controlled made widespread demands for democracy and the creation of independent Nation States in Europe. Those revolutions popularly known as the ‘Peoples Spring’ in 1848, brought upheavals in Europe mainly due to the dissatisfaction with monarchies, which were at the helm of each country. The revolution started in Sicily and spread to France, Netherlands, Italy and Hungary, Austrian Empire, German Empire and the whole of Europe. Monarchies were replaced by Republics. Old leaders were forced to grant liberal constitutions.

Caught off guard, aristocracy and their allies plotted to return to power and many leaders of the revolutions went into exile. In the decades after 1848, little had changed. Many historians considered the “People’s Spring” a failure, due to the seemingly lack of permanent structural changes. Karl Marx, disappointed with the bourgeois character of the revolution, expressed the theory of a permanent revolution according to which the proletariat should strengthen democratic bourgeois revolutionary forces, until the proletariat itself was ready to seize power.

The Autumn of Nations between 1981 and 1991 (143 years after the political upheavals in Europe), brought down the former Soviet Union (USSR) which was beset with economic stagnation, mismanagement and excessive dogmatism of the Communist Party. It disintegrated USSR without bloodshed to endorse democratic reforms in their countries. Poland was the first to shrug off communism in 1989 after almost a decade of struggles. It was followed by Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania.

Another wave of pro- democracy uprisings began in Muslim countries such as Morocco, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Bahrain in 2010/2011. It was named the “Arab Spring” and started in December 2010 from Tunisia. However, not all the nations that witnessed such social and political upheaval changed for the better. Some of the very same leaders who fought for democracy in the Muslim world (and in many other parts of the world), presided over the gradual decline of democratic rule in their countries.

In Egypt for example, despite the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, authoritarian rule returned after the controversial election of Morsi in 2012 leading to a coup by his Defence Minister Abdel Fatah El-Sisi in 2013 and he remains in power till today. Libya, since Col Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown violently in October 2011, has remained in a state of civil war with two opposing governments ruling separate regions of the country. The civil war that began in Syria with the Arab Spring has lasted for several years due to ISIS declaring a CALIPHATE governed by Islamic Law in North East of Syria. The ISIS has been effectively defeated, but the oppressive regime of BASHAR AL ASSAD continues with Russian support.

Democracy

In modern times, generations have rebelled against dictatorships and autocrdacy and fought for human rights and respect for the Rule of law. DEMOCRACY is the method of rule most countries have begun to approve. Although democracy is vulnerable it is very resilient. Mahatma Gandhi said: “Democracy and violence go ill together. States that are today minimally democratic have either to become frankly totalitarian or if they must become fully democratic, they must become courageously nonviolent” and Langstone Hughes ( 1902 – 1967 ) wrote “Democracy will not come today, this year, not ever through compromise and fear. I tire so of hearing people say, let’s things take its own course. Tomorrow is another day. I do not need any freedom when I am dead. I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.”

To be continued

Continue Reading

Features

My intention was to create a safe place, a place without judgment says Beyonce

Published

on

Beyonce, shown attending the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards, is slated to release a new album in July 2022

Beyonce’s soaring vocals have their place on “Renaissance” but it’s the rhythmic, urgent call to the dance floor that stands out, with a tapestry of influences paying homage to pioneers of funk, soul, r Six years after she shook the culture with her powerful visual album “Lemonade,” Beyonce’s seventh solo studio work is a pulsating, sweaty collection of club tracks aimed at liberating a world consumed by ennui.

Beyonce, the paradigm-shifting music royal whose art has long established her as one of entertainment’s seminal stars, released her hotly anticipated album “Renaissance,” a house-tinged dance record primed for its summer needle drop

Eminently danceable and rife with nods to disco and EDM history — Queen Bey interpolates Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder along with James Brown and the archetypal synth line from “Show Me Love,” the 1990s house smash by Robin S — the 16-song album is poised to reign over the season.

Prior to releasing her opus Beyonce had dropped “Break My Soul” to acclaim, setting the tone for her house revival that highlighted the Black, queer and working-class artists and communities who molded the electronic dance genre, which first developed in Chicago in the 1980s.The megastar has indicated that “Renaissance” is but the first act of three, in a project she said she recorded over the course of three years during the pandemic.

“Creating this album allowed me a place to dream and to find escape during a scary time for the world,” Beyonce on her website.

“It allowed me to feel free and adventurous in a time when little else was moving,” she continued. “My intention was to create a safe place, a place without judgment. A place to be free of perfectionism and overthinking.”

“A place to scream, release, feel freedom. It was a beautiful journey of exploration.”

– ‘Expansive listening journey’ –

In the weeks preceding the release of “Renaissance” Beyonce teased the album with the steady stream of glossy, curated portraits of herself that over the past decade have become her signature.But though she’s received wide praise for keeping the world of music videos on the cutting edge, Beyonce put out her latest record sans visuals (they’re promised at a later date.)

In a statement her label Parkwood Entertainment and Columbia Records lent insight into the decision, saying the artist “decided to lead without visuals giving fans the opportunity to be limitless in their expansive listening journey.”

Beyonce’s soaring vocals have their place on “Renaissance” but it’s the rhythmic, urgent call to the dance floor that stands out, with a tapestry of influences paying homage to pioneers of funk, soul, rap, house and disco.

“Unique / That’s what you are /Stilettos kicking vintage crystal off the bar,” she sings on “Alien Superstar,” which samples Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” in a sonic ode to voguing, the stylized house dance that emerged from the Black LGBTQ ballroom culture of the 1960s.

That song closes by sampling a speech from Barbara Ann Teer, who founded Harlem’s National Black Theatre.

On “Virgo’s Groove” Beyonce gets raunchy with an unabashed sex anthem, adding a titular nod to her star sign — the Virgo turns 41 on September 4.Along with a smattering of deep house cuts as well as tributes to gospel, funk and soul, Beyonce’s collaborators on “Renaissance” include Nile Rodgers, Skrillex, Nigerian singer Tems, Grace Jones, Pharrell and, of course, her rap mogul husband Jay-Z.

– Album leaks, Beyhive stings –

Beyonce has long bucked music’s conventional wisdom, and is credited with popularizing the surprise album drop.She later made waves by releasing “Lemonade” — the groundbreaking work that chronicled her own emotional catharsis following infidelity within a generational and racial context — first on cable television, and limiting its streaming availability.

Since “Lemonade” she’s released “Homecoming,” a live album and film featuring footage from her mythic 2018 Coachella performance, as well as the critically acclaimed song “Black Parade” — which dropped amid mass protests ignited by the police murder of George Floyd.

That song saw the megastar, who first gained fame as a member of Destiny’s Child, become the winningest woman ever at the Grammys with 28, and the gala’s most decorated singer.But for all her cultural clout and an indisputable throne in music’s pantheon, Beyonce’s songs have not seen the same commercial dominance as other contemporary global stars — her last number one solo hit was 2008’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).”

That’s poised to change with “Renaissance.”

The album’s release saw Queen Bey return to music business as usual, deploying pre-sales, a lead single drop, a tracklist and polished social media fodder.But it wasn’t without a hitch — in the days prior to the official release, the album leaked online.

Bey thanked her hive for waiting, and added that “I appreciate you for calling out anyone that was trying to sneak into the club early.”

“We are going to take our time and Enjoy the music,” the megastar told her fandom. “I love you deep.”–AFP

Continue Reading

Features

Are we to burn borrowed dollars just to cook a meal?

Published

on

Eng. Parakrama Jayasinghe

How many of the consumers who opt to use LPG for cooking, realize that they are burning the dollars borrowed with difficulty, just to cook a meal, while the use of LPG hardly brings in any foreign exchange? The reality is that while the country is struggling to raise the dollars even through loans to import adequate supplies of transport fuel, taking loans to import LPG, which will not result in any Forex earnings could hardly be considered ethical or a priority.

The CBSL data below shows the immense amount of dollars drained out of the country in the past years, purely due to the high powered promotions to coerce and trap the consumers to this non sustainable consumption.

With the escalation of world market prices and the depreciation of the rupee , the impact in rupee terms in year 2022, if we are to import the same quantities, would be much greater as estimated. The Governor of the Central Bank has quite rightly stated that

Sri Lanka will have to manage with available dollar inflows, not bridging finance: CB Governor

By Economy Next • Issue #391

However, the attempt by the government appears to be determined to continue this practice at whatever cost and detriment to the economy, to perpetuate a practice foisted on the people by unscrupulous officials, and thereby try and pretend that the gas queues are over. This has been achieved for the present, thanks to a further loan of $ 70 Million from the World Bank, to import 30,000 tons of LPG recently. Perhaps the daily visuals of the gas queues, that the electronic media took pleasure in broadcasting, may also have pushed the government to this short sighted move.

The other side of the coin is that, before the arrival of this load of LPG, while the empty cylinders remained in the queues, the people were absent. No doubt they sought and found alternative means of cooking their meals, albeit with less convenience than using gas. Obviously they would also have been helped in this by the intrepid efforts of many Sri Lankan entrepreneurs who designed and manufactured cooking stoves to use either fuel wood or charcoal, which do not require any dollars.

The novel stoves are yet to be available in adequate numbers in the market, although the manufacturers are running long waiting lists. As such some consumers may have been forced to revert to direct use of fire wood, accepting the disadvantage of smoke and soot. But Sri Lanka has already introduced most acceptable models of cooking stoves to use wood and wood charcoal, devoid of any smoke and soot. These have proved to be acceptable alternatives to the use of gas stoves for the daily cooking needs, even in high rise apartments.

The reality is that the consumers have recognized the fact that the government or the officials cannot be relied upon to provide their essential needs, and their salvation lies in seeking indigenous alternative solutions themselves which have proven to be equally effective.

But shouldn’t this positive change have been noted by the authorities and fostered with the same vigour with which the use of the imported LPG was promoted? What about the media? They diverted their cameras to the petrol and diesel queues, obviously the emerging negative scene of news value.

The officials of the Litro gas company are heard to give assurances of continued supply of LPG in the future, while they admit the loan received is adequate for supplies up to October only. According to their web page their customer base exceeds 4,000,000. The consumption in 2020 was 437,000 tons, purchased at a cost of $ 236 Million. By now it would exceed 450,000 tons annually. How far would the $ 70 Million loan go at present day gas prices? What happens next? Are they hoping to get yet another loan, when the Ministry of Power and Energy is forced to restrict the issue of essential transport fuels to a minimum, due to lack of dollars? Isn’t this a willful deception of the consumers?

Therefore, the discerning consumers are well advised to consider the following points in their decision making for the future.

  • = The import of LPG is possible only through loans which will have to be paid by our children and grandchildren
  • = Continued dependence on LPG is a never ending problem and will need more and more loans with no chance of the LPG used leading to any foreign exchange earnings
  • = The loans taken have to be repaid by the entire country ,while the benefit is enjoyed by only a limited section of the society, which is morally unacceptable
  • = For those fortunate to get even a cylinder of LPG, adopting the already available options of stoves using either charcoal or wood , for the cooking of the main meals , would substantially reduce the monthly expenditure as shown below. This would preserve the LPG cylinder bought with difficulty, to be available for any limited usage in between and for any emergencies for many months
  • = The consumers can be the drivers of the change which would reduce the demand for LPG and thus save the country millions of dollars year after year
  • = This would create a significant indigenous industry whereby the millions of dollars sent out would flow to the local industrialists and rural communities supplying the charcoal and wood. Even a 50% reduction of the imports could result in a local industry worth over Rs 80 Billion annually.

These are indeed practical and worthwhile contributions to resolve a national problem. Are each of us ready to commit to extend the use of our LPG cylinder to last several months, thereby reducing the demand to 50% or even to 25% in the coming year? This should be considered a national duty by all of us.

Just to assuage any fears of deforestation, contrary to popular belief, Sri Lanka already has adequate renewable and sustainable biomass resources formally counted as over 12,000,000 tons annually, contributing to 50% of the total primary energy demand. Simultaneously, a practical program of social reforestation has to be encouraged where the user of charcoal, plants wherever he can, plants trees to compensate for the charcoal he uses. In this way the next generation will also be assured of their own sustainable supply with absolutely no impact on the forest cover. A plant that can be recommended is Gliricidia Sepium among others, which can be harvested in two years, and thereafter every eight months.

(The writer is past president of the Bio Energy Association of Sri Lanka www.bioenergysrilanka.lk
Email: parajayasinghe@gmail.com)

Continue Reading

Trending