A book that delves on alleviating poverty
Posted on October 20th, 2012

By  Chandre Dharmawardana

The news media are full of reports about the draconian conditions imposed on Greece finding it unable to meet its payment installment of its massive foreign debt. This foreign debt and the dire economic circumstances are partly the fallout from the financial meltdown that began in the USA.

Another contributing factor was the unsound economic policies that the big commercial banks, the World Bank and the IMF had imposed on Greece. Other European countries, as well as their global partners are equally threatened by this crisis.

It is in the sombre shadow of these events that I began to leaf through Dr. Gavin Karunaratne’s book entitled “Success in Development: The Comilla Programme of Rural Development, and the Bangladesh Youth Self Employment Programme” (Godage, 2009). In this short book of 168 pages the author highlights two programs in poverty alleviation. They are both from Bangladesh, and Dr. Karunaratne knows them well. He had discussed these two projects in his earlier book “How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka & Alternates Programs of Success” (Godage 2006). Here the author presents these two projects with less discussion of Sri Lanka itself, and claims that they present the “only path to development” for most developing countries. This is a very strong claim.

He also presents some discussion of the disastrous effects of internationalized economic planning and the enforcement of “ƒ”¹…”free-market policies’, liberalization of foreign exchange, – the IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programme’ etc., practiced by the World Bank and the IMF. His thesis is that we need to break free of the IMF, etc., and look for local self-sufficiency within local development models of the sort discussed by him. I find his two projects strongly reminiscent of the programs of the SLFP-ULF era of the 1970s.

It is relevant to note the intrinsic achievement of these two programs. The Comilla Programme of Rural Development doubled the yields of paddy and also created a situation where there was full employment in the Kotwali Thana area, all achieved within a short span of nine years. The Youth Self Employment Programme is an employment creation program, where youths who were trained, were encouraged to commence self-employment ventures and were guided by the Youth Development Ministry till they were commercially viable. By 2010, as much as two million youths had established successful ventures on this basis. In both cases, by any standard, the achievement appears phenomenal.

Dr. Kaurunaratne is a Peradeniya graduate who had entered the Sri Lankan Administrative Service in the Fifties when it still had the aura of the old Civil Service. He worked in many administrative and developmental capacities; and finally as the Government Agent of the Matara district in the early 1970s. His subsequent PhD work at the Michigan State University in Rural Development made him admire the Comilla Programme of Rural Development. This project (1960-69) was a brainchild of Michigan State University and a successful attempt at rural development using village cooperatives. The project focused on training participants at an “ƒ”¹…”Academy’ servicing an association of such cooperatives, using model farmers, etc., and attempting “an all encompassing policy that included production, manufacturing, marketing, and creating employment for the economy to become self-reliant”, in the words of the author.
The other project discussed by the author took place in the 1980s in Bangladesh, and deals with a “ƒ”¹…”Youth Self-Employment Program, which was designed and implemented by Dr. Karunaratne when he worked for the Ministry of Labor and Manpower as the Commonwealth Fund Advisor. Youth with “ƒ”¹…”5th standard’ school education were provided 3-6 months training in raising livestock, fishery, poultry, sewing as well as the basic economics of running a business. This was done at government vocational training and continuing-education centers. No subsidies were given; instead intensive guidance was offered Dr. Karunaratne is very enthusiastic that the key to development lies in the implementation of this type of development program.

I myself remember the 1970s, and extracts from a similar Youth employment program proposed by me was discussed in the ILO report of Dudley Seers commissioned by N. M. Perera. During my period as the President of the Vidyodaya University we created a “Bachelor of Development” program with such ideas in view. The Divisional Development Councils Program (DDCP) in Sri Lanka in the 1970s was very similar. Today, in hind sight, I would not support such methods as a general approach. They were the only methods that were possible within the tightly government-controlled economic and political system then prevalent in Sri Lanka. Even when such methods work, the rate of development is too slow to keep up with population growth and the heightened aspirations of people. Controlling such factors need strongly authoritarian systems of governance, or a highly subservient populace.

Even at that time, in the 1970s, the strong politicization and the Marxist-induced militancy of the youth made it impossible to carry out programs of the sort that were quite practicable and productive in the D. S. Senanayake era. Cooperatives have always been proposed as a good “village-oriented”, decentralized approach. Today, it has become a victim of politicization and corruption. Both the administrative service and the labor force are strongly politicized in Sri Lanka today.

We should also remember that such methods were extensively tried out in China before they were jettisoned by Den Xiaoping in 1977. Unlike J. R. Jayewardena, the Chinese leader did not embrace the IMF. The Chinese showed how to invite foreign investment under Chinese terms, without loosing national sovereignty. However, what a great nation like China could do is not necessarily available to small countries like Sri Lanka.
Hence I believe that Dr. Karunaratne’s book is a thought-provocative read, even if it has an air of the wisdom of an earlier era when Government Agents tried to get the 5th-standard school leavers to become useful citizens.

3 Responses to “A book that delves on alleviating poverty”

  1. Sunil Vijayapala Says:

    Gam Sabhaa Kramaya – the root administration in Lankadeepa, worked for us (until the stupid British came and appointed an AGENT to adminster) and will work for us and killed our great Daaner – the Shramadaaner. Our Party politics divides our villagers now and we need to go back to our roots and get rid of this whole political system and governance, to give a deathblow to the corrupt Judiciary, Executive and Legislative and especially get rid of this present Constitution. If Britain doesn’t have a written constitution(?) why do we follow a rule imposed on us by those bums.

  2. Vijendra Says:

    Chandre, you are absolutely right. Also, we all know that the IMF, World Bank or any other international (mostly western) body will not come forward to lend us money to build our country unless they get their agendas and outcomes achieved.

    Any country has to get its people working productively to develop the country. To facilitate this, people must be engaged in the development work of the government and the private enterprise. For people to be engaged, the people in authority, responsible for development must not only win the confidence of the people, but also should be role-models, and provide resources, support and cooperation.

    Today SL has become so politicized that almost nothing could be done without some “political” favour. Administration of the country is lopsided with educated people being sidelined. Doctors have taken the healthcare to ransom while academics have taken the education system to ransom. Country is divided based on ethno-religious grounds, and the TNA, the rump of the LTTE, is allowed to continue freely to claim separate homelands and bring in adverse foreign interference on the internal affairs of the country. Politicians seem to become richer by the day and are often seen as king makers because of their power, while the ordinary citizens have difficulty to meet the daily needs of their families. In short, the majority of the population is demoralized. This is ideal ground for various interested parties like the IMF, World Bank and NGOs to be the “saviours’ and lay the foundation to ensure their vested interests.

    Prudent borrowing to invest in worthwhile ventures could be a good thing, provided such ventures bring in the desired good returns and outcomes. However, wastage of money, such as the maintaining of the provincial councils, a divisive system forced on us by India for their own benefit to keep the country divided on ethnic grounds and destabilize it, must be stopped. It appears to be a very short-sighted on the part of the GOSL, that even after three years since the great victory over the LTTE, still they continue to maintain this divisive legislation introduced under the 13A. As a result, the country is engulfed in an expensive over-politicization, which not only eats into the economy, but also creates obstacles to the badly needed unification of the country under the lion flag.

    If the country wishes to build a common feeling of belonging in all Sri Lankans, which seems to be lacking now, and plans to build a healthy economy, patriotism must be reintroduced through the education curriculum. The cancer of the 13A must be eliminated to not only reduce the over politicization of our small country, but also to recognize that the whole country belongs to all Sri Lankans, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion or where they live. Politicians must be disciplined through a strictly regulated code of conduct and practice they accept under oath to uphold as an elected member of the parliament. Non-patriotic politicians must be prosecuted under special legislation promulgated to prevent division based on ethnic segregation. The trilingual education system must be implemented to ensure easy communication among the ethnic communities. Use of divisive politics based on ethnicity or religion must not be tolerated, and should be punishable by law.

  3. HussainFahmy Says:

    The greatest impediment to economic prosperity in Sri Lanka is (a) prevailing disrespect among each others communities, (b) Corruption at the highest level and in almost in every government department, (c) debt/speculation driven financial instruments. (d) Conversion to immoral ethics through Hollywood Entertainment and through consumption of banned substance abuse, (e) lack of commitment to personal growth and loyalty/unity to the country to name a few.

    SOLUTION:- BACK TO BASICS AND IDENTIFY THE ROOT CAUSES. This calls for a complete overhaul in the system of governance and it’s governors. Introducing Radical changes in the education system at grass root levels to be under taken by qualified and experienced Technocrats. In relative terms Sri Lanka is still far away from abject poverty, however we seem to be moving towards it. Development strategies within our means should take precedence over IMF and others. Every citizen should strive towards self reliance and the country towards self sufficiency.

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