THE REIGN OF MAHINDA RAJAPAKSE (2)
Posted on March 12th, 2017
The ‘Mahinda Chinthana’ of 2010, was a comprehensive economic plan prepared by the Department of National Planning of the Ministry of Finance and Planning. Economic development was to be along five hubs, maritime, aviation, commerce, energy, knowledge plus tourism. The policies and strategies were in line with the UN Millennium Development Goals. The plan took into account the current social and economic indicators and future projections. The regional hub for maritime affairs, banking, IT and aviation are achievable, said Palitha Kohona.
The idea of establishing Sri Lanka as a “Maritime” hub was excellent and timely, said maritime specialists. The location of Sri Lanka in relation to other countries and its close proximity to sea lanes makes this very feasible. Also Sri Lanka is better endowed and better located than Singapore. However, Sri Lanka has a long way to go from its current transhipment hub position to be a maritime and a logistics hub. A Maritime Hub involves many things, not just having a harbour. It involves, inter alia, cargo handling, bunkering, ship repair facilities. The services offered must be efficient, competitive and in line with international standards and practices.
The main contribution of Rajapakse to the Maritime hub was Hambantota port which he created from scratch. Rajapakse also developed the Colombo South Container terminal in Colombo port. .This terminal became the first in Sri Lanka capable of handling mega container ships . It made Colombo Port one of the biggest in the world. Construction was given to China Merchant Holdings on a 35-year BOT deal using an Asian Development Bank loan. The terminal commenced operations in August 2013.
The “Aviation” hub included Mattala airport, opened in 2013. Airports are now key nodes in economic development. Mattala has a single runway, capable of receiving the world’s largest passenger aircraft, Airbus A380 and can handle 1 million passengers per year. It was an international airport. ICAO had given it a certificate effective for two years.
Mattala airport has been heavily criticized. Sri Lankan pilots say that the runway orientation of the airport makes the aircraft face dangerous crosswinds. They were not consulted when the airport was planned. Environmentalists complain that Mattala airport was built in an elephant and migratory bird habitat. During the planning stages of the project, environmentalists had warned of the threat to wildlife. 2,000 acres of forest were cleared to build the airport, displacing about 200 elephants. Peacocks and migratory birds, which frequent the area, have been involved in collisions with aircraft.
Critics say Mattala was a mistake. The cost was too much. Sri Lanka can only justify a second airport if the first is used to capacity and cannot be expanded. It was possible to expand Katunayake. If you only needed an airport for emergency landing, then an airstrip is enough and we have two at Hingurakgoda and Pallai. A runway conforming to international standard was all that was needed. Airbus A380 will not fly into Sri Lanka, critics added.
Whether the new airport should be at Mattala or not, everyone will agree that there should be another airport, said Ariyawansa Ranaweera. ‘When I was Additional Secretary, in charge of Civil Aviation in the 1980s, there was a plan to locate the second airport at Hingurakgoda. The plan was dropped due to financial issues. It is creditable that the former President Rajapakse fulfilled this need in double quick time. We now have a full fledged second international airport when even the largest aircraft can land. A new airport cannot realize its potential in a short time, ‘he added.
Mattala has been used from January 2017 since Katunayake is under repair. Television news of 18.2.17 reported that it had unloaded 29,000 passengers from 284 flights. A passenger said Mattala had a lot of potential, he was speaking as a business man. Passengers said they liked it better than Katunayake.
The “Knowledge” hub focused on literacy in ITC, Internet access for all and the creation of knowledge-based jobs. The Rajapakse government made a sound start on this. This is described in detail later on. “Energy” hub included development of renewable energy sources, a new oil refinery at Hambantota and oil exploration and production in three offshore locations identified in Mannar, Cauvery, and the Southern waters. Sri Lanka’s first oil and gas exploration company, Ceylon Energy, chaired by Dr. Kulasinghe was launched in 2013. (Daily News 9.7.13 Business supplement. p 1).
Tourism was the last subject added to the Hubs. Gotabhaya and Kohona independently stated that tourist arrivals increased during the Rajapakse period. Travel magazines such as Conde Nast, Lonely Planet recommended Sri Lanka as a tourist destination. High end tourists, Bridge groups, history buffs and bird watchers visited Sri Lanka. More than a million tourist arrivals were recorded in 2012. More Chinese and Russians are visiting Sri Lanka as tourists said Kohona. The Mahinda Chintana “hubs” never got going, they were dropped by the Yahapalana government in 2015.
A National Physical Plan was prepared for the first time in 2007. The printed version, which I have seen, ran to ten outsized volumes. The earlier governments failed to formulate a national physical planning policy and plan. My government has been able to do this, said Rajapakse in his foreword to the summarized version “Sri Lanka in 2030”.
The National Physical Plan provides for an urban network, consisting of metro regions and metro cities and a second network of small townships for the rural sector with supporting infrastructure. Mega cities, main cities, secondary cities, tertiary cities are identified. The metro regions would be : Colombo-Gampaha-Kalutara in the west, Jaffna in the north, Hambantota in the south, Ampara-Batticaloa in the east and a massive Anuradhapura-Trincomalee–Polonnaruwa –Dambulla metro region in the North-west.
The main highways would be Colombo-Matara-Monaragala, Colombo-Kandy, Hambantota-Batticaloa-Trincomalee, Negombo-Mannar, Colombo-Jaffna and Colombo-Trincomalee. There would be domestic airports at Ampara, Anuradhapura, Batticaloa, Dambulla, Hingurakgoda, Jaffna ,Kalutara ,Puttalam, Ratmalana, Trincomalee and Vavuniya.
Paddy cultivation would be in Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Ampara, Trincomalee , Hambantota areas, also at Vavuniya, which I was told at a seminar, was to be for export, Two areas were allotted to rubber, at Ratnapura and Moneragala, coconut was left in its triangle, and a small section was given to tea near Nuwara eliya and Galle-Matara. Industrial locations were situated within the metro regions.
There would be electric power generation plants at Matale, Ratnapura and Mannar, coal power at Kalpitiya, Hambantota and Trincomalee, wind mills at Chilaw, Nuwara eliya, Mullaitivu, Oluvil and ocean power at Trincomalee. The plan also looked at potential areas of petroleum and oceanic resources. A settlement pattern which avoided natural disasters was sought. The area between Naula to Morawaka, Lunugala to Dehiowita, was listed as a central fragile area unsuitable for settlements. The central hills and the coastal areas were identified as the two areas prone to natural disasters Forest reservations and wild life reservations were marked out.
There was an economic boom in the Rajapakse period. The best evidence to prove that the Rajapakse government was indeed presiding over an economic boom is that IMF gave the Rajapakse government a huge standby facility of USD 2.5 billion in 2009. It was utilized to the fullest satisfaction of the IMF. Also IMF did not then impose the kind of conditions mentioned in their September 18 2015 statement. The Rajapakse government had greater credibility in the eyes of the IMF than the Sirisena government, said Chandraprema.
Many leading international companies, notably Shangri La Hotel chain, Hyatt Hotels, Sheraton Hotels, Indo-Ocean Developers and the Krrish Group, have invested in the hospitality and real estate sectors in Sri Lanka. They will build high-end hotels, residential spaces, office buildings and commercial facilities in and around Colombo. The Krrish Group intends to preserve and transform the old Transworks Building into a high-end boutique hotel. This indicated the confidence that the international community had in Sri Lanka as well as their optimism about the country’s future prospects. Sri Lankan companies too started to invest in these sectors, with several conglomerates planning to construct several new mixed developments, hotels and office buildings.
Rajapakse looked at modern ways of making money. James Packer, a leading casino mogul, was to invest in USD 350 million casino resort in D.R. Wijewardena Mawatha Colombo. The government wanted to develop the area as an entertainment centre. This would cater to the international gambling elite, who presently went to Macau and Singapore. Sri Lanka would be a third gambling destination for them. It would bring substantial revenue for Sri Lanka, also employment. There was no chance of the locals getting corrupted. Locals did not have the money to go anywhere near the casino.
Packer said a luxury casino resort is a necessity if Sri Lanka is to become a leading tourist centre. He cited the success of Singapore which became a successful tourist destination with the development of two integrated casino resorts. Packer was planning to lure the gambling elites of India and the Middle East to Colombo. India did not permit gambling and Colombo was just four hours away. Packer backed out when the Yahapalana government came in. Yahapalana cheered.
Rajapakse wanted to create a second development zone in the island. We are now a nation of 20 million and we need another population centre instead of everyone converging on western province, he said. The next development zone was to be at Hambantota .For this he created Magampura port, Mattala Airport, the southern express way and planned a railway extension to Hambantota. Instead of foolishly calling a presidential election in 2015, he should have used the two years remaining to him to build up this zone.
Rajapakse’s rule benefited the business sector. They were able to maintain high balance sheets. In the past the private sector always supported the UNP, which was seen as private sector friendly and good at economic management. Today, it is under the SLFP of Rajapakse that the private sector thrived, said Chandraprema. Throughout my tenure, the main foreign investors of the long term bond market and the stock exchange were from America and Europe. It was only after I was voted out of office that these investors started withdrawing their money from Sri Lanka, said Rajapakse
Rajapakse paid great attention to the delivery of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) in Sri Lanka, particularly mass literacy in ICT and internet access to all. Sri Lanka was ranked 5th best development in ICT globally by the World Economic Forum in its Global Information Technology Report of 2012. In 2013, World Bank reported that Sri Lanka achieved significant growth in the ICT sector during the last 10 years. Internet, email, mobile phones, e-services and automation were available..
Sri Lanka started an “e-Sri Lanka Development program”, with World Bank funding in 2005. E-Sri Lanka was the first project of its kind. ‘This was something new even the World Bank’. World Bank considered it a great success, thanks to ‘one visionary leader’ said World Bank consultant N.K.Hanna. This project became a valuable case study for the World Bank. . Sri Lanka has shown that a coherent ICT-enabled strategy could be forged even when there were difficult initial conditions and political uncertainties, World Bank said. E-Sri Lanka experience was used for other World Bank assisted programs including e-Bharat , e-Ghana, e-Pakistan, e-Rwanda and e-Brasil.
Under the e-Sri Lanka Initiative and as a part of a larger country-wide strategy to “take the dividends of ICT to every village and every citizen,” Nenasalas providing free access to Internet and computers were set up by the government in rural areas., The purpose was to spread ICT services to the rural and semi-urban population and also to develop students knowledge of information technology.
Computers were set up in Nenasalas throughout Sri Lanka in places accessible to all. Most were placed in religious institutions, since these are central to the village, but they were open to everybody. The first Nenasala was set up in Kataragama in 2005 by Mahinda Rajapakse when he was Prime Minister. By 2010 there were 751 such centers in the country, including one at Kuliyapitiya Technical College. The Nenasala at Yallapatha was at the post office, there was another Nenasala at Ilukpotha.
Nenasala provided training in basic computer and Internet skills, using email and social media platforms. Nenasalas also provided extensive learning opportunities for school-age children, including a video-based programme for learning English. Women are given specialized content on critical issues facing children and families, including information on nutrition, breast-feeding, safe sanitation, and vaccines. Adults can perform job searches, learn how to create a resume, and access a wide variety of Government services, including passport applications, driver’s license renewals, and Government exams. Migrant workers who make up a significant portion of the Sri Lankan workforce can communicate via Skype with family members
Local youth often became volunteer computer trainers at the Nenasalas. They were given basic training at the beginning of their service followed by refresher courses, online training programmes, and peer to peer learning opportunities. Deepika Priyadharshanee, a ‘Nenasala’ operator from Sooriyawewa Nenasala, Hambantota, won the best tele-centre manager award at the 2016 Global Telecenter Awards in Spain, beating 60 tele-centre operators around the world.
Nenasalas helped Sri Lanka increase its computer usage The IT literacy rate which was four percent in 2004, increased to 43 percent in 2014. The Nenasala Programme won the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s 2014 Access to Learning Award receiving a cash grant of US $1 million Microsoft Asia Pacific gifted ‘up to the minute’ Microsoft software to the value of US$ 2.1million.
Lakshman Kiriella said, “Rajapakse could not start even one factory. This is probably correct. Rajapakse was not interested in labor intensive factory production .Rajapakse wanted to send the country’s highly educated work force into knowledge-based industries. Sri Lanka was to ‘march towards a smart economy , based on knowledge services.’ There has been some success in this field. ICT brought in revenue of US$ 166 million in 2006 and US$ 850 million in 2015 with a workforce of over 75,000.
Sri Lanka was awarded the “Outsourcing Destination of the Year” in 2013 and shortlisted for Offshoring Destination of the year Award in 2014 and 2015 by the National Outsourcing Association (NOA) in UK. Sri Lanka ranked at 16th in the A.T. Kearney’s Global Services location Index (GSLI) in 2014. A number of Sri Lankan companies developed highly acclaimed software products, during Rajapakse’s time.
Sri Lanka’s National Nanotechnology Initiative (SLNNI) commenced in 2006 on a proposal made to President Rajapakse in 2005 by scientists. President Rajapakse responded positively. The state would put up 50% of the starting costs if the private sector would come in. The private sector was agreeable. The Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology (SLINTEC) was established in April 2008 as a private Company with the support of the government and five leading companies, Brandix Lanka, Dialog Telecom PLC, Hayleys, Loadstar and MAS Capital.
NANCO was established in July 2008 as a fully Government owned private Company to build, operate and manage a nanoscience park, to undertake research and development in nanotechnology for value addition for export oriented manufacturing companies. SLINTEC and NANCO merged in 2011. NANCO would be the commercial or production facility with the proposed Nanotechnology Centre and the Nanoscience Park on a 50-acre land at the Homagama Industrial Park.
SLINTEC was the research and development arm. SLINTEC is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities for advanced materials research and has attracted an expert talent pool with global training in world’s leading universities. It is the first public-private research institute in Sri Lanka . It is today the recognized pioneer in nanotechnology and advanced technology research in Sri Lanka. It has the potential to be the leading Research and Innovation platform for sustainable nanotechnology in Asia. “We could be an outsourcing operation to the world. We have good brains and low cost structures, said Prof Eric Karunaratne.
SLINTEC’s objectives were to develop nanotechnology based industry using Sri Lanka’s own raw materials and human resources and develop Sri Lankan patents and products. SLINTEC holds several ground breaking patents. SLINTEC acquired five international patents in its first year of operation. The first patent was obtained for urea, it was bought by India. Three patents in the areas of fertilizers, apparel and rubber, brought in Rs. 9.55 billion for Sri Lanka. The purchasers included Nagarjuna Fertilizer, India and Lankem.
There were advances in the services sector. In health , the first ‘National Health Accounts’ were compiled in 2013. In secondary education, technology subjects were introduced to the school curriculum. there were plans in 2014 to open a prison school for about 100 inmates under the age of 30 at Homagama with classes from Grade 9 to O level with the support of the Ministry of Education.
In technical education, the Rajapakse government established the University of Vocational Technology, UNIVOTEC in 2008. Advanced Level passes were not needed for this institute, NVQ level 5 diploma was sufficient. ( NVQ stands for National Vocational Qualification issued by NAITA) This meant that, unlike most undergraduates, these students knew their subject before coming in. All courses were job oriented. They are conducted on week day and weekends. Duration is three year fulltime, part time four years. One student was awarded a University of Moratuwa research assistant scholarship, on his presentation at the Institute of Engineering Technology exhibition. He is now following a postgraduate course there.
The Rajapakse administration improved the delivery of public services. The government information Centre GIC hotline 1919 is good, said a user in 2012. They listen to the public patiently and provide answers. She got useful information on how to get the passport renewed and on the closure of Baseline Road. Her mother got information on ETF. (Island 19.11.12 p 9)
The 20 storied office complex housing the Department of Immigration and Emigration and the Department of Registration of Persons was constructed on the direction of President Rajapakse. It opened in 2016. The 700,000 sq feet building complex includes state of the art security system, automatic building management system, public address facility, internal CCTV, and cutting edge fire fighting and control system. It had a four storied car park, a post office, banks, cafeterias and toilets. Much care was taken to cater to the needs of people with special needs. My passport application was completed within two hours despite a hundred other applicants.
Rajapakse did not hesitate to intervene when necessary. When I was minister of science and technology, said Tissa Vitarana, I wanted to set up a support service for small and medium services (SMEs) in the rural sector in the form of the Vidatha project, to help existing SMEs and those wishing to become entrepreneurs. We wanted to link the rural entrepreneur with scientists and researchers in the university so that they can improve their products and remain competitive. When I first put this up to the Public Service Commission it was stuck there, officials haggled over matters like the salaries of computer operators and the whole project was delayed for over one and half years till I went to the President and approval was given to the cadres.
Rajapakse had an excellent foreign policy. Palitha Kohona said Rajapakse cultivated the Non-aligned movement and the G7 group assiduously. He attended their summits. These groups were useful for Sri Lanka. In the last months of 2009, Gaddafi of Libya had agreed to lend 500 million USD to Sri Lanka in response to a single phone call by Rajapakse . If not for that the economy would have collapsed before the war was won.
Rajapakse ‘managed’ India and had good relations with Pakistan. He had excellent relations with Australia and New Zealand. Rajapakse saw that China and Russia were the emerging world powers and maintained contact with them. Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Sri Lanka in 2014. This was the first visit of a Chinese President in the past 28 years. Rajapakse realized that the west and its international financial institutions no longer had money to fund foreign projects. The main source for such funds was China and Rajapakse turned to China very successfully for this.
Sri Lanka established diplomatic relations with 13 countries in Latin America He visited Kazakhstan, in 2012. Rajapakse also started diplomatic relations with several African countries. He should be commended for this, it has not been done before, said experts.
Rajapakse set up resident missions in Uganda, Nigeria and Seychelles. Sri Lanka and Uganda have signed five agreements boosting technology, tourism, etc. Uganda supported Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Commission. Seychelles is important as it gives us access to east Africa and southern Africa, said G.L.Pieris. There are Sri Lanka businesses there, in construction industry , power and energy sectors. Bank of Ceylon, and Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation have set up branches there. Sri Lanka obtained accreditation status in the African Union in April 2014 as a non African state..
We had an excellent relationship with Middle East countries, said G.L.Pieris. This resulted in significant benefits, Iran gave interest free credit facility to purchase Iranian crude oil. This helped Sri Lanka in its war with LTTE. An agreement was signed with Saudi Arabia, where the Sri Lankan worker can now retain his passport and his wages will be paid into a bank. Until now, the passport was retained by the employer and wages were in cash.
The agreement covered 12 categories of workers, including housemaids, drivers, cleaners, and waiters. Contract must be drafted in a language that is understood by the worker, and the worker must know where to turn in case of emergency. Also where to go for health and personal safety. Employer must agree to terminate the service after a maximum period of two years, if the worker wishes it.
A difficult but successful balance was achieved between Israel and Palestine. President Rajapakse visited Israel and Palestine in January 2014. He is the first Sri Lankan head of state to visit both Israel and Palestine. In Palestine he stated that Sri Lanka will always support the cause of Palestine. A road was named “HE Mahinda Rajapakse Road” in Ramallah and Rajapakse was conferred the highest award in Palestine, the Star of Palestine.
Rajapakse’s political leadership was recognized by the neighboring countries. In 2010, Nepal president Yadav had met President Rajapakse at the Shanghai Expo and sought his help to overcome the political crisis in Nepal. Rajapakse had visited Nepal on several occasions earlier, and had mediated to solve such issues in the past. (Daily News 1.11.10. p 1).
The President of the Maldives called Rajapakse in Ukraine, in 2010 and asked him to come to Maldives and use his good offices to resolve a deepening political crisis in Maldives. Rajapakse went there and had discussion with the various groups and got them to agree to meet and settle their differences. At the 65th general sessions of the UN, Maldivian Vice president thanked President Mahinda Rajapakse for his assistance in solving the Maldivian political crisis of the time. (Daily News 29.9.10 p 1). ( to be continued)