Development Infrastructure
Posted on November 29th, 2011

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ By Garvin Karunaratne, Ph.d.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The Development Infrastructure plays a key role in the development of a country. Thus the manner in which the development infrastructure of Sri Lanka has taken shape in the past is of great importance to understand what has to be done today to develop the country.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Today, thanks to President RajapaksaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s efforts, Sri Lanka has ridden itself of the terrorist LTTE and is also blessed with developed roads.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ To enable the country to reap the benefits of peace and a developed road network there are a number of other development infratstructure that also has to be addressed.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The development of a country does not fall into place automatically. It requires good policies and a development infrastructure that will enable interested people and national minded companies to bring about development. The administration of a country has to be supportive to enable the development infrastructure to function.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Let me deal with a few areas where Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s development infrastructure has to be developed immediately if Sri Lanka is to emerge as the wonder of Asia.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ First and foremost the foreign exchange that comes into the country has to get administered in the national interest.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Till 1977, Foreign exchange- the, hard currency that came into the country was effectively administered and every entrepreneur had to get foreign exchange either to import necessary machinery or for essential imports to enable production Thus there was an effective method of ensuring that our foreign exchange was used in the national interest.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ National Planning was given up in 1977 by the Jayawardena Government when it accepted the free market advice of the IMF and since then there was no control over what entrepreneurs would attend to. National Planning has to be enshrined again to ensure that what the country requires is accomplished either by the Public Sector or the Private Sector activities.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Many will think that this is a type of Governmental control that should not be done. This is not true. A look at the Supermarkets and Sales Units in Colombo will illustrate how our hard earned foreign exchange is being misused to import all sorts of unnecessary items. Sri Lanka has become the dumping ground for junk. The rusty- remains of scrap automobiles that cannot be sold in many Advanced Countries have all been brought here. Our book stores are full of second hand books that cannot be sold in the UK. In actuality our hard earned foreign exchange has been wasted. This is an essential development infrastructure that has to be reoriented.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The current method of opening all avenues for the wealthy and the rich to use the foreign exchange that comes in, without any restriction and for the Country to even raise loans to enable this extravaganze is inimical for national development. It is this practice since 1977 that has increased our foreign debt. This unfortunately is the advice of the IMF which we have to resist..

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The Dry Zone Tank Civilization. In the Pre Colonial Period the economic development of the country depended almost entirely on the use of land and its people. The Dry Zone, the cradle of ancient civilization is full of tanks that were built to store the rain water for cultivation.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ An elaborate infrastructure was put in place to ensure that the tanks and the canals that took water were well maintained. Rajakariya was the development infrastructure aimed at maintaining rural works and that included the tanks, canals and roads. Under Rajakariya every person had to provide two weeksƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ labour for the task of maintaining the roads, the tanks and canals. This was strictly enforced by the Chiefs- the Dissaves. During the Colonial Period the chief civil servants bought crown land for planting coffee, tea and rubber. They used Rajakariya for clearing and planting their newly obtained land. The Colebrooke Commission of 1848 found fault with the officialdom but instead of punishing them the Commission abolished Rajakariya. Thereafter the maintenance of the tanks was neglected.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ However the Government Agents had some degree of control over the tanks through the Vel Vidanes who worked under the Mudliyars(later the Divisional Revenue Officers)and avoided the tanks from decay. Later in the Fifties the maintenance of the tanks came under the Cultivation Committees established under the Paddy Lands Act. The Cultivation Committees functioned effectively for a short period but without the standing of the Government Agent, the Department of Agrarian Service found it impossible to effectively control tankbed cultivation and get the maintenance of the canals done by the cultivators. Earlier under the Vel Vidanes the decisions reached at the Kanna Meetings- that decided when the canals should be cleared, when cultivation should commence etc. were legally very effective because the Rural Courts Presidents respected the fact that the Irrigation Ordinance was implemented under the seal of the Government Agent. But when the Cultivation Committees held the Kanna Meetings, the people did not have the same respect they had to the Vel Vidane for the Cuiltivation Committees and the Presidents of the Rural Courts too had no faith in the cultivation committees. This led to the neglect of tank maintenance. Everything was lost when the Paddy Lands Act and its Cultivation Committees were abolished in the Eighties.. Thus today the tanks are mere shallow areas where rain water is collected. The tanks are silted up and they hold today only a fraction of the water they once held.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Today in actual practice the Kanna Meetings are held but farmers do not adhere to the decisions. Thus it would be found that the lands are not cultivated in time leading to losses at harvest time due to the rains.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ This unfortunately is an islandwide phenomenon that is non developmental and has to be immediately addressed.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Further the concept of building up the tank bunds with earth brought by lorries from olutside which is the common practice today does not help to retain more water because the water level in the tank cannot be increased as this would inundate the paddy lands under the next tank.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ When I was in charge of minor irrigation in the Anuradhapura District in 1962-1964 I began using up the silt in the tank bed for building up the bunds. This was done by a D8 Tractor. I managed to do only about ten tanks. before I was transferred. This concept was given up. In olden times the silt in the tanks was taken out through the lower sluice during the dry season but this practice is long forgotten. The administration of the tanks is neglected today. Another method which I adopted was to farm out the tank bed for making bricks in the dry season.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ These details are provided to indicate that immediate action has to be taken to build up an effective administration to maintain the tanks that are the mainstay of the economy in the Dry Zone today. If the tanks are deep they will retain sufficient water to cultivate the entire extent, In todayƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s situation the water in a tank can cultivate only a portion of the acreage under the tank.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The development infrastructure for agriculture lies in the Agriculture Department that had an Agricultural Overseer at the village level and an Agricultural Instructor at the Divisional level. The former had a yearƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s training while the latter had two yearsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ training in agriculture. In a moment of weakness President Premadasa made all Agricultural Overseers Grama Niladharis and thereafter there has been no trained agriculturist at the village level. In the days of President Kumaranatunge O Level qualified youths were recruited as Govi Niyamaks but they do not have any knowledge of paddy cultivation. They are actually the laughing stock of farmers. It is necessary that every Niyamaka has to be trained and this is a task that has to get done immediately.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ An area for concern is the activities of the Seed Farms. Though Sri Lanka had a good network of Seed Farms that first developed miracle seeds well before the IRRI of the Philippines today some seed farms have been privatiszed and the other Seed farms have been dwarfed. It is necessary that the State Seed Farms are developed particularly because it is well known that the Private Seed Farms are reported to use terminator technology by which all farmers will have to buy seed from them because their seed has been genetically modified for it to grow only once. .

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The Government depends on the fertilizer subsidy to boost production.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ If the Niyamakas at the village level do not know the basics of paddy cultivation, then the ability of the country to march forward in agriculture is severely handicapped. If any proper investigation is made these comments will be found true.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’‚£ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¡‚¬The Department for Development of Agricultural Marketing was the Development infrastructure aimed at controlling inflation, ensuring that producers got a reasonable price and also ensuring that consumers got essentials like vegetables etc at cheap rates. This was done by the Marketing Department purchasing vegetables and fruits from the producers at the village level Fairs and selling the produce in the cities keeping a margin of only 10% to cover transport costs. No profit was kept. This effectively controlled inflation. Today I purchased tomatoes at Rs. 185.-00 a kilo and two days earlier I purchased red pumpkin at Rs. 140 a kilo. From my recent travels to Anuradhapura and Ruhuna I am certain that the producer gets paid only around Rs 40 for a kilo of Tomatoes and Rs 15 for a kilo of Red Pumpkin. Traders would have made over 200% profit on these items.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The Marketing Department also had a Cannery which enabled the Department to give a high price and purchase the full crop of red pumpkin, ash pumpkin and pineapples, process them into golden melon jam, silver melon jam and juice. This enabled the producers to get a good price and the country became self sufficient saving foreign exchange that would have been spent on imports.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Sadly the Marketing Department was abolished by President Jyawardena under the tutelage of the IMF and Sri Lanka lost the inflation controlling mechanism that was developed with great care in the Fifties and Sixties.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The Marketing Department with its Retail Units, Cannery and Cold Rooms is an essential development infrastructure that has to be established immediately to control inflation as well as to increase production.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Tourism requires a development infrastructure of hotels that provide clean accommodation and good food. Last March a meal at Rakwana Rest House made us seriously sick. There has to be effective supervision. In addition tourists need to be assured of transport facilities. In many countries tourists hire cars from car rental companies at the Airports and self drive through the country. This is an essential development infrastructure for tourism. I have been using car rentals in Sri Lanka and have found them to charge high rental fees and more over their cars are not roadworthy. It was after a great deal of ill luck that I came across Kings Rent a Car at Battaramulla. They have twice provided me with a roadworthy car at a reasonable rental. They also provide cars at the airport and cars can be handed back at the airport by arrangement.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ It is also necessary that the car rental firms will provide another car in case of a breakdown. Kings Rent a Car does have such a scheme. These car rental firms have to supervised to provide a good service to tourists. They should have depots at the Airport. It may be an incentive to provide free accommodation for Rent a Car facilities at our Airport.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ An additional requirement is that there should be boards giving directions and a good set of maps. Sri Lanka today has neither of these. There should also be good restaurants fully equipped with rest rooms and good quality meals throughout the island. This is an essential requirement.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Industries. Before 1977, the day when the IMF introduced its Structural Adjustment Programme to Sri Lanka we had a fully developed Small Industries Department which provided guidance and services to small industrialists. Foreign exchange was allocated by this Department to genuine industrialists. The Handloomers and the Powerlooms had an expert service at Velona Workshops at Moratuwa that guided the Powerlooms to make textiles of high quality. I know of the yeoman service provided because once I worked as Deputy Director of Industries. These Sections were scrapped at the behest of the IMF in 1978 and since then Sri Lanka imports all its textiles and small scale industrial goods creating employment and profits for foreign manufacturers and traders while our rural people are unemployed.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ It is necessary that the Small Industries Department should be re established in full as an essential development infrastructure. Another important Department is the IDB- the Industrial Development Board which has expertise and machinery to guide the establishment of industries. In the Seventies and Eighties the IDB had to recommend industries and draft project reports. The Role of the IDB has died down. When I was the Government Agent at Matara District I found it very difficult to obtain the services of the IDB. They were not interested. The IDB and such institutions have to function smoothly and this is another essential development infrastructure.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Livestock Development is also an area that is of extreme importance because Sri Lanka imports approximately 75% of its milk requirements. The cattle have to get developed with local breeds. There are two methods at developing breeds of cattle. One is to import high yielding milk cows. This is being done today in Sri Lanka. . However this method is fraught with two major problems- the cows imported from temperate countries cannot stand the heat of the tropics and the past experience of Sri Lanka has been a high death toll. The cows destined for Nikaweratiya may be located to Ambewela or other stations in our hill country to avoid a disaster. Further these cows require imported feed which is costly. The other method is to develop better local breeds through Artificial Insemination. Then one can expect a hardy breed of local cows that can be sustained on local pastures and poonac. This is the method that has been successfully used in the case of India and Bangladesh. It is of importance to note that India is self sufficient in milk foods today.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Another essential requirement is a Short Term Training Course in Livestock Rearing. In the Youth Self Employment Programme in Bangladesh designed and established by me in 1983, the basis was a three month residential training course. This Programme has so far upto 2010 established two million youths in self employment and livestock development was one of the main areas where employment was created.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ If Sri Lanka is to develop its milk production, Short Term Training Courses have to be immediately established in all milk producing areas and an attempt has to be made to develop local breeds of cattle, Finally Administrative and Management Expertise has to be developed to handle development tasks. Unlike in the Advanced Countries of the West there is a core of experienced and able officers in Asian Countries. In Sri Lanka the Administrative Service comprised officials who managed enterprises satisfactorily. Once I belonged to this brigade of dedicated officialdom who dared to make the difficult decisions evoking the wrath of local politicians at times. We got transferred at times overnight to satisfy the politician but eventually get kicked upstairs. In the Agrarian Services a few of us- the late Indraratna Ediriweera, Sabaratnam and Nadaraja were experts in rice milling and our word was given more credence than that of the Rice Mills Engineer, a foreigner. Some of us were even trained overseas in various disciplines. The Marketing Department detailed earlier was entirely managed by local officials. In Bangladesh the Youth Self Employment Programme, the showpiece in employment creation today is entirely managed by officers of the Bangladesh Administrative Service.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Thus Administration is an essential development infrastructure that has to be concentrated on. Sabotage.It is of interest to note that the Managing Director of Kiriya, an Indian Milk Conglomerate who tried to help build up Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s milk production said that he suspects a foreign hand in sabotaging his attempts to develop local production.(From Karunaratne:

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka(Godages) This is a point for moot thinking. Read with John PerkinsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ recent book: Confessions of an Economic Hitman, where he admits to have fabricated project reports for El Salvador which when implemented with foreign loans enabled the funds to reach back to the donor leaving the country in the lurch with an increased foreign debt teaches us to be on our guard in our development efforts. This task falls squarely on the shoulders of able administrators.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The above are a few ideas about how the development infrastructure has to be developed if Sri Lanka is to become the wonder of Asia

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Garvin Karunaratne

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Former SLAS, Government Agent, Matara District


ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 29 th November 2011

4 Responses to “Development Infrastructure”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    Thank you Dr. Karunaratne!

    Rarely have I seen such a wealth of constructive ideas on development of relevant infrastructure in Sri Lanka offered in one article.

    Sri Lanka Government … please take note of these suggestions, especially in the areas of water reservoir management, dairy farming and rental transportation facilities.

    However, I must admit that I am skeptical of the idea of centralized foreign exchange control, which I lived under in Sri Lanka in my early years. That erects a bureaucratic barrier to entrepreneurs and is fraught with potential for more corruption. Let the market decide what is a viable business … as long as it complies with other laws in the country. The freedom to decide on what is a great idea and to commercialize it with the necessary equipment .. home grown or imported … is the path to rapid economic growth. The government should setup the laws and tax structure to regulate the economy and business practices, and build essential large-scale infrastructure beyond the means of individual business enterprises, but in general should not try to pick business winners and losers.


  2. Fran Diaz Says:

    Our thanks to Dr Karunaratne for his continued support to Develop the Country in a safe, meaningful & methodical way. His wealth of experience as a govt. officer working in the rural areas, is invaluable, and his willingness to share his views is much appreciated by all of us. To copy some of the Old Ways of our ancestors re Agricultural practices especially makes sense.

    I wrote earlier to these columns that it is of essence that the govt. starts up its own Organic Seed Bank. To wait for the vagaries of the free market to operate in this sphere would be futile. The Free Market is usually to make fast and maximum profit while Service to the Public takes the backstage. All services to the people deemed as Essential Services should be started up first by govt. and run without loss, though run on minimum profit. I am not demeaning the private sector, but the govt. must play the major role. The private sector can always compete and/or feed the govt. sector in Essential Services. All other goods & services may be provided by the private sector.

    Dr Vandana Shiva (India) has also addressed the topic of rural development in India in keeping with weather, traditions etc. The Indian experience in post Colonial development regarding Essential Services is commendable. If cows are to be imported, it is better to import them from India where the cattle are reared in climates and conditions similar to Sri Lanka. Today, Indian foods are made available abroad at reasonable prices. Lanka can do the same if the Marketing Dept. canning & bottling plants are re-established.
    Note: the type of cans to be used must be done with care. Cans must be lined with PET and not epoxy, or else it is dangerous to health. Plastic bottles too must be made with PET for food & beverage safety. Is safe Food Preservation & Safety a subject at any of our Tech Colleges ? Even some of our Schools can take up this subject. And of course, production of the necessary machinery/equipment should also be local enterprises.

  3. Dilrook Says:

    I agree with Ananda on forex and market forces.

    He says: The freedom to decide on what is a great idea and to commercialize it with the necessary equipment .. home grown or imported … is the path to rapid economic growth. The government should setup the laws and tax structure to regulate the economy and business practices, and build essential large-scale infrastructure beyond the means of individual business enterprises, but in general should not try to pick business winners and losers.

    This is the way forward.

    But state enterprises should also compete and run profitably.

    Another major obstacle to developing the livestock industry is the attitude. It is sad our small scale farmers have to fight with multinationals to remain profitable. Making the local milk and dairy industry profitable is very difficult given the high yielding cows of Australia, New Zealand, scale economies, large factories, local appeal to imported milk, convenience, etc.

    To beat that our farmers should improve their cashflow. It is not very pleasent. Selling beef, veal and culling a proportion of bobby calves is necessary to earn profits in the milk and dairy industries. In western countries, millions of male calves (bobby calves) are killed within 5 days of birth every year. Some countries allow it upon birth while others only allow after 3-5 days. That “saves” plenty of milk to be sold making profits. Bulls are still used in farming, carts, etc. So a balance is needed based on the requirement and economic benefits than on morality.

    These practices cannot be done in Sri Lanka due to religious beliefs.

    On the other extreme milk and dairy production is better in India than Sri Lanka. The very low operating costs in India helps. It cannot be matched in Sri Lanka due to inhenrently higher cost of living. India is today world’s 4th largest beef manufacturer! That adds a huge casfhflow benefit to farmers. That decides if the farmers can continue remaining in the industry or not.

    What I want to stress is these economic matters should be looked into than avoided.

    Our farmers should be given every cashflow opportunity to remain profitable. Otherwise no one will remain in the industry.

    There was a foolish attempt sometime back to stop people eating tank fish over religious issues. The truth is people in the NCP can easily get proteins and omega-3 essential oils from tank fish if it is developed. The vegitarian option is not sufficient to meet the protein needs. Sri Lanka is the world’s second largest lentils importer. Local fish is much better than imported lentils; economically, nutrition wise and appeal.

  4. Fran Diaz Says:

    Re Nutrition, how to get Protein from vegetarian (which includes milk & milk products) sources :

    * lentils, gram, soy products, pulses etc. COMBINE with starches such as rice, potatoes to form COMPLETE proteins. However, milk products such as cheeses, yogurt, curds, must be added on for extra proteins.

    * Nuts & Seeds and their oils (cold pressed for safety & preservation of nutrients) provide the necessary fats & oils. Vegetable Oils are far safer for good health rather than animals fats. But butter, ghee etc. from milk are quite safe in smaller amounts.

    * All vegetables & fruits provide Vitamins, Minerals and roughage necessary for a healthy digestive system.

    * Various Spices & condiments provide taste and health giving ingredients.

    * Eggs may be consumed as extras for Proteins. A little known fact is that the Egg Whites have as much protein as the yolks.
    The yolks are heavy in fats & cholesterol.


    Fish & meat should be consumed by those who desire them, and ought not to be looked down upon as food by society in general. Some of these items could be exported, if local consumption is low for whatever reason.

    The Marketing Dept. should be revived to serve the purpose of canning & bottling food during times of plenty in preparation for lean times, as well as for export.

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