The Commonwealth should take over the mantle of bringing about economic development, the need of the hour,
Posted on November 14th, 2013

By Garvin Karunaratne, Ph.D.

It has been aptly said that the sun did not set in the days of the British Empire.‚  The Empire included Australia, Canada, India and‚  many African countries and the sun did shine every minute‚  on some part of that vast Empire.

‚ With the countries gaining independence one by one, the power of the British Empire was on the wane and then began the Commonwealth in 1949. The countries that became independent were entitled to become members of the Commonwealth. Today 53 countries cooperate and are held together. It is a force that covers a majority of the people of the world, only next to the United Nations..‚ 

‚ To my thinking the prime need of the Commonwealth countries today is economic development in terms of‚  poverty‚  alleviation, employment, controlling inflation and increasing the incomes of the people. In all these respects all countries in the world including Japan, the US and UK have miserably failed. The economy of the United States of America, the‚  mighty superpower totally closed down last month.

‚ The Third World countries have been at the mercy of the IMF since the Seventies when the IMF poured its Structural Adjustment Programme(SAP) down the throats of all Third World countries‚  making them indebted in the process.‚  The IMF‚  policies provided financial aid to the countries provided they gave up controlling their foreign exchange earnings and did away with national planning, exchange controls, import controls and allowed the multinationals‚  and the Private Sector to rule their countries. The‚  development infrastructure of national planning and development tasks‚  were privatized and abolished. In this process countries like Sri Lanka that were not indebted swallowed the SAP pill along with many other countries of the Commonwealth. Professor Jeffery Sachs says :”The IMF and the World Bank virtually ran the economic policies in Africa… these programmes had little scientific merit and produced even fewer results. By the start of the Twenty First Century Africa was poorer than‚  in the late 1960s when the IMF and the WB had first arrived on the scene.”(End of Poverty) ‚ Ironically Jeffery Sachs himself implemented the failed IMF policies in many countries.

‚ ‚  Because‚  the use of foreign exchange was totally released‚  the aid funds that came in flowed back to the developed Donor countries in some form or other- for luxury imports, to educate the children of the rich in foreign universities, for luxury travel etc simultaneously‚  leaving the country indebted.‚  At first loans were given by the World Bank‚  with sweetners-at 2% interest with 20 to 30 year long periods of grace‚  . Later the interest rates were increased and currently these countries have had to borrow at rates like 9% interest. . The indebtedness increases in leaps and bounds. The countries are trapped and have no option but to‚  slave on the same path to increase exports and allow foreign investors to come in to plunder their remaining assets and the countries have to borrow further to service their debts. That is what the IMF did to the Third World.

‚ It would behove of the Commonwealth to lend a hand to these‚  countries to get back on their feet. . It is not a question whether Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,‚ ‚  and Prime Minister Steven Harper attends the CHOGM parley or whether Desmond Tutu can fool the world further while the blacks remain landless and unemployed in his own backyard. The Singhs and Tutus and the Harpers will all come‚  begging if the Commonwealth has something unique to offer. .

‚ It has so happened that‚  the development effort of the World is marred with many failures. India-â„¢s famous Community Development Programme of the Fifties and Sixties was a miserable failure. It ended up as a programme‚  of bricks and mortar that forced people to build roads and contribute their labour without any increase in their incomes.(Karunaratne: The Failure of the Community Development Programme in India- :Community Development .Journal. April 1976)‚ ‚ ‚  Today in India, the TRYSEM and the IRDP, both gigantic programmes offer grants, loans and training‚  which have failed to alleviate poverty.‚  While the thousands trained in the TRYSEM get no guidance to become employed, the grants‚  provided by the IRDP‚  to enable people to buy an income generating asset like a milking cow, has been sold again and again at a higher price‚  as a cow was required to get the loan.‚  The number of cows did not increase but the prices increased due to the demand for cows as the loan was given only to buy a cow. The IRDP continues with the Government claiming the increased amount so granted as a success!(Karunaratne: Alleviting Poverty In India: Can it ever be done,- Asian Tribune15/02/-7)‚  Canada-â„¢s famous Blue Mountain Pottery closed down causing all trained craftsmen to fill the ranks of the unemployed.‚  Canada had no mechanism to resurrect it.‚  South Africa-â„¢s development can be seen in its high unemployment‚  and high poverty levels.

‚ Thus the greater task of the Commonwealth lies in providing the know how to bring about economic development‚  to the Third World countries that have been made indebted by following the IMF policies.

‚ Ideally the Commonwealth has to come up with a new paradigm for development and move the countries to salvation. This should be‚  the long term aim.

‚ In the short term- something that has to be done immediately is to provide employment avenues and increase the incomes of the people.‚  The IMF policies enabled‚  the high earners to get three million rupees a month(Deputy Chairmen of Golden Key, Sri Lanka) while the masses- garment factory workers have to eke out a life with a mere Rupees twelve thousand a month. The IMF-â„¢ hall mark was for the rich to become richer.

‚ One has to search for development programmes that have been successful and find how they have been successes amidst‚  a sea of programmes that miserably failed…

‚ In the annals of development history there are only two development programmes that have been an acclaimed success and have left their imprints on the sands of time.‚  One is the Comilla Programme of Rural Development and the other is the Youth Self Employment Programme, both of Bangladesh.. The latter is a creation of the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation.

‚ Instead of getting down to a doctrinaire text book exercise it would appear appropriate to deal with real achievements and how the policies and designs‚  that brought about the‚  achievement can hold‚  the Commonwealth in a poverty alleviation and income increasing exercise for the future. There is no point in listening to experts who have never had hands on experience.

‚ The Comilla Programme of Rural Development came up as an attempt by the Government of Pakistan(then included Bangladesh as East Pakistan) to find the best method of development to create employment avenues and increase the incomes of the masses. The Government of Pakistan sought ideas from the world. Michigan State University enthusiastically offered to put its might behind the programme. It was the foremost land grant university that put academic might at the service of the country to bring about the development of the USA. The Government selected one of its officers Dr Akhter Hameed Khan to head and the idea was that instead of a programme encompassing the entire country they would select a Thana- a division and try out various methods and arrive at the best and quickest method of enabling development to flower through.‚  The Kotwali Thana of the Comilla District was selected and Michigan State University sent a few of its ablest professors to guide the Director in furthering development.

‚ Within a decade the area saw massive development. The yield of paddy was increased from‚  less than 20 maunds per acre to as much as 46.5 maunds. Full employment was achieved and even people in adjacent Thanas were offered employment. The entire area was developed with tractor stations, a cheese and butter creamery etc. through cooperatives.‚  The result: was an oasis of development amidst a poverty stricken country.

‚ How was this chieved:

The Programme involved developing a number of models for rural development aimed at‚  decentralized and coordinated rural administration, building the infrastructure of roads, drainage and irrigation, cooperative development with people in cooperatives -“all members meeting every week when specialists would guide them,‚  the selection of a village level worker, a volunteer from amongst the people, having a second tier of cooperatives to handle all development activities, with the Thana Officer as head. The Cooperatives spearheaded development in every aspect‚  and people were accepted as foremost with the chance to develop their abilities to increase incomes. This effort was guided by an education cum extension institute called the Academy where the Director was Akhter Hameed Khan.

‚ The detailed method in Dr Khan-â„¢s words were

-The setting up of an‚  institutional training‚  and development center with a team of departmental experts and a regular routine of meetings and workshops for delegates from village groups-¦ the formation of a group in each village(cooperative),‚  the organization of small farmers-(From Chapter 23 in Karunaratne: How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka.)

‚ Even today the Academy is at work guiding the villagers at work in their cooperatives. Development has been an acclaimed success. It is a continuing programme..

‚ The other programme is the Youth Self Programme of Bangladesh. This was a programme imposed on 40,000 youths who were being trained annually by the Ministry of Youth Development.‚ In a nutshell.‚ the trainees were motivated‚  to commence activities to become self employed in the area of their training, encouraged to establish‚  ventures in their homes..‚  The Lecturers at the Training Centers guided the activities‚  till they were proved commercially viable.

‚ The Achievemanet

This‚  Programme which was established in 1981 was rapidly expanded and today guides 160,000 a year to become self employed.‚  By 2011 February this programme had guided as much as two million youths to be self employed‚  on‚  a commercially viable basis.(Statement by Bangladesh to the 34 th Session of the Governing Council of IFAD, dated19/02/2011)

It is s easily the largest employment creation programme the world has known.

‚ This Programme began in a peculiar manner when‚  The Hon Minister of Labour and Manpower‚  at a Conference held of‚  Heads of key Ministries to vet the youth development programmes questioned me as to what I could contribute for Bangladesh

.Without batting an eyelid I stated that the vocational programmes for the 40,000 youths whom we trained every year in an array of vocations should be supplemented by a self employment programme to ensure that the trainees are self employed, so that the trained youth would end their training as entrepreneurs and not join the ranks of the trained unemployed. Then they would become contributors to the country‚  as opposed to remain as an encumberance on the economy. There was a marked silence. I was told that the creation of self employment was a task that cannot be achieved and that it will be a waste of funds because in the earlier three years the ILO had tried to do it in Tangail,‚  Bangladesh and had miserably failed.‚  The Secretary‚  to the Treasury and other Secretaries, some of whom had post grad degrees from Harvard and other universities questioned‚  whether it‚  will not amount to a waste of funds. I explained that we could guide the youths in training to establish ventures and guide them to be profitable . When I had won that battle, I was confronted with the argument that employment creation did not belong to the Ministry of Youth. Instead it belonged only to the line Ministries of Agriculture and Industry. I submitted that instead of involving the youth in fun and games it would be ideal to guide them to end up as entrepreneurs.

The battle went on for an easy two full hours the Minister listening in silence till his patience was exhausted.‚  The Minister asked whether any of the line ministries had any training programme that guided people to become entrepreneurs and the answer was none. He immediately approved my suggestion. The Treasury stumped me stating‚  that there will be no additional funds to which I said that we will use the youth training funds and re deploy staff as necessary. This was approved. It was a non subsidy programme entirely based on extension‚  where the aim was to guide the youths to develop their abilities in managing their income generating projects. .

‚ We started planning work that night itself. The next morning I was addressing trainees at the training centers and also training our Lecturers and Youth Officers on how the programme should be done. All Training Institutes were altered to Training and Extension Institutes where we did not forget the graduands after training. They were guided to become self employed. Overnight we established a special extension service for the lecturers to go out and help the youths who faced problems.‚  The youths‚  drafted their own projects to become self employed, started small farms even with a few cows or chicks. Dresses were sewn using the machines at the training centers that were kept open after work.‚ ‚  The method was to intensively guide the trainees in the management of their enterprises. Every action from the planning of their projects, to the purchase of raw materials, the chicks, the feed, the process of manufacture the process of the growth and sale of cattle, the making of garments and their sale was all monitored on a non formal basis where the youths were trained to look at the advantages and disadvantages of each course of action and act on their own. They were monitored closely and helped when they failed. . The trainees were taught basic economics related to their ventures‚  The training included understanding the free market economy and the youths were allowed to think understand and increase their ability in the process. The achievement was within the village setting where the projects became family concerns with brothers and sisters becoming involved. Training sessions were provided impromptu where everyone could participate.

‚ The effort was to make a youth movement to make youths establish ventures and guide them till they are income bearing equal to the earnings of a clerical officer in the Public Service.

‚ This Programme began in 1981 with a few trainees and was expanded to 2000 by 1983,. My task was also to train the officers to carry on the programme after my‚  two year period of service ended.‚  True to a man Bangladeshi officers carried on the ardous task and‚ ‚  today 160,000 youths are being guided annually. By February 2011 as much as two million youths had established commercially viable ventures.

‚ The importance of this programme is that it was a creation of the Commonwealth. It was designed and established by me‚  when I served as the Commonwealth Fund Expert on youth development. In the application of development processes I closely followed non formal education concepts and principles that I had learned at Michigan State University under professors who had worked at Comilla and also under Dr Akhter Hameed Khan who served as a professor in 1978.

‚ It is also important to note that this Commonwealth Programme of self employment creation‚  has achieved more than any other development programme‚  ever attempted by any of the United Nations organizations.

‚ I am certain that it will be possible for the Commonwealth Fund, the technical extension arm of the Commonwealth to undertake an employment creation programme in each country and this experience will enable a new paradigm of economic development to emerge. This will enable each country to develop the abilities of a core of local administrators‚  who can guide development and‚  this will enable India to get more out of their TRYSEM and IRDP,‚  and also enable Canada to avoid pitfalls like the closure of the famous‚  Blue Mountain Pottery.

‚ It is hoped that the details provided in this Paper will urge the leaders of Commonwealth Countries to address the issues of poverty alleviation, employment creation and increasing the incomes of their people.‚  The entire world yearns for that development today.

‚ Garvin Karunaratne, Ph.D. Michigan State University‚ ‚  11/11/2013

Former Commonwealth Fund Advisor in Youth Development to the Govt of Bangladesh,

‚ Author of;

How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka and Alternative Programs of Success (Godages)2006

Success in Development-(Godages)2010

Papers on the Economic Development of Sri Lanka-, Godages 2012

One Response to “The Commonwealth should take over the mantle of bringing about economic development, the need of the hour,”

  1. jayasiri Says:

    Thank you Dr. Gavin Karunaratne…..Glad to hear from you after sometime. Feel experts like you with vast knowledge in PUBLIC SERVICE & constitutional / legal matters, can readily help OUR LANKAN citizens to DEMAND an end to 13th ammendment.

    I have read articles from Lawyers in Australia & few other countries ALL SRI LANKAN expats, who will readily help. We need a COHESIVE group of people including expats to present the case FOR ABOLISHING this divisive ammendment IMPOSED by India.

    I know we may not have ALL agree, but at least a start must be made NOW, that the CHOGM is over & our President needs guidance on HOW BEST to tackle this problem. I am sure you, GOMIN DYASIRI & few other legal minds can definitely help.

    Looking forward to your interest in this matter……..Thank ou again~ J

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