A Message for the Commonwealth Heads Conference 2018
Posted on April 15th, 2018

By Garvin Karunaratne, Ph.D.

The prime need of the Commonwealth countries, the home to a third of the World’s population, today is economic development in terms of alleviating poverty, creating employment, in short, to bring about development. According to the ILO, almost 43% of the global youth labour force is still either unemployed or working yet living in poverty”(Global Unemployment Trends for Youth 2015:ILO)

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 be in charge of the incoming foreign exchange. The  development infrastructure the countries had built up- programmes to help farmers, subsidies to enable farmers to be assured of  incomes in the process of producing what the country required- the likes of the Department for Development of Agricultural Marketing in Sri Lanka and Bulog of Indonesia,   were either privatized or abolished. Without help and guidance the farmers failed in producing cereals. In this process countries like Sri Lanka that were not indebted, which  swallowed the SAP pill along with many other countries of the Commonwealth ended up with an unsustainable foreign debt.

Professor Jeffery Sachs critiques the IMF : ‘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 had earlier implemented the IMF policies in a number of countries. Little did he know then that the programmes he implemented led to the demise of the countries.

The use of foreign exchange was totally liberalized and  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.

Initially, loans were given by the World Bank‚  with sweetners-at 2% interest with 20 to 30 year long periods of grace. This was done to entice the leaders to accept the loans as they may not be there to be burdened with repayment. This shows how the IMF and WB planned to make the countries indebted. Later the interest rates were increased and currently these countries have had to borrow at rates like 9% interest.   The countries are trapped and have no option but to‚  continue on the same path to increase exports and allow foreign investors to come in to plunder their remaining assets. The countries have to borrow further to service their debts. That is what the IMF did to all  Third World countries and this process of decimating the Third World countries is well documented in my latest book: How the IMF Sabotaged Third World Development (Kindle/Godages)2017.

It would behove of the Commonwealth Secretariat to lend a hand to these‚  countries to get back on their feet.

It has so happened that‚  the development effort of the World is marred with many failures. India’s famous Community Development Programme of the Fifties and Sixties, the largest programme the world had ever seen, 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. 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.  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: Alleviating Poverty In India: Can it ever be done,- Asian Tribune15/02/2007)

The United Nations has lost its once avowed aim of bringing about development. It is more involved in policing the world as a lackey of imperialism. The IMF and the World Bank are basking in glee having made sovereign countries bankrupt and having restructured their economies to make them contribute to the well being of Developed Countries. The countries have now become the producers of raw materials as well as the consumers of the manufactures of the Developed Countries.

It is therefore time that the Commonwealth steps into this gap to provide 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 alleviate poverty among the masses and simultaneously bring about production. This should be‚  the long term aim.‚

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

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 countries of 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.

While the pages of development history is full of failures, there is an employment creation programme of the Commonwealth Secretariat that has left its imprint on the sands of time.

This is the Youth Self Employment Programme of Bangladesh a creation of the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation.

This was a programme involving 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. No grants or subsidies were offered but the trainees were motivated to commence activity to become self employed even in a small scale- with a single cow and a dozen chicks.  The Lecturers at the Training Centers guided the activities‚  till they were proved commercially viable.

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(FAO), dated19/02/2011)

Today, it is  easily the largest employment creation programme the world has ever known. It is being implemented by the Department of Youth Development. Its Youth Workers and Youth Directors that once implemented welfare and leisure services to youths now are economists, devoting 95% of their time and effort to make youths entrepreneurs- producing what the nation requires. They have successfully created a youth movement to handle the economy, guiding the youths to enhance their abilities and capacities to emerge as entrepreneurs- a task that has never been achieved elsewhere.

This Programme began in a peculiar manner when‚  the Hon Minister of Labour and Manpower‚ Air Vice Marshall Aminul Islam, at a Conference held  to evaluate the youth development programmes,  questioned me as to what I could contribute for Bangladesh. I was then the Commonwealth Fund Advisor on Youth Development to the Ministry of Labour and Manpower.

I recommended that the vocational skills training 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 become 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. In a while the Secretary to the Treasury, the highest ranking bureauract said 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 establish a self employment programme at Tangail,‚  Bangladesh that had ended in miserable failure.  The Secretary‚  to the Treasury and other Secretaries, some of whom had post grad degrees from Harvard and other universities insisted that my attempt too will fail. I contested and  explained that we could guide the youths in training to establish ventures, build up their  ability and guide them to be successful entrepreneurs . They laughed loud at my attempt to make entrepreneurs out of school drop outs- the category from which we found youths for skills training.

The battle went on for an easy two full hours.. I argued that though the ILO failed I would succeed. The Secretaries were adamant that such a programme would never succeed, but I quoted instances where I had established  successful employment programmes providing incomes while simultaneously producing what the country imported. The Minister was listening in silence till his patience was exhausted The Minister finally ordered us to stop. He 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 Secretary to the Treasury stumped me stating‚  that there will be no  funds to which I replied that we will find savings within the  approved budgets  for the skills training of youths and re deploy staff as necessary. The  Hon Minister  approved my suggestion. 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 immediately altered to Training Cum Extension Institutes where we did not forget the graduands after training. They were to be 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 till ten at night.  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 education  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 guided to think, understand and increase their ability and capacity 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 to the Ministry of Labour and Manpower in Bangladesh..

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.

Every country has vocational skills training programmes but none of them provide any guidance for the trainees to establish ventures. The graduands are left to find employment or get lost within the ranks of the unemployed,

Another important fact is that no new funds were provided. Savings were found within the skills training programme budgets for holding training workshops to create self employment. No new funds are required.

The Heads of the Commonwealth Countries are requested to kindly consider directing that guidance to enable the trainees to become self employed should be incorporated to the skills training programmes already being implemented.  Thus no new funds are required.

It would behove of the Commonwealth Fund, the technical extension arm of the Commonwealth to guide self employment creation to be a success.

Having a live successful employment creation programme to follow and guide is a great asset to any country that wishes to commence activity. The  administrative officer who was mostly instrumental in the success of the Self Employment Programme of Bangladesh is Muhammed Asafuddowlah, twice the Secretary of the Ministry. His ideas can be sought by anyone interested. Battle hardened youth directors who have had experience in successfully guiding youths can be consulted.

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‚ 14/4/2018

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
How the IMF Sabotaged Third World Development,  Kindle/Godages, 2017

One Response to “A Message for the Commonwealth Heads Conference 2018”

  1. Christie Says:

    Common wealth:

    Former British Indian Empire now the Indian Empire.

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