Working without a budget: Can this be done?
Posted on January 22nd, 2020

By Garvin Karunaratne, Ph.D. Michigan State University

Our new Government of President Gotabhaya has decided to hold up mega projects till the budget in August 2020.(The decision of our new Government to Mega projects on hold until August budget:”(Sunday Times:12/01/20))

My mind travels in nostaglia to two world class development programmes which commenced without a budget. I speak not from hearsay  or reference, but from sheer experience as I happened to be  a major player in both programmes.

 One is the Divisional Development Councils Programme, the flagship programme of the Sirimavo Government of 1970-1977, implemented when I was the Government Agent, the Chief Officer of a major district. The planning and implementation of the Programme in the District was entirely mine for the first two years. This Programme created employment for 33,270 youths.

The other is the Youth Self Employment Programme of Bangladesh. a programme that was solely designed and established by me within two years, which, being implemented later by officers trained by me,  is today the premier employment creation programme the world has known, a programme that has by now guided some three million youths to become self employed.

I would kindly request our leaders to read through this Paper which details – how we did implement major programmes without a budget.

The Divisional Development Councils Programme was implemented with great hopes. The leading economist in the island, Professor HAdeS Gunasekdera was hand picked and appointed the Secretary of a new Ministry: The Ministry for Plan Implementation. One senior SLAS Officer was his assistant and a staff of a dozen clerical officers were detailed. This Ministry was housed in a section of the Central Bank. I do not actually know how they were paid. However it would not amount to any major deal.

In implementation, the Programme was thrust on the Government Agents and the Divisional Secretaries. They were not given any additional payment, not even a traveling allowance. The Programme was given great prominence and even a helicopter was placed for  Professor Gunasekera’s travel. At the District level, in the earlier Government of Premier Dudley Senanayake, prominence was given to agriculture. What happened was that the Government Agents decamped from attending to agriculture and concentrated on this new programme.  The Government Agent of a District is in charge of a  a dozen or more departments and in Matara I selected the ablest staff officers to attend to this programme in addition to their duties. In my eighteen years’ experience I have always found  a core of able patriotic officers who are prepared to do additional work without any additional pay, provided they are convinced of the worth of the programme.

The DDCP was commenced by the Government Agents through the Divisional Secretaries. There was no budgetary provision but conferences and training workshops were held, work was apportioned, development projects were sought, feasibility studies were done, all without any budgetary expenditure. It took a few months for Graduate Assistants to be selected and that required budgetary provision. Around fifteen Graduate Assistants were posted to the District and they worked with the staff officers who were already on the job. It was later that Planning Officers were appointed- one per district. The Development Councils made suggestions and feasibility studies were done by staff officers in the katcheri. The Graduate Assistants joined the service for the first time and they were actually being trained by the katcheri staff officers and the Divisional Secretaries.

 It was my idea to find the art of making crayons and establish an industry on our own as the Ministry of Plan Implementation was interested only in attending to very small projects and small agricultural farms. Many projects suggested by me were rejected. I thought of establishing a major industry on my own.   I with the Planning Officer, a chemistry graduate and other interested staff officers  were  at the science lab of Rahula College which we had requisitioned every night for our experiments. Later on when I finally decided to establish the Coop Crayon factory and I decided that it be done in two weeks, the Planning Officer, and other katcheri staff officers moved to Morawaka and broke rest for two weeks- it was a 24 hour a day operation, Coop Crayon, the work of many an unpaid worker won the day to be the flagship industry of the DDCP.  That was also the hard work put in by Sumanapala Dahanayake the Mmber of Parliament for Deniyaya, in his capacity as the President of the Morawak Korale Cooperative Union. He was an excellent organizer. He was enthusiastic as his patriotism knew no bounds as long as the task was developmental.

Minister of Industries TB Subasinghe  was surprised to see the quality of the crayon and gladly accepted our request to open sales. He could not believe his eyes to see two rooms full with packets of crayons all done within some three weeks. Minister of Trade & Imports  Illangaratne even allocated an allocation of foreign exchange for us to import dyes when the Ministry of Industries refused. That was from the foreign exchange earmarked for imports, and he gladly cut off imports, which shows how any Government can benefit immediately from developing local industries.

In my District other highlights of work without pay was the contribution by late Ran Ariyadasa the Divisional Secretary on whom I placed total responsibility for the Mechanised Boatyard Project, that made some 40 seaworthy boats a year.  He was helped by a Graduate Assistant.

Volunteers also marched in to help projects. Science teachers at Rahula College helped the Planning Officer when he did a myriad experiments- easily thousands to unearth the art of making a crayon to be equal to the Reeves.  In the batik and sewing project at Tittapaddara, the instructor enlisted from a private batik project in Galle to work on payment for the days he worked, decamped a day before  we opened the project A  science teacher and a volunteer stepped in at a day’s notice to handle the project and they were only provided transport.

Many Divisional Secretaries got down to work in earnest all in addition to their normal duties. I am aware of the work done by Wilson Perera the Divisional Secretary at Baddegama, a friend of mine. An agricultural project with 60 youths was established on a neglected estate that was taken over. 12 acres of neglected rubber was rehabilitated, 40 acres of neglected tea was rehabilitated, 20 acres of jungle was planted with coconut and 50 acres of neglected paddy was rehabilitated. The work of this officer was so exemplary which made  the Member of Parliament of the area, Deputy Minister Niel de Alwis think  that he would contest against him at the general election and got him transferred overnight. Wilson  need not have done all that work in addition to his normal duties as the Divisional Secretary.(From: Papers on the Economic Development of Sri Lanka)

The paper factory established by the Divisional Secretary at Kotmale was a great success. That Divisional Secretary too  could have done small projects and got off . But he was trying to do something more, beyond the call of normal duty.

There was budgetary provision for project approvals. There were funds to buy the machinery and to pay a small stipend to the youths till the project generated enough income.

Judging from the total work done I am of the opinion that  easily seventy to eighty percent of the work of the DDCP was done by staff officers of the districts without any pay or even a traveling allowance, entirely in addition to their normal duties.

The Youth Self Employment Programme of Bangladesh

In 1982, when the military government of General Ershard took over Bangladesh, I was working as the Commonwealth Fund Advisor on Youth to the Ministry of Youth Development. The Military Government was very sceptical and critical about the work done in the Youth Ministry. A Conference was held to evaluate the programmes, when I was ordered to detail what contribution I could make for Bangladesh. I recommended that there should be a programme to guide youths in training to become self employed because most of the 40,000  youths trained each year remained unemployed. The Secretary to the Treasury, the highest ranking officer in the service objected on the grounds that a self employment or employment creation programme was something that can never be achieved. He quoted the miserable failure of an attempt by the International Labour Organization(ILO) to establish a self employment programme in Tangail, Bangladesh in the earlier three years and vehemently insisted that I will never be able to establish a self employment programme. I contested his views and persisted that I had the experience as well as the academic qualifications and could be certain of success. A bitter argument  ensued my detailing how I will succeed, while he was adamant that I would fail. I had to offer a challenge- that though the ILO of the United Nations with all their funds and world famed experts failed, I will succeed. This battle in  an  intensive and gruelling form went on for over two hours between the two of us  till the Minister had enough of it and ordered both of us to shut up. He then said that he had been listening to both sides and that I had convinced him and ordered that I should establish a self employment programme. The Secretary to the Treasury, the officer who held the purse strings stumped stating  that he will not be providing any funds for any such programme as there were no funds to waste. I immediately replied that I needed no new funds, but our Ministry  should be authorised to find savings within the existing youth training budget and utilize such savings for establishing the self employment activities. I added that our Ministry  should be authorized to vary the remits of officers working in the Youth Ministry. The Minister approved my suggestion to the chagrin of the Secretary to the Treasury.

I started work the very next day with around a few hundred youth workers, deputy directors of youth, lecturers who were involved in vocational training, teaching them elements of economics, national economic priorities-how to identify areas where employment creation will result in increases in production, how the youths should be guided to develop their abilities and capacities as they engaged in activities to establish minor income generating projects.  This was national planning in detail and motivating youths to take on the mantle of  national development. It was a combination of economics and methods of involving youths in income generation activities, establishing chicken farms, dairy projects, carpentry and sewing projects etc. We were motivating the youths to utilize the skills they were learning and get into a process of action which will bring them incomes.

 In less than two years by the time my assignment ended 2000 youths were being guided to become self employed. By March 1985  6024 youths had established income generating projects.

This Programme which commenced in mid 1982, continued entirely funded from savings from other youth training budgets till 1985 when it was accorded an annual allocation  by the Five Year Plan of the Planning Commission of Bangladesh.

With this allocation the Programme was developed further. Its three residential training centers in 1982 was increased to 10 by 1984/65, to 64 by 1997.

By 2011 the Government of Bangladesh reported to the IFAD(FAO), one of the funders that two million youths had become self employed. Today it is an ongoing programme where 160,000 youths are guided annually to become self employed.

This YSEP is easily the premier programme of employment creation the World has known that has by now guided over three million youths to become self employed. The Youth Development Department  that implements this Programme today spends 95% of its time and budget to create self employed youth out of school dropouts. All this was achieved by a programme which was entirely funded from savings in voted budgets for the first four years 1982 to 1985.   

Today, in my eighties,  I am proud to have designed and established this world class programme, with the active support of  Bangladeshi administrators trained by me.

( For more details: How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka and  Alternative Programmes of success(Godages: 2006)

Over to our new leaders: Please consider funding a few employment creation programmes from savings. The quoted instances prove that this can be done.  May I suggest for kind consideration that the projects selected be of the import substitution type, where there is an immediate benefit in terms of obviating foreign exchange being used for imports. There are many projects that can be commenced within months, which can be proved sustainable within a year.

Our country yearns for any such initiative today.

Garvin Karunaratne

Former G.A. Matara


Author of: How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka & Alternative Programmes of Success(Godages:2006)

Papers on the Economic Development of Sri Lanka,(Godages: 2010)

How the IMF Sabotaged Third World Development (Kindle/Godages:2017)

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