Small is Beautiful
Posted on September 28th, 2020

Chanaka Bandarage

According to Professor Bent Flyvbjerg of the University of Oxford, nine out of ten megaprojects in the world end up in failure. The biggest drawback in megaprojects is their cost overruns. In the US alone, about 65% of the megaprojects have failed.

In Sri Lanka, since Independence successive governments have adopted a ‘bigger is better’ policy. 

Our governments have believed that it is through megaprojects that the country could be developed.

In Sri Lanka, the main reasons for the drawbacks in megaprojects have been waste, mismanagement and massive scale corruption.

Some of our megaprojects are Galoya River Valleys scheme, Kanthale Sugar, Laxapana Hydro Power Complex, accelerated Mahaveli program, Expressway motorways, Hambanthotha Port, Mattala airport and the Port City project.

Though some have been successful some have been failures.

This article stresses that ‘Small is Beautiful’ should be the slogan to develop our country. 

Small appropriate technologies and polities should be used to empower the people, not the ‘bigger is better’ concept.

The Port City Project seems to be causing enormous environmental destruction. The landlords who own coastal lands from Preethipura to Pitipana (Negambo) have suffered tremendously during this year’s monsoon rains (July, August, and September). They remonstrate that the coastal erosion this year has been two or three times bigger than any previous year; and this has been due to the Port City project.

The Port City project has extensively dredged the ocean very close to these specific coastal areas. They had used large floating vessels for this purpose.

The vast amount of the excavated sea sand had been disposed of at the Port City for landfill.

Their acts have affected water turbidity and rise in the sea water table. The villagers say that this year they experienced extensive sea flooding and as a result had extensive land losses.

They say this year it is a story of ‘sea eating the land at home’.

They fear that the situation will be worse next year, and years to come.

Some villagers say they suspect that the company inside their vessels bagged the excavated sand for commercial purposes. The writer is unaware of the authenticity of this story.

These are some of the bad side effects of megaprojects.

Megaprojects can cause untold harm to the environment. In Sri Lanka this has been a recurring thing.

Rather than too much concentrating on megaprojects the governments should consider on small businesses. The governments should publicly acknowledge that small business is the main source of the country’s economic growth.

Small business dominates Singapore’s economy with over 95% of its businesses are considered small to medium scale enterprises.  These small businesses contribute over 50% of the national GDP. The story is similar in Australia.

Singapore has no foreign debt and has high government revenue. The country consistently produce an economic surplus.

Like Singaporeans Sri Lankans are also entrepreneurial, hardworking and determined. What they require is a small incentive from the government to start their small business. Then, they will continue with it and flourish.

To develop the country, the government must pay more emphasis on helping small businesses. This should be the government’s number 1 priority, not megaprojects.

It is small businesses that should create jobs and not the public service.

Giving incentive for small business can stop people from leaving the country looking for greener pastures. Many people are returning to Sri Lanka owing to the Covid 19 virus. These people must be encouraged to stay. It is the duty of the government to create opportunities for them to remain in the country; they could live around their families.

Today, it is very difficult for a person to obtain a personal loan, even a small amount from a bank. This especially applies to poor people who are required to provide valuable security and/or various guarantees. The current government is making strident efforts to resolve this anomaly.  This is part of the government’s Sawbaghyaye Dakma program; this should be commended.

What is important is for the governments to intervene and start initiatives to provide people with microloans so that they can start their own businesses. The previous government’s ‘Enterprise Lanka’ scheme was good.

In Sri Lanka even with a startup capital of Rs 100,000, a person can make a big difference in their business life. Many people want to become their ‘own boss’.

Microcredit is the best way of empowering women who are capable of uplifting entire communities. Grameen Bank founded in Bangladesh reports that the repayment success rates by women are between 95% and 98%. Grameen loans have been provided to people from buying a cell-phone to establishing a profit making venture – fishery, livestock, carpentry, masonry, tailoring, food preparation, cleaning, grocery store, typing services, IT related work and running passenger transport operation.

The microloans need to be low, fixed rate interest loans, with no fees and charges attached. As stated before, these loans should be available to people who want to start/expand their own small businesses.

5 Responses to “Small is Beautiful”

  1. aloy Says:

    Chanaka,

    You are correct about the mega projects. But not about this one:

    ” They remonstrate that the coastal erosion this year has been two or three times bigger than any previous year; and this has been due to the Port City project.”

    There is a technical reason why I say you are not be correct. The “mean sea level” that we define as the average sea level around our shores is not static. It has a cycle of 18 years. Which means it gradually moves up and down with a period of 18 years. So, here in SL we may be experiencing the peak. Who knows, next year also may be near this peak going up or down.

    Then the other thing is the mega projects. I agree with you that mega projects are not suitable for a country like ours. Sometimes even the location of the projects have been selected erroneously. Look at Oruwela steel factory. It was sited there because they found some iron ore there. But was it enough to run a mill for extracting iron?. For over 60 years we have been using heavy vehicles to move imported iron ingots (large size bars) up to the mill from port and then move the produce to the shops in Colombo shortening the life span of roads and increasing the wear and tear of vehicles. What a cost?.

    It is better if our leaders weigh the pros and cons of all bi projects before they start one. The big powers may want to ‘assist’ in this or that for their strategic interests. Probably the Mahaweli loan was given by UK to us in order to give citizenship to millions of imported Indians by the Brits or as a gratitude for having done so.
    Most successful businesses in the world have started small. Steve Jobs’ first product was a little black box to hack the US telecom system to take free calls and it sold out like hot cakes.
    Michael Dell was a uni student who assembled a computer with cheap parts. And when he found that it worked well he started to assemble them and sell while in the uni. When he found that his product were selling like hot cakes he dropped out and started a business. Today I have four of them all in working order.
    So, I appeal to our leaders to try and maintain law and order. We have a talented pool of citizens. They will do the rest.

  2. Chanaka B Says:

    Aloy, I have had verbal testimonies from people in these areas and I saw the damage to my own eyes. These are very poor people, mainly fishermen. They have no one to tell their sad story.

    We intend to take this up with the Coastal Conservation Department (I know it is too late – the horse has bolted).

    I personally saw how sea had eaten into their properties. The sea erosion in some places is unprecedented. People said that after they demonstrated a ship that was excavating sand in Pamunugama area fled. They believe it is now berthed in Kaluthara area.

    Millions and millions of tons of large granite rocks, sand, soil, cement, clay are required for the Port City land reclamation. This small country does not have enough raw materials for such a gigantic project. The Yahapalanaya government further expanded the project!

    I heard that that breaking down of large rocks in Arangala, Athurugiriya areas has resulted in some drinking water wells going dry. The cool type weather that existed in Battaramulle and surrounds is no more or less.

  3. aloy Says:

    There are about forty parameters in the governing equation for the tides, the moon and the sun being the most prominent.
    Perhaps some other planets are also aligned on the same side these days in addition to sunspot activity that can affect the atmospheric pressure may be contributing. It will be difficult to argue out a case against the officials. But starting a beach nourishment project these days is a wrong one I believe. The best is to give some compensation to those who are legally occupying the nearby properties.

    I hope those consultants responsible for the design of flood protection systems have taken into account the aspects of high tides I mentioned above. If not the hundreds of millions of dollars the GOSL has spent might go waste. The recent revelations by the State minister in charge of it in parliament in answering Hon. Marikkar is a case in point. It was like “koheda yanne, malle pol” type of answer the officials had given to the Hon. minister to readout.

  4. aloy Says:

    In other countries the Navy are trained to prepare tide tables for various localities in advance for the whole year and they put it on internet. It is one such navy that gave me all those details. Our Navy has been engaged with protecting the county all this time. Perhaps they can now train some of their members. The best place is probably Lloyds of UK that does the administration of navigation, I suppose.

  5. Chanaka B Says:

    Sea erosion can happen anywhere. But in developed countries it is well controlled and managed. What I have stated is a manmade calamity. It is a fact that dredger ships had come and dug sand out of the ocean and carried the sand to the Port City in barges. The people say this caused the massive coastal erosion.

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