Is Three years enough to make a country?
Posted on January 18th, 2022

By Garvin Karunaratne

President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda have stated that two years were lost, but the promise of a glorious country will be achieved in the three years that remain. Can we re assert the economy of our country within three years?

Having served in the Administrative Service of Sri Lanka where one gets posted to different positions very often for a year or two and having worked as a foreign consultant for two years terms, I have been charged to show quick results and my frank answer is that three years is enough to bring about development. However we have to work fast and steady.

Once in 2019 I was on the way from Batticaloa to Polonnaruwa when I suddenly saw a Board Valachenai Paper Mill. I was enticed to turn in as I had stayed there in its Circuit Bungalow many a time on my circuits in the Sixties. I went upto the gates and gazed at the buildings overgrown with trees and creepers and wondered what a calamity. On my next visit to the east in August 2020 I heard that the mill was being resurrected by the Paper Corporation and the Army. In a few months the papers splashed that the mill was in action turning out paper. It was a miracle done so fast- within a year accomplished by the Gotabhaya administration. Resurrecting the Valachenai Mill within one year tells me that three years is enough.

To start with we have to see the end of queues for essentials. Get back to the days of Dudley and Sirimavo before 1974, when every dollar that came in was carefully collected and allocated for importing essentials- not a dollar for foreign study – essentials first and a small allocation for fridges and other useful supplies. . I was then in charge of allocating imports for small industrialists and they were provided with enough dollars to import essential supplies for their production, so I speak from sheer experience. That is a foolproof blue print to follow.

Let me also delve into the depths of what officers known to me have achieved within two to three years. That will provide the answer. This is not hearsay, not economic projections, instead it is what our officers actually did achieve. Mind you, they were tough, never taking No for an answer.

I can relive my working in Anuradhapura in the early Sixties when celebrity Nissanka Wijeyratne was the Government Agent and directed the building up of the New Town – it was a colossal task, moving an entire town from the precincts of the Sri Maha Bodhi and Ruwanweliseya to the New Town, constructing buildings, ordering companies to move, pulling down buildings all done with precision within some three years. He gave a hearing to all protests, but was very firm and today we enjoy the sacred city. It is a great achievement.

Let us remember the Gal Oya Development Programme where a very large tank, over three times the size of Parakrama Samudra was built from scratch, 60,000 hectares were brought under paddy, a tile factory, rice mill, sugar factory, a 10MW power plant, 30,000 families moved in and an entire District – Amparai was created, construction work done within some three years- 1950-1953.,

The Divisional Development Councils Programme of 1970-1977, comes to my mind. It was the largest employment creation programme our country ever implemented. That was the programme which DrNMPerera said would fulfil the aspirations of thousands of young men and women for whom life will lose all meaning unless they can find a useful place in our society.”(Budget Speech, 1970.) The Government head hunted the most eminent economist of the time, Professor H A de S Gunasekera and made him the Permanent Secretary of a new Ministry, created directly under the Prime Minister, provided with ample funds and even a helicopter was allowed for his travel to get the programme moving. The Government Agents were entrusted with the implementation.

The achievement of this programme is commendable:

By 1972, the DDCP was implemented islandwide. By 1973, 590 Councils were fully established and these councils had submitted 1900 project proposals of which 900 projects were approved and special allocations of funds were made for their implementation… These projects comprised 341 agricultural projects, 512 industrial projects and 47 infrastructural projects. Nearly 2000 acres were brought under cultivation, 68 poultry projects and these enabled 7904 youths to find employment….over 1971-1976 Rs 127 million was spent and 33,271 jobs were created.” (From: Papers on the Economic Development of Sri Lanka:Godages, 2012)

The aim of the programme was to bring about employment to 100,000 youths in the first year. Why the low achievement? Apart from some deficiencies in the programme one of the main causes was the JVP insurrection of 1971 which controlled the hinterlands for over a month with kangaroo courts and instilled fear and terror. Estate owners, rice millers etc. who invested and created development in rural areas migrated to the cities, instead of developing their land they sent children overseas and even today five decades later officers on circuit are scared; some owners have never sighted their estates.

Many are the achievements of the DDCP. Special mention is worth of the Paper making industry at Kotmale entirely accomplished by the Divisional Secretary. It was based on waste paper and it will be of interest to note that today we do not make any paper with our waste paper. Instead we collect waste paper and cardboard in Colombo and ship it to India- some 8,000 tons per month and earn some 4 to 5 million rupees a year. The waste paper we send to India is processed into paper and cardboard which we buy for treble that price- that is unfortunately, our economic accumen for the last few decades! We import everything that we did make earlier.

Under the DDCP there were agricultural projects in every district. In the Baddegama Divisional Area, the Divisional Secretary Wilson Perera, in addition to his normal duties, built up a a cooperative farm with 60 youths- they took over an neglected estate and established 40 acres of tea,112 acres of rubber and 50 acres of paddy, and a small industry making high quality forks, mammoties and spades-all done within three years-1973-1976.

I served in Matara only for two years and perhaps what was done within my two years may be useful to think whether something worthwhile can be done within the three remaining years of the Gotabhaya Presidency. Without mentioning the many small agricultural and industrial projects like in Baddegama, the main projects established were a Mechanized Boatyard at Matara. It was a cooperative making 40 foot seaworthy boats. It made around thirty five inboard motor boats a year, all done by youths trained on the job. These boats were sold to fishermen’s cooperatives and plied on the high seas fishing, increasing the fishing catch. It may be of interest to note that this boatyard was established within two months, including the building to house it, the machinery bought and fixed and brought to the production stage. This was ably handled by Development Assistant Kumarasiri and Divisional Secretary the late Ran Ariyadasa.

The Councils suggested many special projects- to make water colours, to increase milk production and establish a creamery making butter and cheese and I vehemently pursued, but Ministry approvals were not forthcoming. The Ministry sang praises of the Boatyard and was highly satisfied. I and my stalwart officers were not to be outdone. I had worked as a Deputy Director of Small Industries and working with some twenty Inspectors of Industries and with eternal inspections I had a good knowledge of industries. What I knew of making water colours was fed to our Planning Officer who was a chemistry grad and he, closeted in the Rahula College science lab, aided by the science teachers, for three months from 6 pm to midnight found the art of making crayons. Then we wanted it to be established as a cooperative. Sumanapala Dahanayake the Member of Parliament for Deniyaya happened to be the President of the Morawak Korale Coop Union and I directed him to establish a factory producing crayons using cooperative union funds. He willingly agreed and the katcheri stalwarts- the Planning Officer Vetus Fernando, Development Assistant Palihakkara, District Land Officer, Chandra Silva and Divisional Secretary Wimalaratne moved to Morawaka where twenty youths were trained day and night for two weeks- it was a hand made crayon where every stick had to be crafted for quality. It was 24 hour operation till crayons were made, put into packets and two rooms filled. I was not expected to establish an industry without Ministry of Planning approval, so the operation was a secret and done at speed. Sumane and I took samples to the Minister of Industries Subasinghe, who was surprised at the quality and accepted the offer of opening up sales. With that approval our clandestine operation was declared safe.

Next we had to buy dyes in the open market at high prices. We were denied a foreign exchange allocation by the Ministry of Industries because we were a cooperative. We were lost. We heard that the Ministry of Imports was about to import crayons and Sumane and I moved in. We convinced Harry Guneratne the Controller of Imports that by giving us a small amount of foreign exchange to import dyes he could do away with all imports of crayons, saving foreign exchange. He was an immediate convert but as this had never been done earlier wanted us to get the approval of his Minister, Illangaratne. The Minister was surprised at the quality of the product. He not only gave approval but insisted that we should open a factory in his electorate at Kolonnawa. This illustrates how our industries save foreign exchange. This Crayon factory was developed to have island wide sales and became the flagship industry of the DDCP, all done by Sumanapala Dahanayake the member of parliament .

The first LESSON is that it was a chemistry grad with no experience that found the art of making crayons. A Crayon is a sophisticated product and the recipe for making Crayola crayons manufactured in USA is patented, worth millions and held locked up. If we could produce crayons there is no import product that we cannot produce. We have to get our chemistry graduates and science teachers on the job of finding methods of producing everything that is imported. Another LESSON is that the industry was established in two weeks working on a 24 hour basis. It is a forgone conclusion that we can produce everything we import if only approval is granted. We can thereby provide employment and income not to thousands but to hundreds of thousands only if we want to do it.

Another area is fruit juice and food preparations. In 2020 Cargils sold tomatoes sauce made in the USA, and fruit juice from Cyprus and Australia. Till 1954 Sri Lanka was importing all fruit juice and food preparations from Australia and other countries. The Marketing Department where I was working as an Assistant Commissioner established a Cannery in 1955 and by 1957 we were producing the country’s full requirements of tomatoe sauce, tomatoe juice, pineapple jam, juice and slices. We even built up exports in pineapple products. The Marketing Department fixed floor prices, i.e. prices at which all quantities offered will be purchased for red pumpkin which was turned into Golden Melon Jam , Ash Pumpkin which was turned into Silver Melon Jam and for pineapple. Producers, mainly chena cultivators made a windfall. All that was lost with the dictate of the IMF that we had to privatize the Cannery. Our fruit trees- mango and creepers- red pumpkin, ash pumpkin and melon are full of fruit, few buy them as food to eat and the rest go to waste. In the meantime the country buys jam, juice, tomatoe sauce etc. from foreign countries and pay with dollars. In 2020 we imported banana crisps from Vietnam, while we have a glut of banana in Godakawela and Rambukkana and it is a simple process to make banana crisps.

It is important to note that before Sri Lanka started following the IMF prescriptions of neoliberal economics in 1977 Sri Lanka produced all its textiles. This was done by 96,000 handlomers, many powerlooms and Textile Factories. The Department of Small Industries imported yarn and sold them to the units and the textiles manufactured were sold through LakSala, and cooperatives. The entire operation was guided by a specialist research and help unit called Velona sited at Moratuwa. As the Government Agent I was held responsible for powerlooms in Matara District and I may mention that the suiting done at Hakmana Powerloom was even on demand by Sri Lankans living in London. The specialist was Ranjith Wimalaratne, the Divisional Secretary, placed in charge of the Hakmana Powerloom. The textile industry has to be resurrected, Velona re established and this can provide employment for hundreds. This can easily be done in a year or two at most.

Let me further support this theory that we can create employment with details of what I did within two years in my consultancy as the Commonwealth Fund Advisor for youth development in Bangladesh. As usual there were fights in the Bangladesh Parliament and it did not meet for one year. The Army took over the country one night in a bloodless coup d’etat. In a few days the Minister for Labour and Manpower, Air Vice Marshall Aminul Islam held an evaluaton of all programms of youth development and training and expressed dissatisfaction. Identifying me as an outsider he inquired who I was. Being told that I was the Advisor from the Commonwealth Fund, he ordered me; What can you contribute for Bangladesh?” I replied that though the Ministry of Youth, trained 40,000 youths a year in various vocations most of the trained continue to be unemployed and it would be ideal to establish a Programme of Employment Creation to guide the trainees to become self employed. The Secretary to the Treasury, the Head of the Public Service, the highest official in Bangladesh, objected stating that the ILO failed to create a self employment programme in Tangail, Bangladesh and the country had lost a massive amount of money and will not have another failure. He contested my ability and insisted that I will fail because the ILO in their attempt had brought experts from all over the world and yet failed. The serious arguments between both of us went on for over two hours, till the Minister ordered us to stop, said that I have convinced him and ordered me to establish a Youth Self Employment Programme and added that he will come personally to inspect progress. The Secretary to the Treasury immediately said that the Government will not provide any funds to which I replied that I needed no new funds, but asked for approval to find savings in approved budgets and re-write the remits of officers to create the self employment programme. The Minister approved my request.

I commenced work the next morning training all youth directors and lecturers of training institutes in economics and methods of guiding youths to establish employment ventures producing what the country needed to stave off imports, we organized a countrywide extension service to supervise enterprises established by the youths. My ideas were fully supported by the two Secretaries of the Ministry, Ayubur Rahaman and Asafuddowlah. I never had the occasion to ask for any thing twice and no one ever contested a word of what I said. I stared addressing the youths who were being trained in various vocations and guiding youths that established small ventures and by the end of my consultancy I with the youth officers and lecturers was guiding 2000 youths, many of them earning the salary level of a clerical officer in the government service within seventeen months.. After I left, the programme of youth self employment was directed by the Secretary to the Ministry and other officers all trained by me, and by 2011, the Government of Bangladesh reported to the IFAD(FAO) one of the funders that two million youths had established commercially viable enterprises. By now, 2022 over three million youths have established viable ventures. This Youth Self Employment Programme is today the leading employment creation programme the world has known.

Relating my experiences to the situation we face in Sri Lanka today.

Today Sri Lanka is faced with a shortage of foreign funds to import essentials and is also saddled with a massive foreign debt of $ 56 billion. The foreign debt is due to the fact that since 1977 the country was fooled by the IMF to follow its Structural Adjustment Programme which advised Sri lanka to use foreign exchange freely and find loans to meet the expenses. Before 1977 we managed with our incomes and in 1976 we had no foreign debt. The foreign debt of Sri Lanka grew from no debt in 1976 to $ 9 billion by 2000, $ 18 billion by 2009 $ 42.9 by the end of 2014,and to $ 56 billion today. Once our country accepted the IMF advice of living on loans, abolished the development infrastructure we had developed to get the public sector establishing development, it was purely a case of confining the public service to the barracks and living on loans. The foreign debt and the shortage of dollars today is absolutely not a creation by the present Government. It is the debt that has cumulated by following the advise of the IMF to close public sector development, free imports and live on loans.

However there has to be an end to this and Sri Lanka has the resources to commence becoming self reliant. The one and only method to do this is by establishing a massive employment creation programme to make everything that is being imported. If we could have found the method of making crayons equal to the Crayola crayons of today and established a crayon making factory all done within five months, with islandwide sales, we do hold the ability to produce all what we import.

It has to be a major programme for employment creation directed by the Government Agents and managed by the Divisional Secretaries. This Programme has to be directed by an Additional Secretary under the Prime Minister.

The aim is to have an employment creation- agricultural and industrial unit in every Divisional Area using resources available in the area. .

In 2000 I wanted to buy a step ladder and I could not find a step ladder made in Sri Lanka in all the shops at Nawala. We import easily over 80% of our step ladders from Singapore and Thailand. In the meantime we train annually thousands in metal work. The answer is simple- to get cracking with making the trained people produce what the country requires. In addition there are a host of resources to work on: wood shavings and saw dust to make timber, made in most countries and even by Damro , ceramic industries to make all cups and saucers- tableware, medicinal oil can be distilled and sold in foreign markets. We can make all ladders and wood and metal items in demand. Many quick crops can be planted and industries built up like Aloe Vira- to make perfumes-Pasikuda soils are ideal

Making Jam, Fruit Juice and Tomatoes Sauce

A decade ago I came across a distant relative of mine, a graduate in food technology who works as a clerical officer in a government department. He said that he would have been in food technology if he had the opportunity. Our trees will be full of mangoes in April and the chenas will be full of red pumpkin, ask pumpkin and melon by February.

The ANSWER is to import three small canneries and fix them in Tissamaharama, Naula and Anuradhapura, fix floor prices, buy all fruits-mangoes, red pumpkin, ash pumpkin, pineapple, avocadoes etc. and make jam, juice and sauce. We will not only save foreign exchange but also find employment for our unemployed. This is exactly what we did in the Marketing Department(MD). The MD even exported pineapple within three years. This is something that has to be done immediately. Send a food technician and an engineer from the Army Engineers to inspect small canneries in India or China and buy three . In the meantime get the sites with water and other facilities ready, get temporary buildings done and get the machinery fixed. Collect the produce, process them into juice, jam and market. It is a three months operation and that is the speed at which we did work at Matara in 1971. It is a challenge that can be taken on.

The cost of importing the three canneries can be recouped within the very first year of sales. Within three years we can make Sri Lanka self sufficient.

Many agricultural crops can be easily grown and self sufficiency achieved. Take Maize that grows in chenas. We were never self sufficient in maize. In 1963 when I was in charge of the Anuradhapura District paddy cultivation and had vibrant cultivation committees, I offered to make the country self sufficient in maize. I just had to get the cultivation committees to attend to maize in addition to paddy . This was not approved and even today five decades later we import Maize. Making Sri Lanka self sufficient in maize is a one years’ task. That is also true of potatoes and many other crops. Sorry to state that President Premadasa promoted all Agricultural Overseers the only trained agricultural officer at the village level to be Grama Niladharis in 1992 and till today- three decades have gone by without any trained agricultural officer at the village level. The problem is that the Ministry of Agriculture itself does not realize that it is a monster that has no legs to stand on.

Sri Lanka in the Seventies and Eighties was producing around half our requirements of Paper and Cardboard. The Gotabhaya Government has been able to repair the machinery at Valachenai Paper Mill and it is functioning now. In Mahawillachchiya there is plenty of ILLUK grass that can also be used to make paper. It is suggested that a few small scale Paper making machines be imported from India or China and set up in the colony areas of Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura, Mahawillachciya and Amparai to make paper out of straw and illuk. The cost of importing the paper making machinery can easily be recouped within the very first year. It is suggested that an expert from the Paper Corporation and an engineer from the Army should be immediately sent either to China or India to identify small scale paper making machines and select the four machines that have to be imported. I am certain that these paper making industries can easily be established within six months in colony areas using straw and illuk, and could be in production within a year.

We import a lot of perfumes. Perfumes are made out of flowers and I have trailed behind lorries of flowers in South France. We have problems in disposing the flowers at Anuradhapura temples and the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy. Import two small distilleries and get cracking on making perfumes.

Finally the question of finance. In the DDCP easily ninety percent of the work was done by officers in addition to their duties. All officers and payments for setting up industries and agricultural farms, payment of stipends to youths till production and sales are realized etc was all in local Rupees. Foreign exchange- dollars are required only for the import of Canning and Paper making machinery and

the amount spent can easily be recouped within the first year of operation. May I mention that the Youth Self Employment Programme of Bangladesh, which is today the largest employment creation programme the world has known was entirely implemented with savings from approved budgets in the first four years. .

A major programme has to be established and implemented islandwide, directed by the Government Agents and by the Divisional Secretaries using the staff under them. The suggestions of the individual projects suggested by me earlier in this paper can be within this major programme. The Divisional Secretaries know their areas and the resources available and with his staff should come up with ideas of developing industries which will be further developed upon by the district staff comprising the Assistant Director of Small Industries and the Assistant Director of Planning in the District, with inputs from the various Ministries. They will have to obtain support from the Industrial Development Board and such organizations and draft feasible reports for approval by the Ministry.

May I suggest that a cadre of specialists is approved with a higher salary scale than agricultural instructors and science teachers in schools for drafting and implementing projects. I am aiming at agricultural instructors as they hold the ability and training to attend to agriculture and livestock development projects while I am suggesting science teachers because they do have the background to experiment and bring about industrial development. In the crayon and batik industry in Matara in 1971, the science teachers played an important role.

Wind Turbines to turn out power. Today we do not have the dollars to import crude oil and coal to make power, but all this while the winds howl and force their way through our hills. Our current wind power programme is based on using the coastal breeze. The areas where wind power is really available is in the hills but the Environmental Ministry has ruled that no wind turbines should be established in the hill country. Countries like the USA and Spain who are leaders in wind turbines today have their wind turbines on the hills and not by the coast. I know this for certain as I have often travelled there. I would suggest that wind turbines should be installed at Hunnasgiriya, Madugoda and Ramboda. In the USA some 5000 wind turbines are sited at Altamont Pass and I have passed by that site several times. At Ramboda and Hunnasgiriya one can easily locate a few Altamont Passes as there is wind power with sheer force at many spots in these two areas. My book: Wind Energy For Sri Lanka’s Power Requirements(2019) proves that we can easily produce all our power requirements within a few years.

May I suggest that the Engineering Section of the Army be entrusted with this task. At Avukana I have seen the tall concrete columns built by the Army Engineers holding a canopy above the statue. . May I suggest that same unit be called upon to design and build the wind turbine towers and wings. Only the turbine has to be imported. That too can be made if Jinasenas, the makers of Jinasena Pumps are requested. The columns and wings are all made of concrete and in the USA and Spain this is a major source of employment for the people. I have seen many small units at work making and repairing them. I am told that our grid capacity is a problem. We can site the wind turbines at places where the grid has capacity May I suggest that our Army Engineers may be put on this task. In the USA the US Army Engineers attend to many civilian tasks, like day and night maintaining the levees built in New Orleans to save the city which is below the sea level. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge tunnel, 17 miles long was done by the Army. On the Columubia River the McNary Dam done by the US Army creates 950 MW.

What I state may not be believed by many. May I suggest that the officers whom I have named be summoned by the President or the Prime Minister and they will further substantiate the details of work accomplished.

I am dead certain that we can build Sri Lanka from scratch within three years.

Garvin Karunaratne 16/1/2022

Ph.D. Michigan State University 12/1/2022

Author of:

Microenterprise Development…The Way Out of the World Bank and IMF Stranglehold(Sarasavi:1997)

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

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

Papers on the Economic Development of Sri Lanka(Godages, 2012)

Resource Papers in support of the facts in this Paper:

New Initiatives in the Economic Field: A Progressive Move” (LankaWeb: 27/1/2018


How the Army of the USA is used for development work” (Lankaweb:6/8/2010)


Learning from the Past: The Divisional Development Councils Programme Offers hope for our Economic Woes”,Lankaweb, January 1st, 2022

Mahawillachchiya Illuk to alleviate poverty and also to save foreign exchange

Lankaweb, September 23rd, 2020

Laya Waves: A Cosy Holiday for now: A Catalyst for Future Development

Lankaweb, August 15th, 2020

A Perfume Making Industry at Anuradhapura and Kandy”Lankaweb, November 29th, 2019

Lessons from The Youth Self Employment Programme of Bangladesh

Lankaweb, January 7th, 20201


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