Why follow Bindu(of Sunday Times): It is NATO- No Action Talk Only.
Posted on August 9th, 2022

By Garvin Karunaratne

It was four months ago in March 2022 that I suggested immediate action re our economic meltdown. I recall:
The Way Out of the economic abyss besetting Sri Lanka” in the Lanka Web of March 11 th.

It is months- four months have passed and yet as Bindu says we are only talking. In the meantime the fuel queues are mounting and food is beyond the reach of many. Fuel has got priority. Food and medicines are in the background and when the current food stocks- now at a high price- are used up, there is bound to be starvation if we yet follow NATO.

Patriot Vasudeva has today uttered the home truth that following the IMF is not the way ahead. This was proved by Mahatir Muhammed the Prime Minister of Malaysia- the only country to get out of the East Asian Financial Crisis without getting into further debt.

Yet we are vacillating and today the President has uttered that we have to face the IMF bullet. That is to follow the privatization of many public institutions and further- the cat is not out of the bag yet- it will come later- to devalue the rupee.

Devaluing the currency is one of the salient policies of the IMF. In actual practice Devalue only serves two purposes- to increase the prices of all imports and Sri Lanka living now in an import and sell economy(imposed by the IMF in 1978)sends the prices of goods higher and this inflation causes more poverty. The hidden agenda which is not talked of is that all our exports get paid a lower price- that benefits the Developed Countries to get our produce at lower prices. This is the reality.

Our Government is yet talking since March and it is likely that we will keep talking.

It is necessary immediately to get down to make everything we imported and thereby provide incomes to the people. This can be done within days and if only our President and Prime Minister can decide it can be decided tomorrow and our administrators can get cracking on the next day.

My mind traverses back to two programmes we started from scratch and how we got down to production and the creation of employment.

One is the Divisional Development Councils Programme of the Sirimavo days. In 1971 NM and Sirimavo decided- it was mainly NM’s project to bring employment to the youths-. They head hunted the foremost economist of the day, Professor H A deS Gunasekera and established a Ministry within days. As the GA at Matara I got cracking. I selected the best staff at the Matara Katcheri and got down to identify land that could be developed into farms and did recruit unemployed youths that were trained to plant veg and fruit. Another aspect was to set up small industries, sewing, batik, craft, manioc, a smithy and many more. This happened in most districts.

All this got going in months. My staff was dare devil and worked day and night without any payment- no salary increases- not even a travelling allowance. . My Planning Officer, a chemistry grad, was put on the task of finding how to make crayons and every night from six to mid night he with other katcheri staff and the science teachers at Rahula were experimenting for three months in the Rahula science lab and we found the recipe- how to make crayons. Then we entrusted the task of making Crayons to the Morawaka Coop and Sumanapala Dahanayake the member of parliament for Deniyaya in his capacity as the President of the Morawaka Coop did establish the factory in two weeks. We all broke rest for two weeks at Morawaka- a day and night op- every singe crayon had to be checked for quality- making crayons that were finally sold all over the island- easily the best industry of the DDCP Programme. All this took just three and a half months to be exact.

March to August 2022- the period of inaction today amounts to a four full months. I detailed all what we did in less than four months in 1971. My team even dared the bullets of the JVP- because the development I talked of in months happened immediately after the JVP insurrection. I recollect that at that time I even gave unofficial leave for over three months to an officer- to get lost and save himself.

In fact it is my opinion that the fast success of the crayon and other work of the DDCP silenced the JVP cadres and some of the twenty or more youths that boiled the ingredients and poured them red hot into tubes could be some that handled guns months earlier.

In fact if action was taken in March 2022, there would be jam, jelley, fruit drinks, vinegar, tomatoe sauce and many more items done by now all within a mere four months. All these were imported with dollars.

Let me next step to Bangladesh- to illustrate what I did in months.

In about April 1982 I was the Commonwealth Advisor to the Ministry of Labour and Manpower in Bangladesh when General Ershard took over the country in a mid night coup. In some three days the military decided to close up all youth development activities- the Minister was incarcerated. The Ministry was training 40,000 youths a year. I argued that what is required is not closing down but developing the training, adding a self employment training programme to guide the trained youths to become employed. A vehement objection came from the Secretary to the Treasury, the highest officer in the land, who said that the ILO had failed in that same attempt in the last three years and that it will only be a waste of money. The Military chief- Air Vice Marshall Aminul Islam kindled the fires between me and the Secretary to the Treasury. He kept listening for over two hours while we battled with arguments. The Secretaries of the Ministries were watching gobsmaked while the two of us battled along my detailing the project- what we would do to get the trained youths into a working situation on self employment projects. The battle ended with the the Minister- the third in command in the military junta approving it for immediate implementation. The Secretary to the Treasury said that he will not provide any funds to which, off the cuff, I replied that we needed no new funds and will find savings in existing budgets.

We got cracking fast and on the next day I was addressing hundreds of youths trying to coax them to start small employment creation projects even with a cow or a few chicks or making a few dresses and selling them. Training institiutes were kept open till ten at night to enable the trainees to use the machinery. In two to three months we were able to create incomes for the youths and the programme moved forward rapidly. Today this Youth Self Employment Programme is yet being implemented by the Bangladesh Administrators I trained and by now they have guided over three million youths to be self employed.

In Sri Lanka, however, we are yet talking- while the fuel queues and food queues are becoming longer and longer. Starvation of not hundreds but millions are close by. We keep lamenting of shortages but there is no action. Instead we keep talking the IMF language of privatization and Yet we keep to Bindu’s tune: No Action Talk Only.

If only the green light was issued to our administrators in March by now there would be easily tomatoe sauce, jam, jeley, fruit drinks, fried banana crisps, vinegar all this and more were imported in 2020.

It would be appropriate to immediately create a seperate Secretary under our Prime Minister to handle this employment and production creation programme on the lines of the Divisional Development Councils Programme. Such a programme will cut across all other ministries- livestock, agriculture, small industry, planning etc and therefore this can only come under the head- the Prime Minister. It can be done within days and all with local Rupees. Mind you the DDCP of Matara with its Crayon Factory in full swing, with Making Paper out of waste paper at Kotmale as well as the Self Employment Programme of Bangladesh were all done with local Rupees and Local taka. Not a dollar was required.

I recall the Divisional Secretary of Kotmale at work collecting waste paper and turning it out to cardboard. Now we collect waste paper and cardboard and sell it to India and buy paper and cardboard from India. It is so simple a process which tells me that we have to have our heads examined. Again I knew the Divisional Secretary at Baddegama Wilson Perera who got cracking with sixty youths-making them scientific farmers on 110 acres of neglected land.

It is really nonsense to talk of money printing as causing inflation. Money printing happened to be the only method of how development was done not only in Sri Lanka but in all other countries before the IMF imposed the Structural Adjustment Programme and changed our economy from one of produce and consume to import and consume and also to liberalize the use of foreign exchange to the rich to send their offspring for foreign study and endless luxury trips- which caused us to build up the foreign debt.

Over to our new President and Prime Minister., It is time we stop NATO and act immediately.

Garvin Karunaratne, Ph D.Michigan State University

Former GA Matara. Also the Commonwealth Fund Advisor to the Ministry of Labour and Manpower in Bangladesh in 1981-1983.


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