Let us develop Sri Lanka with the IMF Tranche
Posted on September 30th, 2023

by Garvin Karunaratne

It is good news that the IMF has agreed to release the second tranche $ 3 billion. I was worried when I read the news of the two specialists that came who voiced that we had not fulfilled all the conditions. However we should be lucky that the IMF decided to release the funds.

Now we come to the next problem- how will we disburse the funds. The current model of economic development-that of liberalizing imports, limiting development initiatives to the private sector, confining the public sector that did develop Sri Lanka before 1977 to the barracks, abolishing development oriented programmes like that of the Marketing Department and finding elusive foreign investors has not worked since it was commenced in 1977. This Neoliberal Model has seen a country that had no foreign debt in 1977 gaining a foreign debt of $ 56 billion by 1923! MP Marikkar recently reported that Sri Lanka’s total debt has increased to $ 96 billion by July 2023 and that the debt had rapidly increased since President Ranil took power last year.

We must find an aglorithm of measures to get people out of poverty. The newspapers tell us of infants who have no proper food and are in severe malnutrition. Government servants are assured of a salary at the end of the month, but there are many- a few millions who have no employment whatsoever and most of them have to forgo a meal.

Forgoing a meal is fairly a difficult task. Try to forgo a meal and when the pangs of hunger set in life becomes unbearable. I know this because on most days when I went on circuit as the Addl GA, the GA or an AC Agrarian Services I become hungry by about one or two o’clock and my normal meal is a bun a banana, both handpicked by me at a wayside boutique and a plain cup of tea. Luckily I had the funds but I know of many in the city of Colombo who have to forgo a simple frugal meal due to the lack of funds.

That is sad. It is also very sad to note that since 1977 the Governments have not addressed this aspect- of having programmes to train the unemployed and get them to become productive, earn a living. We have forgotten that Mother Nature blessed a country that was fertile and full of downpours of rain. The failure is ours.

Before 1977 our Governments have tried hard to provide avenues for training the unemployed and the poor and get them to become productive, but since 1977 we have forgotten them- mind you they are the majority and it behoves our rulers to please address this subject.

I would plead of our President and Prime Minister- our two leaders to kindly address this subject and immediately implement a programme to train people to get productive and to earn an income.

It is an easy task to spend the $ 3 billion- and we will be again at square one and begging on the streets if we do not make our people productive and make what we need.

In living memory we can recall how Premier Sirimavo tackled this problem. She handpicked the best economist of the day, Professor HAdeS Gunasekera of the University of Peradeniya, commenced a new Ministry- Ministry of Plan Implementation under her and gave him ample funds even placing a helicopter at his disposal to get the programme off the ground quickly.

The Government Agents were put in charge of operating this Divisional Development Councils Programme. Dr NM Perera was behind this programme and he would come again and again to Matara inquiring about the progress. That Programme brought training in agriculture, livestock or industry to 33,300 youths making them scientific entrepreneurs and their produce- vegetables , fruits, mammoties etc came to the market and the youths made good incomes. That number would have been far more if the JVP did not interrupt development activities with their 1971 Insurrection.

In certain districts headway was made in establising medium sized industries. This was at the discretion and the interest of the officers. The Divisional Secretary at Kotmale collected all the waste paper he could find in the Nuwara Eliya District and established a small paper factory at Kotmale. This is something that can be done immediately in every District. We import paper and cannot find the funds to import. Producing Paper from wastepaper is an easy method and can be done in a few weeks.

In Matara I suggested making seaworthy fishing boats and managed to get approval and set up the Matara BoatYard which turned out some forty seagoing fishing boats every year. This was a great success. I can recollect that we established this within two months.

The Ministry was highly satisfied with this Boatyard that they did not want me to establish any more. I wanted to do more but could not get any approvals. I therefore commenced work on my own without the knowledge of the Ministry.

I was lucky to have a chemistry grad as my Planning Officer, Vetus Fernando, and I goaded him to try to find the art of making crayons. It started at my Residency, helped by science teachers at Rahula College. Before long we needed equipment and I managed to get the approval of the Principal of Rahula College to use his science lab after school hours. Thereafter everyday for three full months we were there experimenting to find the art of making crayons from six to twelve every night. In fact my Planning Officer the chemistry grad attempted to get the help of his professors at the University of Colombo – he spent three days begging of them but was turned away. We continued our experiments and in three months we found the art of making crayons- we and got it to be equal to Reeves, the best of the day.

Then I had a problem of how to start it. I had no funds nor any method of getting funds. Finally I summoned the member of parliament for Deniyaya who happened to be the President of the Morawak Korale Cooperative Union . In the days of premier Dudley Senanayake the GA was gazetted a Deputy Commissioner of Cooperatives . That was for the paddy production programme. I usurped that right and instructed Sumanapala to use his cooperative funds. I had no authority but for the sake of our Motherland we have got used to bed rules.

Sumanalapa was great In two days he got going, bought the equipment and five of us – the Planning Officer and us- moved to take up residence at the Coop Union where we got going making crayons – the Officers were training the youths to make it and we worked day and night for two weeks not stop till we filled two large rooms with crayoins.

Then we wanted to get to the open- we had to sell the crayons. Sumanapala and I took off to meet the Minister for Industries Mr Subasinghe and showed him the crayons we made. He was surprised at the product and agreed to open sales. We rushed back and within a week opened sales. This brought us to legitimacy.

One ingredient- dyes were costly and we had to buy it in the open market. The Ministry of Industries refused to give us an allocation of foreign exchange to import it as we were a cooperative. They had funds for private people- not for cooperatives. I argued and lost the battle.

Then we heard that the Ministry of Imports was about to authorize imports of crayons and Sumanapala and I moved in. We managed to convince the Controller of Imports to give us a fraction of the foreign exchange he was allocating for imports on condition that we will step up production. But he wanted us to get the approval of the Hon Minister, as it was never done earlier. Sumanapala and I moved in to meet Minister Illangaratne. He was so surprised at the quality that he approved a cross allocation- to import dyes for an industry which had never been done earlier. He shouted at the Controller to stop all imports of crayons. Then Coop Crayon was sold islandwide. Minister Illangaratne made me agree to open a Crayon Factory in Kolonnawa, his electorate.

I have given this long tale of how we succeeded. . Finally the Ministry of Planning had to accept Coop Crayon and that was the flagship Industry of the Divisional Development Councils Programme.

In 1981-1983 as the Commonwealth Fund Adviser to the Ministry of Labour and Manpower in Bangladesh I managed to established the Youth Self Employment Programme- enticing and training youths to take up to industry, agriculture and livestock. I was denied funds as the ILO had failed in an earlier attempt and I had to find savings for training workshops etc. I trained youth workers in economics to implement this programme. I also trained the members of the elite Bangladesh Civil Service to continue to implement it after my two year spell was over. This is a continuing development programme that has by now made entrepreneurs of three million youths- the largest programme of employment creation the world has known. This is the type of production oriented development that we have to concentrate on to bring economic development to Sri Lanka

To the Hon Prime Minister and the President of Sri Lanka, Please sirs, approve a programme similar to the Divisional Development Councils Programme and we can easily have one industry like Coop Crayon going withing a few months in each District . Later we can expand further to the Divisional level, training thousands to become productive, also alleviating their poverty.

Please do consider this proposal

Garvin Karunaratne, former G.A. Matara

Center for Global Poverty Alleviation, London & Colombo


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