A Call for His Excellency, Milinda Moragoda to take charge of development.
Posted on December 8th, 2023

by Garvin Karunaratne, former GA Matara

Economist Eran Wicks has rightly pointed out that we in our poor budget, are wasting funds and spending on unnecessary items. He has rightly said that of the Rs 254 million for the Highways Ministry as much as 85% is to be spent on Highways.(The Morning:1/12/23)

I have for long wandered how we have been spending on unnecessary highways. We are an indebted country that should know to economize and spend on essential projects. Fancy highways, endless flyovers, cable cars, not at Ambuluwawa- which is destined to be a failure- such grandiose projects must be put on the back burner as we are indebted, going on all fours begging. Today we are begging – praying for a mere $ 3 billion from the IMF.

Ask the IMF as to whether they have ever helped a single indebted country to get on its feet. The answer will be No. The IMF only knows to make the debt increase! And this the IMF has regularly done in all indebted countries. That is because from 1977 we in Sri Lanka have stopped all development programmes at the advise of the IMF. The administrators are confined to the barracks- being paid- finding something to do.

I can remember reading Hon Ronnie’s budget speech where he speaks highly of the IMF’s neoliberal economics poured over our throat in 1977- to live on loans. My good friend Ronnie and Pres Jayawardena were taken for a ride and a country that did not owe a penny to anyone was taken to the cleaners. They should have consulted the fishmonger or the street basket woman on the economics of living on loans for their business. The stark sad fact remains that the economic competance of our Central Bank mandarins is below the economics accumen of a street pedlar.

Unfortunately even Eran and our other great economist Harsha could not bring the Yahapalana economy to heed. As Chandraprema says:

The aggressive borrowing in the international bond market resulted in the country borrowing $ 12 billion during 2015-2019, with $ 6.9 billion being borrowed during a fourteen months period- April 2018 to May 2019. As a result the country’s foreign currency debt stock reached almost 50% of the total debt stock of ISBs at around $15 billion.”(The Island 22/11/23).

Chandraprema also adds something more important:

It is noted that of the $ 12 billion so raised only around $ 2 billion had been utilized to settle ISBs, while the bulk seems to have been utilized to finance imports , especially cars and other passenger vehicles…”

I wonder where Eran and Harsha were at that time. Perhaps they were Ministers not of Cabinet rank. The Central Bank mandarins are responsible for not alerting the Government against spending money obtained on ISBs for imports of unnecessary items- items that we have to forget till we get to even keel. During the Yahapalana days the foreign debt increased from $ 42 billion at the end of 2014 to about $ 55 billion at 2021. Today I hear that we have been importing KiriAla with our foreign exchange!

Harsha and Eran are great economists on analysis and I hope someday they will get to be in charge to do something worthwhile. There are many eloquent advisors- Advocata etc. who have never got the opportunity to prove what they actually advise. It is indeed a difficult task to get into a niche where one can do something worthwhile- to translate ideas into a process of action like what I managed to do in Coop Crayon in Sri Lanka and in the Youth Self Employment Programme in Bangladesh.

Coop Crayon at Morawaka was my method of teaching the Ministry of Plan Implementation a lesson for not approving an industry for Matara under the famous Divisional Development Councils Programme. The Ministry was highly satisfied and sitting on its laurels with the Mechanized Boatyard I established at Matara. They never wanted me to do anything more. It ended up with my Planning Officer, Vetus Fernando, a raw chemistry graduate experimenting at the Matara Rahula College science lab for a full three months from six to midnight every eve to find the art of making crayons. I was the man who ordered , sat by him, and we, katcheri officials cheered him through for a full ninety days. When we succeeded I sat with him finalizing the experiments for the crayon to be equal to Reeves, the best of the day. Then we wanted the industry to be done by the Government and . got Sumanapala Dahanayake the Member of Parliament for Deniyaya in his capacity as the President of Morawak Korale Coop Union to establish it. We Katcheri Officers trained youths in two weeks, working on a twenty four hour basis. It was all completed in three and a half months with crayon packets filling two large rooms.. The Minister for Industries Mr Subasinghe was surprised at the quality and opened sales and with that authority we got to the open as till then it was a dead secret. The Minister for Imports Mr Illangaratne was so surprised at the quality that he gave an allocation of forex to import dyes and shouted in glee to the Controller of Imports to stop all imports of crayons. The sad fact is that when President Jayawardena became President, he wanted to hang Sumanapala as this was the flagship industry of the Divisional Development Councils Programme and to discredit it sent a flying squad led by AT Ariyaratne Deputy Director of Cooperatives to check and they did pore over the books for four full days and had to conclude that it was a great well run industry but in keeping with Instructions from the IMF ordered it closed!

May I hope that our great economists will get a similar chance to shine.

What is necessary is for the development of the country to be accepted as a sacred task that cannot be ruffled by changes in political changes. Every President and Parliament must continue all development programmes that have been a success.

In that regard, I can quote about my experience as the Commonwealth Advisor to the Ministry of Labour and Manpower in Bangladesh. When General Ershard took over the country in a bloodless coup, I was commanded: What can you contribute for Bangladesh?’ It was a military style order- foreign consultants were not wanted anymore- they talked nonsense. I replied that a Youth Self Employment Programme should be approved to get the 40,000 youths who were being vocationally trained annually to become entrepreneurs. The Secretary to the Treasury, the highest official in the country objected; I have no funds to waste because the ILO had failed in the earlier three years.” It ended up in a one to one argument between me and the Secretary to the Treasury- I showing how I can establish that programme and the Secretary to the Treasury detailing how the ILO had brought consultants from all over the world and tried hard and had miserably failed, leaving a great loss for the Bangladesh Treasury. . Meanwhile the Hon Minister who ordered me was making notes for a full two hours or more while both of us argued. Finally he got up, ordered us to stop arguing. Looking at me in my face with firey eyes he said, I approve your establishing a self employment programme for the youth and I will be there to see the progess.”

The Secretary in anger said,

Bangladesh does not have funds to waste. I will not allocate any funds.”

I immediately quipped even without consulting the two Secretaries of the Ministry with whom I worked.
I do not need any new funds. I will find funds to hold training workshops from savings in approved budgets and need approval to change the remits of existing staff.”

The Minister approved my request and from the next day I was training youth workers, lecturers and directors in development economics and the art of guiding unemployed youths to become entrepreneurs. I followed the principle of building up the abilities and capacities of illiterate youths, some of whom had even forgotten to read and write in the manner that Akhter Hameed Khan did in the Comilla Programme of Rural Development. We never provided any subsidy but trained them in livestock and many vocations on short three month courses and my officers sat with them and guided them to become successful. .

I commenced addressing youths in vocational training from the very first days and to a man officers of the Ministry responded. When I left Bangladesh in nineteen months I met the Hon. Minister and requested him to not charge taxes from the youths who had in less than nineteen months earned sufficient incomes to get taxed. The members of the elite Bangladesh Civil Service who were working with me continued the programme and by now over three million youths have been guided to become entrepreneurs. The achievement of this Programme found eight pages in the prestigious Fifth Five Year Plan of Bangladesh. There were many political changes in Bangladesh, but every Government had to support this successful programme. It was so great a success that even the World Bank had offered to buy the programme which was refused and today this Programme is the greaest employment creation programme the world has known.

What I have to state is that there are a few who do hold the ability to shine and let them be taken to the helm and not waste their time in petty posts. They have to be handed over tasks and I am certain that they will act responsibly.

Once not long ago in 2011, when His Excellency Milinda Moragoda, our recent Ambassador at Delhi made a bid for the Mayorship of Colombo. His Manifesto stated that if elected, he would seek to implement the Youth Self Employment Programme of Bangladesh which incidentally was an amazingly successful scheme introduced to that country by a distinguished son of Sri Lanka, Dr Garvin Karunaratne, who served in Bangladesh as an international consultant.”(The Nation: 11/9/2011)

Then by 2011 my Youth Self Employment Programme had guided only two million youth to become entrepreneurs. By now- 2023, that Programme has guided over three million youths to be commercially viable entrepreneurs.

It is sad that our 2023 budget does not contain a single programme to train our people to get to produce what we import and it is high time that His Excellency Milinda Moragoda be requested to consider taking charge of employment creation and national production. It is a national task that requires the calibre of a high order . Mind you it is a programme that does not require a single dollar. The Youth Self Employment Programme was implemented with locally printed Taka- the Bangladeshi Rupee. In fact it did not even have a budget for the first four years. It was implemented by officers working on other programmes!

Garvin Karunaratne

former GA Matara. 9/12/2023


Author of: How the IMF Sabotaged Third World Development, 2017

How the IMF’s Structural Adjustment Destroyed Sri Lanka, 2022

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