New govt. to fast-track export-led growth strategy
By Jayampathy Molligoda
It is common knowledge that Sri Lanka never had a consistent export -led growth strategy. For decades, it has become a buzz word without having a proper infrastructure- both physical as well as soft skill- and much needed foreign and domestic investments. With frequent change of governments, export strategies have been changed and no determined efforts made to promote potential export products, marketing destinations and reap the benefits of positives of globalisation to link up with the global value chain (GVC).
Implement truly export led growth strategy:
It is recommended to appoint a high powered ‘economic advisory committee’ under the Presidential secretariat, comprising key officials of the government, drawn from the Treasury, Central Bank and other relevant institutions, together with a team of experts from private sector thus sharing the same vision and ideology of the new government.
It is suggested that the above mentioned economic advisory committee should pick up acceptable proposals without scrapping the already prepared export strategy and give leadership to effectively implement and monitor same through an efficient economic task force. Whilst supporting traditional exports, time is opportune to concentrate simultaneously for a diversified export portfolio such as newer exportable products as technology-based components, raw materials for chemical industries, bunkering product etc. As far as export of services are concerned, train and upgrade skills of Sri Lanka’s human resource at professional levels, such as nursing and health care services, technology-based services, skilled armed services, maritime and navel services, BPO ICT, etc. This will eventually minimise over- dependence of migrating unskilled labour to the Middle East thus creating unnecessary social issues to their families, children and society at large.
Strictly enforce much needed
The already widened fiscal deficit has been further deteriorated by the recently announced relief measures to meet the COVID-19 packages by the government. Nevertheless, the forthcoming Budget should reflect further austerity measures. It is essential that budgetary allocations are restricted on foreign travel for non-essential purposes for some time and save foreign exchange. Current expenditure should be reviewed regularly and prioritize expenses until such time the economy gets back on track. As for state owned institutions, detailed action plans along with winning strategies should be implemented to minimize losses.
More transparent and equitable pricing formulas will have to be introduced for public goods. Purchase of paddy stocks by the government should be at a reasonable minimum price that covers the farmers cost of production and some element of profit. In order to determine price payable to paddy farmers, it is suggested to introduce a similar scheme such as a reasonable price payable to tea small holders under the Tea Control Act of 1957 as amended, could be used thus stemming from the retail price of rice varieties at the market.
Underprivileged, needy communities can be given subsidies. Indian method of transferring subsidies to underprivileged and bypassing the middlemen through banking system using ‘Aadhar programme’ should be studied and must be adapted to suit Sri Lanka. It is essential to prevent leakages of subsidy as it amounts to a huge drain to the treasury financing.
Link strategy to develop SMEs to global value chain:
It is of paramount importance that the government must revisit and re-activate the financial and banking system loan schemes and provide more wholistic assistance to SME’s, establish SME centres and to provide the necessary guidance and support services which include the following areas;
=Start a programme to promote SME exports linking with global value chain (Select 500 SMEs and support for export as quick starter)
=Engage with DFI’s who have done similar projects – IFC, ADB, JICA
=Encourage SME sector to move up in the value chain
=Give incentives for Sri Lankan expatriate with business ideas to come to Sri Lanka to set up enterprises
=Incentivize setting up of venture capital and Private Equity businesses to support these ideas
=Help Sri Lankan SMEs to find joint venture partners for technology transfer. Set up a fund to support research and Development in SME sector
=Create incubators close to- may be universities to encourage setting up of businesses.
=Restructure banking sector and have a separate window for SMEs in the designated banks.
Re-visit existing subsidies
As for fertiliser subsidy scheme, time is opportune to revise same to mitigate negative effects of such schemes. If the present subsidy scheme continues, the Government may not be able to achieve its production targets in the agricultural sub- sectors and the farmers will continue to criticize the Government’s policy implementation. Special cultivation calendar shall be introduced based on resource availability in each Agro- Ecological Zone (AEZ). Improve infrastructure facilities such as laboratories, consultation services, extension on recommending site specific fertilizer application. The strategy should be to export high variety crops in addition to maintain food security and replace unnecessary imported food items.
The government needs to ensure that fertilizer is available to the farmers at the correct time and at a revised level of subsidized price where ‘large-scale estate’ owners also get subsidized fertilizer. We need to educate farmers on the proper usage of fertilizer to suit the soil conditions, minimizing wastage and environmental damage. It goes without saying that the system must provide the optimum quantity of fertilizer at reasonable price in time. It is important to identify farm level factors that influence the adoption of straight fertilizers and it would help in promoting the use of straight fertilizers at the farm level. More investment on R&D as well as private sector involvement are needed for manufacture of fertilizers using locally available raw materials.
The following additional points are also recommended:
a. Oligopoly of present fertilizer importers should be taken away and the government should encourage small- scale importers/farmers/RPCs to enter in to the market to import or produce locally. This will resolve issues related to malpractices, fertilizer availability, etc.
b. There shall be no subsidy given to importers, however a ‘ceiling price’ based on the market rate of fertilizer as determined could be fixed taking into account the CIF price of importers. The Subsidy, being the difference between the ceiling price and the subsidized rate, should be given only to the selected beneficiaries and be paid in cash to their bank accounts.
c. Fertilizer will then be freely available in the market and the selling price could be monitored by the relevant agencies and if there is a requirement of controlling the fertilizer prices at the market, then the ‘ceiling price’ could be used by the government. The present subsidized rate should be increased from – Zero for paddy and/or Rs. 10,000 per metric ton (MT) to say, Rs 12,500 and for other crops, the fertilizer mixtures could be increased from the present Rs. 23,000 to say Rs 35,000/ per MT.
d. Government shall encourage farmers (higher subsidy) for “Site Specific Fertilizer Usage and Organic Fertilizer” and required technology shall be given through crop research institutions. Subsidy should be given only for Urea, MOP, TSP and SA. Subsidy on all other straight fertilizers/mixtures should be removed and encouraged to use only where necessary.
e. It is necessary to clear the outstanding subsidy payments to the suppliers of fertilizer by the treasury leaving no room for ‘blame assigning’ by the private sector.
This will enable the government to reduce the burden on the treasury for additional government expenditure on subsidy (at present Rs 50 Billion per annum) at least by 30%.
(1) Invite FDI under the Chinese led “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI):
To increase foreign exchange earnings, it is important to enhance port and port services by expediting the already planned development activities. The new Government has already approved the installing three gantry cranes to the JCT and the contract to deepen the JC. There is nothing wrong in entering into JVs based on ‘PPP models’ as articulated under the agreement between the GOSL and ADB on Colombo break-water financing. Geo-political realities and the popular public sentiments on the concept of nationalism should not be construed as strictures for decision making ability for economic growth and the writer is confident the next government under the leadership of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is capable of maintaining a balance between the two in order to fast track economic growth activities.
It is essential to resort to a full-scale effective drive towards getting FDIs for long term projects in a transparent manner and such FDIs should be used only for revenue yielding projects from which, at least part of the borrowing can be met. It will be useful to revert to the marine and maritime activities and Aviation hub concept and ensure that appropriate projects are listed under these two hubs as early as possible and invite FDI under the Chinese led “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) and also link up with the ASEAN supply chain trough BRI as Sri Lanka is not a member of the ASEAN.
Sri Lanka has already demonstrated its ability to combat COVID-19 successfully and the need of the hour is to fast track domestic economic activities, thus enabling Sri Lanka to record a faster recovery than other countries to improve economic growth. A more pragmatic nationalistic ideology – socialist oriented market based economic development model, coupled with an Executive Presidential system of governance would be more suitable to implement inclusive economic development programme to improve quality of life of the people of this country.
(Writer acknowledges the contribution made by Dr Ranee Jayamaha and Mrs Thusitha Molligoda)
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Take Human Rights seriously, not so much the council or office
By Dr Laksiri Fernando
The 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council started on 22 February morning with obvious hiccups. The Office, to mean the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, finally decided to hold all sessions virtually online, only the President of the Council and the assistants in the high table sitting at the UN Assembly Hall in Geneva. The President, Ms. Nazhat Shammen Khan, Ambassador from Fiji in Geneva, wearing a saree, was graceful in the chair with empty seats surrounding.
In the opening session, the UN General Assembly President, UN General Secretary, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Head of Foreign Affairs, Switzerland (as the host country), addressed remotely the session. In fact, there was no need for Switzerland to have a special place, as the UN is independent from any host country. Switzerland is fairly ok, however, if this tradition is followed, the UN General Assembly may have to give a special place to the US in New York.
UN General Secretary, Antonio Guterres’ address could have been quite exemplary if he gave a proper balance to the developed and developing countries. He talked about racism and fight against racism but did not mention where racism is overwhelmingly rampant (US and Europe) and what to do about it. Outlining the human rights implications of Covid-19 pandemic, he made quite a good analysis. It was nice for him to say, ‘human rights are our blood line (equality), our lifeline (for peace) and our frontline (to fight against violations).’ However, in the fight against violations, he apparently forgot about the ‘blood line’ or the ‘lifeline’ quite necessary not to aggravate situations through partiality and bias. He never talked about the importance of human rights education or promoting human rights awareness in all countries.
His final assault was on Myanmar. Although he did not call ‘genocide,’ he denounced the treatment of Rohingyas as ethnic cleansing without mentioning any terrorist group/s within. His call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders undoubtedly should be a common call of all. However, he did not leave any opening for a dialogue with the military leaders or bring back a dialogue between Aung San and Min Aung, the military leader. With a proper mediation, it is not impossible. Calling for a complete overhaul as the young demonstrators idealistically claim might not be realistic.
High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s address was brief and uncontroversial this time without mentioning any country or region. It is clear by now perhaps she is not the real author of the Report against Sri Lanka, but someone probably hired by the so-called core-group led by Britain. Her major points were related to the coronavirus pandemic trying to highlight some of the socio-economic disparities and imbalances of policy making that have emerged as a result. The neglect of women, minorities, and the marginalized sections of society were emphasized. But the poor was not mentioned. As a former medical doctor, she also opted to highlight some of the medical issues underpinning the crisis.
Then came the statements from different countries in the first meeting in the following order: Uzbekistan, Colombia, Lithuania, Afghanistan, Poland, Venezuela, Finland, Fiji, Moldova, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Equatorial Guinea, Vietnam, Belgium, and Morocco. The obvious purposes of these statements were different. Some countries were apparently canvassing for getting into the Human Rights Council at the next turn perhaps for the purpose of prestige. Some others were playing regional politics against their perceived enemies. This was very clear when Lithuania and Poland started attacking Russia.
But there were very sincere human rights presentations as well. One was the statement by the President of Afghanistan, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani. He outlined the devastating effects that Afghanistan had to undergo during the last 40 years, because of foreign interferences. The initial support to Taliban by big powers was hinted. His kind appeal was to the UN was to go ‘beyond discourse to practice’ giving equal chance to the poor and the developing countries to involve without discrimination.
China’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Wang Yi, made his presentation almost at the end of the first day. This is apparently the first time that China had directly addressed the Human Rights Council. Beginning with outlining the devastating repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic he stressed that the world should face the challenges through ‘solidarity and cooperation.’ He broadened the concept to human rights solidarity and cooperation. His expressed views were quite different to the others, particularly to the Western ones.
He frankly said that what he expresses are the views of China on human rights without claiming those are absolute truths or forcing others to believe or implement them. There were four main concepts that he put forward before the member countries. First, he said, “We should embrace a human rights philosophy that centres on the people. The people’s interests are where the human rights cause starts and ends.” Second, he said, “we should uphold both universality and particularity of human rights. Peace, development, equity, justice, democracy, and freedom are common values shared by all humanity and recognized by all countries.” “On the other hand,” he said, “countries must promote and protect human rights in light of their national realities and the needs of their people.”
“Third,” he said, “we should systemically advance all aspects of human rights. Human rights are an all-encompassing concept. They include civil and political rights as well as economic, social, and cultural rights.” He then emphasized, “Among them, the rights to subsistence and development are the basic human rights of paramount importance.” Fourth, “we should continue to promote international dialogue and cooperation on human rights. Global human rights governance should be advanced through consultation among all countries.”
It was on the same first day before China, that the United Kingdom launched its barrage against several countries not sparing Sri Lanka. The Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, delivered the statement from top to bottom attacking alleged violating countries on human rights. But there was no mentioning of Israel for the repression of Palestinians or the systemic racism rampaging in the United States, including the 6 January attacks on the Capitol by extremist/terrorist groups.
His first sermon was on Myanmar without acknowledging the British atrocities or mismanagement of this poor and diverse country during the colonial period. He was quite jubilant over implementing sanctions and other restrictions over the country. Many sanctions, in my opinion, are extortions. Undoubtedly, Aung San Suu Kyi and other leaders should be released, and democracy restored. This is a task of the whole council and when one or two countries try to grab the credit, there can be obvious reservations of others.
His further scathing attacks were against Belarus, Russia, and China. Some appeared factually correct but not necessarily the approach or the motives genuine. The following is the way he came around Sri Lanka. He said,
“Finally, we will continue to lead action in this Council: on Syria, as we do at each session; on South Sudan; and on Sri Lanka, where we will present a new resolution to maintain the focus on reconciliation and on accountability.”
‘Action’ to him basically means repeatedly passing resolutions, of course imposing economic and other sanctions. He said, “as we do at each session”; like bullying poor or weak countries at each session. Can there be a resolution against Russia or China? I doubt it.
What would be the purpose of presenting a resolution against Sri Lanka? As he said, “to maintain the focus on reconciliation and on accountability.” This will satisfy neither the Tamil militants nor the Sinhalese masses. But it might satisfy the crafty Opposition (proxy of the defeated last government). This is not going to be based on any of the actual measures that Sri Lanka has taken or not taken on reconciliation or accountability. But based on the ‘Authoritarian and Hypocritical Report’ that some anti-Sri Lankans have drafted within the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. This what I have discussed in my last article.
In this context, successful or not, the statement made by the Sri Lanka’s Minister of External Affairs, Dinesh Gunawardena, in rejecting any resolution based on the foxy Report of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in my concerned opinion, is absolutely correct.
President’s energy directives ignored by the Power Ministry: Another Point of View
Dr Tilak Siyambalapitiya
Dr Janaka Rathnasiri laments (The Island 19 Feb 2021) that the Power Ministry has ignored the President’s directive to draw 70% of energy from renewable sources by 2030. I saw the approved costs of electricity production for 2019, published by the Public Utilities Commission (PUCSL).
PUCSL has also approved the prices to sell electricity to customers. Although various customers pay at various “approved” prices, the average income from such “approved” prices in 2019 was Rs 17.02 per unit. It is not only the Ministry, according to Dr Rathnasiri, ignoring the President; PUCSL is also breaking the law, which says prices and approved costs should be equal.
So there is already an illegal gap of Rs 21.59 minus 17.02 = Rs 4.57 per unit of electricity sold. If electricity prices are not to be increased, as stated by many in the government and PUCSL, let us say the following: Distribution costs should decrease by 0.57 Rs per unit. Generation costs should decrease by Rs 4.00 per unit.
PUCSL also published the approved cost of purchasing or producing electricity from various sources for 2019. The actual energy values were different to what was approved, but let us stick to PUCSL approved figures:
I suggest Dr Rathnasiri fills-up the following table, to show how much electricity will cost in 2030 to produce and deliver, if the President’s 70% target is to be achieved and for PUCSL to abide by the law. Let us assume that electricity requirement in 2030 will be double that of 2019.
Since PUCSL has to save Rs 4 from 13.92, the average selling price for energy should be Rs 13.92 minus 4.00 = Rs 9.92. With a target network loss of 7% (in 2019 it was 8.4%), the average cost of production has to be Rs 9.27 per unit. Eight cages have to be filled-up by Dr Rathnasiri.
In 2012, PUCSL approved the energy cost of electricity produced from coal power to be 6.33 Rs per kWh. In 2019, PUCSL approved 9.89 (56% increase). For renewable energy, it was 13.69 in 2012, and 19.24 in 2019 (a 40% increase, but double the price of electricity from coal fired generation). In 2012, rooftop solar was not paid for: only give and take, but now paid Rs 22, against Rs 9.89 from coal. There seems to be something wrong. The price reductions of renewable energy being promised, being insulated from rupee depreciation, are not happening? Either Sri Lanka must be paying too little for coal, or it may be renewable energy is severely over-priced?
On coal we hear only of some corruption every now and then; so Sri Lanka cannot be paying less than it costs, for coal.
Enough money even to donate
Another reason for the Ministry of Power to ignore the President’s directive may be the Ministry’s previous experience with similar Presidential directives. In 2015, the President at that time cancelled the Sampur coal-fired power plant, and the Ministry faithfully obliged. That President and that Prime Minister then played ball games with more power plants until they were thrown out of power, leaving a two-billion-dollar deficit (still increasing) in the power sector. Not a single power plant of any description was built.
Where is this deficit? You do not have to look far. In the second table, replace 24.43 with 9.89, to reflect what would have happened if Sampur was allowed to be built. The value 12.79 will go down to 8.55, well below the target of Rs 9.27 per unit to produce. Not only would CEB and LECO report profits, but the government too could have asked for an overdraft from CEB to tide over any cash shortfalls in the treasury. All this with no increase in customer prices. Producers of electricity from renewable energy could enjoy the price of 19.24 Rs per unit. And that blooming thing on your rooftop can continue to enjoy Rs 22 per unit. The Minister of Power, whom Dr Rathnasiri wants to replace with an army officer, would have been the happiest.
In the absence of Sampur (PUCSL’s letter signed by Chairman Saliya Mathew confirmed cancellation and asked CEB not to build it), PUCSL approved electricity to be produced at Rs 21.59 and sold at Rs 17.02 per unit. The annual loss would be Rs (21.59 – 17.02) x 15,093 = Rs 69 billion per year of approved financial loss. Sri Lanka has a Telecom regulator, an Insurance regulator, a Banking regulator, who never approve prices below costs. Sometime ago the telecom regulator asked the operators to raise the prices, when operators were proposing to reduce prices amidst a price war. But the electricity industry regulator is different: he approves costs amounting to 27% more than the price, not just once but, but continuously for ten long years !
That is 370 million dollars per year as of 2019, the economy is spending, and for years to come, to burn oil (and say we have saved the environment). Did the Minister of Health say we are short of 160 million dollars to buy 40 million doses of the vaccine? Well, being a former Minister of Power, she now knows which Presidential “order” of 2015 is bleeding the economy of 370 million dollars per year, adequate to buy all vaccines and donate an equal amount to a needy country.
Prices are the production costs approved by PUCSL for 2019. The selling price approved by the same PUCSL was Rs 9.27 per unit.
Confusion on NGOs and NSOs in Sri Lanka
If you listen to politicians and journalists here, you will hear of that curious creature rajya novana sanvidane, a Non-State Organization (NSO). Where do you get them? In the uninstructed and dead minds of those who use those terms. In the real world, where politicians and journalists have developed minds, there are Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO). The United Nations is an organization set up by state parties, not by governments. It is true that agents of states, governments, make the United Nations work or fail. Governments may change but not the states, except rarely. When Eritrea broke away from Ethiopia, a new state was formed and was so recognised by the United Nations. However, the LTTE that tried to set up another state was crushed by the established state that it tried to break away from, and the UN had nothing to do with them.
This entirely unnecessary confusion, created out of ignorance, is so destructive that organizations completely loyal to the existing state, are made to be traitorous outfits, for they are ‘non-state organizations’ within the state. There are citizens of each state, but no citizens of any government. Government is but an instrument of the state. In most states there are organizations, neither of the state nor of government: religious organizations including churches. But none of them is beyond the pale of the state.
Those that speak of rajya novana sanvidane give that name partly because they have no idea of the origin of non-governmental organizations. NGOs came into the limelight, as donor agencies, noticed that some governments, in East Africa, in particular, did not have the capacity and the integrity to use the resources that they provided. They construed, about 1970, that NGOs would be a solution to the problem. Little did they realize that some NGOs themselves would become dens of thieves and brigands. I have not seen any evaluation of the performance of NGOs in any country. There was an incomplete essay written by Dr. Susantha Gunatilleka. NGOs are alternatives to the government, not to the state.
Our Constitution emphatically draws a distinction between the government and state, and lays down that the President is both Head of Government and Head of State (Read Article 2 and Article 30 of the Constitution.) It is as head of state that, he/she is the Commander of the Armed Forces, appoints and receives ambassadors and addresses Parliament annually, when a prorogued Parliament, reconvenes. He/she presides over the Cabinet as head of government. The distinction is most clear, in practice, in Britain where Queen Elizabeth is the head of state and Boris Johnson is the Prime Minister and head of government. However, in principle, Johnson is the Queen’s First Minister appointed by the sovereign, and resigns by advising her of his decision to do so.
In the US and in India the term ‘state’ has special significance. In India there is a ‘rajya sabha’ (the Council of States) whose members represent constituent States and Union Territories. Pretty much the same is true of the United States. In the US, executive power is vested in the President and heads the administration, government in our parlance. The Head of State does not come into the Constitution but those functions that one associates with a head of state are in the US performed by the President of the Republic. The US President does not speak of my state (mage rajaya) but of my administration, (mage anduva). Annually, he addresses Congress on the State of the Union. Our present President must be entirely familiar with all this, having lived there as a citizen of the US for over a decade. It is baffling when someone speaks of a past state as a traitor to that same state. It is probable that a government was a traitor to the state. ‘Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their (States’) enemies, giving them aid and comfort’. That a state was a traitor to the same state is gobbledygook.
Apart from probable confusion that we spoke of in the previous paragraph, it is probable that a president and other members of a government, including members of the governing party here, find it grandiloquent to speak of his/her/their state (mage/ape rajaya), rather than my government (mage anduva) or Sirisena anduva’ and not Sirisena state; it was common to talk of ‘ape anduva’ in 1956; politicians in 1956 were far more literate then than they are now.
When translating from another language, make sure that you understand a bit of the history of the concept that you translate. A public school in the US is not the same as a public school in the UK.