Friday, October 17, 2014

Why This Election Is Going To Suck : response to Indi



Indi had written a post on the upcoming election and I was rather surprised by his assessment of the current regime. It was a relative assessment, in comparison to its predecessors but I find it difficult to believe that we have seen anything other than steady decline since the 1950's.

Are they less racist?

True, JRJ is one of the biggest villains; he promoted the language issue before SWRD, sabotaged the B-C pact and orchestrated (not ignored) the 1983 riots, plus of course the stupid new constitution.

That sounds like fairly high bar to beat, but the new lot is now stoking new religious hatred between Buddhists and minorities. They also seem to be trying set the minorities against each other - Hindu v Muslim/Christian and also Christian v Muslim. 

They are also seem to be busy executing N.Q Dias's strategic vision to militarise and garrison the North - see the posts that I linked to here.

They have not (yet) ended by shedding the same amount of blood that JRJ's policies eventually did (perhaps partly because international scrutiny - witness the ebb and flow of the BBS before and after CHOGM, UNHCR summits) but in terms of intent I would say it’s pretty disastrous.

In terms of the productivity and the economy I admit that they have poured a lot of concrete all over the countryside, but so did the leaders of Greece and Spain.

Fueled by cheap credit from European banks Spain and Greece embarked on grandiose, ego-boosting infrastructure. From Olympic stadia, to opera houses to airports gleaming new infrastructure dotted the countryside. They looked impressive and generated a great deal of pride and while the money was flowing no one worried. No one understood the cost or felt the pain - until the debt needed to be repaid.

Sri Lanka is no different, the glittering fa├žade, funded largely by Chinese and international debt gives the appearance of development and prosperity but is ultimately unviable. As long as the world economy remains in the doldrums and relatively cheap international credit is available, no one worries about the price. 

Official Government debt (including loans guaranteed by the Ministry of Finance) has ballooned by 64.5% between 2009 and 2013 (from Rs.4,328,495m to Rs. 7,120,075m). (This excludes debt raised direct by state owned enterprises and other agencies).

Sri Lanka’s Government revenue has been consistently below its recurrent expenditure, which means we are borrowing to repay interest on current debt, all the while taking on further debt to finance new capital expenditure.

Eventually lenders will begin to wake up and once the inflow of funds slows we will be faced with a debt crisis – being unable to repay debt and therefore unable to borrow further. Since public services are also (partly) paid for by debt these will either have to be cut back (painful austerity measures) or money will be printed locally leading to high inflation. Interest rates may spike when the Government starts borrowing locally with the knock on effects of driving private businesses down. This leads to declining investment, growing unemployment and all the rest that we have witnessed in so many other debt crises before and are particularly apparent in Spain and Greece today.

The well-oiled propaganda machinery which now paints Chris Nonis a gate crasher and denies an assault even took place will spring in to action blaming the international banks and lending agencies.

Of the politicians who hoodwinked the lenders with false statistics and promises and then pocketed the money (which is the main incentive for building white elephants in the first place), not a word is said.

As the Guardian says


As one of the smallest countries to host the event, the Greeks still speak of 2004 as a defining moment, when the country crackled with optimism, confidence and pride. The defiance of the doomsayers who believed the Olympiad would never get off the ground – given the chaotic countdown to the opening – still elicits cries of delight.

"For a short time we were the centre of the world, people knew that a place called Athens existed," said Dimitris Evangelopoulos, Greece's national track and field coach. "And we pulled off a good Games, everyone says it. "

And look where they ended. 

Our great moment of pride was in 2009. Since then the regime has taken Sri Lanka from flawed democracy to Banana Republic. We now seem to have set a course in the direction of a Pariah State.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

FM 97.8: New Chinese radio station in Sri Lanka

I don't often listen to the radio but a friend of mine rang me yesterday and told me to listen to 97.8 FM - he said it was a new Chinese station.

I tuned in briefly today and it does seem to be manned by Chinese (judging by the accents) and it seemed to carry some news about China. According to my friend, he heard advertisements for Sinhala and Tamil classes, so it seems to be aimed at the growing population of Chinese workers in the country.

China is heavily involved in Sri Lanka, the presence of a radio station that appears to be catering to Chinese workers is an indication of the depth of the involvement. There was a report (towards the bottom of this article) of a Chinese-run restaurant catering to Chinese workers.

I have no objection to free movement of labour provided it is happens within a competitive open market. If the projects were awarded on the basis of open competitive tenders and the winning bidders found it cheaper or more productive to employ foreign workers then there is no major issue.

Local workers should have the opportunity to work for the Chinese projects, if
they were unable to recruit locally at the wages offered or if the skills were lacking then relying on expats would be acceptable. This is not the case with these projects, everyone from the sweepers to the cleaners to the cooks come from China presumably because they prefer to work with their own people.  This I think is wrong.

Related post: Chinese aid not working

Addendum: Does anyone know if the new station is a part of SLBC? Due to lack of funds/programming the SLBC used to rebroadcast the BBC on its own frequency during the day (from about 9am to about noon and then again from around 1pm or 2pm until around 5pm). The BBC pulled out of the arrangement after the SLBC started to censor some stories. Could this Chinese channel be a replacement for the BBC ? 

Update : The programmingin the morning (at around 7-8am) is in English. During the middle of the day it is in Chinese.  

  

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

What do we expect from a Government?

There is a discussion to be held next week on the need for an alternate government.
It is worth posing the question: What do people expect from a government? Why do we need one in the first place?

The nation state is something that evolved over time. At its most basic, the role of the state is to provide common services that would not otherwise be available and to maintain the peace - some semblance of law. 

Today we expect rather more, the state sets economic and monetary policies that have a huge impact on the lives of people, therefore we rightly hold them responsible for the management of the economy. This is an abstract concept that many citizens may find difficult to grasp but it can be broken down into more basic questions.

  • Are there sufficient job opportunities? If there are, why are so many seeking employment abroad ? 
  • Do we have an affordable cost of living? Not many will track their expenses in detail but have citizens been able to save more, and perhaps invest, over past few years?  Are they enjoying a richer or more varied lifestyle? Do they have to get into debt, credit card or otherwise to meet household expenditure?
  • We have witnessed some improvement in roads but how do you find the bus and train services? How useful are the new roads if you cannot find a bus? 
  • How do you find the health service and the schools? What was your last experience in a Government hospital ? The police? How easy is it to put a child into a school ? And why must we pay for tuition?

These are only a few questions that occurred to me, there will be plenty of others that we may ask.

Different age and socio-economic groups will have different problems, but if we start to think about what we may expect, we then get a yardstick with which to measure the performance of the Government.
Nine years in office is a long time.  How far has the current regime provided answers to your problems? Have the problems become better or worse?  

Ask the right questions, then you will know if you need an alternate Government.

Friday, October 03, 2014

The Chris Nonis incident: The culture of impunity and due process

Critics of the Sri Lankan Government frequently claim that a culture of impunity exists in the country. What could they mean? I found a definition that is useful:

The term "culture of impunity" refers to a situation in which people in a society have come to believe that they can do whatever they want with impunity (which means without having to face any consequences for their actions)....This concept is pretty much 180 degrees opposed to the idea of the rule of law.  The rule of law is the idea that all people will be punished if (and only if) they break the law.  There is no impunity for anyone under the rule of law.
Mr Chris Nonis, the country's High Commissioner to the UK has been assaulted. Can we expect an enquiry, leading to punishment of the culprit? Most unlikely. There is no report of any enquiry, only of attempts to cover up and hide the incident, which is a strong indication that nothing will happen.

Yet, when Mr Nonis was interviewed by CNN,  he was convinced that :

we have had a vibrant civilization for 2,500 years. We have perfectly educated people and I think we're perfectly capable of carrying out our own domestic inquiry."
I wonder how many people will still believe this?

To test the principle, all we need do is observe the outcome of this incident.  I'm not holding my breath and I don't think even Mr Nonis is.

Perhaps if Mr Nonis wanted justice he should have lodged a complaint with the New York police instead?  

Thursday, October 02, 2014

The need for power

There are many things that drive men: anger, greed, power, lust but surely power must rank at the forefront. Nothing illustrates this better than the assault on  Sri Lanka's High Commissioner to the UK.

The High Commissioner was apparently shouted at, slapped and then kicked by a senior politician at a party. A great public humiliation that no one under normal circumstances would accept. If the victim were weak and powerless such as the urban citizens who are losing their houses, then they would have little option but to put up with it.

Chris Nonis is neither. He is independently wealthy, educated and of some standing in society. Yet, it appears that will be willing to put up with the humiliation and carry on with his job.

The question is why? Why would any self respecting being put up with such atrocious treatment? He has no need for money, unless he has developed extravagant habits following his ascent to the circles of politics. While this is a possibility it does not seem to be likely proposition. We have not seen any evidence: wild parties, exotic women or fine motor cars that may be indicative of such indiscretion.

The most likely motive to remain in office is the need for power. His position within the Government and diplomatic community brings a great deal of influence. Power, in the raw, unchecked form available in Sri Lanka may be particularly addictive. He may have have experienced what few in history may have dared even dream. Not surprisingly, once experienced, such power is rarely given up.

That a man of some standing can be so mesmerised by power that he will put up with such humiliation is a depressing thought.

What the far greater power wielded by his attacker and his ultimate patrons must be doing to their minds is positively terrifying.







Monday, September 22, 2014

A response to “Farmers, foodporn and ICT literacy: here’s where the tough get going

Icarus had written something on ICT literacy and how meaningful the numbers were. The question posed is that "yes people do have internet access but what do they use it for?" A lot of the time for very trivial things.

I had been thinking a little on the subject of the spread of ideas.

I think one of the most critical developments in human civilisation was the invention of writing which enabled ideas to be preserved and shared. When ideas depended on word of mouth to spread they were unlikely to go very far without being distorted. With writing distortion was reduced, it became easier to understand what had originally been intended. Interpretation will introduce some subjectivity, but less so than in ideas spread verbally.

Printing, which enabled much faster and wider sharing was the next most important development.

While the means for spreading ideas were improving, in the early stages the main barrier to the spread of ideas was literacy. Only a handful of scholars and scribes could read or write. Taking ideas to people meant using town criers or preaching in the marketplace.

Wider levels of education after the industrial revolution, the development of newspapers, the telephone, the telegraph, radio and television all helped the rapid spread of ideas and the transformation of society. From Martin Luther to Marx, ideas spread through books changed societies.

Now we have something unique - an even wider and easier way of spreading ideas than ever before. Previously, to spread ideas one would have to publish something in some established media. Publishing a book was not easy and radio and television were even harder to get into. Even getting a letter published in the newspapers was not that easy.

Now we can publish sitting at home, at very little cost but yet be read by someone from across the globe.

Never have we had such power to spread ideas. It is still in its infancy but as long as people are using it, its potential remains.

All humans are not equal and not everyone will come up with a a thought that is groundbreaking or even serious. Yet, as long as people are logged in, they are potential recipients of ideas. Someone who comes up with something important will find it far easier to communicate it to a wider audience than ever before.

Too often it may seem be a little more than a waste of time, but eventually the medium will mature and the power to transform societies - for better or worse, will only grow. Hopefully it will be the good ideas that win.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Should the Chinese premier be an advisor to the Government?

Chinese President Xi Jinping has arrived in the 'Wonder of Asia' for a flying visit, flying being the operative word.

His visit is scheduled to last a total of 23 hours, about a third longer than the 15 hours or so that he will spend travelling to and from Beijing. (The fastest flight is on Sri Lankan that is supposed to take 7 hours and 25 minutes, one way). Assuming he spends some of those 23 hours resting or sleeping after the flight the actual hours spent waking may well be as many as those spent on the flight.

No matter, for although his time spent is short, his influence is long. Notably he has single handedly solved a problem that has eluded our leaders for ages: reducing the cost of living.

In the few short hours that he has spent the price was electricity was reduced by 25% and the prices of diesel, petrol and kerosene by Rs. 3, Rs. 5 and Rs. 20.

An amazing feat. Our greatest fear is of the prices rising after his departure. Or after the election, since that happens to be conveniently at hand.

Therefore I propose a simple solution: make premier Xi Jinping a permanent advisor to the Government! This way we will have a more permanent reduction in the cost of living.

We have hundreds of ministers and perhaps thousands of advisors, one more will not do any harm, especially since he has delivered results.

Confucius has said:

 “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

Words to ponder, as we dance merrily down the path taken by many a Banana Republic.



Chinese President XI JinpingPresident Xi Jinping’s visit