Sunday, December 30, 2012


The arrival of the statue of Ramesses II, in England in 1818 is believed to have inspired Shelley's poem Ozymandias, reproduced below:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away". 

Shelley's ghost, seems to have reached across the seas, to touch the anonymous writer of the plaque below, although something seems to have been lost in translation.

Perhaps it is not just Shelley, but Macaulay as well? I am but a dilettante, the more serious students of literature may be better able to divine the sources, although the lines below seem to leave the faintest of echoes.

But the Consul’s brow was sad,
    And the Consul’s speech was low,
And darkly looked he at the wall,
    And darkly at the foe.
‘Their van will be upon us
    Before the bridge goes down;
And if they once may win the bridge,
    What hope to save the town?’

Then out spake brave Horatius,
    The Captain of the gate:
‘To every man upon this earth
    Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
    Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
    And the temples of his Gods,

Taken from Macaulay's Horatius.

Post Script:  The statue of Ramses II stands near the entrance to the Egyptian section of the British Museum, the link above has further details and I would urge anyone visiting London to have a look, it is indeed impressive.
Macaulay was better known as a politician who played a role in the abolishing of the slave trade and for influence on education in India. 

Friday, December 07, 2012

Diff'rent Strokes?

I picked up some weekday newspapers today. Due to pressures of work and the fact that there is only a limited number newspapers that the office subscribes to; most of which end up with the big bosses, small fry like myself rarely get hold of them.

A small box on the front page of the Daily Mirror caught my attention. On searching the web, I discovered that the Island carried much the same story.

The Colombo Telegraph, an online compilation and news site carried a story that had some similarities but entirely different connotations.  

Different folk, it seems, have perceived the same thing in entirely different terms.

The BBC report is here.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The TFC deal and the Chief Justice

My post on the TFC deal seems to be picking up a lot of hits, it is now, by a large margin, my most popular post.

The impeachment of the Chief Justice, now underway is probably the cause. The connection  between the TFC deal and the CJ is that the CJ's husband was the Chairman of the state-owned NSB which bought the shares at the inflated price.

That deal was undoubtedly flawed but how should that affect the impeachment? My previous post would not be helpful to anyone seeking an answer to that question, but Mr Nihal Jayawickrama, does address that here.

Mr Jayawickrama is a founder member of the Judicial Integrity Group which is devoted to the task of improving judicial integrity and accountability.

As far as the TFC deal is concerned Mr Jayawickrama is of the view that:

"A judge’s spouse is not prevented from engaging in any activity, so long as the judge does not get involved in such activity. A lack of circumspect or good sense on the part of the spouse in choosing which activity to engage in, is not a matter for which the judge can be held responsible unless the judge was, in fact, or appeared to have been, thereby improperly influenced in his or her conduct as a judge."
Mr Jayawickrama also has some interesting observations on the due process to be followed for the disciplining of judges here.

It is also worth remembering that this was not the only flawed deal on the CSE, the EPF has lost billions on several deals, and so has the state-owned Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation.  The TFC was merely the last in a long list, which despite calls from the COPE and unions, no one seems interested in investigating. Even the investigation to the TFC deal needs to be more broad based, there were surely others, besides the chairman, who were involved?

For those interested the Chief Justice's response to the charges is here.

Updated with a few new links to relevant commentary.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Imagine - fund raiser concert to help children of prisoners

The Association of Friends of Prisoners Children is charity that aims to try to keep the children of prisoners in school. 

Although this may seem a rather simple goal, it is in fact a lot harder than it appears. Apart from difficulties with money, the biggest problem faced is social stigma.

A common question that comes up is when the school mistress asks a child-what does your father do? Most children will be happily jumping up and answering but the child of a prisoner has no answer to give. Once identified as such they are stigmatised and bullied, will probably drop out of school and, more often than not, end up as criminals themselves

This charity is attempting to break this cycle. They are holding a fundraising concert on the 25th (this Sunday) at 7pm at the Bishops College auditorium featuring the De Lanerolle Brothers, Natasha Ratnayake, Choro Calibre, Harsha Makalanda and many others.

Box Plan and Tickets: Bishops College auditorium. Box office open from.8.30am-4.30pm, Telephone 0114712326

 I can vouch that the charity is well run and funds properly accounted for please contact them for further information.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Former Sri Lankan MP and diplomat convicted of sexual assault, to be investigated for fraud.

We already know what rotters we have in parliament, but the sheer cheek of this man leaves me speechless.

The story is fairly straightforward, man goes for massage, gropes therapist and is hauled into court. What any sensible man should have done would be to plead guilty, pay the fine and learn from the experience. This course of action is not apparent to a former member of parliament and ex-diplomat.

What ? Plead guilty? He does no such thing, he's a man of standing who is used to relying on his network power to get what he wants. He righteously decides to rely on his good character,  so he goes to court, lies and then to top it off, has the sheer, brazen cheek to actually claim legal aid for his defence! The judge makes some very pertinent observations.

Judge Wide QC added: “It was a really nasty offence.

“When good character is relied upon in your case, it does help me to understand what sort of man you are.
“What you did was really bad. To get yourself off the hook, and for no other reason, you accused this completely blameless sensible and conscientious woman of having stolen from her employer by keeping the money and getting more out of you by then offering you extra special services.”

He said the woman masseur who worked as a beautician was “entirely respectable” as was the spa but Gunasekara made inappropriate remarks about her private life, asked her back to his hotel room, and then offered to read her palm as a means to get intimate with her.

When that failed he offered her money but when his advances were rejected, he lunged at her. Judge Wide said: “It was obviously very, very upsetting for her. She fled from the room in high distress, pushing the panic button as she went.”
The court heard despite claiming he only had a £100 a month to live off, he had £1,850 and $631 in cash, and £50 worth of traveller’s cheques when he was arrested for groping a masseur’s breast.
Yet despite the sums readily at hand he pleaded poverty and got legal aid to fight his case.
Gunasekara had travelled to the UK to visit his grandchildren when he groped the masseur’s breasts. In Sri Lankan he lives on a 25 acre estate complete with servants.
Judge Wide QC exploded with rage when he learnt of the legal aid funding adding: “The British public would be appalled to know they are paying for this man’s costs – one of Sri Lanka’s leading successful businessmen and government minister and ambassador to Poland and he say’s he’s got no money. ”I think it is a lie, I think it is one of a number of lies he told in this court. ”Frankly I don’t think the British public should pay a penny to this.” the Telegraph reported.

I share the judge's anger. I hope they lock him up for a good long time, he deserves it. Perhaps one step towards reforming the system of justice here would be to restore the right of appeal to the Privy Council in the UK?

Read the full story here.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Re-imagining Development

T has posted something on the topic of development, a question I have been grappling with for a while. She has posted a parable of a simple fisherman, lying on the beach, waiting for the fish to bite and  content with his lot.

The ultimate goal that everyone probably has is to end up like the fisherman on the beach. Unfortunately life is not quite so simple. Look around our own country, there are many poor and disaffected people, whether they are the displaced in the North/East or subsistence farmers in the South.

Development should be about creating opportunities or choices for people. They key word is opportunities-not handouts, not state jobs (handouts in another form) but real opportunities. A state job is only redistribution, some people are taxed and the money used to pay someone else.

Failure to create opportunities can lead to a tinderbox, witness the Arab spring and its fallout.

Sri Lanka's own tortured history of violence has its roots in the closing of opportunities - first to minorities and then, when no tangible benefits flowed, to rural youth. Witness the uprisings of 1971 and 1987.

At the moment, the innovative people of Sri Lanka are creating their own opportunities-by leaving in droves, to the Middle East and elsewhere, legally and illegally.

As long as we allow people to leave we will face no problems. If they are forced to stay back, either by diminishing opportunities aboard or ham-handed interception of human smuggling, then it is only a question of time before an explosion occurs, unless of course someone wakes up and realises the need to create opportunities.

What does the state need to do to create opportunities ? Certain social investment in education and health will help but the most important thing is to get out of the way; stop interfering in business or the economy, cut regulations and ensure justice prevails. In other words, reduce the size of the state and improve transparency and governance.

Why are poor countries poor? Time Harford has an explanation, which I have discussed here. Why did the Near East explode? Some thoughts here.

We have fifty or sixty years of development experience to draw on, since the first new states began to emerge from end of the second world war. The questions as to what can work and what does not have been largely answered, there is no need to look very far, one can draw as many useful lessons from the many failed experiments as from the few successes. The real tragedy is if we fail to learn anything from history, either ours or anyone else's. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Regional development

A friend who resides in Galle had an interesting observation. Apart from personal services (mainly doctors and lawyers, who would need to be near their clients) there is very very limited scope for employment outside the capital and its suburbs. The only other opportunities are for a few bank staff, supermarkets and hotels.

He added that, even by the standards of the UK, which has a high concentration of businesses in or around the capital, Sri Lanka was excessively centralised.

Part of this is natural; due to the port and airport and relatively poor transport infrastructure elsewhere, any import or export business will locate close to the capital. When the density of population is high, it becomes viable to offer other services (restaurants, gyms, schools etc) and thie in turn attracts more people.

At one time I think the plantation companies used to run regional offices and so did the engineering firms (Browns, Walker & Grieg etc) that catered to the industry but these seem to have withered away. Better telecommunications probably means that it is possible to control a remote branch from head office.

Apart from overcrowding and excess pressure on resources and infrastructure, the lack of suitable employment opportunities in the regions is troubling.

My friend's suggestion was that Government offices be moved to the regions (something that can be done by fiat) with a set of regular pick up points in each city for documents to be moved. For example one could deposit a passport application at a supermarket or a bank in Colombo and it would be picked up and couriered to the passport office in Matara. Even better if most of the documentation could be done on-line, the couriering being limited to the most critical items only.

Making the popular schools open branches to cater to people in the regions  will ease a huge burden on the transport and educational infrastructure. One only needs to look at the destination boards on school vans (some are from as far away as Hikkaduwa) to realise the magnitude of the problem. 

President Premadasa tried to address this with his '500 garment factories' programme of getting companies to open factories in the regions, this was partially successful but the majority of them are still Colombo centric, being located within an hour or two of the capital.

Any thoughts on how this lop sidedness came about or possible solutions?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A few thoughts on the budget for 2013

A few quick thoughts on the budget, no time for a detailed analysis. Dr. P B Jayasundera claimed that the treasury wanted to improve the budget in terms of transparency and on that score they have delivered a significant improvement on the practices of the last few years: a significant proportion of the revenue measures were included in the budget.
True, there were a few tax increases that were pushed through between October and November, but there was a lot that came through in the budget, which means that (a) it is worth paying attention to; (b) that its presents a reasonable picture for analysis; (c) we can sleep easier on long weekends and holidays in the knowledge that the chance of taxes going up overnight has diminished.

There were several positive measures in terms of increasing clarity, such as the requirement for the Inland Revenue to give rulings on tax interpretation within six months (previously they could dawdle for ever) and a shorter time bar (18 months instead of 24 months).

The shorter time bar means that taxpayers can close their tax affairs sooner (the time bar prevents the Inland Revenue from digging up the past, which means once the return is accepted any questions from the Inland Revenue must be raised within 18 months, if they don't, the return is taken as final).

Inconsistencies between the Inland Revenue act and BOI regulations were also ironed out (Inland Revenue to prevail if those terms were more favourable)   

Several positive measures for the capital markets (tax holidays for new listings, Withholding tax on listed debentures removed, foreign investment allowed into unit trusts) were also proposed.

The extension of VAT to large scale retailers is unobjectionable (no reason why they should have been excluded in the first place) - this will lead to some increases in prices but that is a different question.

I am not opposed to taxation; I am opposed to "bad" taxation; taxes that are hidden, or inconsistent. Taxes need to be simple, uniform and visible, people must know exactly what they are paying as taxes. If they feel that the taxes are too high then they need to hold the Government to account: what are you doing with our tax money? Could it be better spent elsewhere?

Piecemeal taxes on specific industries (why add a special tax of 1% to bank profits for example) are not recommended but odd exceptions (maximum income tax on pilots and staff of IT companies limited to 16%) are probably worse. (apart from creating greater complexity in the tax code thereby increasing administrative cost they are also discriminatory, the one on pilots (why pilots and not the other staff in an airline?) being worse in this respect than the on the IT industry-at least it applies to the whole industry and one that is good source of high quality jobs).

Last years budget was replete with carefully tailored benefits for specific entities, this years budget was mercifully less discriminatory, apart from a few exceptions like the racing car concession, so again a move in the right direction.

One of the stings in the tail (which some may have missed) were the revisions to import cess (details here) and export cess (details here). As an analyst I welcome their inclusion in the budget, although as citizen I may question as to why imported meat and dairy products should be taxed at 30% or Rs.200 per kg, imported vegetables at 30% or Rs.50 a kg or fruit at 30% or Rs.80/120. Looks like it is going to be a very expensive Christmas.

PB, addressing the Ernst & Young budget breakfast made an amusing speech, I don't necessarily agree with all his views but at least he was worth hearing.

Perhaps the most telling sign of the cost of living was the menu for the breakfast at the Cinnamon Grand: no cornflakes or whole wheat bread (too expensive to offer at current tax levels). What was on offer was mostly a collection of short eats, sandwiches, some fruit and yoghurt.

Patrons of 'Sri Lankan' themed buffets in general may have noted the absence of "pol sambol" from the menu-undoubtedly due to the high cost of coconuts. Time to start holding the Government expenditure to account, methinks. 

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

A boss, a boss, my kingdom for a boss...

who is either;

a) sane, or
b) human.

Is that too much to wish for? Both would be nice, but I would not complain if they had either of the above. Anyway, I can empathise with the Dilbert cartoon below:  

On a more random note, now that the radio frequencies have changed I am having a hard time tracking down the stations I usually listen to. While scanning through the the stations I came upon a broadcast of the BBC news so I listened. The next programme turned out to be - Children's Birthday Greetings. There were two greetings that were read out, but the concept of sending a postcard to a radio station a few weeks ahead to get announced on the programme is quaint and somehow, rather charming. Does anyone else listen to this station?

They had an advertising blurb after the children's programme that carried clips from the past, including the BBC announcement of D.S Senanyake's death (preceded by phrase "this is London"; famous to listeners of shortwave radio) an announcement by Mrs B (sounding a lot like CBK) declaring a state of emergency. (ps for some of the classic BBC identification themes, listen to this)There seems to be a wealth of material on the SLBC archives, there must be some way of monetising this, it is fascinating.     

Sunday, November 04, 2012

The month of November is a "bad" period

Sri Lankans are a superstitious people; astrologers, soothsayers and fortune tellers earn a tidy sum catering to the various neuroses of the people. The rulers are, by common consent, more superstitious than most, events of state such as the impeachment motion on the Chief Justice are carefully aligned to the movements of the stars, planets or deities that watch over the country.

Critics of such beliefs, such as myself are a small and diminishing minority. As any member of Colombo's Hi!! magazine set instinctively realise, its no fun trying to have a party one ones own. Therefore the time is right for the sundry remaining jokers to join the bandwagon of superstition.

I shall therefore start my own tradition: November shall be declared a "bad" month, during which no important activities should take place. Ceasar was asked to beware of the ides of March,  he ignored the warning in the mistaken belief that he was being forewarned of tax day. After all, Caesar does not pay tax on that day, he collects.

In Sri Lanka budget day falls in November, a good enough reason to declare the month bad, but much else seems to happen. Chandrika Bandaranaike launched coup d’├ętat nine years ago in November and this year, the month has claimed more victims.

In another time, in another place called Ceylon there existed a certain nutcase by the name of Abraham Kovoor. Relentless in his campaign against superstition, he lived by a rather silly creed:

He who does not allow his miracles to be investigated is a crook; he who does not have the courage to investigate a miracle is a gullible; and he who is prepared to believe without verification is a fool!   

He, and his ideals are all now thankfully dead. The Miracle of Asia is self evident, no questions need be asked and anyway, who needs a party pooper?  And beware of the month of November.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Discrimination against the handicapped

A friend of mine asked me if I had noticed the degree of discrimination that the handicapped faced? I was a bit surprised, I had not encountered this before. He went on to relate a story about a family friend.

The family friend had been asked to remove her child from school. A group of parents of other students had objected to the presence of this child and brought pressure to bear on the teachers who had, in turn asked that the child be removed.

The reason? The child was suffering from Downes syndrome, which, presumably, something that they thought either dangerous or repulsive, probably both.

In searching for a school for the child the parents met many teachers, one of whom had faced a similar experience previously. Ceylinco Sussex College had wanted to accommodate pupils with learning difficulties in the school and hire specially trained teachers to work with them. The school had been forced to abandon the project after parents objected.

My friend remarked that not only is there discrimination based on race and religion, even the handicapped are a "problem". He wondered why people simply did not complete the cycle and apply for their Nazi party cards, because these were the very characteristics that the Nazi's wished to stamp out.

I could not but agree with him.

To Galle, by train

I am a regular visitor to Galle during the Literary Festival but never visit otherwise. I have been meaning to explore the town further so accepted an invitation from a friend living in Galle to spend a few days with him.

I was too lazy to drive and thought it would be a change to take the train instead. It is a fairly short journey and the ride could be fun.

The greatest difficulty with the train is obtaining proper information. Seat61 is one of the best sources of information. If you want to cross check anything try the  Government information service number 0112-191919. They are helpful but their information is sometimes a bit dodgy (when I went to Haputale they told me that advance bookings for the observation carriage were possible 10 days ahead, but it turned out that they were open 14 days ahead and tickets were sold out when I went to book). You could also try calling the CGR directly ( I got the numbers from the Government Information Service and did that, just to make sure). Anyway by a process of triangulation, it is possible to get a fair idea.

I wanted to take the morning train (at 6.50am) but my brother warned me that I should get to the station by around 6am, because the queues may be long. It was a good thing that I did because the queues were long and I stood in the wrong one.

There are two sets of ticket counters, one right at the centre of the station which only issues warrants. Warrants are free passes available to Government Servants. They do not sell tickets to the public. As these are the most prominent counters and no others are visible from that place (there should be an arrow pointing to the other counters at least), it is possible to waste time standing in the wrong queue.

Lesson No.1: avoid the set of counters that says "warrants only". After reaching the head of the queue I was informed that I should move to another set of counters that were on the other side.

The queue there was even longer and one needs to be quite firm to maintain ones place. The concept of personal space does not exist so don't stand too far back from the person in front, people will just step in front of you; naturally this also means plenty of poking and shoving from behind.

Once I had got my tickets I went over to the platform. The train pulled up on time and there seemed to be a lot of people in it. I though people would get off, but no one did.

Lesson No.2 - get on the train at the starting point (in this case, Maradana) if you want a seat. 

 I scrambled into carriage that looked less crowded, but there were no seats. I looked across at the other carriages, they seemed worse so I decided to stay put. I was comforted by the fact that there seemed to be little heavy baggage; I guessed most people were on short journeys and once someone got off at Panadura or Kalutara I would get a seat.

Imagine therefore my growing horror as more people boarded at Dehiwala, still more at Mount Lavinia and even more at Moratuwa.  After we past Kalutara with no one getting off I had given up any hope of getting a seat. In a compartment with 28 seats I counted 20 people standing in the aisle or perched on the arm rests of seats. There were several families with small children and babes in arms. There seemed to be an unspoken arrangement whereby children who were in the aisles were slowly herded with families who had seats, the children sharing seats, sitting on armrests or standing in between the rows of seats.

Into this overcrowded carriage followed a procession on vendors setting vadai, soft drinks and snacks, not to mention numerous beggars. 
Mercifully, the morning was cool, there were fresh sea breezes blowing through the windows but as the windows are set fairly low, for standing passengers, no view. After a while I stopped worrying about the nuisances.  People started getting off in stages from Ambalangoda onwards and my mood lightened considerably. The train was quick and ran on time, arriving at Galle at around 9.40am. Overall it was a tolerable journey but not fun. Had I got a seat I would have quite enjoyed it, but deprived of a view there was nothing positive to focus on.

The cost of the ticket was cheap Rs.180 for 2nd class, it would be acceptable value for a single person or a gang of youngsters but not recommended for families.

On the return journey I took the Expressway bus (a bus every 15 minutes) , it cost Rs.470 to Maharagama but I got a seat. The bus was comfortable and fast. I took an ordinary bus from Maharagama to get to Colombo, which was not crowded and cost only Rs.27. The total journey took me 2 hours including the ride on the 138 to Colombo. The bus was by far the better option of the two modes of transport.

Apart from the hassle of getting there and the somewhat damp weather I had a good holiday in Galle, one of the highlights of which was the discovery of a very nice restaurant called "Refresh" in Hikkaduwa-excellent ambiance, a great place for a drink on the beach, watching the sunset.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Apples, Apricots and other fruity computers

Apple is now the most valuable company in history. It is a bit hard to imagine, Apple was in deep decline by 1997 when Steve Jobs returned to the company he founded with Steve Wozniak. Wozniak, now long forgotten by the public, was the engineer in the team, Jobs' contribution was mostly to marketing and design.

In 1997, it was Microsoft, the company spawned by IBM, the old giant in the field was in the ascendent, Apple seemed destined for permanent decline, following the path of Apricot, Acorn and others from that era.

The funny thing is that it is not computers that made Apple's name. Not many users of the Ipod or the Iphone would have even known what an Apple II looked like. Apple's success was to find a 21st century successor to the Sony Walkman.

Like the Ipod, the Walkman was the vision of its founder, Akio Morita and in its day, brought Sony as much fortune as the Ipod to Apple. Incidentally, Sony seems to have lost its way since the loss of its founder, people are beginning to wonder if Apple has now reached its zenith.

For those interested, there seem to be fans of retrocomputing who maintain museums of old computers. Those quirky machines were the toys of our time. The infinitely more powerful PC's we use today are little more than tools.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The difference between juice and nectar

I have been buying the Kist Mango Nectar quite frequently, the label says it contains fruit juice and it tastes good, very natural.

My brother however alerted me to a subtle difference in labelling: nectar and juice are not necessary the same.

If a product is described as "juice" it must contain 100% fruit juice or pulp. If it is described as "nectar" it contains some juice but also a lot of sugar water. In the UK the regulations a product need only contain 25%-50% of juice  (depending on the product) to qualify to be described as a "nectar".

Wonder what the local regulations are and how much juice actually goes into these products?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Curtting down the number of radio stations?

I heard that the radio frequencies are to be reassigned from the 1st of November. This is going to affect the brand value of the stations and possibly disrupt its audience, at least for a while. Not a major issue but one needs to understand the motives behind this.

The statement that "a radio station with three or four frequencies meant for different parts of the country may be given a single frequency with countrywide coverage." has certain implications. Will it result in fewer stations?

The purchase of the Sunday Leader leaves the Sunday Times/Mirror group as the main 'independent' source of information in the print media. The rules imposed on television advertising has had a debilitating impact on television. Are the radio stations next on the list?   

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Why do women strive to look good?

I have just returned from an evening at an old fashioned club that has retained some of its charm, despite the best efforts of various venal elements who at various times in the past have attempted to 'commercialise' the place.

I was with a friend, his wife and his over-energetic two year old son, who incidentally,  has the makings of a fine sportsman. He is a bundle of energy who loves running around in the open spaces of the club grounds.

My friend's wife, clearly exhausted by the antics of her son, mentioned that she liked coming to the club because it was peaceful and there was a lack of female competition. She said she felt she could come as she was, implying she did not feel the need to dress up a bit, because there was no competition around.

I have heard before that women feel the need to dress up not to impress men but to impress, or at least look better than, other women. Perhaps this is why Sri Lankan law firms, with a female to male ratio of 10:1 (or worse, I know of one place were a lone man works with 20 women), tend to have the most fashionably dressed women around? I used to think it came from an overdose of American television serials like Street Legal but perhaps there is something more subtle and evolutionary at work here.

In the case of men , when they do bother, I think dressing up is more about impressing women than anything else.

Any thoughts?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Speeding on the Southern Highway

I was in Ahungalla yesterday on a workshop. Went there by coach but returned with a friend who had driven down. He had been charged with speeding yesterday but had been unable to pay the fine since it was poya day.

This morning we tried looking for a post office to pay the fine, but being Sunday they were all closed. Faced with the prospect of returning another day to pay the fine and collect the license we decided to talk to the policemen at the police post at the the Expressway entrance, to see what could be done.

They were sympathetic and very helpful. They said we could probably get the postmistress at the agency post office to collect the fine. One of the policeman accompanied us and we drove to the agency post office, about 10 minutes away. It was a part of a shop and while the post office was closed the shop was not. The postmistress was not around but the policeman made inquiries and a message was sent to her. She turned up shortly afterwards and took the money and wrote the receipt for the fine.

We returned to the police post, handed over the receipt and collect the license. My friend offered the policeman who accompanied us some money for his assistance but it was refused.

All in all, a surprisingly good experience.

ps. The speed camera's are not automatic they are manually operated. They are usually stationed around the overhead bridges or where there is shade. They usually impose a fine only if the driver is above 125km or so.      

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Why is the President missing the UN General Assembly?

It is reported that President Rajapaksa will not be attending the UN General Assembly this year but no real  explanation has been offered. People, including myself, often think that nothing much happens at the UN summit but Yahoo News offers six good reasons why this summit is worth watching.

Regardless of anything else, it is the main meeting of the UN and many world leaders will attend. Judging by past behaviour, the President himself attaches huge import to the meeting, he has never missed one before and his address to the UN GA is widely reported and closely followed in Sri Lanka. The official statement that "this is not the first time, previous Presidents like J. R. Jayewardene and Chandrika Kumaratunga had also sent representatives to address the UNGA” does not ring true.

This raises the obvious question: why is he missing it this time around? The President is always keen to raise the country's profile and project its 'soft power' and has traveled extensively to further this cause. Earlier this year he attended the UN conference on Sustainable development in Rio and also took time to visit Cuba. Pictures show a smiling President chatting with various world leaders.   

Has the relationship with the UN soured since then or is he in ill health?

There was the unfortunate case of the UN resolution in March this year as a consequent of which we had the delegation from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) visiting this month. Critics seem to think that things are not going swimmingly on that front either and the actions of the Government seem to confirm this view: witness the new diplomatic strategy of opening missions in Africa and South America, with the hope of garnering their votes at the next session of the UNHRC. The country has already paid host to visits from the Presidents of Seychelles and the Maldives and the King of Swaziland, so this strategy is already in the process of being executed.      

Perhaps he is preoccupied with domestic concerns? The Provincial Council elections were just concluded and there is speculation that the Provincial Elections are only a precursor to the big event - the Presidential election. Could we be in for a Presidential election in early 2013 or perhaps 2014? Certainly the Presidential poll of 2010 was preceded by the Provincial Council elections in April, August and October 2009. As Gomin Dayasiri argues, the Provincial Council is a test bed of opinion and victory there enables the President to create a "wave" - politicians-and the providers of election funds-are keen to back the winning horse so victory at the Provincial level forms a good stepping stone to bigger things. Either way, we are in for some interesting times.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

How Times Have Changed - Joseph Portelli's tribute to his father

The Australian-Maltese singer-songwriter Joseph Portelli has written a beautiful song, a touching tribute to his father who was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Watch it here. And if you are as moved,  as I was, please think of other sufferers from this dreadful disease and donate to the Lanka Alzheimer's Foundation.

If you wish to buy the song (proceeds go to Alzheimer’s Disease International and national Alzheimer associations worldwide) you can do so here.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Fredrica Jansz, editor of the Sunday Leader, sacked

Just heard that the editor of the Sunday Leader has been sacked. The news is on various websites and is already attracting some comment. This can mean only one thing: one less critical source of information.

I have said before that I do not consider the Sunday Leader to be the best of papers but they do carry same good information. It's importance has also grown, especially with the dumbing down of previously good newspapers. The Daily Mirror is a grotesque travesty of its former self, yet, incredibly enough, is still the best English daily around. The Sunday Times has suffered less, but is palpably tamer. Even the Sunday Island, is less interesting than it was.

Worldwide people have been proclaiming the end of print media, unfortunately in Sri Lanka the new media of the internet died even before the old media.

People are going to be very hard pressed to find any information at all. Even an information junkie like me has got to trawl all over the web to find anything and most days now I simply don't have the time. It feels like playing blind man's buff, in everyday life. Or perhaps like sheep, being lead to the slaughter.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Budget for 2013 commences...

As expected, the first installment of the budget for 2013 was announced at midnight yesterday. Taxes on canned fish were increased by Rs.25 per can and taxes on potatoes by Rs.20 a kg. The commodity levy now stands at Rs.50 on a kilo of potatoes and Rs.75 on a can of fish. These special commodity levies are over and above the VAT of 12%, the Ports & Airports Levy and Nation Building tax that are applied to all imports, which means the total tax is in fact a lot higher than the above figures. Customs duty, if applicable, is over and above this lot.

A spokesman claimed that this was to protect farmers but informed observers are aware that this is nothing of the sort, just another tax to feed the bloated state machinery. The Customs website has a list of the recent changes to tariffs that is worth reading, just to know how much is being extracted from consumers.

The timing was also in line with expectations, shortly after the end of the provincial council election and just before the start of the T20 cricket matches. Expect further installments of the budget around important matches. Consumers would do well to stock up on arrack, cigarettes and dry rations over the next week or two, you will save some money.

The closing line in the announcement that "the country has been reached self sufficiently in production of rice and maize and local farmers have been encouraged to provide above goods in order to meet 50% of local consumption requirements" is laughable and not just for the atrocious English.

Local maize, of inferior quality (because the climate is not right) is twice the cost of imported maize, which explains why chicken prices are so high (maize is the principal ingredient in poultry feed). Meanwhile with water diverted to feed the industrial scale maize farming (under the control of politicians who skim the profits) ordinary farmers are left without water. This is also the problem with the inefficient local sugar production (where new taxes have also been imposed, to "protect the local farmer-ie politician). The extent to which agriculture is now under the control of politicians is amazing, a worthy subject of further study.  

Analysts in the meantime will need to start the tedious business of tracking the "budget", one gazette notification at a time over the budget season, which will end in the first week of November. The second season of the " budget" starts in March or April, depending on what the sporting calendar holds and the prevalence of the long weekends. What better time to introduce a tax than when a lot of people are busy arranging a holiday?

The treasury has mastered the art of taxation by stealth, but the shroud is beginning to wear rather thin and one wonders when the public at large will see through the whole charade.

Parliament, in the meantime is fast asleep. Should someone wake them up, to remind them what their their role should be?

A key role of Parliament, and of the House of Commons in particular, is to hold the Government to account for expenditure. The Government intends to make it easier for Parliament to do so by improving the transparency and accountability of Government expenditure, in line with recommendations from the House of Commons Treasury Committee" (The Governance of Britain, Green Paper on constitutional reform, 2007)


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Telemann - Concerto for 4 solo guitars

Came across this quite by accident. The transcriptions works surprisingly well, I assumed it must originally have been written for lute, but apparently it was for the violin. Makes for very interesting listening, the ear being constantly teased by the contrapuntal textures, try it on Youtube.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Work is worship - A response to Hemantha Warnakulasuriya

Azrael has reproduced a letter written by Hemantha Warnakulasuriya, Sri Lanka's former ambassador to Italy.

Although I think he means well there are many things that I find problematic with Mr Warnakulasuriya's analysis.

The majority of migrants to the West, be they from SE Asia, India or Sri Lanka have done very well. There have been failures too but on the whole many have succeeded. It does not matter where they come from, if they have the basic skills and are provided with the right incentives, people will succeed.

I think there is a huge problem in the North and East now-the deterioration of the work ethic and the lack of basic skills.

A friend told me that he had heard from another friend that a company had set up a hotel project in the East. They had hired local staff but they had proved to be impossible to work with. They had very limited attention spans, were unable to follow simple instructions and were very slow to learn. Ultimately they gave up and employed people from the South to man the place.

I know that a top garment manufacturer opened a factory in Punani shortly after the end of the war. The productivity was abysmal. Whenever there was a wedding the whole staff would go off for a couple of weeks. They tried to restructure the factory many times, downsized it, ultimately gave it the most simple T shirts to make but it did not work out. They moved it to Batticaloa where things are a somewhat better, but its still not at top notch. They are keeping the factory going, partly because they feel they should do something to create employment but it is not possible to revive a region purely on the basis of charity.

There is an entire generation there that has been living on handouts, have not had proper jobs or education and have been traumatised by war. God only knows what psychological problems they have.

This is a huge issue that needs to be tackled as part of a proper system of rehabilitation but the GoSL simply ignores it and concentrates on building roads and few public buildings. The physical infrastructure is the easy part, the soft skills are the hard part and not a lot seems to be happening on that front.

Fortunately the people there still seem to be going abroad, many to Australia but of late the GoSL seems to be apprehending them and sending them back.

They need to be either rehabilitated and brought into mainstream society or allowed to leave. Keeping them penned in is to create a tinderbox.

The point of the long ramble is to say that Tamils are not necessarily more hardworking than anyone else. With the right policies and good governance anyone can succeed.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The basic rule for travel in Sri Lanka

I like travelling around the country and have organised many a journey with my friends. When planning a journey of more than two or three hours, there is one golden rule I think should always be followed: leave the city early.

This is something that I learned first from my grandfather's travel arrangements, he would have departed a long time before we woke up and we would wonder where he went in the middle of the night. When we were older and were taken on trips the time of departure was usually about 4.30am or 5am. As children waking up early added an extra element of excitement and mystery to the trip.

As I grew older and started travelling with friends it seemed only natural that the same rule was followed. When driving one realises the benefits of an early departure: avoiding the traffic and the heat of the day. It is good to get a good part of the journey done by about 8am in the morning, before the tropical sun makes the journey uncomfortable.

In the days before air conditioned cars this was very important and now, even with the benefit of air conditioning, extended travel in the afternoon heat can be very tiring. 

All my friends thought on the same lines and I assumed that this was the way in which everyone travelled. Friends from abroad however are quite aghast at the thought of leaving this early in the morning. For them, 6am is early and 5am, a  very reasonable start by our standards quite alarming.

There is something very pleasant about an early morning drive; the cool morning air, the deserted streets. Watching the soft light of dawn brighten the rural countryside, breakfast by some wayside tea shop, these are all the delights of an early morning start. We would stop for breakfast somewhere between 7.30am and 8.30am, depending on the length of the journey and the availability of some desirable breakfast spot. Post breakfast, we would be driving in normal daytime traffic but by that time we would be well into the rural areas where traffic is light and the driving more sane so there is no strain on the car or the nerves of the driver.

There is another option that is sometimes used: night travel, where the journey starts some time in the evening and one drives into the night. I have tried this once or twice but never liked it. Although it is still cool enough it is not as cool as the early morning. There is a lot more traffic and as most of the roads are either unlit or not properly lit, its a lot more of a strain to drive and more dangerous. There is also the added danger of falling asleep at the wheel which can happen on a long drive.

Does everybody like the early morning start or am I a minority here ?


Friday, August 24, 2012

Where do Sri Lankans go on holiday?

This is a question that was posed to me by a Sri Lankan friend who now lives overseas. She was visiting Sri Lanka and was going to travel around the country. She was quite shocked by the prices that hotels and bungalows were quoting. Surely ordinary Sri Lankans could not afford to spend so much?

I have just spent the morning on the web and the telephone trying to track down a reasonable place but with almost no success. At one time a renting a bungalow and taking ones provisions along was a a cheap option. Although it is still affordable it is no longer cheap.

The rate for the Thotalagala bungalow that I stayed in about eleven years ago has jumped from Rs.8000 per night (for the whole bungalow) to Rs.30,000 a night. At that time Thotalagala was the most expensive bungalow by far, now if one can find one for Rs.10,000 a night one has to be very lucky. A cheap bungalow that I stayed in twelve years ago at Rs.2000 for the whole bungalow was being rented at Rs.8000 a couple of years back. It is now withdrawn from public bookings, reserved for the chairman of the JEDB.

The other consideration now is the cost of petrol which can add a good 10,000-15,000 to the total trip, per vehicle.

So where DO Sri Lankan go for on an affordable holiday?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tourists arrested

According to the Daily Mirror a group of tourists were given a suspended sentence for taking photographs while posing in an unbecoming manner in front of a Buddha statue.

The charges in such instances are apparently brought under the Vagrants Ordinance, which was originally intended to deal with beggars and vagrants who were a nuisance to the public. It is a bit of a stretch, to my mind, to charge people for taking photographs under this law, but hey this is Sri Lanka where things are beginning to look rather surreal. 

Knowing how slow the procedure is I wonder how long it took for them to be produced in court? Were they arrested and held in custody or were they released on bail? Either way the experience must have been fairly traumatic, but more so if they were held in jail.

The other interesting fact is the righteous attitude of the studio manager who reported the tourists. Truly a card carrying member of the ThinkPol.

It was only earlier this week that the Daily Mirror reported the indignation with which the External Affairs Ministry said that it will challenge a recent travel advisory that warned of an upsurge of nationalism, sexual offences and anti-western rhetoric in the country.

This incident only serves to confirm the validity of that advisory.

Great marketing Sri Lanka Tourism.

Note: For anyone interested the full advisory is here. BBC report on the incident here.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sri Lanka's boat people

There was a report on television yesterday that yet another boatload of illegal migrants to Australia had been caught by the navy. The lawyer appearing for the illegal immigrants said that the people were uneducated fishermen who did not know the dangers of the long voyage to Australia.

I was a bit surprised by this; why, I wondered are fishermen leaving? Has the fishing industry deteriorated so much that fishermen are leaving in droves?

This particular boat had left from Wennappuwa on the Negombo coast, so I rang a friend who lives in the area to ask what he knew of this.

What he had heard was that the migrants were not really fishermen, they were from all walks of life and from all races, Sinhalese and Moors as well as Tamils. Australia has vast coastline and some areas in the North of Australia have a climate similar to Sri Lanka, so people feel at home. Given the large extent of coast, it is relatively easy for a boat to land undetected and its passengers to melt into the landscape.

Life for the migrants is generally good. The friend I spoke to had been introduced so a group of Sri Lankan illegal migrants in New York. One of them had been a waiter in the hotel and had recogised the Sri Lankan name and struck up a conversation. He in turn had introduced him to members of underground Sri Lankan society who had entertained him lavishly. That particular group were some 30 JVP'ers who had fled in 1988/1989 but were enjoying life in New York. They all did menial jobs as waiters, cleaners and the like, although some of them had been to university and one happened to be an engineer. I asked him whether he thought they had shed their Marxist ideology, he thought they had not but they were very happy with their lot and their only aim was to try and and get legal status. Unfortunately my friend was not able to help.

Australia seems to hold a similar attraction. People, even in low paid work, can enjoy a better life than at home and when tales of success trickle back more people line up to leave. According to my friend, he had heard that around 4,000 people from Chilaw alone had landed in Australia.

 This may also explain a dilemma that firms face- difficulties with hiring staff at the low end of the scale. Nobody, not even someone who has only O Levels, wants to take a job that pays less than 15,000-20,000 a month, many want even more. Employers find it difficult to pay more and are mystified by this attitude, putting it down to pride.  The high cost of living is probably nearer the truth and when there is the possibility of going abroad, legally or illegally, why take up a low paid job at home?

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Nigerian scam, now with the IMF and World Bank

I was rather amused when a friend forwarded this:

From: United Nation []
Sent: Friday, August 10, 2012 4:47 AM
Subject: Update

On behalf of the entire Staff of the United Nation and the Federal Government of Nigeria in collaboration with IMF and World Bank. We apologise for the delay of your Contract Payment and all the Inconveniences you encountered while pursuing this payment. However,from the Records of outstanding Contractors due for payment with the Federal Government of Nigeria, your Name and Company was discovered as next on the list of the outstanding Contractors who have not yet received their payments. I wish to inform you now that the square peg is now in square hole and your payment is being processed and will be released to you as soon as you respond to this letter. Also note that from the record in my file, your outstanding Contract Payment is US$5,700,000.00 (Five Million Seven Hundred Thousand United States Dollars). Kindly re-confirm to me the followings: Your Full Name: Your Complete Address (Physical Address with Zip Code not P.O.BOX) : Name of City of Residence: Country: Direct Telephone Number: Mobile Number: Nearest airport: Working Identity Card/Int'l Passport: Occupation: Position: As soon as the above mentioned details are received, your payment will be made to you via diplomatic courier delivery inaccordance to World Bank and IMF recommendations. A diplomat with international travel immunity will be contracted to deliver the funds at your doorstep. YOURS SINCERELY, Smith Murry(BSC) Funds Delievery Unit 

Technically termed an advance fee fraud, it is a very old scam, originating in the 1980's according to Wikipedia. The surprising thing is that will all the exposure the scam has got, people still keep falling for it, the fact that the scammers keep using the same technique is proof enough of this.

It is a combination of greed and gullibility that makes the scam workable, the right combination of these characteristics results in a suspension of that all too rare commodity, common sense.

Speaking of which, the Ponzi scheme listed on the Colombo Stock Exchange should start getting into difficulties within the next, oh five years or so. It may prompt a revisit of the more absurd aspects of IFRS accounting as well, I think. 

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Mandela's approach to reconciliation

As a result of my last post, I started flipping through Meredith's The State of Africa and came across the chapter on South Africa under Mandela. Some may have heard of his support for the Springboks rugby team and most would have heard of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. There was more, however. Thought this was worth sharing:

National reconciliation became his personal crusade. From the moment of his inauguration he strove to establish a new racial accord, constantly reassuring the white minority of their well-being under majority rule and stressing the importance of building a 'rainbow nation'. Addressing a huge crowd on the lawns below Union Buildings in Pretoria on inauguration day, he urged a spirit of forgiveness. 'Wat is verby is verby', he said in Afrikaans. 'What is past is past'.

Towards his old political adversaries he remained magnanimous. He welcomed F W de Klerk into his cabinet, praising him for his contribution to establishing democracy and commending him as 'one of the greatest sons of Africa'. He was assiduous in cultivating right-wing Afrikaner politicians, determined to avert the the risk of right-wing resistance. He ensured that statues, monuments and street names commemorating events and heroes from Afrikaner history remained untouched. He regularly spoke in Afrikaans, describing it as a 'language of hope and liberation'. When appealing to civil servants to support government reforms, he addressed them in Afrikaans. In changing the name of his official residence in Cape Town from Westbrook, he chose the Afrikaans word, Genadendal, meaning "Valley of Mercy', the name of the first Christian mission in the Cape.

His gestures of goodwill were manifold. He organised what he called 'a reconciliation lunch', bringing together the wives and widows of foremer apartheid leaders and leading black activists. He made a special trip to visit the widow of Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid....Even more remarkable was the lunch he arranged for Percy Yutar, the prosecutor in the Rivonia trial who had argued for Mandela to be given the death sentence and expressed regret when this did not happen.
More than anything it is Madela's attitude that is striking and as a leader his example sends an unambiguous message to his people.

There are plenty of differences between the situation in South Africa and in Sri Lanka, the LTTE were undoubtedly a villainous group of terrorists, with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, but reaching out to the community, with sincerity and commitment can surely do no harm.

All this went down very well, but Mandela's proposal for a truth commssion provoked a huge row. He said it was needed:

..not for the purpose of exacting retribution but to provide some form of public accounting and to help purge the injustices of the past. Unless past crimes were addressed, he said, they would 'live with us like a festering sore'. De Klerk, a deputy president in Mandela's government of national unity, denounced the whole idea, arguing that a truth commission would result in a 'witch-hunt', focusing upon past government abuses while ignoring ANC crimes. It was, he said, likely to 'tear off the stitches of wounds that are beginning to heal'.

 Apparently a great debate ensued, some demanded reparations from the whites,  others suggested a general amnesty, the common theme in the Afrikaans press, according to Meredith being 'atrocities were committed by both sides, so let us forgive and forget'.

Some of this starts to sound familiar, but perhaps the tragedy is that there was no real local debate on the subject. Instead we had the LLRC Commission foisted on us, created to forestall a UN commission, itself the result of debate overseas.

It is not always possible to arrive at the truth intuitively. A rigourous process of debate can help shape and modify ideas, which by a process of whittling down, sifting and distilling may sometimes result in the truth.

Sometimes the process of thought is as important as the ideas that result.



Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Kath Noble on Chinese projects

Kath Noble has written a piece on Chinese infrastructure projects. While I have no argument with her basic thesis, she repeats, in passing, the common misconception about the World Bank -

"On the plus side, the Chinese don’t try to tell Sri Lanka what to do. This makes a refreshing change from agencies like the World Bank, which refuses to lend unless the Government undertakes major reforms to key policies. Want to build a power plant? Tough luck, because they will only give money to the private sector, and then only if the Government promises to buy the electricity these companies generate at inflated prices for decades to come."

It is correct that the World Bank does indeed require conditions, but for the most part these conditions are intended to ensure that the project does provide some benefit for the country in which it is carried out, as this report points out.To quote:

"From its earliest days through the 1960s, the Bank took a project-by-project approach to development assistance, focusing on capital-intensive infrastructure projects. By the late 1970s, however, it had become clear that the policy and institutional environment in which projects were implemented was a major determinant of the performance of the Bank’s growing project portfolio. Indeed, in many borrowing countries, policy-induced distortions were so severe that projects could not be expected to succeed no matter how well designed they were."
The link between governance and growth is something I have talked about before, all the bank is trying to do is to ensure proper policies are in place so that the project works. These policies will help the populace but are irksome to the politicians.

The real reason that politicians prefer Chinese projects is that they come with no questions asked and kick backs all around, both on the Chinese side as well as the local side. The Chinese officials approving the loans probably make as much money as the politician's getting the loans. Unfortunately the general population has to cough up, when the loan needs to be repaid.

Apart from the policy changes required by the World Bank, there is also the tiresome process of monitoring that the Bank insists on. The Banks approach to monitoring is, to quote:

1. Clearly articulated statement of objectives, reflected in the design documents and lending agreements

2. Results framework with output and outcome indicators capable of measuring the results chain leading to achievement of the objectives, specified during project design

3. Regular supervision and supervision reports

4. Self-evaluation by the managing units: Implementation Completion and Results Reports (ICR) completed within six months of project closing

5. Independent validation of the ICRs by the Independent Evaluation Group (ICR Reviews) and independent field evaluations of about one in five projects: Project Performance Assessment Reports (PPARs) 
6. Project evaluations also feed into higher level evaluations, including country-level and sector-level evaluations, as well as meta-synthesis evaluations.
All of which mean that it is (a) a lot more difficult to come up with a useless white elephant idea, which no one knows about and then (b) to proceed to steal the money which is part and parcel of the whole idea.

Politicians are thus ever ready to trumpet the benefits of Chinese projects while condemning the World Bank and other lenders. Not that everything that the World Bank has done is a success or that they are right every time, but at least with these projects there is some accountability somewhere. With Chinese projects there is none.

Who decided to build Norochcholai coal plant, minus a pier or some other economical means of getting coal to the station? Not the World Bank, which funded some village hydro projects, apparently with some small success. Nor did they fund the Hambantota habour (minus container terminal) or the Mattala Airport (runway larger than Changi airport, Singapore).

For anyone interested in development, the world has had a good sixty years of experience to learn from since the first new independent states emerged after the second world war. In the 1950's and 1960's there were questions as to what would succeed. By the late 1980's it was clear what needed to be done.

Why is Sri Lanka, in the 21st century, making the same mistakes that many a nation on the African continent made in the 1950's ?

For further reading on this I would recommend Martin Meredith's The State of Africa, there are so many striking parallels, both economic and political with the Sri Lanka of today, it's almost frightening.    

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Prostituting journalism

This was the editorial of today's Sunday Observer. I thought it interesting enough to be worth sharing.

Apparently, INGO's and Foreign Missions (any guesses as to which ones?) are behind this dastardly plot. Clearly people are annoyed by this but I wonder, why the perpetrators have been termed 'suicide journalists'?

Anyway, it was only last week that the Observer informed us that the alleged crime wave had been blown out of proportion. In that instance it was the open economy that was held to blame, although it does concede, correctly, that the new constitution, was  partly to blame.

The faults of that constitution have been extended of late, mostly recently the 18th amendment. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The taming of the Sunday Times

It is often remarked that the local media lacks something in terms of critical analysis. What nonsense!;  is the reply, just see the stories in the Sunday Leader on Srilankan Airlines or the Sunday Times lead on the investment in Greek bonds by Sri Lanka's Central Bank.

There is definitely still criticism but it is distinctly more muted than before, nothing illustrates this better than the story on the Central Cinema. The Sunday Times broke the story last week, but tucked it away on page 19 of the paper. Strangely enough, the story was not carried in the online edition. Perhaps it was just an omission.

Further, quite unaccountably, the important follow up: the destruction of the cinema was missed. There was a one line item in the online edition but that was it. was left to the Sunday Leader to carry a follow up.

Why is it that a newspaper that breaks an interesting story, fails to follow up on it. Sloppiness? Inefficiency? It seems hard to believe. In the context of the failure to put the original story on the online edition (where it could be read by potential overseas investors) and the placement of the original story at the back of the newspaper and one gets the distinct impression of 'soft pedalling'.

I have noticed this before (an example here). A few stories make the lead but a lot more are hidden. Most people have little time to spend trawling through the paper looking for tidbits of information and are thus uninformed. There was a time when the Sunday Times would have pursued this with vigour, but those days seem to be in the distant past. It is still, on the whole, one of the better papers, although this is not saying much. 

The question is why have they lowered their standards? Are they afraid? Have they bought into the GoSL view? It could be anything although analysts tend to believe the latter rather than the former view.  The GoSL liberated the country from ruthless terrorism, give them a little leeway to act.

Unfortunately a lot of people who have bought the hype may not realise that the fundamental requisite for growth is confidence and that confidence in the laws and system of justice is the very foundation of this. Expropriation of property, especially if it is, as the Leader claims, in violation of a court order, strikes at the very heart of confidence.

I am a pessimist, always seeing the glass half full rather than half empty. Perhaps these are minor blips, once these (admittedly) under utilised properties are developed things will start to happen. Perhaps. I tend to think that the most important thing for a state to do is get the governance right and step back and let private investors take over.

I may yet be proved wrong. I certainly hope so.