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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think Hemantha Warnakulasuriya is spot on. There is a huge work ethic problem of the Sinhalese.
This was well understood by the British, and Lee Kuan Yew commented on the "capability" of Jaffna Tamils.
I think the article and the email contained in it should be taken in the right spirit.

I find your "response" more of a defense of the poor Sri lankan work ethic.
The Sri lankan migrants in the west have reasonably done well. But there is a fundamental difference in the two communities.
Most Tamils left the shores penniless, they had to work tirelessly to achieve the status they have today.Most Sinhalese were educated professionals, they had white collar jobs waiting for them.

The lower middle class sinhalese in Italy,France and even UK are still doing odd jobs.But their Tamil counterparts have fared better.

Of course,Hemantha refers to the old Jaffna Tamils. I agree that the N/E Tamils living there now may have a poor work ethic. But that exists in the south as well.

And the more industrious Tamils have left N/E, so most of those who live there are lower caste. They have been backward historically. But if they are given the same resources as Hambanthota gets, they'll improve.

Right policies and good governace would not make anyone succeed. Learn from Chinese in Singapore,malaysia or from american jews. Certain cultures promote Hardwork,high performance and achievement.

The Sinhalese have rarely experienced hardship in their history. Food and water was always available.In the north,the sun burns and life is harsh. Plus, the laid back island mentality, buddhist aversion to commerce and govt handouts have made SL incompetitive among it's neighbours!