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?


Patta Pal said...

Whilst there is a lot of truth in what you say, one has to appreciate the real picture.

When a country develops, and people still live in rural areas, businesses emerge.

Post Offices, the 3 wheel repair shop,the tractor repair shop, the motor bike repair shop and the bicycle winkel come to mind first. The tire and battery shop, the local black smith or the new version of the guy who uses the acetylene torch. Then the hair dresser, the village grocery store expanding to every street corner in villager now. The hardware store that caters to every one who is building something or another,

Schools are for the most part rural, except for some of the closures where the shortage of teachers who do NOT wish to relocate or commute to a remote area, leads the parents to find the nearest town school, which then empties the school, which then closes.

If you mean large scale employment then like you said the odd garment or a new factory, both of which are now rare except in special industrial zones to which people have to be bused from their villagers.

Anyone in a job wants to improve themselves and so it goes for the villagers too.

The excuse of no jobs is true and false. One has to have flexibility in labor mobility anywhere in the world. Jobs DON'T always come to where you live.

Sri Lanka has the distinction of being settled in remote areas, who after three generations have people stuck there refusing to move to where the jobs are!

If only we had a culture of giving all the land to the first born to farm the land like other countries and sent the others to seek their fortune, we will not have this problem. We will have more efficient agriculture, and a mobile workforce who will live near employment.

Another point is we are not flat dwellers making urban life even more difficult to stomach.

Patta Pal said...

Actually I forgot to mention how much Government jobs there are in the rural areas, not just at schools, but hospitals for security and nurses and ancillary if one assumes doctors come from other areas.

Then there is the long list of Govt offices in rural areas, the Vet and support staff, the irrigation dept, electricity dept, the police, the grama arakshaka, the phi and MOH section, the agricultural dept offices, the divisional secretariat (400 of them all over) with overstaffing on a grand scale.

Remember in farming communities, those who are engaged in farming amount to less than 10% of adults. The rest belong to one of the long list of the above!! More work for the Government and what about the 50,000 graduates just employed. You can be assured they are majority from rural homes, assigned to other rural areas, so have to find board and lodging.