Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Stigma associated with "Mental Health Issues" is finally broken - Its time to act by taking advantage of the new openness

With the recent revelation that Prince Harry had to resort to years of therapy to get over the loss of his mother Princess Diana, has opened up a closed subject, that mental health is NOT something that is confined to a few people, but normal people can also suffer due to unexpected occurrences and they also need help to get over their problems.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4419732/Prince-Harry-breaking-taboos-just-like-mother.html

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/17/prince-harry-mental-health-grief-diana-princess-of-wales

In an earlier blog article here just a few days ago, I alluded to the propensity of teenagers to suffer depression if they are sleep deprived, as many in Sri Lanka are, and suggested means to reduce this incidence of depression, by appealing to the Education Authorities to bear in mind their special needs when setting times for school opening hours in Sri Lanka.

We have given way for convenience, over what is good for the child, the whole reason the school is established in the first place. We tend to forget why their are schools! It is NOT to give jobs and perks like extended holidays and get home early for Teachers, but to educate children in the best surroundings at times suitable for the young minds, and NOT TO THE MOTHERS WHO HAPPEN TO BE TEACHERS.

With high incidence of DEPRESSION in Sri Lanka, that is NOT merely misunderstood, but where insufficient resources are put their way to tackle the social crisis, it is important to bring it up the front and center of conversations.

http://www.dailymirror.lk/article/The-most-disabling-health-condition-which-needs-an-overall-approach-126942.html

The English Speaking Press has good articles tackling this problem head on without hesitation. However the Sinhala Press puts scant attention in this regard, and I firmly believe they must place a lot more emphasis in their reporting on addressing to make people aware that depression affects a HUGE number of people, and that it is NOT ODD, but common amongst people and that they can be helped to overcome it with various combinations of drugs and practical therapy.

Of course there is a HUGE SHORTAGE of trained professionals, which is sad considering that 1,200 doctors qualify but few go into this most important of sub specialty.

http://www.dailymirror.lk/article/Depression-Don-t-keep-it-silent-126936.html

The article above estimates that over 800,000 Sri Lankans of all ages suffer from depression, which is a curable illness like hear disease, but DOES NOT get the same level of resource allocated to it. As many very young people also suffer from this, it is VERY important that especially in school age kids, this is identified at the school level, by social workers and appropriate interventions take place without delay.

HOWEVER only in 1% of needy cases is there ANY intervention, and so we have 3,000 suicides that can be prevented. Health is health be it of the MIND OR THE BODY, and we just don't seem to realize that it is important that both the mind and body be given equal prominence as if the mind is in some form of equilibrium, so will the body and COULD reduce the high cost of Health Care in the State Sector if the chronic illnesses caused by depression can be alleviated.

HATS OFF to the Daily Mirror for carry these two extremely useful articles, and the challenge is for the same newspaper group to give it as much prominence in the Sinhala speaking press.

I contend that much health care costs are wasted in Sri Lanka because it is FREE, and the user, is unable to make a value judgment on when to put the burden on the state for their health. In theory therefore this will yield positive results that will reduce physical health issues and therefore costs, if the mental health issues are broached and resolved as best they can.

It is all about spending wisely by prioritizing the spend where it is needed MOST and a good system which identifies these priorities and intervenes to address them without delay, will result in a productive workforce, and a society with less absenteeism and productive capacity lost due to untreated DEPRESSION.

Of course before we spend on Psychiatrists, we must spend on mental health counselors and have as many schools as possible covered by trained health professionals in this field. A program must be adopted to encourage people to follow this area as a profession, and have aptitude tests to choose the most likely people who could become successful counselors, and give them the scholarships or the opportunities to pursue this line of career.

There is therefore NO NEED for people to suffer in silence when solutions are at hand, and let us hope the mainstream Sinhala media is able to bring this point across to the people who suffer to seek intervention to manage a problem that could improve the quality of life those who live in Sri Lanka, and that is what is called development, over the tangible development which may NOT lead to satisfied lives.



Children who commute over one hour to school in a van or bus during their school years, will shorten their lives on average by 10 years

Read the article in the link below of the true damage of particulate pollution, most of which we are NOT aware of.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-4419444/Does-lifestyle-risk-AIR-POLLUTION.html

and in Sri Lanka due to the 1.5M heavily polluting 3 wheelers that the State has failed to inform the public of as a HIGH polluting vehicle, we are actually KILLING our kids if they spend more than one hour going to and from school, even if it is walking in urban areas, or going in a 3 wheeler or school van or bus to school and back. Hardly any children commute in an air-conditioned car for that long, so they are the least susceptible to this terrible form of invisible pollution.

So parents, stop killing your kids out of love, sending them in vehicles to school, some leaving as early as 4.30am for the 7.30am start. It is better to send them to a local school, that may technically not be as good! as the school their 4 hour commute is but in the end be better for them anyway with more time to be children, time to play and time to sleep all adding to a healthier lifestyle.

Unfortunately we live in a state where both the people elected and the Govt servants are NOT interested in the purpose for which they are there, namely serving the public. So they are completely oblivious to the killer that is ever present in this country of increasing polluted vehicles, of which the three wheeler is the biggest culprit. We are the only country in the world that does not even have Natural Gas or Electric Buses or electric trams and trains, so the DIESEL fumes of all diesel vehicles contribute to this increasingly polluted environment.

I am simply quite amazed that our Media have NOT alerted the public to this lingering killer in their midst that will account for probably 500,000 premature deaths every year in the not too distant future, and instead spend most of their pages informing the people about the very real but relatively less important MOTOR ACCIDENT!

It is time someone takes up this pollution mantle as a PUBLIC HEALTH issue, and the GMOA are simply not equipped due to their lack of intelligence to grasp how desperately important this is and so this topic has to be tackled HEAD ON by people knowledgeable in COMMUNICATING this message to all adults to understand how debilitating their actions are on behalf of their innocent children, due to IGNORANCE.

This is a wake up call to the PUBLIC to challenge those in authority to take action, and make policy decisions sooner rather than later in the interests of the Citizens of this Country, as their own children are affected by their poor choices and lack of accountability in NOT making these timely decisions.

So let us begin with appealing to the killers in Elected Politicians and Govt. Servants to take IMMEDIATE steps to prevent the mass killing they are directly (NOT INDIRECTLY) responsible for.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

When will the donkeys in charge of Education Policy learn that EVERY aspect of the present education system is wrong!

Just look at the link. A detailed study of teenagers has come out with the  fact that they need a minimum of 8 hours sleep, and preferably 10 hours

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/04/14/teenagers-should-start-school-later-avoid-car-crashes-suicide/

This means that for them starting school at 7.30am is simply a no no! Please read the link above for more detail.

No wonder then that Sri Lanka's teenage suicides are the highest in the world. We need to do more research. Is anyone doing that? What are the professors at Universities doing? What kind of research? Those that are useful to society or merely for their advancement?

Then you have the National Institute of Education proposing that School is truncated at Grade 12 as is common worldwide but NOT in Sri Lanka. No one appears to give a damn about that report.

http://www.dailymirror.lk/article/NEC-proposes-School-education-be-truncated-at-Gr--127212.html

Of course I have maintained that 13 years in school must start at the pre-school two years before formal school so the compulaory teahing ends at the O level stage and Children will by proper teaching methods be empowered at 16 to choose their field of vocation, where NOTHING IS FREE and there are scholarships for the gifted, and loans for others, so they value the subject they pursue, be it in the Construction Industry or Medicine whatever suits THEIR fancy and NOT the SYSTEM's fancy as it is today, that trains people in fields they are NOT interested in, and NO WONDER that one million jobs are going abegging, becuase ther are NO suitably qualified people for them, or that public perception has devalued others, so that youth DO NOT pursue perfectly god well paying jobs becuase of PEER PRESSURE and PARENTAL DISAPPROVAL

The Education Authorities have yet to address these very obvious weaknesses, and ensure that our Youth are given as much KNOWLEDGE as possible about what is available, and ALL THE ENCOURAGEMENT to pursue their dreams especially in a field where there is HIGH demand both in Cities and in Rural Areas like in Construction, where a knowledgeable and reliable build aged 20 can earn at least Rs100K a month if he began his apprenticeship in earnest soon after O levels.

Policy Makers - something to ponder over - but immediate action is required if we are to see the benefits in about 20 years. NO TIME TO DILLY DALLY

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Sri Lanka the Devil’s Playground where Angels fear to tread!



Advice to those contemplating Investment or Business Opportunities in Sri Lanka

In an expanding economy, albeit from a low base, one would tend to assume that there would be untold opportunities for profit! VERY TRUE, but the path is strewn with landmines in the most unpredictable places. The name of the game is to know how to skirt the mine fields and achieve one’s expectations. It is therefore NOT for the fainthearted, but one MUST ask the question, is it worth the risk?

In my opinion many foreign investments have ended up in failure, because the initial assumptions upon which the business proposition was placed turned out to be far off the mark. The few successes have been joint ventures with local partners where there is TRUST, mututal respect and benefit, and a common goal.

JVs without all these have failed miserably, as the local party has effectively taken the foreign investor for a ride and the lack LEGAL PROTECTION has made it easy to WEAR DOWN the aggrieved into submission and EXIT with forfiture.

You only have to ask LAFARGE HOLCIM, an international Cement manufacturer about their experience. They quit in disgust for the most part because their local fixer, later Chairman, who seemingly came to their rescue as a KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR, proved to be anything but, a comon CRIMINAL bent on enriching himself at their expense. He, upon being exposed and fired, had the company tied in knots of his making, that could not be untangled, which resulted in him not even being prosecuted, due to archaic legal machinations of a faulty legal system that gives the aggrieved NO justice.

The legal system is TOO SLOW, it works against the litigant most of the time, and the lawyers charge the highest fees on EARTH. A President’s Counsel could charge US$10,000 for a 10 minute appearance that would merely postpone, on a pre arranged on a seemingly just (illegal) reason with the defendant’s lawyers, and the judge complicit to screw the litigant for all he has got. JUST ASK HOLCIM why they did not pursue! They have better things to do with their time and money and the defendent know it too.

The aforementioned individual is still cohorting in the small cocktail circuit that is Colombo, as if nothing has happened with NO SHAME and much kudos for seeing the  back of that FOREIGN MULTINATIONAL trying to screw a small man! Irony not lost.
The lawyers assess the ability of the litigant to pay, and therefore bill them accordingly, and NOT on a an agreed scale that is fair and consistent like in most countries, especially the USA, where phone calls and times are even stated on a bill, and is not arguable due to the detail. Here is a note with an amount with NO explanation as to what it is for!

Further, continuous delays (many pre-arranged) extend the case beyond a reasonable period, costing the litigant appearance fees without shame. It is none other than a legal conspiracy to fatten their pockets at the expense of the well healed who can pay, with little urgency in settling, and finally when patience runs out, so does the case, which fizzles out!

This is compounded by the fact that few and especially lawyers pay any tax on their hefty earnings, finding plenty of ways to avoid/evade tax. In a Country where very few people pay Income Tax, has NO wealth tax, capital gains tax, gift tax, inheritance tax and many companies enjoy tax holidays, especially with TAX benefits for tourism and export oriented industries, and especially those that have been granted special government concessions for dubious reasons of national importance. This permits around 1,000 wealthy people to amass incredible wealth, which never gets taxed at any stage. I would argue that there are NO tax havens that are as generous as Sri Lanka.

IN CONTRAST, very high consumption taxes especially hitting the middle class, with VAT on almost everything, except for a basket of 80 items, which anyway carry their own cesses, like taxes on the imports of essential foods, such as sugar, wheat, lentils, tinned fish, potato and onions, because it is heavily consumed, and easy to levy at the point of import and collect upon clearance. The cost of food as a percentage of average wages is one of the highest in the world, due to this and the extremely inefficient methods of food production in place today so the cost per unit produced is high, with none of it due to organic growing practices.

Another important matter that needs consideration is that high networth individuals, if they do not require funds to re invest in their own personal businesses, can receive 15% interest per annum on their deposits, which when compared with the rate of depreciation of the rupee agaisnt the US $ and rates on $ deposits, is the best risk free return one can get, without as much as stretching a leg, and this is taxed at a very low rate, with no taxes on Govt securities that carry comparable rates.

With returns such as these why get into risky investments, and no wonder the Stock Market has been in the doldrums as there are better alternatives at present.

Those who wish to raise capital overseas for local investment, do not have access to these funds, due to these high risk free interest rates available to local investors and banks do not act as  Venture Capitalists. Having said this, the Banks in Sri Lanka are extremely profitable due to the high spread between borrowing and lending rates as small investors investing savings do not get anything near what I have just pointed, instead being lucky to get 6% or 7% at their local National Savings Bank where they park their money out of habit. This NSB is owned by the govt, which then buys Govt. securities with their money, showing massive profits, effectively meaning the small man is propping the government’s profligacy.

This opens up the opportunity to Internet Banking, which is NOT currently permitted, and if granted could lead to an outcry from the traditional sector. Banks in order to protect their self interest  will prohibit this route. As you can see this behavior of banks has led to slow growth in the SME (small and medium enterprises) sector, as entrepreneurs do not have access to low cost borrowings, and so are less prone to invest in expansion.

CONTRAST THIS WITH UK’s BAT, Nestle, Unilever, Chevron, Coca Cola and overseas Banks who earn between 100% and 1000% on capital employed because their original costs were low when they started, and have not revalued assets for reasons on their own, and repatriate all their profits back to their parent company, with little investment in additional capacity in a relative sense, though in absolute terms they are still large. They trade in inelastic industries with little local competition, in FMCG goods. They are far more successful than any of their small local competitors, due to size and ability to kill competition by anti-competitive practices.

On another different point, the Sri Lankan Govt. will require to refinance their borrowings in the next 3 years when they fall due, and we are talking about US$5B. The Govt. will be looking to obtain the best rates possible in a time of increasing Global rates and Sri Lanka is NO longer eligible for subsidized loans. Any value propositions in regards to this will be received favorably, and a go between to achieve this is definitely a possibility.

Any request to grease palms on these deals must be immediately exposed to prevent the high levels of corruption, and the new found media freedom, and the  Right to Information Act is hoped will curb such violations, in the public interest.

Further, the lethargy of bureaucracy even though leaders at the National Level have inked investments, is a fact of life. This has disgusted foreign investors for whom time is money. Any reference by the BIG WHIGS to a ‘one stop shop’ should be treated with disdain, as it is only in the mind of the promissor, which cannot in practice be delivered.

I am truly sad that many foreign investments have floundered due to selfish reasons, and against the public good. The powers that be cannot see the big picture as a benefit for the whole country, pandering to a few interests.

A case in point was ten years ago, where Arne can corroborate this story, when the Hungarian Govt. through the EU were willing to finance a large project to dredge the deep sea and supply the whole nation’s requirement of building sand. This was seen primarily in the international fora as one that will save the environment from massive illegal sand mining taking place all over the Country, degrading streams and rivers and in the end the land, and water supply.

This project could supply sand at 20% of today’s price of sand and would have considerably reduced the construction cost of all infrastructure projects, to say nothing of the huge constructions of apartments, and also individual homes that have taken place over this period. It was prevented by two primary sources, first was the bureaucrats who demanded a bribe of 40% of the project cost to pass the various steps, and second was the sand mining industry, primarily in the President’s own district that saw their livelihoods threatened. If this project went ahead then, the GNP per capita of the Country, would have been 25% higher, with the resulting multiplier effects in the economy. Our leaders DO NOT have a vision as evidenced by the wanton destruction by them of the positive benefits of projects with foreign collaboration in the  economy, which they have prevented from taking place.

One does not have to show any more examples to illustrate the reason why Sri Lanka lags the world in every area, except possibly in life expectancy and infant mortality. A few structural policy changes to benefit society as a whole is all that is needed. Currently we have an economy with one million job vacancies with NO takers, and we are currently even resisting the import of labor to take up those jobs, to prevent the industries from relocating to places where there is the workforce.

Need I say more?


In Conclusion, my statements above are  MY opinion from an intense period of 12 years back in Sri Lanka, in study, practice, assisting numerous organizations on investment and financing propositions, and trust these practical examples gives you a clear understanding of the ground realities from which to commence.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Serendipity in the real world – the Shashi Tharoor connection – 4th April 2017



As fate would have it, I just happened to attend a seminar at the Orchid Room at the BMICH on steps to improve “real education in schools in Sri Lanka” by reinforcing the need for social workers, training and educating teachers in all aspects of the development of the whole child in order to strenghten the Human Resource of ALL our youth (including differently abled) when they leave schools empowered and emboldened to cope with the modern world. I believe this was part of the Government’s initiative of the 5 day event on Sustainability & Development in ALL its SENSES!

As one exited, on the opposite side of the Foyer, the book launch was taking shape, where I was introduced to Dinesh Weerakkody by my sister, as her daughter and Dinesh’s daughter are good friends. He invited me personally then to attend the launch and I took my seat just behind the reserved seats at a prominent vantage!

The Event, the Political Biography of Ranil Wickremasinghe was due to be attended one and all, with the President being the Chief Guest, and Dr. Shashi Tharoor MP of the Indian Parliament and former Diplomat in the UN as the keynote speaker.

People from all walks of life, from current and retired Parliamentarians, Business Leaders, Academics, Local and Foreign Diplomats, Clergy (including a Cardinal) Political groupies and family of the author and the subject filled the Hall to the gunnels. There were many distinguished personages who came late, who had to stand, and for a moment rank and title did not necessarily get rewarded with location! Being at one with Plebians and Patricians, there were more than 100 people I knew personally in the Hall, with another 100 I have been acquainted with over the course of my varied career, many who I had not seen in a while.

My niece due to her connections mentioned earlier was in attendence to assist in the proceedings, handing out the books to the VVIPs in the front row etc.

The event began with lighting the traditional lamp from where they stood using a tab, which automatically lit it a distance away! That was the first time I had seen that stunt! The event was interspersed with English and Sinhala, with foreign dignitores handed headsets to hear instant translations as is common in international fora. The Ven Galaboda Gnanissara Thero, who has known the family of the Prime Minister through his life explained his colorful, uncommon heritage.

I will not go through the proceedings and speakers, which are covered in the papers and I leave a link to the FT of April 5th for those who are interested in that aspect.   

The PM gave a short and sweet speech covering some aspects in Sinhala and others in English aimed at the dignitories present, and Dr Tharoor gave the prepared speech on how he felt the Indo Sri Lanka relationship has been through history to the present and how it should develop in future.

After the event was over, the guests were invited for refreshiments in the foyer, but I had a special task in hand, as Dr Tharoor had another appointment, which was dinner at Nirj’s, Nirj Deva being a friend of Dr Tharoor’s, had asked him to say a few words at the now infamous Horton Debate Society which invites famous and infamous to speak and have questions answered under Chatham House rules!

I was tasked (only as I had inadvertently attended the event) to shadow Dr Tharoor whilst he was greeting friends, signing autograph requests from swooning women, some old enough to be his mother! And let the Host at Horton know when he left. The Horton Debate begins at 7.30 and it was long after 8pm when the Selfie craze had Dr Tharoor in its sights like a Bollywood star that he seemed at the event, with flowing locks and light eyes loved by the Lankans. In his gracious demeanor he allowed himself to be photographed by strangers, whilst yours truly was gently trying to get him towards the exit.

I asked Dr Harsha the Deputy Foreign Minister if he was coming to Horton. He said he had been with Dr Tharoor at lunch and heard him speak and would like to hear more from him and would likely come, and I am sure glad he did as the dinner speech was way more fun and interesting than the serious one at this event.

In the end at the door, when his man Friday did not know how to get to Horton, I merely jumped in and rode shotgun pointing the way, with a motorcysle Police escort leading through traffic, to safely bring him to the waiting diners. As he needed to get out early, in order to take a early flight in the morning, to attend Parliament in New Delhi, I conveyed this to the host so his speech came early after the hors d’ovres.

Here again he spoke to the packed restaurant on one of his famous subjects, being the horrors of Colonialism which had ruined a prosperous India which began as the richest in the world, and ended up raped and plundered by the British to be one of the poorest at Independence. Of course he explained with example why he had this opinion, and to those unfamiliar with history, was a real eye opener on how the Indian Rulers were benign and caring, whilst the British who replaced them were anything but, ending in building a railway that the Indians had to pay for at a cost estimated at 9 times what it should have been. It had the audience in rapt attention with his unique and inimical take on British rule, with a frightfully British accent!

To conclude a Serendipitous evening, one of Dr Tharoor’s local friends popped over to his house during dinner and got a bottle of the best Malt Whiskey to wet Dr Tharoor’s thirst during the talk at Dr Tharoor’s request, highlighting the enigmatic personality that he is. I was fortunate to help finish this off, once the guests had left, and we had time to call Nirj (where ever on Earth he happened to be) and brief him on a job well done, with the hope of enticing PM Modi to be the the guest speaker at the next debate during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the Island over the special Vesak Events planned in his honor.


Horton Debates! What is that? How can I become a member of this exclusive circle of “Hill Billies!”  Ask Nirj Deva the man with the Midas Contacts.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Economic Rights in the Constitution, through Legislation, through normal Policy framework of the Government in Power enacting their Manifestos.

ADVOCATA lecture, by Prof. Pratap Bhanu Mehta (Political Scientist) on Implications of Incorporating Socio-Economic Rights in the Constitution in Sri Lanka held at the Excel World Auditorium on Tuesday, 21st February 2017 @ 6pm

Additional Panelist Dr Harsha de Silva, Deputy Foreign Minister
Moderator Prof Rohan Samarajiva

Prof Pratap Mehta’s lecture was delivered in an informative and easy to follow manner, interspersed with many real life examples that clearly gave the audience the contrasts, with reference also to the recent examples of Constitutions such as South Africa and Brazil, though he was more familiar with the Indian one.

The bottom line here is how do we best protect our citizens’ rights? Then go through all the rights a civilized society must have, and then determine how many of those rights a particular Country can provide using the State Apparatus, within the financial means of that particular Economy at the time. Of these rights, go through what should realistically be enshrined within the Constitution, that can actually be practically protected, and the rest be left to legislation and changing policy framework depending on each Government’s particular interest represented by their Constituencies demands upon being Democratically Elected.

In this manner, we come to the best method of categorizing these rights, without trying to do the impossible out of DOGMA which results in a PERVERSE outcome, where the exact opposite of what was expected happens!

As some have reiterated, the ONLY rights other than the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an International Treaty, that I believe the Sri Lankan Government has signed onto, the SL Constitution should merely contain:

The Right to Breathe Clean Air, The Right to Eat Uncontaminated Food and the Right to Drink Pure Water. In short these rights would form part of a sustainable framework of Environmental Protection that will result in these guarantees being met, and the rest would automatically follow with out specificity.

It is quite clear the more specific one gets within a Constitution, the more difficult it is for that society to enforce remedies through the Courts, when those rights are violated. When there is a specific inclusion, then you can insist that this inclusion is given to ALL. If the State cannot fund that inclusion, then no amount of forcing is going to correct the situation. Here even the remedy cannot be guaranteed, except at the expense of other rights of a much larger number being sacrificed!

If one takes the case of the right to have Dialysis provided by the State: If this is enshrined in the Constitution, then, the Courts would award this to those who have been denied. Then the Health Ministry will be forced to use its limited funds to provide this FOR ALL WHO REQUIRE IT. Then it is possible that many other health benefits could be denied for 100 times as many people due to their lack of funds once this right is fulfilled as mandated.

In the case of the Indian Constitution, some general socio economic rights have been interpreted by the Courts to include many that were NOT envisaged. If this interpretation is enforced by the Courts, they effectively nullify it by NOT giving the remedy if it is violated, letting the State off the Hook in having to provide that which has been deemed to have been denied.

In the proposed changes to the Constitution, that Dr Harsha read out, he said they propose the right to Primary and Secondary Education as well as Tertiary rights to the extent that the State at the time is ABLE to provide, NOT forcing the state to provide to ALL who seek it. They additionally permit the right to Education within the private sector, an important addition which implies that people with means if they so choose, can forsake state subsidized education and instead avail themselves of getting all or part of their education from the private sector. 

The problem with this inevitably is that those who can pay will choose the best, and the best costs the most, so the best teachers will be paid the most to teach those who are willing to pay the most, who in the end could be the BEST educated people, due to their economic power. With the state’s inability to match salaries, you will get the second best, or the quality of teacher, commensurate with what you are paying for, which could mean that students in the State system get a very poor education if the state does NOT allocate sufficient resources to provide quality.

We have another serious issue in Sri Lanka, where State Teachers in schools and universities, supplement their income in the private sector, while ALSO drawing their state salaries. They give the Private Sector more of their time and energy in teaching, and due to less regulation on attendance etc. short change the state sector out of their time and effort, resulting in the State suffering further in quality due to the PERMISSABILITY of private education. This anomaly cannot be expressly denied in the Constitution from a FR point of view. This issue applies to Doctors too, which is where we come to the inevitable. Namely “YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR!”

Property Rights and Eminent Domain were also discussed, in light of those who don’t even have any property, as to what rights do they have if any, especially when it comes to living in other people’s property, and are subjected to eviction. The reverse is that if the dispossessed cannot rent due to the landlord’s rights being denied, and the fair balance established, defining what exactly is fair.

What does it mean when you talk about the right to Life? What about the right to Education? Healthcare? Property? Food if you are starving? Welfare basics? Employment or minimum wage or minimum family income guaranteed?

It was said that more recent constitutions incorporate MORE Socio Economic Rights than older ones, however in order to fulfill these rights, the State must have a Higher Tax Base where a higher GDP ratio is raised by the State in Taxes. How high? Taxation does not enter into this debate, however in order to practically enforce additional rights in the Constitution, they can ONLY be fulfilled if the state has greater access to funds via more equitable taxation in order to pay for all these benefits on behalf of the people.

In looking at practical examples it is clear that, “Countries with less rigid inclusions in the Constitution and Legislation of what is basic”, actually have more and not less because of it. Electricity and Telecommunication is a case in point in Sri Lanka. EVEN WITHOUT specificity in the Constitution or Legislation, everyone has been provided with electricity, which they pay for based on their consumption, and it is the same for Telecommunications, and even more to the point, the Govt. collects tax on the use of Mobile phones which permeates ALL society, even though those who use these facilities may not have access to health, shelter and education!

This seriously begs the question, how free should be free? If we all HAVE to pay a minimum, then our health and education provision can be so much better, resulting in an overall benefit, on the premise that if you pay for something, even though it is a fraction of the cost, you MAY appreciate it, NOT abuse it, and actually make BETTER and more CONSIDERED choices increasing the overall productivity to the Economy. It will be a benefit to ALL.

To explain: Rs200 for one hospital visit may reduce frivolous use. Some may prefer to go private. This reduced demand on health services will permit better healthcare for those who seek it as there will be more resources for cure. Wellness programs will reduce incidence of illness. Ironically, a patient may pay Rs400 round trip for a three wheeler to go to a free hospital, when they could spend no money for travel and seen by a local doctor for Rs300, saving the patient both travel time and cost. If there is an entry fee of Rs 200, the patient will far more likely make the choice to see the local doctor, thereby saving all round!  


Clearly dogma must be set aside, and practically solutions in the best interest of society as a whole adopted to achieve the desired GOALS of a Country.   

The problem with Sri Lanka is that we are simply unable to have a unanimous agreement on what our Policy Goals should be in a holistic and macro sense for the overall benefit of the NATION

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Free Education Myth


While I believe EVERY civilized society MUST provide an excellent (FREE) foundation for a child’s basic education up to O level standard (age 16), thereon, NOTHING should be free.

Try to keep this old saying in your head as it applies to education also!

 “Good things NO cheap, Cheap things NO good!”

This is where Sri Lanka has got it all wrong. The Kannangara Reforms were correct, but only up to the O levels, and in an era when few places were open for A levels and University the additional cost was not great and the quality of education received by them was also good so at the initial stages I don’t believe the costs were untenable as it is now becoming to provide A level and Tertiary Education FREE.

Many would argue that the Country is NOT even spending 2% of the GNP on Education, let alone the recommended 6%.

To counter this  my argument is, that in the end the State has NO clue on how to spend without wasting money either, so that point is MOOT as I don’t believe we have a cost and value conscious mindset in the Public Sector to prioritize with the recipient’s (Student’s) best interest in mind. The simple example was the increase in Education Allocation last year when compared with the previous years, and the Public Servants were unable to spend any of it as they were just geared to do short term expansions when there were NO human resources to draw on in the first place.

The powerful teachers unions still don’t realize what a tragedy their contribution or lack of it has been to the students who are their charges, as they are trying to defend the rights of the Teachers in much the same way that the IUSF are trying to defend the rights of the Undergraduates, with only a politically motivated issue being traded instead of actually increasing the quality and ability of the Teaching Staff to meet the student needs of 2017. No they don’t care about their charges one bit!

In this politically expedient desire of trying to please ALL COMERS, nothing is done well, and we are left with a mediocre HR resource, with the best seeking employment overseas, be it temporary or permanent, with most of my readers coming from this permanent category, forsaking their country for their family’s well being.

A band of poorly educated second class mass is all that is left in Sri Lanka, under the present State Education system due to this Free Education demand. They are then ready to be exploited by the 8th grade cunning and opportunistic politicians, and savvy businessmen, who are both collectively able to exploit this mediocrity for their own advantage.

As a result of this history, we can neither blame the “Savvy Businessmen” and “Cunning Politician” who both combine their resources to “Fool the Masses”. This is as old as history and what Marx and Engels saw, but the left of the political stage in Sri Lanka, be they the initial Communists, Trotskyites, LSSPers, and later the JVP were never able to galvanize the thought process as their whole “MANTRA” was about exploitation of the working classes by the Capitalist Establishment that included the two classes referred to earlier who still hold sway.

They were never able to clearly see that there was NO such conscious plan by the Sri Lankan Elite, except to use their advantage of birth and contacts and relationships, to take advantage of this people’s “MINDSET” for their own ends.

WHAT IS THIS MINDSET? Simply the cultural inability to work together as one for the “COMMON GOOD”, even in one’s own home in the face of this BEHEMOTH!

The only way to change the “MINDSET” even today and it can easily be done as a collective effort if necessary, is if we begin with a blank sheet of paper, look at our most precious human resource, those children ages 2 to 4 before they go to Primary, determine what as a Nation they should be as productive citizens in our society, and once this is known, gradually instill the fundamentals through the next 13 years of formal education to reach that goal or target. No doubt some will fall by the wayside, but if we have a 50% success rate that is more than enough to be a game changer. It is not easy it is not quick but it is proven.

War Ravaged Korea did this at grass roots level in a scorched land at the end of the Korean war when people HAD to eat whatever that moved or grew for survival to get to where they are now. We did not suffer as much so it is that much harder to make the effort!

We in Sri Lanka have many examples from all over the world and we should adapt our own home grown version of this, to select the best approach to achieve this goal, with the latest technology at our disposal, using distance learning techniques, drones, and 3 D printing.

If only Sri Lanka had spent its total Education Budget up to the O level standard, in producing the visionary empowered and motivated workforce, they will then choose their tertiary model for which they will gladly pay, and the best be awarded scholarships due to the competition amongst institutions for the best, and we will not be in the mess we are currently in, due to poor decisions making back then!

We would have a more proportionate dignity of labor today, where the Farmer and Electrician earning Rs200K a month may have a higher status than doctors on Rs100K, and NOT create a false elitism that dogs our society. This will be at the equilibrium of supply and demand of labor in the marketplace, without built in barriers to mobility that now result in import of labor for construction and tourism, when we have huge waste of labor in under-utilized areas such as three wheel drivers!

Mark you because the Left never really understood these basics they could NOT find traction, and now the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) is trying to gain traction as its successor. They are trying to agitate for the same bankrupt ideas, by appealing to the educated professionals in the hinterland highlighting the business as usual theme that the present YAHAPALANAYA Govt is indulging in.

They will ONLY impoverish society if their demands are met, by frightened politicos, instead of EMPOWERING IT.

Why is it so difficult for the present crop of politicians to  change this status quo in one stroke of a pen by passing new legislation when they have a 2/3 rds majority in the Parliament? The system surely needs a radical overhaul. Is it because they don’t care a damn about the Country or its future, as their personal and family futures are assured be it here or overseas, by their legal or illegal modus operandi? They as a whole are simply worrying about the next election cycle, that has been the bane of this 70 year independence history!

My contention is that to change if we are able to harness the most radical of the lot, namely students, to see the light from their darkness! They must first realize that they have been following the same PIED PIPER to their graves all these years, and they must do a complete U turn to take the initial group of COURAGEOUS YOUTH to explain the facts, simply and truthfully.

 THAT IS ALL


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Public as in State University Education in need of radical overhaul to meet the demands of the present and future



A topic was prepared for discussion as below, but I contend the issue is really with the poor quality of State Education, and here I concentrate on the State Universities that are under the purview of the UGC

Non- State Actors in Higher Education – Issues and Challenges

SHOULD THIS BE THE REAL TOPIC?

The topic implies that the problems lie in the Non State sector of Higher Education and I contend that it is the State Sector that in realty has the issues and Challengers and the Non-State Sector is better prepared to face all Challengers thrown at them!

Let us go back to why we are even talking about this topic

Let us concentrate on 2017 and beyond. The State System with the exception of a few Medical Faculties, Moratuwa University and a few Faculties dotted here and there, like The Faculty of Management at Jayawardenapura is BROKE.

In the past however, the illustrious Alumni of the State University System that was a fraction of the size it is today, with the move to Peradeniya Campus and there were NO non-state actors, except Professional Institutions awarding qualifications, made this Country proud with their accomplishments both in Sri Lanka and Overseas.

The State Universities are today NOT even in contention with Global Universities!

The Topic should then be how we should transform the State Universities to be more responsive to the needs of the future Student, which the Private Sector is forced out of necessity to be more proactive to the market demands to survive.

The only way many who follow State University degrees appear to overcome their inadequacies is by successfully passing International Accredited Qualifications such as CIMA and CIM to add to their State Degree in order to be marketable to the prospective employer. Many do this whilst at University!

The day of reckoning has now arrived to take the “bull by the horn” and shake it up, to clean out the dead matter and infuse life into what remains without further delay.

How do we do it? Instead of playing the numbers game which is politically expedient by increasing the number of entrants at all Universities, we MUST improve the QUALITY. However before doing so we MUST plug into the National HR requirement for the Country as a whole for the next 25 years as best as can be forecast.

Once we get an idea of the workplace of the future and where Sri Lanka fits in there, we can then estimate what our future needs are, what our core competencies are  and then attempt to mold our products in the Universities, (subjects) to meet these challenges. We cannot wallow in traditional and outmoded ideas anymore.

This requires a revolution in thinking.

The State Universities are simply NOT producing what the workplace requires. Frankly this is left to be filled by this much maligned PRIVATE NON STATE ACTORS! Therein lies the difference. The users, “the students who pay, some too much, vote with their feet and will not go there, unless they perceive their benefits.

By NON-State I also include Private Public Partnerships such as NIBM and NSBM with the latest avatar being the Green University Town of Pitipana. The latter is supposed to cater to the marketplace of the future by courses that assure graduates security of employment.

WHAT THEN IS THE GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSIBILITY?

It is best to remember that ALL O level and A level students of the future are plugged into Social Media that increases their awareness of what is out there, the pros and cons and so are better able to make decisions about their lives than those in the past. They therefore are painfully aware, and perhaps more so than most people in this audience, that the “Present Education System” DOES NOT cater to their needs, to give them a future of security and prosperity in their motherland.

In reality, they the youth, are better able to draw upon peer reviews to choose the better value for money Institutions, especially in the currently unregulated private sector, perhaps surprising those who we may appoint in the future to do just the same! A REGULATORY BODY

There is a clamour in the Department of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education to regulate these private Universities, which they in effect are, as they grant degrees and post graduate qualifications. Many have time spent at the final year at foreign universities, but even this is becoming a thing of the past with all studies being undertaken locally. In the eyes of the prospective employer these are a darn sight better than the local equivalents, of lower rankings, and more importantly give them a young graduate at 21 or 22 years rather than a state University product of between 26 or 27 years of age. They are able to more easily work with an outward looking graduate rather than an entitlement loving local one!

RETURNING TO THE THEME OF REGULATION  

Let there be standard regulation of ALL Universities on the same criteria, both Private and State, then a more accurate basis of comparison can emerge, but I fear this will be prevented tooth and nail, for fear of being outed! The State Sector I mean.

Of course the Private Sector will welcome this regulation so that the fluff will be highlighted from the serious established and reputed ones. This will merely assist and NOT assure parents who fork out millions to choose that which will give the best bang for their buck for their offspring.

It is well to remember that those clamoring for regulating Private Universities or “Factories of Higher Learning”, as some who wish to denigrate them call it, have forgotten the fact that the supposed standards being upheld by the UGC for the State Sector also leaves much to be desired. This is proved by the fact that many graduates from these faculties cannot find employment in an environment of an increasing level of vacancies in the private sector that remain unfilled. Employers knowing the quality, vote with their feet by not taking them on even for apprenticeships.

The fact that they are then forced to seek employment in the Public Sector, where they have the suitable basic entry level requirements, DOES NOT mean that they make productive and useful public servants.

In conclusion similar criteria must be adopted to regulate both with equal severity for fair comparison, as that is the need of the hour. Only then will their standards improve based on more autonomy to the University VC to manage their Campuses.

I am afraid the FALLOUT MAY NOT BE POLITICALLY ACCEPTABLE!

UNIVERSITY EDUCATION REVISITED

What is University Education in Sri Lanka primarily for? It is NOT to provide research centers or centers of excellence for Pure Science or Esoteric Studies! It is to provide the knowledgeable graduate, taken from the most intelligent in society, using the Z score rankings, to be able to contribute to the SUSTAINABLE GROWTH of this Country, and with it to grow their personal lives, to provide them with a quality of life, commensurate with their ability.

It is NOT to provide labor for emigration to developed Countries, as has been the case for a number of years, at the expense of their contribution to the mother land, to say nothing of the cost. In this sphere, it must be mentioned that the policies of the promotion and filling of vacancies in the Academic Staff, has lead to some highly qualified people remaining in foreign parts, after Postgraduate work due to the dearth of opportunities in their motherland. They have excelled internationally.

In short this has been a failure and we MUST turn it into a success. The Challenge is ours.

HOW DO WE DO IT? HOW DO WE ACHIEVE THIS SO CALLED SEA CHANGE?

THE NATIONAL EDUCATION POLICY

A proposal for a new National Education Policy has been recently prepared and submitted to the President by the National Institute of Education. I have not gone through that document. Let us hope that many of these fundamental issues have been addressed rather than merely putting sticking plaster on existing breakages.

The Government speaks of 13 years of Compulsory Free State Education to arm the student for the future employment marketplace. Their aim is to force students to spend two more years in school to improve their employment skills.

I completely disagree with this notion, instead a more meaningful alternative would be for the 13 years to include 2 pre-school years with sufficient facilities at that PRESCHOOL LEVEL, to produce empowered students by O level, who have the ability to choose, and know how to choose, their vocation as soon as they complete their O levels, They will then know if they wish to continue in School or leave and pursue their dreams, with evening classes etc. to obtain the necessary qualifications whilst working full time, as is done in most developed Countries.

All child psychologists will agree that the manners, behavior and 5S type character building, in this extremely sensitive and formative age, is far more important to a child’s overall future development than anything that is forced on a student after O levels.

Another point to note is that students who drop out prior to O levels or at O levels appear to know more about what they want, despite their lower apparent skills. That is why this group as a whole has a lower unemployment rate than the more skilled!

What the latter need are the Vocational Training Institutes to provide them with their accredited qualifications, while they are working, as they can increase their incomes with certification in their particular skills as is done the world over, except in Sri Lanka! It is easier to help those who wish to be helped, rather than force people to stay longer as a rule, where arguably their lack of maturity means they may not know what they want anyway, and so are unable to choose subjects of their particular aptitude.

To illustrate this point further, and to show you how out of touch our Education Policies are, lets look at the 75,000 students who are currently in their A level classes studying these popular three subjects as in some cases they are the only ones available in their particular school with the required teaching staff.

They are Political Science, Sinhala and Buddhist Civilization. Why? Oh Why? We all know that even at PhD level this is sometimes NOT be sufficient to guarantee economic livelihood! So in spite of a tiny fraction who excel in these subjects,
it is a complete waste of time for the rest, dispatching them, our youth to a lifetime of disappointment and NO ONE has even TODATE addressed this single issue in order to create a debate to arrive at some solutions.

Upon graduating from State Universities it is more out of duty that vacancies are gazetted! And taken into Public Service! They generally form the second class fodder in the Public Service, (there are always exceptions to the rule but in general) 
Warming the seats as of right , but contributing little to the cutting out or red tape and ensuring the smooth working of the state to complement the Private Sector  to grow, instead of using their positions to put further barriers when it comes to complying with Government regulations for this and that for the Private Sector.

They do not see the Private Sector as an engine of growth but merely an engine of capitalism that should be arrested.

There is therefore only one way to get out of this vicious cycle, by encouraging excellence, something that is NOT stressed in our society. Competition with Private Higher Education will eventually improve the quality of the State Sector but that will take time at our current rates of change. They will be forced to compete for the same student.

It is clear that 25% of students selected to University today, in the State Sector NOW refuse admission and go elsewhere? They are the first batch of these social media generation who are beginning to realize what a waste of time it is!

Intelligent students have already decided that they have BETTER options than graduating at age 27! What will happen when the refusal rate hits 75%? The best of those selected in future will go private as they will believe that for their level of intelligence they have better options to say nothing of the fact that some of these private Universities will OFFER SCHOLARSHIPS TO THE BEST which will then take the element of payment out of our BEST.

RESULTS CRITERIA AND REALITY

It is increasingly becoming clear to the Student mainly as a result of the rapid advancement in social media, that leadership qualities arising from Sports, Debating Societies, being musically minded and being able to play an instrument, and other extra curricular activities, are as much or more important than A level results per se in the eyes of the employers.

When this becomes the UNIVERSAL TRUTH, Academic and Results based University Entrance, will become a thing of the past and the Z score will soon have to be laid to rest, and already I firmly believe it is NOT even relevant in 2017.

It seems that people do not have the political will to face this reality, and so the system is NOT in keeping with the marketplace, resulting in the mismatch between expectations and reality.

This can only be changed by consensus understanding that unless a paradigm shift takes place in THINKING, we in Sri Lanka will not achieve the people’s expectations.

It is the people’s expectations eventually  that matter, when they are in a position to make choices in 2017, with the skills needed in 2017, and if they choose not to offer their labor, it is themselves who have made the choice on their own, because they have determined they do NOT have the skills that are needed for them to prosper, and it is better for them as an alternative to live on what they currently have, and they do NOT add an iota to the Country’s growth. We should NOT denigrate them as they have made a lifestyle choice, which if they had the opportunity afforded by a visionary policy, their lives MAY be more fulfilled!

ANY COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS FROM MY READERS WILL BE MOST APPRECIATED