Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lets try and break “The Culture of Dependency”

The true events below illustrate the culture of expectation and dependency that is almost endemic to Sri Lanka, due to its disingenuous leaders who over a period of 60+ years, promised the moon and continue to do so, to obtain votes at election time. Each party out does the other in promises and so the vicious cycle continues with no obvious limits or end in sight.

How do we break it? Lets start by getting a consensus of all parties that there is a culture of dependency. Achieving that may in itself pose a problem. Once the populous are educated to the facts, especially in a recessionary period where fulfilling everyone’s needs let alone wants is impossible, we forge a new framework. I believe this framework should begin with some form of sacrifice, proportional to ability.

Let me show by way of example what I am trying to achieve. We in Sri Lanka have a completely free University education, for those fortunate enough to enter University, and that even includes Medicine, the teaching of which costs the state a lot of money. When I was in University in the United Kingdom, there was something called means testing. It took into account one’s parents income when calculating if the student was entitled to a state grant to help him or her with survival while at University. The amount of the grant was also calculated based on this means testing. One then had scholarships based on ability, which was not based on any wealth characteristic, but a reward for excellence, which should still remain.

There is also the adage that if one does not have to suffer to obtain something, i.e. it was given free, then one does not value it and in some cases wastes it, disposes of it or even allow it to be discarded. While this is a generalization, the examples of this free giving being unappreciated is abound in Sri Lanka. There is also the abuse of the system, like the free health service of Sri Lanka that is abused by the users.

In combining the principals outlined above, I would recommend that all forms of subsidy, be it free primary, secondary or tertiary education, free medical care and a whole host of heavily subsidized goods or services, be accompanied with an appropriate price tag. This should have political consensus to implement. Funds then can be released into development activities that benefit the nation in the long term. No one disagrees that the short-term consumption subsidies in a nation that is no longer developing, should be significantly pared down in favor of development funding. There is a lack of political will because of the electoral consequences. That is why the consensus agreement is essential.

Politicians are looking for popular platforms. A dependent electorate will not easily forego their perceived entitlements. The person who has the courage to cut back and introduce payment for these services will be remembered for posterity and not one who ruins the prospects of the future generations. So this is the call for someone to come out of the woodwork and challenge the establishment and the electorate to think. “kalpanakaranna”.

This dependant culture affects all forms of work. There is such a broad gap between the expectations of Private and Public sector employment that everyone wants a public sector job so that they can do as little work as possible, and not be stretched, while productive private sector jobs are shunned as being too stressful and not worth the remuneration. Added to this the totally unrealistic levels of pay in the public service, where the private sector cannot compete, adds to this principle being reinforced.

For example the starting salary of a soldier is Rs20,000 a month including benefits, the most one can pay with no benefits in farm labor is Rs10,000. What would you chose? That is the nub of Sri Lanka’s reason for inefficiency, as the state sector, armed forces, police and security guards, all of whom are the ‘unproductive sector’ pay salaries that the private sector find very hard to compete with, therefore is a huge disincentive for entrepreneurial ventures to start and expand.

Within the private sector the subsistence farmer is still encouraged, and they are marginalized, and dependent on subsidies too, both Samurdi benefit for the poor and Fertilizer subsidy for the subsistence rice farmer. Is it a little wonder that the overseas sector, along with productive garment sector, and possibly the tea plucker keep this country from falling into the abyss?

A sea change in expectations, obligations, entitlements and dependency is sorely needed to progress from the current level of lethargy built on all of the above. There is so little incentive for hard work, when all one sees around one is people being unfairly rewarded for less. Effort must be seen to reap rewards surpassing those of sectors that are Effortless!!! Then we will logically take the route that rewards effort and so it should!!!

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