Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Poverty is relative and Government makes statements that are inconsistent

Members of the Government want to take credit for the decline in poverty in Sri Lanka by saying that 1.6million workers overseas send money to their relatives to improve the livelihood of their families while at the same time taking them out of poverty. This has NOTHING to do with the Government. It is simply that people are willing to risk life and limb to slave away in a foreign land to give a better life for their dependents. The Government cheats them maintaining an artificially high exchange rate, denying them about 20% of the remittances. They then are able to spend much less in rupees to buy their favored luxury cars and goodies tax free!!

Then there are 1.6million households who receive the Samurdhi welfare of Rs500 a month. This is due to them being classified as poor. I would contend that the cost of administering and fraudulent claims makes nonsense of this scheme and contend that the truly poor are not helped by this and is merely a vote winning ploy where the recipients expect this payment irrespective of whether they qualify. The old adage of “it is easy to give but difficult to take away” holds true for them.

I accept that there has been a reduction in the poverty. However it is solely due to the annual remittances of US$5B, which goes straight to the hinterlands take some people out of abject poverty. This has been the single main reason for Sri Lanka rising from the developing to middle income category. It is a indictment of the failure of government to provide a proper infrastructure for employment that has created this need. I have said this earlier, and I repeat that this remittance is akin to Sri Lanka citizens receiving a dividend from a US$150B trust fund invested overseas. In that context we are no different to developed countries.

What is important is to get people out of poverty and try to find permanent solutions to their problems. There is no point in making short term grants or assistance. There must be a long term plan to get and keep them out of poverty.

Assistance to the deserving is easily the most corrupt as everyone who does not receive assistance resents those who do, saying that it is either due to laziness or lying that they receive the help. The acceptable way to do this is to help people to help themselves by providing lasting income earning opportunities. It is better to show how to plant a coconut seedling than supply one. Most of the people who received coconut seedlings as part of the Divi Neguma program do not know how to plant it properly. Further they do not know if the seedling gifted to them is actually more of a hindrance. They should learn how to choose the best seedling. I want to know as a farmer, that I can choose the best quality seedling for growth.
The greatest challenge facing many developing nations is how to tackle real poverty, first by identifying it and then taking the necessary steps to take people out of it. Often poverty is due to ignorance, and to bad choices. It can also arise from a sequence of unfortunate circumstances. The trick is in identifying the cause and taking the necessary steps to alleviate that condition in the long term rather than provide a temporary solution. It is no easy task but must be addressed.

In the process it is now accepted that providing anything free is the wrong method, as the value of the gift is not appreciated by the recipient. In this instance it is better to get into a partnership where a certain percentage of the cost of something is made as a contribution if the other part is provided by the recipient. Then there is some ownership of the transaction by the recipient who makes a sacrifice. It is then more than likely that goods or services received is made productive. Waste of assistance is everywhere to see, as many grab something because it is free.

It is quite normal for politicians to take credit for something they had not hand in and often for policies of previous regimes. After all with long term development projects it is the next administration that completes it like most of the major, except Hambantota District development projects in Sri Lanka. The people and the readers therefore must ponder on this topic and make a judgment as to what they believe and who they wish to give credit to.

In the context of global poverty it is all relative. It is a state of mind. I have mentioned above that different forms of poverty require different solutions. If poverty is caused by the breadwinner being an alcoholic, which then affects his whole family adversely then something different is needed to make him understand the effects of his behavior on his near and dear ones. Sri Lanka has a huge population of disabled people who suffer in silence or are helped by their family.

The importance of disability is one dear to my heart after I became temporarily disabled due to an accident which was completely the fault of uninsured Cabinet Minister’s convoy vehicle for which they accepted responsibility but no liability for damages or loss of income. In this ironic instance it is the Government which directly caused my poverty in destroying my livelihood in an instant!!!

It is very important for us to tackle poverty from the bottom up. The poorest first. They are the most difficult to help. The help given them can lead to a dependency scenario which we must avoid, and doing everything necessary to give them pride in living is the only way out of this, and so charity must be used in a very meaningful way to help our society to claim a place in the civilized order.


Rohan Samarajiva said...

Since you live in the NCP and think about poverty issues, I wonder whether you have any thoughts on the following conclusions to a recent column I wrote at http://lbo.lk/fullstory.php?nid=1489457800?

"The NCP was a war-affected region. Did the fact that it supplied a large number of soldiers, which resulted in money flowing into the villages, wash out the negative effects from the war? Did the fact that it was the principal staging area for the war result in the economy gaining momentum? Did the fertilizer subsidy contribute?

The massive investments in the Hambantota District have yet to show results in terms of people’s income and expenditures. But more mundane actions, most likely expenditures on the war, appear to have propelled the NCP forward in a very short time."

Ratmale,Minneriya,Sri Lanka said...

Thank you Rohan for your comments and the article in LBO. I do not have any proof for what I say, it is only anecdotal from my experience in Polonnaruwa.It was interesting that the NCP topped the list of motorbikes with almost half the households having one.

While I note the motorcycles in my road, they are due to a variety of reasons. Mother working overseas, brother died in the war and parents receive his full salary, one is a good farmer so is generally well off, one is a government servant, another in the police force and a further person a retired teacher on a decent monthly pension, still another a sales rep for a chemical fertilizer company and another who works in a shop in town.One works as a driver in Colombo, while the wife and family live in the village.

So in summary due to the failure in agriculture and the fact that their grand parents have received land from DS they have decided to venture into any field they can earn an income from.

The main asset they have is a home to call their own on land that they received free. This has enabled them to spend their income as they wish. When compared to Hambantota, I would ask if the schools here are in a better state, where it is education that enables jobs. NOT investment in infrastructure.


The moment a Hambantota person gets a good education, the last people they will vote for is the ruling family. So there is no reason to raise their educational level.

Anonymous said...

Measuring poverty is a very random event in Sri Lanka as people fall in and out of poverty due to small circumstantial changes in their lives. So the paying of the Samurdhi benefit is a complete waste of money as 80% of the beneficiaries do not come under the poor category, while there are just as many who do come under the category but who do not receive the Samurdhi as they are out of the net, due to non inclusion arising from the incompetence in the administration of the program.

The administration of Samurdhi is so inefficient and costly that it would be better for the poor if this program is scrapped, but it is politically unacceptable.