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.