Friday, November 27, 2009

After being back in Sri Lanka for five years - a short list of one liners

some observations that came to mind in no particular order of significance

The decision was to attempt to live in a village outside of my existing comfort zone

1 The village was not the romantic serene idyllic place of my imagination
2 Much of the poverty I observe is self inflicted and based on ritual of expectations
3 There is no such thing as “my word can be relied upon for anything”
4 Level of illness, hypochondria and downtime is of gargantuan proportions
5 People are two faced, saying one thing and behaving quite the opposite
6 When it comes to an almsgiving you can expect unlimited help
7 No one ever says they cannot come, especially when you invite them for a meal
8 People are very contradictory often denying what they have earlier said
9 I have never been invited for so many meals at short notice in my life
10 I cannot imagine how I have lived on so little and perceived as having so much
11 My being let down by those I had financial transactions with is astronomic
12 The density of con artists trying a fast one is probably the highest in the world
13 The level of generosity of the poor person knows no bounds
14 Every bus journey has people singing for supper due to the above generosity
15 Never give anything expecting anything in return, it’s a lost cause
16 The amount of cooked food that does not get eaten by humans is mindboggling
17 People look for stray dogs and cats to feed with the expectation of merit
18 Each cow saved from slaughter permits the butcher to kill 3 more with the profit
19 Lack of sense in financial transactions is legendary even amongst the wealthy
20 The fear of experimenting with a new idea prevents innovative thinking
21 There are too many pied piper followers and too few genuine leaders
22 There is inherent belief that what they see on TV or read in the paper is true
23 The complete absence of thinking in society at large spawned my blog
24 I am stopped at road blocks for my King Coconuts and not to check my ID
25 Farmers have no idea of their soil’s nutrient content or lack of it
26 80% of the Fertilizer subsidy is wasted
27 People have no concept of nutrition, and what is a healthy diet
28 Powdered-milk is preferred to fresh cow’s milk
29 More mangoes are lost to bats than what we consume
30 There are more monkeys than people in rural areas and they eat too much
31 Very little cultivable land is used, as it is considered unprofitable
32 Mothers being physically abused by sons they spoil is tolerated
33 Boys want to marry the first girl he falls in love with at age 16
34 Farmers quarrel and disagree amongst each other more than they cooperate
35 The level of superstition and ritual, control people’s lives and thinking
36 Almost all bureaucrats look at ways of making some money on the side
37 A government job is coveted over any other due to security and pension at 55
38 The police are more intent on catching speeders than in preventing accidents
39 Drivers have no sense of direction or that there are cars behind them
40 The country is paradise on earth but the people living there choose to spoil it

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Politics appears to be a game for people with little else to do

A school friend of mine, who I had met again for the first time in 5 years only a week ago, called me this morning, saying he had just been promised nominations by the President for the Kurunegala District list, and demanded that I raise money for his campaign, or he would never speak to me! “Nor don’t come to me for favors when I am in power as I will only help those who helped to put me in power.”
This in essence is what is wrong with politics today in Sri Lanka. Whilst this chap is not all bad, on one thing he said I do agree. You have to be in power in Sri Lanka to make a positive difference to the people or constituents you represent, whether they appreciate what you have done for them or not.
Another sad fact that is also true, is that it is now a case of wanting to go into politics not to improve the lot of the constituent, but to make money for the person, by lying to the constituents to get elected, the standard practice, due to the general assertion that telling the truth in Sri Lanka will not get votes.
I also know for a fact that there is a power struggle first to get on the nomination list, and people are fighting to be named, hanging around like leaches in Temple Trees hoping they can get the ear of the Boss. That sadly is how the system works, and once you have the OK from the Boss, he then says find enough friends amongst the current leadership to help you as otherwise you don’t stand a chance, and the Boss also demands you help him win the Presidency, the main ingredient being funds for the massive costs of the campaign, with Arrack being one of the highest expenses of the “mathata thitha campaign”(full stop to alcohol being a major slogan of the current administration). You literally have to buy a bottle for each campaign helper to get him to canvass or distribute pamphlets. He or she does not do it out of conviction, but in the hope of getting tangible in return, either now in the form of a bottle in the case of the alcoholic or later in the form of a sinecure or contract by which the helper hopes to make a huge return on his investment.
I agree with those who say this is the same in any democracy and it is the question of the degree to which it happens that differs and matters to the society in question. It is no lie to say that it is this form of government that has reduced a once successful nation, to one that is performing at about 25% of its potential. 100% of its potential will certainly put the country on a par with the best bearing in mind the huge human resource potential that lies dormant in this country, only to wake up in countries other than in Sri Lanka, where they migrate to.
The main point of my argument is that from the aforesaid it is a game that has huge returns for a winner, and is a gamble with high stakes. There is a large section of the community who are genuine about their altruistic motives to get into politics, but they just do not stand a chance, as they don’t have the pedigree of nepotism and personal gain that is required to get a party’s nomination in either of the main parties, but to an extent now creeping into the minor parties too.
It is this type of person who should be encouraged to enter politics; some of whom have worked all their lives in private enterprise, working for others, and then for themselves, who know the real world. The struggles of coping with bureaucrats, whose agendas are different from the supposed objectives of their employment, are known to them. They will then make the system what it should be, a servant of the state. The law currently is not fair by all, and has to be applied without favoritism.
These people who are not generally wealthy, but are of high moral standing and integrity, with a limited life span left, with no band of relatives to procure largess, don’t stand a chance of being elected unless they are adopted by a party that is able to sponsor them. Therein lies the rub. A genuine party has to emerge, where its trustees don’t aspire to public office, but are able with the integrity they command to attract donations and who by a selection process are able to nominate worthy individuals, giving them the necessary backing to carry out a credible campaign in both educating the potential voter on the merits of the party and its platform of candidates and the genuine objectives of the manifesto. This new direction from a main party in Sri Lanka politics is what is needed first to turn the country round, and not the same old game that is now playing like a broken record yet again, ready to hoodwink the unsuspecting population.
It is not the years of party membership that matters for nomination, it is the years spent in the service of ones specialty that matters. It is the level of experience on the subject matter, the degree of commitment to the objectives of the party and the willingness to commit the rest of one’s life or a stated period of one’s life that matters. We can then eliminate those who get into politics at an early age to work themselves through the system, as they really have no idea of life outside elected office, which elevates them from real life in Sri Lanka.
To clarify the point I am making, I would like to leave the reader with this thought. Every bus-stand in Sri Lanka has deep pot holes full of water, after each heavy thunder shower. The passengers invariably get drenched when the bus comes to where they are. No elected official appears to travel by bus so is not aware of this as otherwise corrective action would have been taken. I travel by bus regularly.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A coastal fisherman’s tale – from tsunami to post conflict

The 26th December 2004 tsunami devastated the coastal fishing industry, where only the fishermen, who were at sea when the tsunami hit were unaffected as far as loss of boats was concerned. Many lost their loved ones who lived on the coast.
The post tsunami rehabilitation resulted in many people who did not even own fishing boats receiving them, by making claims. Many multi boat owning fishing mudalalis were reduced to competing with their previous employees who now owned their own boats, having received them free from INGO’s, and the former had to begin anew not having received compensation as they were uninsured.
The ongoing war with the LTTE left large extents of the coast-line out of bounds for fisherman. They were restricted to the type of outboard motors they could use for fishing. The few fisherman who remained who were able to bring in fish were rewarded by high prices prevailing in the market for fish, though as in every case the fisherman receives the a fraction of the eventual price the consumer has to pay in their home village or town for the purchase of the fish at the fish stall or outlet.
Since the end of the war, the coastal areas have gradually opened up to fishing, and once the IDP’s are settled back in their home villages, those who engaged in fishing will be able to return to their previous trade if they so choose. This together with the relaxation in the permissible outboard-engines, will allow more power that permit greater distances, and result in a significant increase in the sea fish that is available at markets all over the country presumably at significantly lower prices.
Just this weekend in Godagama where my farm is, I purchased 500g squid at Rs 180 and 500g salaya (I think that is sardines) at Rs 80 both for frying for my dad and myself, and 500g prawns at Rs 280 and 500g paraw for Rs260 for the staff on the farm. It is possible that prawns are either farmed or lagoon ones, I am not sure. I however, certainly don’t think these prices are much lower than in the past.
I saw in today’s paper (November 24th) how a drag net fisherman Lal Fernando and his team, had caught 5000 paraw fish weighing 100,000kg on Sunday on the sea off Iranavila between Chilaw and Puttlam, where a 10kg fish was selling at the beach for Rs1,300 at an average selling price of Rs130/kg. I am however skeptical about the reports from newspapers as journalists don’t have common sense to verify that the figures given to them bear any semblance of reason or logic. If it was true his night’s catch would have yielded Rs13,000,000. Note that I had purchased paraw at 4times this price at retail level providing employment and profits for all in the food chain, allowing for some wastage along the way.
The government is also in the process of building a new state of the art wholesale Fish Market in Peliyagoda just outside the Colombo city limits, to replace the St John’s Market which has seen better days and is now more like Covent Garden, having outlived its usefulness and just needs a preservation order on the building and a new regeneration in the heart of the overcrowded Pettah where it stands.
It is important that refrigerated transport facilities along with cold rooms are established to enable storage and extended life of the fish catch that can be quite haphazard to meet the increased demands of a consumer base that eats little beef. There is also now concern about eating chicken due to the hormones used to speed up their growth to come to table in double quick time. Natural sea fish as well as lake fish is the natural alternative source of protein for the majority of the people.
I believe that this industry is poised for take-off, for people in this industry to benefit. The growth has to be managed is such a way that it does not impoverish the poorest people who engage in this business. The small one boat owner who for generations has been fishing in coastal waters is seeing a declining fish catch. Suddenly he is faced with lower prices for his catch that has further reduced his income. The cost of inputs like nets, labor and diesel has risen. He does not see any improvement as a result of the end of the war, but in fact a decline. So the issue has to be tackled head on. His special skills have to be recognized and if he is a candidate for a team to go on a multiday craft where the fish stocks are plentiful outside the range of the day craft, of 4km, he will be able to increase his income with better and more efficient fishing and economical methods of fishing.
This is a further example of poor management of a golden opportunity that the government has been presented with after the end of the war that already appears to have been squandered. The stooges of government have been given some of the benefits of the use of trawlers and multiday craft for those who know little about fishing but who see this merely as another opportunity for making money. They have no knowledge in the business and will stifle genuine competition.
Sadly, I see that the fish stalls in the new market have also been allocated, not based on competitive tendering but on largesse being bestowed by the relevant minister to him and his friends. In what country does the minister of fisheries have his own fish stalls where the fish are diverted to? That is just the tip of the iceberg, the result of one sorry tale.
Let us get a grip on the fish, and tackle it like any serious issue, find out the nub of the problem and find a solution that satisfies the aspirations of the industry.