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.


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


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.


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!


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.



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.



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.


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!