Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Stigma associated with "Mental Health Issues" is finally broken - Its time to act by taking advantage of the new openness

With the recent revelation that Prince Harry had to resort to years of therapy to get over the loss of his mother Princess Diana, has opened up a closed subject, that mental health is NOT something that is confined to a few people, but normal people can also suffer due to unexpected occurrences and they also need help to get over their problems.



In an earlier blog article here just a few days ago, I alluded to the propensity of teenagers to suffer depression if they are sleep deprived, as many in Sri Lanka are, and suggested means to reduce this incidence of depression, by appealing to the Education Authorities to bear in mind their special needs when setting times for school opening hours in Sri Lanka.

We have given way for convenience, over what is good for the child, the whole reason the school is established in the first place. We tend to forget why their are schools! It is NOT to give jobs and perks like extended holidays and get home early for Teachers, but to educate children in the best surroundings at times suitable for the young minds, and NOT TO THE MOTHERS WHO HAPPEN TO BE TEACHERS.

With high incidence of DEPRESSION in Sri Lanka, that is NOT merely misunderstood, but where insufficient resources are put their way to tackle the social crisis, it is important to bring it up the front and center of conversations.


The English Speaking Press has good articles tackling this problem head on without hesitation. However the Sinhala Press puts scant attention in this regard, and I firmly believe they must place a lot more emphasis in their reporting on addressing to make people aware that depression affects a HUGE number of people, and that it is NOT ODD, but common amongst people and that they can be helped to overcome it with various combinations of drugs and practical therapy.

Of course there is a HUGE SHORTAGE of trained professionals, which is sad considering that 1,200 doctors qualify but few go into this most important of sub specialty.


The article above estimates that over 800,000 Sri Lankans of all ages suffer from depression, which is a curable illness like hear disease, but DOES NOT get the same level of resource allocated to it. As many very young people also suffer from this, it is VERY important that especially in school age kids, this is identified at the school level, by social workers and appropriate interventions take place without delay.

HOWEVER only in 1% of needy cases is there ANY intervention, and so we have 3,000 suicides that can be prevented. Health is health be it of the MIND OR THE BODY, and we just don't seem to realize that it is important that both the mind and body be given equal prominence as if the mind is in some form of equilibrium, so will the body and COULD reduce the high cost of Health Care in the State Sector if the chronic illnesses caused by depression can be alleviated.

HATS OFF to the Daily Mirror for carry these two extremely useful articles, and the challenge is for the same newspaper group to give it as much prominence in the Sinhala speaking press.

I contend that much health care costs are wasted in Sri Lanka because it is FREE, and the user, is unable to make a value judgment on when to put the burden on the state for their health. In theory therefore this will yield positive results that will reduce physical health issues and therefore costs, if the mental health issues are broached and resolved as best they can.

It is all about spending wisely by prioritizing the spend where it is needed MOST and a good system which identifies these priorities and intervenes to address them without delay, will result in a productive workforce, and a society with less absenteeism and productive capacity lost due to untreated DEPRESSION.

Of course before we spend on Psychiatrists, we must spend on mental health counselors and have as many schools as possible covered by trained health professionals in this field. A program must be adopted to encourage people to follow this area as a profession, and have aptitude tests to choose the most likely people who could become successful counselors, and give them the scholarships or the opportunities to pursue this line of career.

There is therefore NO NEED for people to suffer in silence when solutions are at hand, and let us hope the mainstream Sinhala media is able to bring this point across to the people who suffer to seek intervention to manage a problem that could improve the quality of life those who live in Sri Lanka, and that is what is called development, over the tangible development which may NOT lead to satisfied lives.

Children who commute over one hour to school in a van or bus during their school years, will shorten their lives on average by 10 years

Read the article in the link below of the true damage of particulate pollution, most of which we are NOT aware of.


and in Sri Lanka due to the 1.5M heavily polluting 3 wheelers that the State has failed to inform the public of as a HIGH polluting vehicle, we are actually KILLING our kids if they spend more than one hour going to and from school, even if it is walking in urban areas, or going in a 3 wheeler or school van or bus to school and back. Hardly any children commute in an air-conditioned car for that long, so they are the least susceptible to this terrible form of invisible pollution.

So parents, stop killing your kids out of love, sending them in vehicles to school, some leaving as early as 4.30am for the 7.30am start. It is better to send them to a local school, that may technically not be as good! as the school their 4 hour commute is but in the end be better for them anyway with more time to be children, time to play and time to sleep all adding to a healthier lifestyle.

Unfortunately we live in a state where both the people elected and the Govt servants are NOT interested in the purpose for which they are there, namely serving the public. So they are completely oblivious to the killer that is ever present in this country of increasing polluted vehicles, of which the three wheeler is the biggest culprit. We are the only country in the world that does not even have Natural Gas or Electric Buses or electric trams and trains, so the DIESEL fumes of all diesel vehicles contribute to this increasingly polluted environment.

I am simply quite amazed that our Media have NOT alerted the public to this lingering killer in their midst that will account for probably 500,000 premature deaths every year in the not too distant future, and instead spend most of their pages informing the people about the very real but relatively less important MOTOR ACCIDENT!

It is time someone takes up this pollution mantle as a PUBLIC HEALTH issue, and the GMOA are simply not equipped due to their lack of intelligence to grasp how desperately important this is and so this topic has to be tackled HEAD ON by people knowledgeable in COMMUNICATING this message to all adults to understand how debilitating their actions are on behalf of their innocent children, due to IGNORANCE.

This is a wake up call to the PUBLIC to challenge those in authority to take action, and make policy decisions sooner rather than later in the interests of the Citizens of this Country, as their own children are affected by their poor choices and lack of accountability in NOT making these timely decisions.

So let us begin with appealing to the killers in Elected Politicians and Govt. Servants to take IMMEDIATE steps to prevent the mass killing they are directly (NOT INDIRECTLY) responsible for.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

When will the donkeys in charge of Education Policy learn that EVERY aspect of the present education system is wrong!

Just look at the link. A detailed study of teenagers has come out with the  fact that they need a minimum of 8 hours sleep, and preferably 10 hours


This means that for them starting school at 7.30am is simply a no no! Please read the link above for more detail.

No wonder then that Sri Lanka's teenage suicides are the highest in the world. We need to do more research. Is anyone doing that? What are the professors at Universities doing? What kind of research? Those that are useful to society or merely for their advancement?

Then you have the National Institute of Education proposing that School is truncated at Grade 12 as is common worldwide but NOT in Sri Lanka. No one appears to give a damn about that report.


Of course I have maintained that 13 years in school must start at the pre-school two years before formal school so the compulaory teahing ends at the O level stage and Children will by proper teaching methods be empowered at 16 to choose their field of vocation, where NOTHING IS FREE and there are scholarships for the gifted, and loans for others, so they value the subject they pursue, be it in the Construction Industry or Medicine whatever suits THEIR fancy and NOT the SYSTEM's fancy as it is today, that trains people in fields they are NOT interested in, and NO WONDER that one million jobs are going abegging, becuase ther are NO suitably qualified people for them, or that public perception has devalued others, so that youth DO NOT pursue perfectly god well paying jobs becuase of PEER PRESSURE and PARENTAL DISAPPROVAL

The Education Authorities have yet to address these very obvious weaknesses, and ensure that our Youth are given as much KNOWLEDGE as possible about what is available, and ALL THE ENCOURAGEMENT to pursue their dreams especially in a field where there is HIGH demand both in Cities and in Rural Areas like in Construction, where a knowledgeable and reliable build aged 20 can earn at least Rs100K a month if he began his apprenticeship in earnest soon after O levels.

Policy Makers - something to ponder over - but immediate action is required if we are to see the benefits in about 20 years. NO TIME TO DILLY DALLY

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Sri Lanka the Devil’s Playground where Angels fear to tread!

Advice to those contemplating Investment or Business Opportunities in Sri Lanka

In an expanding economy, albeit from a low base, one would tend to assume that there would be untold opportunities for profit! VERY TRUE, but the path is strewn with landmines in the most unpredictable places. The name of the game is to know how to skirt the mine fields and achieve one’s expectations. It is therefore NOT for the fainthearted, but one MUST ask the question, is it worth the risk?

In my opinion many foreign investments have ended up in failure, because the initial assumptions upon which the business proposition was placed turned out to be far off the mark. The few successes have been joint ventures with local partners where there is TRUST, mututal respect and benefit, and a common goal.

JVs without all these have failed miserably, as the local party has effectively taken the foreign investor for a ride and the lack LEGAL PROTECTION has made it easy to WEAR DOWN the aggrieved into submission and EXIT with forfiture.

You only have to ask LAFARGE HOLCIM, an international Cement manufacturer about their experience. They quit in disgust for the most part because their local fixer, later Chairman, who seemingly came to their rescue as a KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR, proved to be anything but, a comon CRIMINAL bent on enriching himself at their expense. He, upon being exposed and fired, had the company tied in knots of his making, that could not be untangled, which resulted in him not even being prosecuted, due to archaic legal machinations of a faulty legal system that gives the aggrieved NO justice.

The legal system is TOO SLOW, it works against the litigant most of the time, and the lawyers charge the highest fees on EARTH. A President’s Counsel could charge US$10,000 for a 10 minute appearance that would merely postpone, on a pre arranged on a seemingly just (illegal) reason with the defendant’s lawyers, and the judge complicit to screw the litigant for all he has got. JUST ASK HOLCIM why they did not pursue! They have better things to do with their time and money and the defendent know it too.

The aforementioned individual is still cohorting in the small cocktail circuit that is Colombo, as if nothing has happened with NO SHAME and much kudos for seeing the  back of that FOREIGN MULTINATIONAL trying to screw a small man! Irony not lost.
The lawyers assess the ability of the litigant to pay, and therefore bill them accordingly, and NOT on a an agreed scale that is fair and consistent like in most countries, especially the USA, where phone calls and times are even stated on a bill, and is not arguable due to the detail. Here is a note with an amount with NO explanation as to what it is for!

Further, continuous delays (many pre-arranged) extend the case beyond a reasonable period, costing the litigant appearance fees without shame. It is none other than a legal conspiracy to fatten their pockets at the expense of the well healed who can pay, with little urgency in settling, and finally when patience runs out, so does the case, which fizzles out!

This is compounded by the fact that few and especially lawyers pay any tax on their hefty earnings, finding plenty of ways to avoid/evade tax. In a Country where very few people pay Income Tax, has NO wealth tax, capital gains tax, gift tax, inheritance tax and many companies enjoy tax holidays, especially with TAX benefits for tourism and export oriented industries, and especially those that have been granted special government concessions for dubious reasons of national importance. This permits around 1,000 wealthy people to amass incredible wealth, which never gets taxed at any stage. I would argue that there are NO tax havens that are as generous as Sri Lanka.

IN CONTRAST, very high consumption taxes especially hitting the middle class, with VAT on almost everything, except for a basket of 80 items, which anyway carry their own cesses, like taxes on the imports of essential foods, such as sugar, wheat, lentils, tinned fish, potato and onions, because it is heavily consumed, and easy to levy at the point of import and collect upon clearance. The cost of food as a percentage of average wages is one of the highest in the world, due to this and the extremely inefficient methods of food production in place today so the cost per unit produced is high, with none of it due to organic growing practices.

Another important matter that needs consideration is that high networth individuals, if they do not require funds to re invest in their own personal businesses, can receive 15% interest per annum on their deposits, which when compared with the rate of depreciation of the rupee agaisnt the US $ and rates on $ deposits, is the best risk free return one can get, without as much as stretching a leg, and this is taxed at a very low rate, with no taxes on Govt securities that carry comparable rates.

With returns such as these why get into risky investments, and no wonder the Stock Market has been in the doldrums as there are better alternatives at present.

Those who wish to raise capital overseas for local investment, do not have access to these funds, due to these high risk free interest rates available to local investors and banks do not act as  Venture Capitalists. Having said this, the Banks in Sri Lanka are extremely profitable due to the high spread between borrowing and lending rates as small investors investing savings do not get anything near what I have just pointed, instead being lucky to get 6% or 7% at their local National Savings Bank where they park their money out of habit. This NSB is owned by the govt, which then buys Govt. securities with their money, showing massive profits, effectively meaning the small man is propping the government’s profligacy.

This opens up the opportunity to Internet Banking, which is NOT currently permitted, and if granted could lead to an outcry from the traditional sector. Banks in order to protect their self interest  will prohibit this route. As you can see this behavior of banks has led to slow growth in the SME (small and medium enterprises) sector, as entrepreneurs do not have access to low cost borrowings, and so are less prone to invest in expansion.

CONTRAST THIS WITH UK’s BAT, Nestle, Unilever, Chevron, Coca Cola and overseas Banks who earn between 100% and 1000% on capital employed because their original costs were low when they started, and have not revalued assets for reasons on their own, and repatriate all their profits back to their parent company, with little investment in additional capacity in a relative sense, though in absolute terms they are still large. They trade in inelastic industries with little local competition, in FMCG goods. They are far more successful than any of their small local competitors, due to size and ability to kill competition by anti-competitive practices.

On another different point, the Sri Lankan Govt. will require to refinance their borrowings in the next 3 years when they fall due, and we are talking about US$5B. The Govt. will be looking to obtain the best rates possible in a time of increasing Global rates and Sri Lanka is NO longer eligible for subsidized loans. Any value propositions in regards to this will be received favorably, and a go between to achieve this is definitely a possibility.

Any request to grease palms on these deals must be immediately exposed to prevent the high levels of corruption, and the new found media freedom, and the  Right to Information Act is hoped will curb such violations, in the public interest.

Further, the lethargy of bureaucracy even though leaders at the National Level have inked investments, is a fact of life. This has disgusted foreign investors for whom time is money. Any reference by the BIG WHIGS to a ‘one stop shop’ should be treated with disdain, as it is only in the mind of the promissor, which cannot in practice be delivered.

I am truly sad that many foreign investments have floundered due to selfish reasons, and against the public good. The powers that be cannot see the big picture as a benefit for the whole country, pandering to a few interests.

A case in point was ten years ago, where Arne can corroborate this story, when the Hungarian Govt. through the EU were willing to finance a large project to dredge the deep sea and supply the whole nation’s requirement of building sand. This was seen primarily in the international fora as one that will save the environment from massive illegal sand mining taking place all over the Country, degrading streams and rivers and in the end the land, and water supply.

This project could supply sand at 20% of today’s price of sand and would have considerably reduced the construction cost of all infrastructure projects, to say nothing of the huge constructions of apartments, and also individual homes that have taken place over this period. It was prevented by two primary sources, first was the bureaucrats who demanded a bribe of 40% of the project cost to pass the various steps, and second was the sand mining industry, primarily in the President’s own district that saw their livelihoods threatened. If this project went ahead then, the GNP per capita of the Country, would have been 25% higher, with the resulting multiplier effects in the economy. Our leaders DO NOT have a vision as evidenced by the wanton destruction by them of the positive benefits of projects with foreign collaboration in the  economy, which they have prevented from taking place.

One does not have to show any more examples to illustrate the reason why Sri Lanka lags the world in every area, except possibly in life expectancy and infant mortality. A few structural policy changes to benefit society as a whole is all that is needed. Currently we have an economy with one million job vacancies with NO takers, and we are currently even resisting the import of labor to take up those jobs, to prevent the industries from relocating to places where there is the workforce.

Need I say more?

In Conclusion, my statements above are  MY opinion from an intense period of 12 years back in Sri Lanka, in study, practice, assisting numerous organizations on investment and financing propositions, and trust these practical examples gives you a clear understanding of the ground realities from which to commence.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Serendipity in the real world – the Shashi Tharoor connection – 4th April 2017

As fate would have it, I just happened to attend a seminar at the Orchid Room at the BMICH on steps to improve “real education in schools in Sri Lanka” by reinforcing the need for social workers, training and educating teachers in all aspects of the development of the whole child in order to strenghten the Human Resource of ALL our youth (including differently abled) when they leave schools empowered and emboldened to cope with the modern world. I believe this was part of the Government’s initiative of the 5 day event on Sustainability & Development in ALL its SENSES!

As one exited, on the opposite side of the Foyer, the book launch was taking shape, where I was introduced to Dinesh Weerakkody by my sister, as her daughter and Dinesh’s daughter are good friends. He invited me personally then to attend the launch and I took my seat just behind the reserved seats at a prominent vantage!

The Event, the Political Biography of Ranil Wickremasinghe was due to be attended one and all, with the President being the Chief Guest, and Dr. Shashi Tharoor MP of the Indian Parliament and former Diplomat in the UN as the keynote speaker.

People from all walks of life, from current and retired Parliamentarians, Business Leaders, Academics, Local and Foreign Diplomats, Clergy (including a Cardinal) Political groupies and family of the author and the subject filled the Hall to the gunnels. There were many distinguished personages who came late, who had to stand, and for a moment rank and title did not necessarily get rewarded with location! Being at one with Plebians and Patricians, there were more than 100 people I knew personally in the Hall, with another 100 I have been acquainted with over the course of my varied career, many who I had not seen in a while.

My niece due to her connections mentioned earlier was in attendence to assist in the proceedings, handing out the books to the VVIPs in the front row etc.

The event began with lighting the traditional lamp from where they stood using a tab, which automatically lit it a distance away! That was the first time I had seen that stunt! The event was interspersed with English and Sinhala, with foreign dignitores handed headsets to hear instant translations as is common in international fora. The Ven Galaboda Gnanissara Thero, who has known the family of the Prime Minister through his life explained his colorful, uncommon heritage.

I will not go through the proceedings and speakers, which are covered in the papers and I leave a link to the FT of April 5th for those who are interested in that aspect.   

The PM gave a short and sweet speech covering some aspects in Sinhala and others in English aimed at the dignitories present, and Dr Tharoor gave the prepared speech on how he felt the Indo Sri Lanka relationship has been through history to the present and how it should develop in future.

After the event was over, the guests were invited for refreshiments in the foyer, but I had a special task in hand, as Dr Tharoor had another appointment, which was dinner at Nirj’s, Nirj Deva being a friend of Dr Tharoor’s, had asked him to say a few words at the now infamous Horton Debate Society which invites famous and infamous to speak and have questions answered under Chatham House rules!

I was tasked (only as I had inadvertently attended the event) to shadow Dr Tharoor whilst he was greeting friends, signing autograph requests from swooning women, some old enough to be his mother! And let the Host at Horton know when he left. The Horton Debate begins at 7.30 and it was long after 8pm when the Selfie craze had Dr Tharoor in its sights like a Bollywood star that he seemed at the event, with flowing locks and light eyes loved by the Lankans. In his gracious demeanor he allowed himself to be photographed by strangers, whilst yours truly was gently trying to get him towards the exit.

I asked Dr Harsha the Deputy Foreign Minister if he was coming to Horton. He said he had been with Dr Tharoor at lunch and heard him speak and would like to hear more from him and would likely come, and I am sure glad he did as the dinner speech was way more fun and interesting than the serious one at this event.

In the end at the door, when his man Friday did not know how to get to Horton, I merely jumped in and rode shotgun pointing the way, with a motorcysle Police escort leading through traffic, to safely bring him to the waiting diners. As he needed to get out early, in order to take a early flight in the morning, to attend Parliament in New Delhi, I conveyed this to the host so his speech came early after the hors d’ovres.

Here again he spoke to the packed restaurant on one of his famous subjects, being the horrors of Colonialism which had ruined a prosperous India which began as the richest in the world, and ended up raped and plundered by the British to be one of the poorest at Independence. Of course he explained with example why he had this opinion, and to those unfamiliar with history, was a real eye opener on how the Indian Rulers were benign and caring, whilst the British who replaced them were anything but, ending in building a railway that the Indians had to pay for at a cost estimated at 9 times what it should have been. It had the audience in rapt attention with his unique and inimical take on British rule, with a frightfully British accent!

To conclude a Serendipitous evening, one of Dr Tharoor’s local friends popped over to his house during dinner and got a bottle of the best Malt Whiskey to wet Dr Tharoor’s thirst during the talk at Dr Tharoor’s request, highlighting the enigmatic personality that he is. I was fortunate to help finish this off, once the guests had left, and we had time to call Nirj (where ever on Earth he happened to be) and brief him on a job well done, with the hope of enticing PM Modi to be the the guest speaker at the next debate during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the Island over the special Vesak Events planned in his honor.

Horton Debates! What is that? How can I become a member of this exclusive circle of “Hill Billies!”  Ask Nirj Deva the man with the Midas Contacts.