Thursday, March 21, 2019

There is news and more news, but what can we believe? Now Oman denies any knowledge about the largest FDI ever!

Who is kidding whom?

All the newspapers are full of a full page advertisement taken by the GOSL trumpeting this investment of Rs 720,000 Million or in effect Rs 720Billion as the largest FDI ever! In includes the Oil Refinery referred to above with a company by the name of Silver Park Petroleum Private Limited and another investment of a cement producer by the name of Lanwa Sanstha Cement Corporation Private Limited. So I ask the question what to believe?

Is there a conspiracy to discredit the Government by parties coming to the BOI and fooling them to sign documents regarding FDIs and immediately having one of the parties to the agreement, or at least purported parties, denying its very existence? This is tantamount to taking the GOSL for a ride, and they seem to be quite blasé about being taken for a ride, especially when the BOI spokesperson assures the media that nothing is amiss, when a lot of this is all A MISS INFORMATION!

Who is behind this disinformation conspiracy? Should this kind of thing be a red rag to the intelligence agencies of this country, as it clearly the undermines the authority of the State in a way that discredits anything that is disclosed by the state?

I bet the intelligence agencies are sleeping soundly tonight and will wake up to this news this morning, and say this has nothing to do with us, we only worry about gun running or conspiracies to do away with the already discredited top brass of the land!

This is far more serious stuff, and we don’t have an intelligence agency to investigate the legitimacy of the jokers who come into the offices of the BOI to tell tales.

Frankly, if we have any sense, every Johnny, the investor and their local handlers, as soon as they walk in the door of the BOI to meet the DG or the Chairman, should be in the SPYGLASS of the defense intelligence agencies and a report placed on the President’s desk within 24 hours of their entering about their bona fides, and past history, especially Interpol records, as it seems that only the low life of the world knowing the way we seem to attract them like flies venture inside, if they feel that there is an opportunity at some kind of fleecing of a nation.

Now it is time to get back to basics. We are talking of a huge investment in an oil refinery in Hambantota! Has anyone in the environment lobby even been activated on this, as oil refineries are no longer being built anywhere in the world, and only Sri Lanka seems to even encourage one as we seem to be so desperate for headaches of the future!

Yes please we will have one.

What kind of Country is this? How about an investment in an offshore solar electricity generation plant to supply the region instead with the potential to grow? No we are waiting to import surplus electricity from a Nuclear Plant in India instead, as that would provide us cheap electricity sometime in the future!
I digress, just to make a point and to belittle this hair-brained scheme!

After all we should have had the Iranian Refinery that was on the cards 30 years ago when it was discussed, we would not have had to spend BILLIONS of dollars in foreign exchange in this period for refined petroleum products if we had then. Moreover there was no environment lobby then to put the skids on.
Now once the need for fossil fuel has passed, as they are only pollutants that no one in their RIGHT MINDS want, we are getting in on the act!

My God help Mother Lanka from its own leaders!

Further clarification on this denial by the Financial Times of 21st March 2019 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Dichotomy of Public Sector Employment & Need for Reform

Background to the present malaise

There is no argument that we in Sri Lanka must restructure our Human Resource Capacity, the real driver of our economy to meet the needs of the future and in this context 20202 and beyond.

There is also no debate now that we SHOULD HAVE made a visionary decision when Three Wheelers were introduced into the Country to restrict drivers to be 55 and above, as a source of income for those who have been forcibly retired from the Public and Private Sector when they reached the mandatory retirement age which was 55 at that time.

This would then have meant that the youth do not look at driving a three wheeler as the be all and end all of their lives, which appears to be the case today, which has added precipitously to prostitution, drug peddling, gun running, moonshine distribution, poaching as added sources of income for this drivers, who are actually under employed, in that they reach their earnings target for the day, with around 2-5 hours of work, leading to the perception that factory work, and training in trades are not as remunerative and therefore less attractive than their chosen field.

Coupled with this phenomenon, the traditional career path of state sector graduates, theoretically the best and brightest of the land, due to the admission criteria into the University System, EXPECT automatic employment in the Public Sector upon graduation. That in some way explains the demands of the 55,000 unemployed graduates to be given jobs within the state sector even today, and who have made little or no attempt to find employment in other fields.

You then are now faced with the demographic time bomb, which Sri Lanka, due its success in the family planning arena, that the population growth rate has stalled, and when one counts the net emigration to other countries it has become negative, with over 4 million Sri Lankan passport holders living overseas at present.

This has created a severe labor shortage in the Private Sector for a range of skills, due in part to youth not taking up vocational training opportunities and preferring to drive a three wheeler instead. It is almost impossible to convince these youth stuck in junctions throughout the land, to perhaps take up the dearth in agricultural employment or other trades, in the Construction sector and Industrial Sector.

The above phenomena coupled with a wholesale and indiscriminate politicization of the public sector, with jobs for the boys under the Mahinda Rajapakse Administration  from 2005 to 2014, adding over 600,000 positions to the Public Sector, we have created an unimaginable set of problems in managing Government Spending, where 80% of expenditure, when loan interest and repayments are excluded on borrowings is to pay wages and pensions.

This coupled with the recent admission by the UNP administration that the Yahapalanaya Government has increased Public Sector wages by massive proportions, where the lowest paid worker now earns more than Rs25,000, you have created a problem that cannot be resolved unless some serious measures are taken to evaluate EVERY position in the public sector and determine if it is needed, and if so what the job description and expectations are, because many people now do not work, are not supervised, and a disincentive to those who want to work in the public sector, creating a situation of impotence.

Adding to fuel to the fire, Minister Eran Wickremeratne said recently, that certain public sector positions are not filled as the pay scale is woefully inadequate to draw in the skilled people as needed, you come to the reason I called my essay “the dichotomy of public sector employment”

In a further development, partly due to the fact that there is a severe skill shortage in the economy, and positions in both the Public and Private Sector remain unfilled, there are steps taken to remove age limits of retirement altogether to legally permit people to work as long as they wish.

Here again we try to catch the tail and try to run with it, instead of grasping the real issue, which is to “Permit the Private Sector Company and the Public Sector Institution to grant an extension to the employee, say one year at a time, legally, AS LONG AS THAT INSTITUTION DETERMINES HIS OR HER SERVICE IS NECESSARY FOR THE PROPER FUNCTIONING OF THAT ORGANIZATION.

To me, that bold statement should be at the heart of the evaluation, NOT a blanket right of the employee to stay on as long as he or she feels!

One can therefore determine the mandatory retirement age as being 60 or above and have it the same for men and women as many countries now do, but permit service extensions, without the need to break the law or circumvent legislation after that age as long as that particular institution needs it. Additionally, according to need, any person who fits the requirements should be permitted to be recruited at whatever age that person is, where there is NO age discrimination, as long as he or she is the most suitable applicant for that job.

The Path to Public Sector Employment & Remuneration Reform

I believe that there is a commission that looks into the public sector pay scales and makes recommendations to the President on this, so that positions can be filled, remuneration can be made, and competent personnel hired or retained. This was apparently used to increase the pay scales of judges at all levels to retain qualified personnel in these positions as their income appeared to be way out of line with what lawyers seem to earn in the Private Sector, reducing the judiciary to be filled with failed lawyers, not good jurists!

This enormous burden on the state of inefficient public sector performance, due to overstaffing with political appointees, and lack of clear job description, evaluation of the need for that position, and poor supervisory and managerial responsibilities over staff, needs a complete overhaul and no one wants to grab this obvious issue and deal with it, first improve public sector efficiency, and cull the numbers not needed, perhaps by as much as 500,000 positions over a 5 year period.

If that is done institution by institution, then there is hope that a more efficient public sector, where the remuneration scales reflect the needed skills for those positions, will be able to handle their tasks as best as they can, and with the obvious proviso that corruption too will be reduced dramatically.

Then at a stroke the Private sector dilemma of people gravitating to the public sector as their remuneration and benefits, and need to work are more attractive will be over. This factor has not been appreciated by the lawmakers as a serious matter, as they have forgotten that it is the Private Sector that pays the taxes that are used to pay the Public Sector Wages.

The labor shortage in the Private Sector and the Agricultural Sector will be relieved somewhat, and not until the old practice of providing jobs in the Public Sector for political patronage is completely eliminated, can we see light at the end of the tunnel here.

The problem of the numbers engaged in three wheelers have to resolved purely on the supply and demand situation, where once Pick Me and Uber take over the hire business, the three wheeler era will disappear with midlife retraining for unskilled youth being the issue to be dealt with in the real world. This is not counting the need to remove them on the grounds of severe air pollution caused.

The economy can grow ONLY if companies are able to fill their vacancies and the HR issue in Sri Lanka must be directed at providing the needed training to fill those vacancies, and concentration should be on this task above all others.