Category Archives: Sri Lanka


Towards an economically viable Sri Lanka

Let’s face it.  Close to 70 years after gaining independence, Sri Lanka is still nowhere.  Part of the blame can be laid on the LTTE and their separatist war, but that only accounts for 30 years.  We still have 40 years where the politicians have to take the blame for most of the problems that we have now.

Free economic principles definitely have merit, but let’s be realistic when we say that they haven’t totally worked out for us.  Our country title has the word “Socialist” in it as well, but again what has that achieved for us?  We are not 100% socialist, nor can we be (and of course even Russia and China are not 100% socialist, and now more towards capitalist)

But maybe there are a few things that we can do as a country, where we mix and match and enforce policies with the short term and long term future in mind.

So here’s a set of proposals that I think have some merit and could go some way in solving some of the problems that we have in this country.  If any politician would like to take me up on this, cheers.  If not, it would be up to the voters to make the politicians understand.

Economic Growth

Public Private Partnership

People in government administrative services will know how to run public enterprises, but would not have the commercial expertise that we desire, in order to run an efficient service.  I don’t say that public enterprises such as the transport board or the railways department have to make profits, but they do have to generate sufficient revenue to cover the costs and also to invest in new equipment and to expand the services.

Get the top 20 minds in the corporate sector and put them to work as an overseeing committee to advise the government on how these departments can be re-structured and modernised, in order to give the public the service that they deserve.  Some services  should continue for free such as basic healthcare, whilst others can see needed revisions done to the rates (such as railway tickets)


Improve the enforcement of laws and regulations

An investor who gets off a place and comes onto the Sri Lankan roads will be greeted with nice views and general good driving as long as they are on the airport expressway.  As soon as they get off the expressway and join the highway however, they will see something completely different.  Heavy vehicles that go on the right-side lanes, three wheelers that weave in and out of lanes, constantly blaring horns, and much more.  There goes that positive view about investing in this country.

Get the police to enforce the laws without turning a blind eye.  When they see people coming in the wrong lane, disregarding lane markings and safety, some of the cops just look the other way, since they cannot be bothered to write out a ticket.  How about changing the regulations, so that the cops also get a percentage from the fines that they write?  Bye bye bribes, since they get paid anyway, and hello discipline.

Put those shiny new Yamaha bikes to good use, chasing after wrong-doers on highways, rather than using them as glorified transport to get a cop from A to B.

Improve the public transport

What happened to those Volvo and Yutong buses that were running as a pilot project?  Haven’t seen them recently.  People will definitely pay extra for air conditioned comfort.  Yes, these buses are more expensive, but there are cheap alternatives in India and China that we can bring down, and the government can give the CTB a duty concession.  If you can give permits to MP’s, doctors, state workers, teachers, etc why not use those duty concessions to improve the national transportation fleets?

Also make it compulsory to have closed doors on the old buses, to stop people from falling out.  Remember how many people have fallen off and then getting run over by the same bus?

Look at the next point and eliminate the competition between the CTB and the private buses.  This competition leads to races and crashes and ultimately injury and death.

Hopefully, with the Megapolis project, we will see the re-introduction of LRT (tram networks) that operate on the road with a higher right of way.  This means that although cars in traffic would be waiting, the trams would operate with minimal waiting meaning that people get from A to B much faster.  This will create an incentive for people to use trams instead of their own cars to get to work.

No more Private Buses

The competition between SLTB buses and individual private buses is killing people, and that’s no good.  Road rules are bent, broken, and murdered in plain sight and most of the time the traffic police turn a blind eye towards them as well.

Form a public-private corporation where all private buses will be “invested” into it by their owners.  The SLTB will manage and administer the corporation.  Existing private drivers will be given employment in the new corporation.  All buses will be uniformly painted so that there is no distinction for the public.  Owners will receive a rental and a fair share of the profits.  The bus networks will be in better harmony, service levels will increase, safety will improve. Win Win situation for all concerned.

No more three-wheelers

The fact that this is a small vehicle leads to the following:

  1. Allows them to creep from all sides, leading to more traffic congestion.
  2. Creeping from unseen places leads to more accidents
  3. Survivability after an accident is poor due to the minimal safety standards in these vehicles.

Pack them off to countries where there is still a demand for them, like Bangladesh, Pakistan, African region, etc and replace them with compact cars.  Keep in mind that a Bajaj Tuk now costs about 700,000 rupees and a Tata Nano is 1,700,000.  That same Nano will cost 140,000 INR in India which is approx 300,000 LKR.  Don’t say it can’t be done.  Three wheelers  can be replaced by small cars effectively.

Safety would be much higher, and people can travel in better comfort, and the living standards of the drivers / owners would increase.  Traffic would actually be better managed as well, since we will not have three wheelers filtering through small gaps and lanes and creating blocks.

No more Vehicle Permits – equality for all

Why should one group of society such as MP’s, Doctors, Government Servants receive permits to buy vehicles at zero duty or lesser duty, compared to another segment that has no such privilege? Even the Prime Minister stated that no group is above another.  Then let’s abolish this much abused permit system and introduce a fairer duty calculation mechanism, to enable better equality.  India which has bigger problems than Sri Lanka has a fairer pricing policy when compared to Sri Lanka.

One way to do this would be to immediately stop issuing all permits, but consider giving concessionary loans to those same people.  Government would still get an income from the duties paid.  Eventually, the duties can be reduced gradually making vehicles more affordable.  Yes, this may lead to more traffic but this can be managed via proper regulations and enforcement of laws.

No more “super” luxuries for MP’s and Ministers.

MP’s should not forget that they are public servants, elected from among the common man to serve man.  Why do they need massive luxuries such as SUV’s that cost a hefty bill to the tax paying public?  H.E. the President, who is a “sarala” (simple) man should enforce policy on his Ministers.  Specify a simple vehicle for government service that meets the requirements and has a bit of luxury for comfortable travel, and say no to the extravagant expenditure.  We are not a oil rich country with a massive income to justify what we spend on our elected officials.

Mihin Lanka

For a number of years now, I have been saying that 1) it was wrong to setup a separate airline, and 2) it should be merged with SriLankan airlines.

If the requirement was to offer budget travel for pilgrims that could have easily been done using the existing national carrier by giving subsidised tickets on a quota system for deserving people.  Creating another airline was a massive waste of money, and it affected SriLankan airlines too.

Glad to hear some news that there are plans now to merge Mihin with SriLankan and to create one airline under the SriLankan brand.  Better late than never. Learn a lesson and move on.


Educational Reform

We need to re-examine what we teach and how we teach it.  Maybe we should consider reducing the number of years we spend for primary and secondary education and consider sending students to college and university at a younger age.  Maybe we should consider re-examining what we teach in university, and what streams are on offer?  Maybe we should look at an employability-skills matrix and design our courses around that?  Maybe we should limit the number of general Arts degrees that we offer, and divert those students to other streams? Otherwise, students will graduate with degrees that give them no employable skills and they would be unemployed.  More time and money would have to be spent to re-train them on other skills, where they would then obtain a job which has nothing to do with what they learnt in university.  Consider that in 2013, we admitted 7,396 students into Arts degrees.  Shouldn’t we ensure that they learn and acquire skills of an employable nature.

Access to Higher Education

In 2013, a total of 143,740 students passed their advanced level exams and became eligible to enter state university and pursue their higher education.  Of this, 25,200 students were admitted, of which 15,694 were female (very interesting, but not relevant).

So what happened to the 118,540 other students?  Who cares about them?  What’s their future like?  Don’t they have rights?  Anyone in the “Anthare” who likes to talk about them?

Some will say that the solution is to build more state universities, but all of us know that Sri Lanka does not have the funds or the resources to build more of such mammoth facilities, and then there’s the problem of maintaining them.

For the year 2016 alone, the Govt of SL has allocated a total of 44,923 Million Rupees for a total of 35 universities and institutions.  UGC source available here.

How many of you noticed that when the last government gave approval for the private medical college, one thing they did was to offer some scholarships to students who were unable to enter state universities.  I propose that this should be taken further, and that full and partial scholarships can be given to deserving students to study at institutions such as NSBM, NIBM, SLIIT, etc and that this can even be extended to private institutions at a discounted rate so that more people have access to higher education.  If the Govt were to ask us to offer a bulk discounted rate for a couple of hundred students, I would gladly work out a win-win arrangement.  I get students, people get a recognised educational qualification and then into employment, and the Govt gets the credit.

Having more people being qualified with reputed and recognised qualifications is never a bad thing.

Pay back to Society

Since state sponsored / free higher education will continue into the future, we need to make sure that the people who get this benefit, then pay it back to society.  As graduates, if they work in the state sector or private sector, they serve the Sri Lankan public.  If however, after qualifying as a Doctor or an Engineer or whatever at the state’s expense, they then decide to migrate to some other country within 10 years, they should not be allowed to go unless they pay back to the State, whatever the money that was invested in them.  No payment = no immigration clearance stamp.


Doctors are an essential service

Personally, I think there are too many strikes and trade union actions going on in this country.  Yes, there are problems which need to be solved, but I don’t think it’s right to go on strike for everything.  The Doctors as an example, had a lot of sympathy from the general public but the fact that they went on strike over a schooling matter seems to have caused a backlash, and people were not impressed.

Stop taking the patients hostage.  The service of Doctors should be declared as an “essential service” and no strikes should be allowed.  Instead, they can work and resolve their issues via labour tribunals and the courts.  If they need to show their power, they can do so via work-to-rule.

More will be added as I think them up, but some of these may go a long way if they get implemented.  Let me know what you think, in the way of comments.


MSc programmes in IT from Kingston University, UK

ESOFT has introduced three new MSc programmes in IT, in collaboration with Kingston University, UK.

Kingston University is a well known name in Sri Lanka, as there are scores of Sri Lankan students who have gone to the UK and successfully read for and completed their degrees and post graduate degrees there.  As of 2013, Kingston University has been partnered with ESOFT Metro Campus which is Sri Lanka’s largest private sector higher education network.

Kingston is a top ranked University in the UK.  Kingston University has been named one of the world’s top young universities by sector-leading publication Times Higher Education (THE) for 2016.  Its newly released “150 Under 50″ listing ranked universities established during the past half century on a range of measures, including teaching, research, citations, international outlook and industry income.  Kingston University has also been named one of the world’s top 150 most international institutions by THE for 2016.  They have also been rated among the top 15 percent of institutions in the globe in the prestigious QS World University Rankings of 2015.

Kingston has a 116 year history, and comprises of 5 faculties over 4 campuses with close to 20,000 students selecting it as their higher education partner each year

ESOFT is also an award winning institution, where they have been awarded as a Gold Partner by BCS in the large scale partner sector. This is an addition to being recognised as Sri Lanka’s only Accredited Course Provider for the BCS Higher Education Qualification. ESOFT was also recognised by Pearson Edexcel as their fastest growing partner and also as their gold partner for being one of the largest partners in Sri Lanka.  ESOFT students have also performed well and brought local and international recognition including dozens of World Prizes.

Under this partnership, ESOFT is offering three MSc programmes which are delivered 100% locally. These include:

  • MSc in Information Technology and Strategic Innovation
  • MSc in Software Engineering
  • MSc in Network and Information Security.

A total of 40 students will be selected per stream and selection into the programmes will be purely on merit and based on an evaluation process which includes having to face an interview. Those with accepted and recognised academic and professional qualifications are eligible to apply along with the relevant professional experience.

The partnership between Kingston University and ESOFT Metro Campus is special due to the following factors

  1. Recognised qualifications from a reputed university are made affordable to local students.
  2. The qualification that successful candidates received will be the same qualification that a student in the UK receives. It is the same internal qualification, and NOT a locally designed MSc.
  3. This allows students to obtain full credit transfers, if they wish to have an international exposure
  4. Those interested in graduating in the UK may attend the graduation there or graduate locally.

The study schedule has been prepared by taking the busy lifestyle of our professionals into consideration. The MSc can be completed within one year including the dissertation. There is also the option of completing the learning components in the first year and the dissertation in the second year, with no additional fees.

There are two intakes per year, and this call for applications is for the January 2017 intake, where classes would be available either as a weekday option or as a weekend option.

Scholarships on offer

ESOFT has a CSR fund that is used for IT capacity development in the country, and over the past 18 months an amount in excess of 30 million rupees has been spent in donating brand new computer labs to rural and deserving schools.  As an extension of this work, a total of Rs 10 million has been earmarked for awarding partial scholarships for students aiming for higher studies. We believe this is important as it makes a recognised higher education qualification more affordable to Sri Lankan professionals and thereby aids in capacity development of individuals and thereby the development of this country.

Submit your applications early by visiting and also have the opportunity of meeting high ranking representatives of Kingston University, UK in October.


CEPA, ETCA, ETCFA, et al. Whatever it’s called – is it all good?

The Preamble

Agreements?  Generally good to have them.  Why? ‘Cause they give us some degree of protection if things go wrong and people start going back on their word.  But for that to happen, the agreement must be written in good faith to begin with.  No one can write an agreement to be one sided – it must contain ‘give’ and ‘take’.  The question that most people have is whether the ETCA is a balanced agreement to begin with.

So, what’s all the fuss about?  Let’s see what we know and don’t know so far.

What is CEPA?

CEPA stands for Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.  Many countries have signed these between themselves and they generally do reap the rewards.  Essentially it spells out how trade in goods and services will happen between the host countries and liberalises some of the specified markets.

When did this CEPA thing appear?

My understanding is that this is not something new.  Earlier records that I could find about this date back to the year 2003 where apparently 13 rounds of negotiations happened between Sri Lanka and India in order to iron out the details and to sign off.  Details here.  Some last minute objections from Sri Lanka put the signing on hold, and it’s been on the back-burner even since.

When India was going against us with that whole UNHCR fiasco a few years ago, the CEPA work came to the forefront again and it’s possible that since out best friend China is not so great these days, India wants to come in again and with the support that was given, CEPA may possible have become something that our Statesmen could simply not ignore.

So what happened to CEPA?

The original CEPA agreement had a number of services shortlisted for liberalisation and it included among others, Medical Services.  Quite rightly, the GMOA got into the game and threatened trade union action if the plans are not immediately halted.

With all the shouting and objections, the Prime Minister announced that CEPA would not be signed.  Source here, here, here, here, and here.  Although it seemed like a welcome respite, what actually happened was that CEPA returned, this time with a different name, the ETCA – Economic and Technical Cooperation (Framework) Agreement.

ETCA is basically an agreement about an agreement that is to be signed around June of 2016.  Draft versions we have seen are available here, with an annexture containing the services here (Please note that I cannot vouch for the accuracy of these links since the actual agreement is not released to the public)

In the meantime, various other professional organisations got together and formed an alliance by the name of the United Professionals Movement.  The representative organisations were:

  1. Sri Lankan Engineers’ Association
  2. Government Medical Officers’ Association
  3. Government Dental Surgeons’ Association
  4. The Institution of Engineers
  5. Institution of Incorporated Engineers
  6. Computer Society of Sri Lanka
  7. Institute of Personnel Management
  8. The Bar Association
  9. Sri Lanka Institute of Architects
  10. Chartered Institute of Management Accountants
  11. Institute of Applied Statistics

The UPM jointly wrote to the Prime Minister requesting for an opportunity to meet and discuss about the proposed agreement and it’s possible repercussions, but a reply was not received.

Source here

Subsequently a discussion took place between the Minister Malik Samarawickrama, and some of the professional bodies, but the results were less than impressive.  It would seem that the Indians have written their part of the agreement rather thoroughly and the Sri Lankan side of it needs some more refinement.  Our request is that the professional bodies, as the representatives of the local professionals, should also be taken in on an advisory basis to do such refinements, rather than rushing into signing an incomplete framework.

What’s on the agenda now?

The most vocal critics have had their professions removed from the proposed ETCA agreement.  Currently the focus is on Maritime Services and on IT.  The dockyard representatives who came for a common meeting at the IESL stated that they have a shortage for skilled welders, and have requested permission from the BOI to bring skilled workers from India.  No problems there, since the BOI framework allows that to happen.  Why in that case do we need a new agreement to open this up?  Their problem was that the welders that were trained were leaving for foreign employment.  That can be solved with proper contracts and bonds.  Opening up the sector to India is not the solution.

Also, why IT?  The local IT industry has developed rapidly and has built up a name and a reputation for capability and quality.  As such, the local salary structures have evolved and those that are in the IT profession make a comfortable living.  Salaries are nowhere near what their US and European counterparts are getting, but it is higher than a few notable sectors in Sri Lanka.  Are the salaries prohibitive, so that new startups cannot compete?  Definitely not.  There are plenty of fresh graduates who are willing to work in the 40 to 60,000 range

An interesting comparison of the Sri Lankan and Indian Economies

My source for this is IndexMundi.

Factor India Sri Lanka
GDP Growth Rate 3.2% (2013 est.)
5.1% (2012 est.)
7.5% (2011 est.)
6.3% (2013 est.)
6.4% (2012 est.)
8.2% (2011 est.)
GDP – per capita (PPP) $4,000 (2013 est.)
$3,900 (2012 est.)
$3,800 (2011 est.)
$6,500 (2013 est.)
$6,100 (2012 est.)
$5,800 (2011 est.)
Population below poverty line 29.8% (2010 est.) 8.9% (2010 est.)
Unemployment Rate 8.8% (2013 est.)
8.5% (2012 est.)
5.1% (2013 est.)
4% (2012 est.)
Industrial production growth rate 0.9% (2013 est.) 10% (2013 est.)
Export Partners UAE 12.3%, US 12.2%, China 5%, Singapore 4.9%, Hong Kong 4.1% (2012) US 20.4%, UK 9.9%, India 5.8%, Italy 4.7%, Belgium 4.3%, Germany 4.3% (2012)
Imports – partners China 10.7%, UAE 7.8%, Saudi Arabia 6.8%, Switzerland 6.2%, US 5.1% (2012) India 22.7%, Singapore 8.8%, UAE 7.7%, China 7%, Iran 6.1%, Malaysia 4.5% (2012)
Unemployment, youth ages 15-24 total: 10.7%
male: 10.4%
female: 11.6% (2012)
total: 17.3%
male: 14%
female: 23.5% (2012)

I haven’t taken all the factors, but in terms of employment and finances, some of the most important are given above.

Justification for and against signing the ETCA

  • It’s always good to have new business opportunities, but would Sri Lankan companies be able to open up shop in India?  Keep in mind that the state governments can impose additional rules and regulations on top of the ETCA signed between the national governments and quickly make this into a one-sided arrangement.  Anyone think they can safely enter the Chennai market?
  • Allowing Indian expertise into the country will make the employment market more competitive.  Yet it will – but if the current market is sustainable, and the quality of life is better than in India, why attract them for lower salaries and thereby drive down the market?  Those who say that this would not happen, had probably not seen that article about Uttar Pradesh advertising for 350+ clerical jobs with a 16,000 rupee salary and then receiving 2.4 million applications including 255 PhD’s, 155,000 graduates, etc.  If a PhD is willing to work for 16,000 (32,000 LKR), what more can we say?  India has a unemployment of 15,000,000.  Our entire population is 22,000,000.
  • Companies will have access to cheaper professionals – yes, but if one company employs one hundred Sri Lankans, whose interest is more important?  the one or the hundred?  Keep in mind that Sri Lanka’s name is Socialist Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka – Socialist, not Capitalist.
  • Why sign with India?  Yes, they’ve sent rockets and launched satellites, etc, etc, etc.  Yes, they like to act like our Big Brother.  But, why not consider signing with a country that could really give us a technology boost such as Malaysia, Singapore, even China – but still without allowing open movement of persons.  India isn’t that great a place.

What’s next?

Maritime Services and IT and probably the test bed.  If that goes through, then more annexures would be signed to liberalise and open more service areas.  If this is not managed and controlled, things could turn nasty quite fast.


25/01/2016 – For those that say this post is one sided / imbalanced – yes, just like the agreement that is to be signed this is an imbalanced article.  If things improve with regards to the agreement, full transparency is achieved, and Sri Lanka gets a win-win scenario, then my post will reflect that.  Further, if new companies and existing companies that are setup via the BOI can recruit international talent without major restrictions, why would we want to sign an agreement with India to make it easier?  Shouldn’t some form of control be maintained to sustain the image of quality that the Sri Lankan IT Sector has built up?

My thoughts on the Presidential Election 2015, and an Open Letter to HE Maithripala Sirisena, our President

Here we are at the end of another presidential election, which should never have been called in the first place.  This was a colossal waste of money, since there were 2 more years to go.  It was a dirty battle and both sides dished out hits that were considered “below the belt”, but those who were in power did so with reckless abandon, and it seems that it has come full circle to bite them in the rear.

The Dirty Game

I generally do not get involved in politics, and I try to stay neutral even though I have a political affiliation.  I appreciate the good things that were done by the President, and all due credit should go to him for that.  But there were some rather unsavoury things that happened that should have been kept out.  Those that throw mud should have borne in mind that the same mud would tarnish them as well.

Things which I saw as standing out among the rest were:

  1. Tissa crossed over to the Government, and that was his right and there were so many that crossed over to the Opposition.  Tissa went one step further, and maybe one step too far by outing a fake agreement.  As soon as I read it I knew it was a fake because of the wording that was used in it, and also since it did not look like a legal agreement.  But not everyone would look at it like I did, and there would be people that would be fooled.
  2. SB showed some vulgar behaviour by saying that this is a good chance to strip Chandrika naked and make her run through the streets in madness and shame.  You do not talk like that about a lady.  He also used the ‘P’ word when describing MS.
  3. JF, PW, MA behaved poorly when participating in televised debates and tried to use thuggish behaviour to subdue the opposition when they saw that their political debating skills were lagging.
  4. WW consistently went on stage and slung mud for character assassination of MS and the people started to hate him for it
  5. Rupavahini and ITN and state newspapers broke most laws with regards to election propaganda and misuse of State resources and were continuously used for election propaganda and mud slinging.
  6. State employees such as ANC and PBJ did interviews on Rupavahini which turned out to be one sided political programmes where they forgot that they were State employees and not political party representatives
  7.  Day before the election there was a fake SMS supposedly from SP’s phone saying that he wanted UNP supporters to vote for MR, and on the day of the election there was the fake news report that SP had joined the Govt.
  8. The fake Sirisena from Polonnaruwa was brought to Medamulana dressed in a similar way to MS and was shown on TV standing next to MR.  MR made it a point to say on TV that “Sirisena came all the way from Polonnaruwa to support him” – was this not an attempt to mislead voters?

Both sides did bad things when it came to Social Media.  There were a lot of edited and doctored photographs such as the one that PCR showed about KP.  In his defence, he took this from the Internet and was mislead himself.  There was also a doctored photo of HF together with MR, which claimed that he had crossed over to the Govt.  Then there were the car photos that were shown by eloquent SS.  He should have checked before making those pictures public and should have know that he was being lead along.

Then there were the artists like IW who went beyond decency.  Having a political affiliation and sharing a few posts is quite okay, but he went beyond and faced a backlash from his own fans.  What he forgot was that his fans were from both sides.

Things to bear in mind

Let’s not make the same mistakes twice.

  1. Don’t call MS a King.  He is a democratically elected leader and he represents the people.  He was not born as a King, and he will not leave as a King, as shown by MR.
  2. MS has to keep in mind that he is President of the entire SL, and not just of the people that voted him in.  Show the proper leadership and earn the respect of the 47% that did not vote for you.
  3. Deliver what you promised.  You may not be able to do everything that was promised, within your first 100 days.  But, do the best and implement the most, and the people will trust you.

What needs to change?

Looking to the future of our Country, the new President should take immediate steps in these areas:

  1. The economy is one of the most important areas for consideration.  Let the experts handle that.  Make sure that the Minister of Finance, Secretary to the Treasury, and the Governor of the Central Bank are all capable people who see eye to eye.  Don’t massage the numbers.  Ensure that there is real economic growth where the people get the benefits.  Let them have a better home economy with more affordability and a better lifestyle.  Either bring down the cost of living or enhance their financial situation.  One recent cross over to the Govt said that if fuel prices are brought down, people will pump more fuel and waste money on frivolous trips.  Don’t give a place in your Government for people like that.  Give us our dignity.
  2. Don’t have development for the sake of development.  Instead, ensure that the right project is done in the right place, at the right time.  Hambantota saw a lot of development but compared to other regions of the country, the entire voter base there is around 450,000 which is just 3% of the registered voter base in Sri Lanka and a total population of 596,617.   Maybe the Sea Port was justified and will be useful in the future, but the Airport was a waste.  Decisions about major projects should be taken by appointed committees that have experts in them, and should not be based on populist politics.
  3. Cancel the 18th Amendment, and bring back the 17th Amendment to the constitution.  Make sure that the Police answer to the independent Police Commission and not to politicians.  Ensure that state employees are loyal to the State, and not to Ministers.  Ensure that there is a independent Bribery Commission with power to act.  Have an Independent Media Commission and make the State and Private media answerable to them.  Ensure the independence of the Judiciary, and ensure that no one is above the law.
  4. Remove the names of politicians and their pictures from projects that were funded by the state.  State establishments and Ministries should have the picture of the head of state, but should it be there on the buses that operate on the expressways?
  5. Review all wasteful projects and manage them accordingly.  Absorb the assets of Mihin Lanka into Sri Lankan Airlines.  Since Mihin Lanka was established with the stated motive of giving budget / affordable services to pilgrims, use some of that money to give subsidised air tickets to those that deserve them.  You can do this at less than 1/10th of the cost of running a separate airline.
  6. Plan for the future, and invest in the younger generation.  Invest in their education.  Create jobs for them by establishing new industries.
  7. Take out nepotism and cronyism and get rid of corrupt officials.  Let the rule of law prevail.
  8. Strengthen our foreign service and make sure that we have educated, eloquent, and capable people as High Commissioners and Diplomats, who are able to manage our international relations and demonstrate to the world that we are civilised and capable of managing our own affairs.  Show them that international investigations are not required, since we have the ability to manage things ourselves.  The UN and others cannot be overcome with intimidation.  Instead, we need sharp witted minds to handle them.
  9. Appoint the right people for the right ministries.  Even if the Minister knows nothing about the portfolio, ensure that he or she is a good administrator.  Appoint a subject matter expert as the Secretary to the Ministry, and let that person work with the Minister to do what is right.
  10. Appoint the right people as Advisers to the President and to the Ministries.  Get qualified, educated, forward thinking people.  Hint hint!
  11. You do not need to spend mega bucks for mega projects to win the people over.  Sometimes it is the smallest thing that garners the admiration of the people.  Get your priorities straight, and stick to your principles.

Maybe I’ll add some more later, but I think this is good enough for a start.  Let’s work together to build a better, safer country.  30 years of war are over.  Let’s now declare war on our economic and social enemies.

Presidential Election 2014

Here we are, at the dawn of a new year, and unable to enjoy it fully as another election has been declared before it’s due.  For the politicians, election fever has set in.  For the common man, it is the one time at which they hold some real power.  Like colourful birds that strut around proudly puffing their chests to attract the attention of the female, so are our politicians.  They speak eloquently and promise us so much with the hope of getting our vote, but whether what is promised will turn into a reality is another game completely.

Many have asked from me as to who I would vote for.  Here’s my answer.

My vote is deserved by…

  1. The one that is not afraid to admit to his mistakes, because he is only human.
  2. The one that is not corrupt.
  3. The one that does not forget that he is elected from the people, by the people, for the people.
  4. The one that can garner enough votes to establish a stable government without needing a coalition so that the party with 3 seats does not control the party with 111 seats.
  5. The one that places the Judiciary above the legislature, so that even the rulers are answerable to the Law.
  6. The one that abolishes the Executive Presidency and transfers the authority to the Parliament duly composed of elected members.
  7. The one that strengthens democracy and encourages debate, rather than labeling the rulers as Patriots and the opposition as Traitors.  Instead we should have shadow ministers appointed from the opposition like they do in the United Kingdom.  They keep an eye on the Minister and point out any issues and keep things in check.  If the government were to change, the Shadow Minister would become the Minister.  He or she can easily take over and effectively manage matters.
  8. The one that reduces bribery and corruption from the top to the bottom, without just concentrating on the small Frye that accepts a Rs 500 bribe.
  9. The one that develops the infrastructure of the entire country, and not just in one area.
  10. The one that can build international relations with foreign governments so that we are respected even if we are small.  Sri Lanka has the potential to be a moderate to big player in the global village.
  11. The one that heads disciplined parliamentarians who answer questions with facts and figures rather than diverting the topic by saying “we are better compared to your time when you did x, y, and z…” and acting like young children in pre-school.
  12. The one with sound economic policies that will help steer Sri Lanka towards economic prosperity, using multiple pathways and not just singular pathways such as Tourism.  Emphasis should be put on manufacturing and related industries, knowledge workers, and more foreign direct investments in strategic areas.  Gone are the days where our major earners were tea, rubber, and coconuts.  Gone should be the days where our major export is labour.
  13. The one that instills discipline on the roads where the traffic rules are obeyed.  Building roads and highways and expressways is not enough when the people don’t know how to use them.
  14. The one that makes the Police force truly independent and only answerable to the Police Commission and the Courts.
  15. The one that ensures that true freedom of the press is maintained, and that they operate under a set of rules based on ethics, and answerable to the Media / Press Commission, which in turn answers to the judiciary.  This should not equate to a free license to insult someone with baseless facts.  Any defamations or libel would be handled via the Press Complaints Commission and the judiciary.
  16. The one that enforces the rule of law in the land.  Criminals and Terrorists should be punished, no matter who they are or who they know.
  17. The one that appoints Ministers and Secretaries and Diplomats based on their knowledge, qualifications, experience, and capability and not on personal ties and relationships.
  18. The one that ensures that State resources are not abused, and that projects are awarded rightly and justly by way of tenders and expert panels, and not based on friendship.
  19. The one that ensures that Politicians and their families understand that they are not above the Citizens, but equals.  They are not entitled to use emergency flashers and sirens that are reserved for emergency vehicles such as ambulances, fire brigade, and police and cannot travel on the wrong side of the road.
  20. The one that takes the bold move to abolish the private bus system which has lead to unhealthy competition and bus races, leading to unsafe roadways.  Instead, the buses can be leased and operated by the SLTB under a common scheme with a time table.

These are my reasonable expectations from the next Head of State.  Now then…. Who would like my vote…?

Sri Lanka: a nation suffering from ‘Enforced’ Poverty

It is now 66 years since we gained independence, and what do we have to show for it?  Nothing much, really.  In part, this is due to a bloody war that lasted for 27 years and brought development to a standstill. No one in their right mind would invest in this country.  Those days are now behind us and we are on the path of development with foreign investments tricking in.  But, I opine that we could do much, much better as a Nation.

What is Enforced Poverty?  It is a phrase that I coined whereby the masses of the country have been indoctrinated by those in power into believing that the life they lead is unchangeable and that their younger generation will have a greener, more luxurious, brighter future.  They will strive on, firmly entrenched in poverty or the borderlines of it and will not challenge the status-quo.

Let us take as an example the typical family.  The father is a teacher or a government servant.  The mother is a housewife.  They have a son and a daughter who are both schooling.  Let us say one is studying for the ordinary level exam, and the other for the advanced level exam.  Let’s estimate the monthly household income to be Rs. 40,000.

With the cost of living as it is, rent and electricity would be at least 10,000 for someone in a suburban area. Monthly bill for essential groceries would be at least 7,500. Milk powder alone is now 386 for a 400 gram packet.  Fees for extra classes for the kids would be another 5,000 and transport for the kids and the parents via bus and the occasional three wheeled taxi would be another 4,000 maybe?  Father would probably have a mobile phone for emergencies and would cost him at least 500 a month.  A gas cylinder for the kitchen would be 2,500 every two months, and the miscellaneous expenses would also add up such as clothing and shoes, medical bills, and etc.

Buying a motor cycle let alone a car for this family is all but a dream. An average motor cycle is 150,000 and the cheapest car would be the Tata Nano, and it costs 1,400,000 here in this country.

Now we get to my point about enforced poverty.  Even if this family earns just 40,000 does that mean that they cannot have a reasonable quality of life? Poverty is enforced on them simply because of our notion of the greater good. More on that later.

Let’s see if we can get this family to buy a Tata Nano.  The cost is 1,400,000. Assume the upfront payment is 200,000 and that the balance 1,200,000 goes on a lease.  Car leases are on average 2250 per 100,000 borrowed over 5 years, which comes to 27,000 per month.  Insurance would be 20,000 per year, and we would have to add on the cost of fuel and maintenance as well.  As you can see, our teacher cannot afford this, due to enforced poverty, due to government policy.

A brand new Tata Nano 2014 model costs 234,000 in India. At an exchange rate of 2.08 that comes to 486,720 locally.  A Maruti 800 costs 238,000 in India, which is 495,040 locally.  A Fiat Punto is 500,000 and a Fiat Linea is 600,000.

Tata Nano, Starting at 100,000 when launched

Tata Nano, Starting at 100,000 when launched

Fiat Linea, Starting at 599,000 INR

Fiat Linea, Starting at 599,000 INR

If the Indian price were to be taken for the calculation above, the Tata Nano could be bought for a 100,000 down payment and the balance as 8720 in 60 months.  Wouldn’t that enhance the quality of life, and also lead to a happier nation? Now for what I said about the “greater good”.  There would be those that counter my argument by saying reduced taxes and duties resulting in lower prices for vehicles will mean more congestion on the roads and more pollution.  Maybe.  But where’s the alternative in that case? Has adequate planning and funding gone into our public transport system? Going in the morning and coming in the evening via the bus is a circus act and a battle with death, when we see the people packed in and also hanging from the foot-boards and doorways of the buses.  Do the buses run on time and as scheduled? Let’s not even talk about the mess with private and public buses operating on the same roads therefore resulting in deadly races.

If vehicle prices are being kept at these extraordinarily high levels for the sake of reducing pollution and congestion as suggested by some, then why is it that Vehicle Permits are issued to politicians, ministry secretaries, doctors, etc?  Why should they receive a benefit that the common citizen does not?  Don’t they work as hard? Don’t they pay their taxes too? Isn’t that considered to be discrimination and a violation of their fundamental rights?

Let’s take another example.  In the beginning of February we saw the price of Dhal coming down due to the reduction of import duty of Rs. 15 per kilo.  Few days later, import duty on Potatoes were increased by Rs 15 per kilo.  Powdered milk was in short supply in January as the importers were saying that the duties are too high and that they cannot sell and make a profit.  The Government is refusing to reduce the taxes and duties and allowed the prices to be hiked up.  The justification given by the Minister of Consumer Affairs was that the duties are kept at a high level to protect the local milk farmers.  But, do we have an effective mechanism to distribute fresh milk in this country?  Can’t we be self sufficient in milk without having to import from New Zealand?

Here’s another example.  The leader of the JVP, Anura Dissanayake was recently giving an example and stating that construction of the Mattala Airport took 25000 Million Sri Lankan Rupees, which is 25 billion Rupees, or 209 million USD.  The cost to maintain our world record setting battalion of Ministers is 27 billion Rupees per year!  There are 67 Cabinet Ministers and 37 Deputy Ministers which is a total of 104 for a population of 22 million.

India with a population of 1.1 billion people has got a cabinet of just 35 ministers.  China with a population of 1.3 billion has just 20 ministries.

Just imagine the type of development that could take place in Sri Lanka each year if we cut the number of ministers by half.

I’m not a professor of economics, nor do I pretend to know everything there is to know in finance, but I do believe that there is a lot of room for improvement in our country and in our quality of life.  Meanwhile, the teacher in my story and his family are destined for a life of hardship.  The mother and father will accept their standard of living and strive to give a better education to their children with the hope that they will have a better life than them.

Why Sri Lanka will not be a Developed Nation even by 2030

Sri Lanka has ambitious plans for development and we see many infrastructure projects either completed or nearing completion or planned for the near future.

So why do I say that we will not be a developed nation in the 1st world?  Simply because it is not only the infrastructure that makes a country and her people developed, but the attitudes and actions of them as well.

Let’s examine the factors against us.

Road Use

We have well constructed roads for the most part when you consider the major highways, but the way we use them leaves a lot to be desired.

Even the first expressway to be opened has seen more than a 1000 accidents since it opened little more than a year ago, and many have died.  Most are due to use of non-roadworthy vehicles and also excessive speeding.  Only a few travel at the stipulated speed of 100 KPH, and most go at 120 to 150.

On the highways, we don’t stick to the lanes, we regularly run the red lights when the cops are not watching, the infernal three wheelers and other slow movers are always on the right lane or on the middle of both lanes and will unhappily move out of your way and give you a dirty glare after we blast our horns.  Most of these three wheelers do not have working lamps at the rear and even if they did, they do not use the turn signals.  Motorcyclists also do not believe in lighting at the rear, and they don’t believe in helmets for their passengers either.  Mom and Dad are often seen with helmets but their kids have nothing.  Can this be explained in any sensible way?  Safety of your loved ones should be the supreme requirement.  Then we have the private buses that go on their races.  Horns blaring, swerving from side to side, cutting into traffic all of a sudden, or suddenly stopping in the middle of the road when they see a passenger.

India also has a public and private transport mechanism which has lead to very unsafe roads.  Countries like Singapore and Malaysia on the other hand, do not have this.  Having private bus operators creates unnecessary competition which ultimately results in unsafe conditions.  Lease the buses from their owners and take them into state control.  This will definitely improve the standards and the people’s confidence in them as well.

The non-roadworthy three wheelers should also be removed from the roads and shipped off to Africa where there is still a heavy demand for them.  They can be replaced with small cars which are equally economical.

Use of the roads should then be policed according to the law.  An article I wrote previously would be applicable here, and the Police department could have a good revenue generation as well.

Rule of Law

A pick-pocket or drug dealer or other criminal that is caught is swiftly taken in to custody and swiftly prosecuted with the heavy hand of the Law thrown at them and they either pay fines or land in jail, or both. Those with connections either avoid arrest all together, or end up in the hospital without going to Jail.  There are several notable incidents that most will remember.

What about the drug lords that supply the dealers?  Why can’t we go after them, the big killer whales rather than going after the small-fry?  What about all of the corruption that we see all around us?  Public Money being wasted on unnecessary and frivolous things which could have been used in a much more productive manner?  Why does this happen? Simply because we do not have accountability and they enjoy immunity and selective prosecution.

Politics & Accountability

The political system we have here is a right royal farce which gives us some entertaining moments but sadly at what cost?  Each party that comes into power plays the blame game for all the problems, and takes the credit for all the achievements.  Notable countries have minimum requirements for politicians such as a basic Graduate qualification and Post-graduate qualifications in your specialisation area.  I’ve heard, but not verified, that most of our politicians are just O/L or A/L qualified.

In the UK, some MP’s travel via the bus and train and walk among the common man.  They have the finger on the pulse.  In our country, how easy is it for you to meet your local political representative?  In the UK, the Government appoints the Ministers, and the Opposition appoints Shadow Ministers.  The Shadow Minister’s job is to monitor all the activities of the Minister and report and point out via parliament if there are any issues.  If any serious issues are uncovered, the Minister takes responsibility and resigns.  If not, the oversight committee of the parliament will impeach you.

In the UK Parliament, they still boo and jeer once in a while but everyone talks with respect. When answering a question, they refer to each other as “As my Right Honourable Member of Parliament pointed out, …” whereas here in Sri Lanka we avoid answering the question and say something else and make sure to call the other person MODAYA (Fool), GONA / HARAKA (Bull, Cow), THAKATHEERUWA (Imbecile), and other colourful words not uttered by civilised people.  If you don’t believe me, go to YouTube and search for “Sri Lanka Parliament”.

Over Taxation & Waste

Government coffers are supplemented with taxation on pretty much everything, and the people have a massive burden on them.  Basic commodities are also taxed heavily resulting in a high cost of living.  Vehicles are taxed anywhere from 100% to 300% on their value making a vehicle just a dream for many.  A basic Toyota Corolla starts at $12,500 in the US which is approx 1.6 million rupees.  The selling price in Sri Lanka is over 7 million due to taxation, which is more than $50,000 – for that price I could buy a pretty good Mercedes or BMW or Audi.  The cheapest car in the world is the Tata Nano which is approx $1000 or 125,000 Indian Rupees.  It costs 1.2 Million here (more than $9000).

Doesn’t the average Sri Lankan family deserve the opportunity to have a better quality of life rather than risking life and limb trying to balance a family of four on a motor cycle, simply because that is all you can afford?  The high taxation is justified by the people that control it, saying that it helps curb the outflow of foreign currency, and reduces the stress on the roads due to congestion.  In that case, why give Permits to government officials to import these vehicles at a lower cost?  Why should government officials travel in better and safer vehicles whilst the common man is condemned to hardship?  Our mindset is also manipulated by calling the classier vehicles as “Super Luxury” whereas in Europe even the taxis and police cars are Mercedes E Class and BMW 5 series.

Mihin Air has been a financial disaster from day one, and the time is right to admit we made a mistake.  It should be scrapped and merged with SriLankan.  If the requirement is to offer budget air travel to the average Sri Lankan traveler, they could be given subsidised tickets on the national carrier.  It could be a CSR project of SriLankan Airlines and it would still not cost as much as having another airline.  Tickets to pilgrims could be allocated on a quota basis much like the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca which is based on quotas.

Religious Tension

A point that is unfortunately exploited when attention needs to be diverted away from more pressing issues, much like the Grease Yaka which appeared when necessary and then disappeared with a simple explanation when not required anymore.  People of Sri Lanka have lived as a mix of religions for generations and although we have had a few hiccups along the way, in general we live peacefully.  Unfortunately, we have some “buttons” that are masterfully pressed by a few.  Unverified statements are enough for us to go on a rampage and destroy everything.  We hire people for picketing campaigns and agitations by paying a daily fee and giving food and drink, and they know not what they are shouting for.

Now for the factors in our favour.

Literacy and Skills

Sri Lanka has enjoyed a high literacy rate over the years and our labour force has the ability to learn and adapt quickly.  However, we should minimise focus on domestic workers and machine operators, and instead focus on knowledge based workers who are capable of generating greater inflows of cash.  We cannot and should not stop the other fields, but we should throttle it down.  Sri Lanka should not be known as a nation of servants and maids.


Sri Lankans are a strong nation with the capability to bear a lot of hurt and discomfort and persevere.  Surely we can use this to our advantage and shift the direction and speed of our country’s development.

Strategic Location

Sri Lanka is ideally situated a midst major shipping lines and the new Harbour and Airport should help convert us into a major trans-shipment hub in the future.  Expanding the Colombo port to be able to cater for Class E Ships was a major step in the right direction, and hats off to the government for having got that implemented.

Practice has shown us that simply having the new ports does not work and there needs to be better policy and fiscal management to attract major players.  Emirates is a major player in the airline industry and we should try and get them to setup a base of operations at Mattala. They have A380 aircraft that could use this facility.  If they are unwilling, due to the bad experience they had with the SriLankan (Air Lanka) partnership, we could invite Lufthansa which is the largest airline in Europe.  They recently placed the largest single order for new aircraft and said that their emphasis is to break into more of the long haul Asian routes.  Air Asia is one of the best budget airlines in the world and operates from Malaysia.  Mattala in Sri Lanka could be a regional hub for them as well.

Tourism Hub

One thing that the Government has properly identified is that Tourism is a key income earner for Sri Lanka.  More will come, but we have to ensure that we encourage the proper type of visitor to come.  Most of our numbers are now Indian and Chinese, but these are not the big spenders.  They come mostly for business, and a few come as tourists.  Then there are those westerners who come and stay in small joints at Negombo and Hikkaduwa.  They are also not spenders.  What we need are high spending tourists.  They have certain requirements that we need to fulfill.

  1. They require daytime activities such as sightseeing and shopping.  There are plenty of sights to see, but the shopping centres need improvement.  More shops and more choices and less prices are needed.  Theme parks such as Disney World, Universal Studio, and etc are required.  Just putting a park will not attract customers.  The big brands have the ability to draw visitors.  Set it up outside of Colombo on cheap land and setup a high speed rail network to link it to the major cities, like Sentosa in Singapore or Genting in Malaysia
  2. They require nightlife activities such as Casinos and Clubs, which should be regulated and safely maintained.
  3. Transport – Have a monorail network in and around Colombo which can act as a sightseeing tour by itself, or which lets the people access the main places of interest and shopping areas.  A subway is too costly and time consuming to construct.  A monorail suspended above the roads would be attractive and efficient.  Again, we can learn and borrow technology from Singapore and Malaysia.

A Friendly Nation

We are known world over as a hospitable nation with a friendly personality.  If someone comes to your home we always offer a drink and a bite to eat.  if you come during a meal time, we would offer you lunch or dinner, even if we have only a little for ourselves.

We will go out of our way to help someone, you ask us about a place, we might take you there.  You stop us on the road and ask for money or food, and we will oblige.  If you ask us something and we don’t know, we will ask someone else and tell you.

Can we develop as a nation? – I see the potential. Do you?

Sri Lankan Firsts

Although I have not verified this information, I believe it is of an interesting nature.  Therefore, my inaugural post shall be inspired by it.

  1. First country in the world to have established a dedicated hospital (Mihintale, 4th century BC)
  2. The world’s first recorded wildlife sanctuary was at Mihintale. It was established by King Devanampiyatissa in the 3rd century BC.
  3. Oldest country in the World within its present borders (the island of Sri Lanka existed as a independent sovereign country as far back as the 4th century BC)
  4. First female monarch in an Asian country, Queen Anula (47-42 BC)
  5. First country in the World to have a female prime minister (Sirimavo Bandaranaike, July 21, 1960)
  6. Longest period of continuous multi-party democracy by a non-western country (1931-present)
  7. World’s leading exporter of tea; Ceylon tea is famed to be one of the best teas in the world.
  8. World’s leading exporter of cinnamon; exported to Egypt as early as 1400 BC
  9. First country in South Asia to start radio broadcasting with Radio Ceylon – celebrated 80 years in Broadcasting on December 16, 2005
  10. First country in Asia to fly the Airbus A340

Sri Lanka is a country with a rich and colourful heritage.  We have survived as a nation because of the rich culture that we have.  Especially at times like these, please think twice or maybe even trice before taking any action.  Do not let your emotions control you, and do not become puppets in the agendas of others.  Sri Lanka is a multi religious multi ethnic country.  That doesn’t mean that you should bow down and let things happen, but there is a right way and a wrong way to get things done.  Use the right way, and things will be all right.