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Poverty

Sri Lanka’s poverty line uses somewhat of an outdated system to calculate poverty. But of course, to be fair, the whole world uses an outdated system to calculate poverty. I was at a forum organized by the Center for Poverty Analysis (CEPA) yesterday and a few interesting things were voiced.

Poverty

The Department of Census and Statistics (DCS) takes a value of how many calories a person needs to consume; 2030 calories per day in 2002. Then it looks at how much money you need to buy this many calories and arrives at the food poverty line.

Add to this the estimated costs of other requirements and you have the official poverty line. In 2002 this was Rs. 1423 per person per month. This is inflated every year to reflect the change in price levels. By that measure, it should currently be something like Rs. 3646 per person per month. Successive Household Income Expenditure Surveys (HIES) done by the DCS has revealed the number of poor people as a percentage of the population to have dropped as follows.

By the standards of nutritional measure at least, living seems to have gotten better here. Although the statistics do appear a little fantastic. Harsha De Silva for example asked how poverty levels of Estate workers could have sunk from some 30% in 2002 to something  like 12% in 2009. Admittedly Sri Lanka has gone through some serious socio-economic changes since the ceasefire. And while i doubt the DCS would put a number in public view without reasoning to back it, paranoia and doubt is warranted because it certainly does behave very suspiciously at times.

Lies and Statistics

The CDS remains incredibly cagey and protective about its statistics. When i say ‘incredibly’ however, i mean marginally. But even marginal cageyness when it comes to statistics can render any objective party almost impotent when it comes to interpreting economic numbers for itself.

Take inflation for example; inflation is calculated by tracking the prices of a ‘basket’ of consumer goods that a household is typically assumed to consume. The items in this basket is divided into broad categories (food and beverages, clothing and footwear, education, transport etc)  and further divided into subcategories (like the food category would contain, beets, beans, samba rise, anchor milk etc). These items are then assigned weights based on their relative importance (e.g. food would have 40% of the basket while clothing has 10%). A survey is done on weekly prices and the prices are multiplied by the weights to arrive at the overall inflation figure.

Now i might sound pedantic, but bear with me here. While the CDS gives the weights for the broader categories it fails to give the weights for the sub categories in the basket. And sub-categories are the most important thing here because knowing the relative importance of Anchor milk in the index is the only thing that allows us to accurately calculate the real impact of a milk price hike to inflation.

When i asked why the CDS isn’t transparent about inflation, especially when the government has repeatedly come under fire of accusations of manipulation, Suranjana Vidyaratne, Director General of the CDS, dodged my question. I suppose there is no smoke without fire.

Government data in Sri Lanka is generally like this though. A lot of the Central Bank data that comes out suffers from mysterious lags and occasional omissions and corrections that raise the eyebrow.

What is Happiness?

But is money and food a sufficient measure of poverty? And should we be measuring poverty in the first place? Traditional measures of poverty fall a little short of conveying the real deal of what it means to be poor and human by their valuation of poverty via a measure quantified purely in terms of money.

Since the seventies however, a movement towards including more dimensions into how we measure poverty has been gathering force. The Multidimensional Poverty Index attempts to incorporate factors like education, health and standards of living into a numerical measure of poverty that tries to be sort of more holistic.

Countries like Bhutan are already way ahead in measuring what they like to call ‘happiness’ using their GNH (Gross National Happiness). It takes data that can be quantitatively measured such as health and education but also gives importance to culture, spiritual progress, good governance and other qualitative, and critics accuse; subjective, measures.

image from the brilliant Wisdom on Wheels

Democracy is too nice. Everyone has a say and everyone has a in on how to handle things. This, generally, is a very good thing. But when things hit a rut, and quick decisions are needed, democracy can fail spectacularly. Just take whats going on in the Euro zone right now. No one can foresee a proper decision coming out of the region in time to avoid an economic crisis of massive proportions. Cronyism in Europe was helped along by the state. The imbalances created by the Euro zone’s formation coupled with a free spending, free borrowing approach has landed some of its less well off countries like Italy and Greece in hot water.

If they (the Euro officials) had acted fast they could have maybe stemmed everything at the start. They had several options on what to do and arguably any one of them would have worked, the climate at the time just required any action, just something to bring back investor confidence, but instead its powers started bickering. And the Euro-bickering is still going on, with no end in sight. This has led Paul Krugman to predict a massive scale bank run and plenty of other apocalyptic financial predictions from virtually every corner of economic thought.

Or, if you think the Euro example does not quite relate, think back a few months to when people were on pins about the US debt ceiling. From the beginning it was obvious that the ceiling was going to be raised. The US could take no other possible route. But parliamentary opposition from the Republicans created a heavy battle over tax cuts and entitlement reductions. The conditions were ultimately agreed to and the debt ceiling was raised. But the political opportunism probably didn’t help the US one bit when it comes to planning out a viable future strategy to recover its economy from the doldrums.

Poor, third world, developing (you pick the name) countries on the other hand, are always in a rut. They continuously face challenges and opportunities that require quick and intelligent action to mitigate or make use of. They are mostly desperate for hand holds to grow and if properly motivated and managed can become powerhouses very fast. Cases in point are Singapore and Malaysia who rose to stratospheric success in a very short time. Both of the above had intelligent, strategic but autocratic regimes. China is currently a pseudo autocracy (meaning it’s an autocracy but you can’t say it out loud) and it has so far managed its economy remarkably well.

What Do The People Want?

Democracy encourages countries to do what the people want. but in countries urgently in need of development, what the people want and what the country needs can be entirely different. Take Sri Lanka for instance. What do people want? Ideally they want free education, easy subjects and a guaranteed government job. Oh and free food stamps, low transport costs and cheap fuel. They also want no taxes, more subsidies and higher pensions. All this of course cannot happen at the same time.

For the country to develop, conversely, everyone must work hard, and everyone must sacrifice a few things. French-style decadence can come later. When your parent’s generations have become fat on economic riches and you can afford to work just 30 hours a week if you feel like it, or spend your time in roadside cafe’s smoking and drinking coffee on a government dole if you don’t.

In Sri Lanka political parties basically do what people want and skim off the top. At least, this is what they’ve been doing for a while now. If they’re not reducing bread/fuel/fertilizer prices before the election they’re promising more government jobs or cutting taxes. In fact it can be argued that our model of democracy has actually held back progress, by people getting the politicians they deserve. If the people have no long term vision for growth, then it is hardly likely that politicians with a long term vision for growth will arise out of a democracy consisting of these people.

A more centrally powerful government can ignore the short term wants and needs of people and give them what is really needed for long term growth. It can cut government jobs, privatize, cut taxes and increase investment. It can invest more in education, training, transport infrastructure and gross domestic capital.

A strong state is a strong state whatever model it uses to get there. Going by the above hypothesis, stronger states in lesser developed countries are generally autocratic, meaning there is a trade-off between development and liberty. But this doesn’t mean people are necessarily oppressed. All states, even autocratic states, desperately need majority corporation to actually develop, provided development is a strong objective and so will try to please as many people as they can while they work around the ones they can’t please. To paraphrase Bob Marley ‘you can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all the people all of the time.’

Democracy is an ideal. It is never really completely achieved, always remaining in its purest form unreachable. But the world remains fascinated by its appeal and the very word is taken to be synonymous with freedom and development. But history has shown that not to be the case and a careful look at past experiences and current events tells us that maybe it’s time we started looking at and accepting the presence of more mixed forms of government that are geared for development, inclusive in their own way but constantly changing and adapting to conditions on the ground.

Current excess can lead to future stress.

Here, let me break it down for you

In Sri Lanka interest rates have been low for a long time. When interest rates are low people spend rather than save. But when they stay low for a long time people will begin to expect them to go up again and well, how many loans does an average person need anyway?

But the Central Bank doesn’t look likely to increase rates soon. Low interest rates have fueled the economy and is one reason that we have hit 8.3% growth in the second quarter of 2011. Credit is freely available, and so people spend, and so the economy prospers. This is a good strategy for growth, but only in the short to medium term.

Credit Bubble?

Some people, like LBO’s fuss budget, are saying that there is a ‘credit bubble’ about to burst because banks are lending more than people are depositing. So far people have been spending. Like there are a lot of cars being brought in. But lately inflation has been slowing, and even though this is attributable to falling global commodity prices, it can also mean that the pull of demand in prices is slowly letting up.

This indicates that people are now kind of tired of spending their money on consumables. They are expecting interest rates to go up because they have been to low for too long. And no good thing lasts forever. So they are boarding up the windows and calling the dog in.

So now they are stuck with loans they are apprehensive about, since payments might increase when rates increase. And if paying the loans become unsustainable then they will simply default, i.e. the credit bubble will pop.

This is exactly what happened in the US when the sub prime mortgage bubble burst. But the similarities end there. Consequences were so large in the US because the loans were so massive and regulation turned a blind eye. Moreover, complex financial derivatives played a large role in bringing about the collapse and, because a lot of big banks had their hand in the chicken curry pot, they all got burnt.

In Sri Lanka, at most, a few leasing companies might collapse. The size and distribution of our loan base is not information that is freely available. Adding smoke to the situation is the undeniable fact that the government has also been borrowing money from the banking system. This is a practice that is generally frowned upon in ‘Macroeconomics for Dummies’ because it can distort the monetary landscape and make people see an oasis where there is only choking dust and sand.

But more worryingly people now have nowhere to put their money, be it savings or excess cash.

Domestic Investment

Domestic investment is low. The stock market is so-so. Foreign investors got spooked a long time ago and now its mostly the speculators passing the wench around in a circle.

People would like to invest in businesses, to take advantage of all the other people’s spending. But for an average Siripala, starting a business in Sri Lanka is like trying to go into a nightclub with rubber slippers. You must be joking. You have to know the right people, grease the right palms and you know, have the law on your facebook friends list so that they will not balk at enforcing your basic rights.

Even big firms aren’t investing that much. Getting things done hear is near impossible. And there is a lack of confidence in economic fundamentals. Foreign investors come but then turn away rather than hack their way through a jungle of red tape.

It’s not all bad though. The situation is improving i think. The government must slowly begin to realize that improving the business environment is top priority for growth to happen, and they are doing outreach. But will concrete change come fast enough to prolong the wave we are riding before it fizzes out and we crash board first into salt and sand? No one can tell at this point.

Speaking of points, we seem to have digressed slightly, back to the average Siripala. So government change in the business environment cannot help him, at least not now.

The Darkside

A few years ago people would have given their money over to shadow financial corporations like Sakvithi and Ponzi schemes like Golden Key because they didn’t know any better and because they are greedy. Chances are most people have now learned their lesson and burnt their fingers and so won’t think of giving their money over to get rich quick schemes, but one can’t underestimate the power of a heady mix of greed combined with stupidity and voluntary blindness.

‘But the Central Bank is keeping a watch, right? Any really seedy companies will probably be rooted out by their vigilant eyes’ we say.

Again, don’t be too sure of this. The CB’s actions in connection with the Ponzi schemers has at most been reactive. And there has been little or no broad based public education on shrewd investment. Besides, the CB has a lot on its hands right now, and are focusing all their energies in maintaining a propped up rupee and dodging a threatening balance of Payments crisis. My guess is they have no time for any bit players emerging out of the wet works to prey on a suspecting, but vulnerable public. Again our man is on his own.

Land

Land has always been that old faithful, that friend on standby. You buy a patch of land and hold on to it. You might, nay, you will end up with a massive return on your investment in twenty years. The land market has slumped from its peak a few years ago but prices have been out of the reach of demand. Chances are this will change as more people see no option but to invest in land based assets, despite it being a long term investment. What is happening is that money that should have been saved will go out of the reach of investors when it gets sunk in land.

..Or bad things will happen

This is bad for the economy since a high savings rate is key for gross domestic capital formation and economic growth at a fundamental level. The central bank needs to control the credit bubble and reign in money before something horrible happens.

The exchange rate peg is already under pressure, the CB is trying to prop it up while at the same time carrying out monetary policy that is trying to push it down. Your standard economic textbook will call this process sterilized intervention. This only works in the short term when there is a likelihood of sudden and detrimental currency fluctuations. Sterilized interventions have rarely shown to be robust growth oriented monetary policy tools.

When the central banks prop the exchange rate by selling foreign currency to the domestic market and at the same time inject that domestic currency back into the market using other means, it gets caught up in a vicious cycle that becomes over-relaint on continued inflows of foreign currency, i.e in our case, loans and sovereign bond inflows. Its like a drug, you use it cause it feels good and gives you a high, but when it runs out the withdrawal symptoms can kill.

If the forex stops coming in, the CB will have no choice but to let the rupee drastically depreciate. This is an extreme case, but if it happen then its more than likely that investors will launch a ‘speculative attack’ on the rupee and scoot. Much like what happened to the Asian Tigers in ’97. Better for the CB to ease out of it now, while the going is still good.

Something i saw today got me thinking of Colombo, and does Colombo even have a ‘counter culture’ movement? Does Colombo have meme’s? Do we get taken up with random shizz that don’t mean anything in particular? Of course we do, various teledrama phrases spring to mind like ‘I know the law putha’ anyone remember that? Could that chap be Colombo’s Giant?

I think there is mass scale sick to deathness with political BS. Its always been there sure, but with the war over poor people are expecting to get richer, this is clearly not happening. I think people need to be woken up, the economics of their situation be made aware to them. I’m not saying the government isn’t trying, but it isn’t trying hard enough. Corruption is there, cronyism is there, Hambantotism is also there.

Andre the Giant Has a Posse was a poster/street art campaign that was started by Shepard Fairy. Was watching Exit through the Gift Shop and finally found the bloody meaning behind the Andre the Giant posters. My earlier suspicions were confirmed, it doesn’t really mean anything.

But it doesn’t have to actually. The fat face with the look of a man trying to size you up for dinner with the word OBEY written in big think lettters is nothing short of Orweillian. The concept behind it is really interesting. Fairy (far as i know that IS his real, not figurative, name) borrowed the picture off some tabloid and stuck the OBEY motif to it and then stuck it on several walls in an around LA. This took for some inexplicaple reason and soon thousands of people were sticker bombing the US with Andre.

To quote Shepard Fairy from the movie

“Even though the Andre the Giant sticker was just an inside joke and i was just having fun, i liked the idea of.. the more stickers that are out there the more important it seems, the more important it seems, the more people wanna know what it is, the more they ask each other and it gains real power from perceived power’.

An A the G movement site has this to say

The Giant project isn’t a sales pitch, it’s an experiment in phenomenology, prodding the collective psyche with something inexplicable, creating an illusion of a secret society…What Fairey hoped to get across was that Giant uses the same propaganda techniques that try to sell you cigarettes, movies and presidents.

Funnily enough, Fairy did use the same skill set to sell a president. And people bought it too. The Obama posters were probably some of the coolest pieces of election campaigning i’d ever seen, but like a lot of people now i think Obama was just same same, with marginally different skin tone.

So why get worked up over nothing? Its a psychological blip. Something constantly in your face that you don’t know the meaning of, that you’re driven by curiosity to get to the bottom of it sort of like one of those itches under the skin your nails can’t get at. Hopefully in the process you end up becoming a little more aware of your surroundings.

“Once you examine it, there’s nothing left but the aesthetics of a process. If people realize, ‘I was manipulated by that,’ then maybe, like the domino effect, they’ll say, ‘What else am I being manipulated by, that I’m not questioning?’”

The message is in the medium. All this is a very novel, surrealistic approach to social activism. You don’t point and shoot, you just sort of create a jarring affect and hope it leads to something.

…say, ‘Question Authority,’ or ‘Stop Racism.’ You just get a pat on the back from the people who agree with you already, and the people who don’t agree with you don’t even think about it. So for me it’s just about creating an individual dialogue process that can expand into people trying to interpret it, and asking someone else, and then there’s two people talking about it. Something just going on that people can’t pigeonhole along with everything else.”

Obey the Giant is a meme that came out of a counter culture movement. The anti corporate, anti commercial, anti paid advertising one. It slowly morphed into a subset of corporate culture anyway vis a vis the Obama posters and Fairy’s ‘Black Market’ graphic design firm.

There may be something there in Colombo for a potential sticker bombing campaign. But i’m thought bouncing I suppose. As the three wheel dudes know; Life is rainbow.

Military flexing muscles in post-trouble Puttalam

Is the president really in need of several pints of blood of people who don’t eat pork? Are people in specific districts of Sri Lanka undergoing simultaneous mass hallucinations possibly brought on by the collective effects of coastal winds, fasting and being of a particular ethno religious persuasion?

Like the beggar killings, we might never know for sure. Anyone remember the beggar killings? No. Poor souls.

Excuse or no, grease yakas have resulted in increasingly militarized coastal districts. People there have no love for the armed forces, rather they’d just like the police to buck up and start acting like the police thank you very much. Instead, fear and public unrest have had the undesired effect of increasing the presence of the army in these locations.

Grease yakas themselves, though widely pooh poohed as a ‘myth’, are no lie. The people I’ve spoken to and the consistent fantastic facts that keep popping up from different parts of the country testify to this; spring boots, Wolverine like claws, slippery black clothes, high athleticism etc. They are also silent and operate solely to scare, actual injuries having been caused by them being kept to a minimum. Separate incidents from all the districts in the country have produced witness accounts that corroborate with some, or all of these details.

Mauled. His jaw is broken and due for operation

Last week I spoke to a man that fought a grease yaka. He was overwhelmed when the guy he was fighting was joined by two others, and heavily injured.

Like all scary myths involving creatures that draw blood, the GYs come out at night. They target women, and seem to love targeting Muslim women in particular. Perhaps because it is ramadan and they assume that the men of the house must have gone to the mosque, or that breaking fast would have left the people lazy and less inclined or capable of prolonged chase.

Like all good fear mongering tactics, the damage that the greased yakas have caused have been perpetrated purely by enraged crowds and retaliating armed forces. No evidence of foul play. No greasy fingerprints on dead civilians or cops. All that remains of the actual cuprit are stories of shadows that sound slightly ridiculous in the daytime and a clinging fear that has spread like well, greased lightning.

The cops are free to call the people crazy, and the people are free to go berserk with fear and because no one seems to believe them. The people protest, the forces retaliate, someone dies, military presence is increased to provide ‘more security’. This has been a repeating cycle.

The army gets more excuses to set up checkpoints and continue wielding weapons at poor people.; controlling and monitoring their movements. This is not especially strange to the people of these areas, and they’re generally OK with this, having suffered more during the war. Emergency law is more a concern of the international community and liberal intelligentsia in Colombo, these people just want to be left alone, to live in peace.

Ironically though, they are smack dab in the middle of a geopolitical conflict, and are now pawns. Pawns must die. Unrest here serves the purpose of sending a powerful message, that of the continued need for Control. Emergency has now been removed, but that could just be legislative lip service. The army can’t all start cleaning the roadsides.

Meanwhile, Colombo laughs, is slightly shocked, morbidly fascinated and engrossed in cricket by turns, avidly ignoring the steady uptick of taxation and the Colombo Consumer Price Index.

It’s a zero sum game. But who is winning?

Following is a brief synopsis of the history of economics as i understand it together with a subjective viewpoint on its inherently oppressive nature. This viewpoint as written below does not necessarily reflect my personal opinion on economics, it is simply a viewpoint, that should stand alone in its own right.

-The Raj

Since industrialization humans have focussed on getting more efficient, becoming more profitable. I shouldn’t say humans in this regard, for it is mostly the capitalists who expound such thought processes into practical application. Economics after all, cannot be taken away from the self interest of its proponents, and when brought into the fray of politics, self interest largely depends on who is in power. And, money being tantamount to nearly everything in entering politics, most modern democracies flout the interests of capitalism over ‘what is good for the masses’. Of course this is cleverly disguised, more so from the politicians themselves, but GDP is not a measure of quality of life. Getting richer as a country, with it’s complete wealth distributed according to the laws of the Pareto Principle, is questionable as a purpose of being. Most modern economies can be highlighted as examples.

The prevailing ‘what is good for the powerful is good for the economy’ philosophy can be easily illustrated with simple look at the history of economics. Initial feudal establishments (which were centered around the absolute power of the landowning class and its default omni-ownership of all capital) crumbled with the increase of trade and the appearance of ‘marketplaces’. This only exacerbated with colonialism and eventually led to the Merchant class surpassing in wealth the landowning overlords of feudalistic society. Eventually, the reign of Merchants was the norm.

Mercantilism

‘Mercantilism’ was their philosophy. Mercanltilists were of the opinion that to prosper, a nation must sell more than it buys. In other words, its exports must exceed its  imports. This kind of thinking will seem absurd in the modern day world with interdependencies among nations causing more deficits than surpluses. A system like that cannot survive, for the simple reason that were every country in the world to follow identical princples, trade would simply halt! leading to eventual collapse of the system. As it happened Mercantilism survived for a long while, primarily due to cheap resources readily available from colonized nations and also by oppression of its own country’s peasant class, and economies in that day were controlled more by guilds of merchants that functioned more like cartels; monopolizing trade and commanding prices. Not very good for the quality of life of your average peasant, I would say.

Moving on, the rise of capitalism happened when the industrialists got into the game. They were a class of people who believed in the use of capital to control the arena of trade. They would supply capital to small scale artisans and contract merchants to sell them. This practice formed the basis of what would become the modern company.

Capitalism

‘Capitalism’ full blown, had names like the Dutch and British East India Companies as its flag bearers.  They allowed joint stock ownership and modern share markets found their origin here. They used their vast capital and trade monopolies to import cheap and sell dear. Making their owners’ wealth increase to previously unimagined proportions. Along with the emergence of capitalism, the seeds of the destruction of mercantilism were sown. Some advantage was gained to the common man with the abolition of protectionist measures like monopolies. And free market systems ensured competitive prices but along with its advantages the market economy also increased the sense of work ethic. Previously idyllic lives were now to be spent slaving at factories and workplaces eking out a living.

This hasn’t changed much. In the world of globalization and international trade, corporate interest is the main driving force behind ‘growth’. Obama treads lightly with BP because Obama possibly knows who has a fatal but light grip on his balls. The ecosystem and the small people making a living off it are not really significant. And this is not really a one off example. Trade barriers, free markets, international trade agreements, multinationals etc are all ‘good for growth’ but not really good for the increment of the quality of life of the small man. At least, such increment does not make the betterment of the common good its priority. Leading us to question the validity of the whole system, and our perceptions of human nature.

Mahinda’s manifesto admits that he knows that the masses consider the public sector to be more appealing than the private sector. The scary part is that he doesn’t consider this to be unhealthy. His idea of the differences in the public and private sector is a case in point that possibly outlines his economic savvy and political cunning.

If the majority of the masses like the public sector then the majority of the masses are freeloaders. Because that’s what most of the public sector is; a place for freeloaders. People go into work; read the marriage prospects page of the daily newspapers; refresh their knowledge on the prevailing caste system and norms of the marriage market; sign out an hour early and take the train back home. On the train they discuss politics and sing songs with similar people who work in other public sector divisions just like they have been doing with them for the past 15 years.

Also this phenomenon is bad for the job market. If youth grow up wanting a job in the public sector, they will hardly be equipped to handle the stress and competitive environment of the private sector. The more educationally inclined among them for instance, will feel more inclined to do a worthless degree and, once all teaching jobs are exhausted, to protest on the streets demanding economically unviable jobs in the public sector. So when Mahinda agrees to give these ‘poor helpless youth’ jobs in the public sector, he is essentially spending the hard earned money of the people who really put in a hard days of work to make more freeloading jobs. Thats justice, that is.

Somewhere in a corner of his Chinthanaya, he talks about a system of ‘performance based incentives’ to encourage them to work harder. But that is aside from all the other incentives he is already promising them. Which, presumably, they will all get by default when and if he retains power. These ‘default’ incentives are substantial enough for the average public sector worker to not care a damn for any more ‘performance based incentives’ for a good while to come. And if no public servant wants to perform to get incentives. The incentive scheme will simply collapse. If any discerning public sector employee does try to outperform his colleagues in a division populated with slackers, he will promptly be pulled  down and trampled upon, such is the way of the public sector. There needs to be unity among freeloaders for freeloading to flourish.

This pisses me off because i am paying extra when i buy things to pay these fools who are overstaffing what presumably should be ‘efficient and friendly’ government services. What pisses me off worse is being treated like dirt by these same people who i pay to keep fed and clothed. The average man needs to go through some hell and high water to get some basic needs fulfilled at most places. We are currently going through a major hassle trying to get our water meter fixed. For some reason the water doesn’t pass through the meter. We contacted the water board, only to be promised that someone will be along to look at it on several occasions. The water in the tank is not going to last forever and my father is now contemplating the anti social act of bypassing the meter with some S-lon pipes. See how inefficiency breeds public corruption.

The seedy underbelly of our state’s ‘service’ element is still exemplified in its original and most corrupt form in places like the Petroleum Corporation and Ports Authority. We don’t even need to sink out teeth into the petroleum corporation to taste the first nauseas indications of corruption, God knows how many rupees of the extra 80 rupees (figure subject to verification) I am paying for a liter of petrol goes to pay the salaries of slackers. My blood boils.

I know a guy in the Ports Authority who tells me that he goes in to work and watches Nuga Sevana on Rupavahini as he starts his first game of carrom for the day. He gets bottles of imported alcohol and packs of cigarettes for his friends whenever they are confiscated from people who have paid good money to buy them. He, in short is having a ball of a time, and is all for inefficient public services.

I however, am not. I think a 1:20 ratio of public sector people to other people in the country is maintained and developed by a succinct strategy by post colonial politicians to rope in the majority of the people and make them complacent freeloaders. In the meanwhile, they allow the rest to work themselves almost to death in the private sector in order to pay for the ones freeloading. This keeps everyone busy and prevents revolution. And allows the powerful to take what they want from wherever they want it.

Actually i don’t really think that. Even George Orwell wouldn’t think that. Such a conspiracy would require a string of conspirators capable of intellectual feats beyond the wildest dreams of your average Sri Lankan political mike hoarder. The masses are just continuously doped by chances at freeloading jobs and increases in salaries. The ever doubtful possibility of getting something for nothing is forever dangled before their shining eyes and promises are swallowed hook line and sinker. Public Services is now the Opium. Religion is just a pastime.

To Mahinda’s credit though, some of the public sector has shown marked improvement after he took over. The passport office, the RDA (i think) and the educational services industry being some. There is also a government info hotline (1919) that is quite prompt. His suggestion for the future however don’t really strike me as being directed at improving things. He should be making the public sector smaller, not larger. He should be streamlining it, not adding fat. Sarath Fonseka doesn’t seem to have got it either. His proposed plan of a salary hike of ten thousand rupees  (adding 132 billion in spending a year) is impractical to say the least, and @#^$&(^%$^$!! to say a little more.

So will you look at us all strapped for choice.

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