Items filtered by date: October 2013
07 October 2013

ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ ජනගහනය සහ ඒ ආශ්‍රිත කාලීන ප්‍රවණතා පිළිබඳව නිරීක්ෂණය කිරීමේදී කැපීපෙනෙන කරුණක් වන්නේ මෙරට සමස්ත ජනගහනයෙන් වැඩිහිටි ජනගහනය සැලකිය යුතු ලෙස ඉහළ යෑමකි. 1990 වසර අගවෙනවිට ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ සමස්ත ජනගහනයෙන් 4.32% ක් අවුරුදු 65ට වැඩි පුරවැසියන්ගෙන් සමන්විත වූ අතර 2011 වන විට එම අගය 6.31% ක් දක්වා වැඩිවී ඇත. එය ප්‍රතිශතයක් ලෙස ගත්විට 46%ක  පමණ ඉහළ යෑමකි.

සැප්තැම්බර් 29 වැනිදා රාවය පුවත්පතෙහි පළවිය

07 October 2013

Driving around Colombo on a balmy evening can be an overwhelming experience these days. Colombo, the city that gave birth to many of us, is growing, expanding and transforming in this post-war development phase. Much like a parent going through myriad emotions at the sight of a child blossoming into a teenager, you might catch yourself going through a range of sentiments about Colombo’s metamorphosis.

The grandeur of the restored Racecourse Complex – the magnificent white structure that announces its comeback with an assortment of expensive shops, a massive rugby field, and meticulously-planned recreational areas for walking and cycling – commands attention.

There are expensive cars in its parking lot, beautiful people in sophisticated attire sipping coffee at the cafés at Rs. 300 a mug, children nagging their parents to buy them unwholesome edible treats, health-conscious individuals enjoying the opportunity of outdoor activity and street sweepers laboriously trying to keep the neighbourhood clean.

While there are many reasons to be grateful that this area has been regenerated, the vibe of exclusivity projected by this urban space – much like many other new and ‘beautified’ structures of post-war Colombo – can make one feel despondent. We read promising plans for the city in the newspapers, such as the recent bid for the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize in 2016.

Everyone should be happy that we now enjoy clean streets and user-friendly public spaces, but we should also be concerned that the concentration of power structures, productive systems and human capital – while generating new economic prospects for some – may create great inequality for others.
Urban regeneration worldwide generally means constructing or reconstructing city infrastructure in a way that accommodates a constellation of niche markets, seemingly accessible only to the better-off middle class and the elite. Colombo is no exception to this trend.

From Chicago to Rio, one segment of the population manages to integrate and thrive in performing networks in the economic sphere, while a significant other is excluded from such networks and prevented from benefiting fully from their basic rights as citizens.

We are already witnessing a twofold trend. First, certain spaces of the city have become the ‘winning areas’ (Fontan et al. 2003; Drewe et al. 2008) at the expense of others (i.e. area surrounding the Beira Lake). Second, one social segment enjoys the privileges of economic security, safe and aesthetically pleasing spaces, and social security, while another important segment is sentenced to vulnerability, poverty, or exclusion from the job market, services, and a high-quality living environment (Mandanipour et al. 1998).

This dual trend may widen existing social fissures that hinder unity, and instigate polarisation and fragmentation of our city. The ‘winners’ of Colombo’s regeneration will connect with global networks, economic and political hubs, and ultra-rich people. The new and planned dwellings of voluntary and involuntary settlers run the risk of becoming slums yet again. This eventually results in a fragmented city like Chicago, where the north end is inhabited by wealthy, upper-class whites, whilst the South Side is a sprawling, crime-infested ghetto of poor whites, blacks and struggling immigrants.

How can we counter these adverse effects of urban rejuvenation? Investment in healthcare, education and other important services that are conveniently accessible to the newly-resettled communities would be a place to start. An essential objective of urbanisation must be to take precautionary measures which minimise problems that are costly to the security of the resettled population.

According to some urban planners, the impending fragmentation of cities is a potential asset. They argue that if social empowerment takes precedence over physical beautification, some of the adverse effects of urban regeneration could be overcome by creating bottom-up social creativity which allows disadvantaged neighbourhoods to be re-branded into ones that are unique in the arts, architecture, recreational and socio-cultural activities, entrepreneurship, political participation and the environment (Landry, 2000).

Social fragmentation is an inevitable consequence of the current model of development. And urbanisation is but one important component of the larger scheme of things.
The challenge is to find answers to this burning question: how do we empower all citizens within this paradigm?

The article was first published in the LMD magazine's September 2013 issue

07 October 2013

If we look at what happened in Sri Lanka over the last 36 years and also look at the changes that have taken place from the decades following independence to now, we see the emergence of some crucial issues of development debate. The process adopted by all governments irrespective of the party in power, which is to follow guidance given by international financial institutions (IFIs) such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the Asian Development Bank, has led to new issues.

The development processes adopted by early post-independence governments gave priority to social welfare. These were influenced by the political process in the country where the left parties educated and informed people about their rights. Food at affordable prices was a right, and food subsidies was the outcome; education was a right, so free education became a policy; health was a right, and free health system became a policy; and exchange between producers and consumers was a right, so trade through cooperatives and government intervention was a policy.

All these changed drastically after 1977 under the guidance of IFIs. Privatisation of trade, education, health and other essential services have created tremendous problems. Trade liberalisation became a policy which affected domestic production in industry and agriculture. Indebtedness has tremendously increased and further debts are taken to build massive infrastructure not because people need them but to make the country attractive to foreign investment. These naturally give rise to new policy debates and new struggles for social and political justice. The government’s response to these struggles has so far been repression and curtailment of democratic rights. However, democracy and participation of people in planning is an essential part of these struggles, and Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have a right and a responsibility to join in these debates and struggles though it leads to disagreement with governments and their plans.

This disagreement with the government’s approach to development has resulted in criticism of the NGOs being labeled as anti-governmental. The situation has arises where disagreement with governments become essential if they are to be pro-people. The private sector has reasons to oppose NGO’s since the latter often criticise the private sector’s destructive role. When the Eppawela Phosphate deposits were to be sold to a US and a Japanese company, NGOs were among the opponents; culminating in the prevention of the sale.  When water was to be declared a commodity and sold for profit it was opposed by NGOs. In these instances the NGOs were supporting the people’s struggles. IFIs have reasons to criticize NGOs since NGOs are seen to be undermining their agenda. The main accusation against NGOs is that they get foreign funds and play opposition to the role played by elected governments.

If we examine these accusations it is quite visible that it is the governments that get much more foreign funds and are implementing the agenda of these lenders playing a much more destructive anti-people agenda, particularly against the interests of the poor. This does not mean that NGOs have a right to be non-answerable to the poor, and that it is sufficient to be answerable to the donors. This is not so, since all these funds come in the name of the poor and the marginalized people then have a right to demand answerability at all levels. They also have a responsibility in being accountable to the donors and to the country governments.

However, there should be no obligation to obey them. Structures have to be set up to be answerable to the people, and planning must be done in consultation with them. One important task is to help people plan strategies that should be presented to the political parties when they formulate their manifestos, get promises and set up structures to make the politicians accountable. This role cannot be described as anti-governmental; it is pro-people and pro-governmental. Transparency, accountability and participation are essential.

Local / Village-based NGOs
There is another wide category of NGOs based at village level in Sri Lanka. These are formed by the local communities to meet some of the limited specific needs of the village or the community. The most common example is the maranadhara samithi, the societies to assist at funerals in villages. Members of the community join these and make a specific monthly contribution. When someone dies in the village and if she/he is a member, the family is assisted with a specific monetary sum and the society undertakes certain functions associated with the funeral ceremony. Another example is the rural development society which looks after the development activities of the village. There are also cooperative societies, praja mandalas (community councils) and sports clubs, thrift and credit societies and outfits adopted to do small scale savings where credit is made available in emergencies.

All these NGOs do not receive any external funding assistance. They run on membership contributions with rules and regulations formulated themselves. There are thrift and credit societies such as “Sanasa” and Women’s Banks that have national scale links and which collect funds on a bigger scale. These could be useful instruments of building active participation of people in the political processes of the country. A combination of national and internationally linked NGOs and the sharing of understanding and visions at global and national level could improve democracy and political participation tremendously.

Role of foreign donor agencies
Foreign donor agencies have a responsibility to ensure that funds donated by them are not abused; and to ensure that these donations are used for the purpose given, and that the receiving organisations adopt proper accountability principles. Part of this responsibility is to ensure that decisions are taken by the correct people in the correct way and there are mechanisms that exist to achieve this. Since funds for donations are raised in the name of the poor, the donors too, have a responsibility of being answerable to the poor. These funds belong to the poor of the poor countries. Since many of the problems can only be solved in collaboration with each other, the implementers of programmes have a responsibility towards collaboration, as the donors have responsibility of collaboration with each other.  If this collaboration does not exist it results in a divisive influence.

It is easy for donors to get partners to agree with their priorities, but both parties have to understand that the former have a lesser knowledge of the ground situations than some of their partners. So, it is necessary for donors to be guided by their partners. This does not mean that they do not have to think for themselves, but rather that they think of how problems could be overcome. They have to develop their own strategies that are collaborative with their partners. Most donors get a bulk of their funds from their respective governments. Governments too, have their own purposes in giving development assistance to poor countries. They sometimes prefer to channel their funds through donor NGOs, since they are often more effective and efficient. However, the purposes for which governments give development assistance are not the same as the purposes for which NGOs build partnerships. There are tendencies to influence donor NGOs to grant funds that meet the intentions of governments and Donor NGOs may have a tendency to request receivers to undertake projects for which it is easier to get government funds; these are called back donor funds. This is an issue on which one has to be cautious.
One easy and sure way of deciding whether one is heading in the right direction is to understand that the whole world is being pushed in opposite directions by two opposing forces. One force is the status quo that wants world economies to continue in the same direction. This is because they benefit and make profits from the present situation. The other force is the rest of the world trying to push the world in the opposite direction, because they know that they will not survive, unless the present direction is reversed. The easy way of judging an NGO is to see on which side it is on and in which direction it  is pushing for change.  There are very strong and worldwide NGOs such as OXFAM which are strong global networks. When they become powerful, they have a bigger responsibility to see that they are on the right side and pushing the world in the right direction. Sometimes it is not easy to get the constituency of one’s countries to understand the issues correctly. But since donor NGOs have access to information and visit the recipients regularly they have a tremendous responsibility to communicate the situation to their constituency and explain the need for their actions. All donor NGOs must realize that this is their greatest responsibility towards the people they intend to help.

“The Monday Morning Question” is intended to be a forum to communicate diverse perspectives on reimagining development.  Although this conversation began as part of the Center for Poverty Analysis’s (CEPA) annual symposium in 2012, the ideas that are presented via the column are not limited to CEPA’s ideological stand on development.Today, we invite Mr. Sarath Fernando, the Adviser to the Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform in Sri Lanka to share his views and observations on the role of non-governmental organisations in the development of Sri Lanka. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Centre for Poverty Analysis.

The article was first published in The Island on 26.08.2013

07 October 2013

අඩු තරමින් හැම සති අන්තෙකම අපිට ආයිත් හිතන්න පුලුවන්. සතිය පුරාම අපි එකම චක්‍රයට අහුවෙලා දුවනවා. අපිට හිතන්න හුස්මක් කටක්ගන්න ලැබෙන්නෙ සති අන්තෙදි. සති අන්තෙදි මොනවද අපි හිතන්නෙ? ආයිත් ඊළඟ සතියේ දුවන හැටි ගැනද? ඇයි අපේ ජීවිත ගැන හිතන්නෙ නැත්තෙ?

හොඳින් ජීවත් වෙනවා කියන්නෙ මොකක්ද? බිල් ගොඩක් ගෙවන, බඩු ගොඩක් තියන, තව තවත් රැස් කරන, ඒ විතරක් නෙමේ ලෙඩ ගොඩාක් තියන  මනුස්සයෙක් වෙනවා කියන එකද? 

 අගෝස්තු 11 වැනිදා රාවය පුවත්පතෙහි පළවිය

 

07 October 2013

We live in a time of severe ecological and economic challenges.  In 2012 the world crossed a dangerous limit.  A reading of 400 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric carbon dioxide was recorded by monitoring stations across the Arctic. This figure is at least 50ppm higher than the maximum concentration during the last 12,000 years, a threshold that granted us the privilege to develop agriculture and civilization. We have already begun to experience a substantially more chaotic climate that demonstrates this altered architecture of our atmosphere.

Extreme heat, dustbowl drought, stunted crops, climate change, and massive wildfires have resulted in major food crop losses in Russia in 2010, and the U.S. in 2012.  In many countries in the West, increased costs for animal feed mean higher prices for milk, meat and processed foods based on corn and soy.  Price rises on the international grain market will have a major negative impact on poor countries in Africa, Asia, and South America, where many people spend most of their personal income on food.  Rocketing bread prices, food and water shortages have all plagued parts of the Middle East and analysts at the Center for American Progress in Washington say a combination of food shortages and other environmental factors exacerbated the already tense politics in the region.  Recent studies in Sri Lanka indicate that predicted changes in rainfall, temperature, and the soil moisture deficit, will demand additional irrigation water to compensate for the crop water requirement now and in the coming years. Therefore the climate change effects on maha and yala seasonal rains will cause serious problem for agricultural activities, such as paddy and other field crop cultivations in the north, north central and eastern regions (Prof Shanthi De Silva 2012, Open University of Sri Lanka).  4 million Sri Lankans are already malnourished and the World Food Programme (2012) cautions anything up to 200 million more food-insecure people by 2050.  Just as much we accept these hard facts about the creeping disaster of climate change, we must also recognize that environmental chaos represents an imminent threat to a multitude of human rights:  the right to food, to water and sanitation, to social and economic development.  This is only a sliver of evidence that tells us to ‘care’ about the environment, if not for its own sake, but for humanity’s sake (a`la Nalaka Gunawardena).  

Climate Injustice
The raison d’être of our consumer society – acquisition – is supported by polluting energy sources and guided by a pseudo-scientific principle of limitless growth.  Bewitched by these ideas that run contrary to basic laws of biology, we imagine our society as above and beyond the rest of the living world.  The truth, as former senior economist at the World Bank, Professor Herman Daly states, is different: “the larger system is the biosphere and the subsystem is the economy. The economy is geared for growth, whereas the parent system doesn’t grow. It remains the same size. So as the economy grows, it encroaches upon the biosphere, and this is its fundamental cost.”  Whose wellbeing are we compromising in the name of incessant acquisition?”  

In Moral Ground (Moore & Nelson 2011), South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu argues, that it is unjust that people in Africa — who don’t reap the “benefits” of the reckless burning of fossil fuel — are suffering from droughts and crop shortages as a result of the West’s consumption of oil.  Although some perceive climate change as people of one culture (the developed world) destroying the material basis of another (Sheila Watt-Cloutier 2011), the issue cannot be confined to the Global South.  The formation of the Earth’s atmosphere affects rich and poor countries alike; and global warming, influenced by agriculture and civilization should get everybody’s attention.

Moreover, we need to realize that ‘our children are our future’ is not merely a feel-good phrase, and that we have shared responsibility to not to compromise “the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Brundtland Report 1987).  As such, we have horizontal (to others that live among us) and vertical (to our descendents) responsibility to protect the environment.  Although we know all this, why are we sleepwalking into such an unprecedented betrayal of intergenerational justice?  In order to find answers, we must examine our basic way of making sense of who we are, what the world is, and our role in it.  

Constructed Delusions
This is the Age of Reason, in which we have managed to bring ourselves to the verge of destruction by acting under the delusion that humans are separate from the Earth, and that we, are in control of it. The idea that ‘we are the masters of the universe’ stems from the belief that humans are the only beings of spirit and our adroitness grants us to rule over other ‘less important’ forms of life.  Our hubris about human exceptionalism has even made us coin terms such as “individualism”, that lead us to believe that we are exceptional rights holders, separate from one another and always in conflict or competition with each other.  Another one of our sophisticated terms – “dualism” confirms that on one side are humans with spirit and value, and on the other side is the insentient physical world that was created for the purpose of serving our needs.  In the process of constructing and strengthening these delusions, we have led ourselves to believe in our ability to exceed natural limits.

Since the late 19th Century, Darwin’s findings about the biology of the evolutionary process have been misappropriated to define the industrial society.  With phrases such as “survival of the fittest” (coined by the Victorian Social Darwinist Herbert Spencer), we see society as a jungle, where one must crawl over the other to survive and succeed.  In other words, I can pursue my own welfare even at the expense of your (or everyone’s) well-being.  If we take a close look at what motivates multi-national corporations or nation-states, we observe a scaled-up manifestation of the same worldview that prioritizes success, growth, and exploitation of others.    

Most of us rally behind Adam Smith’s idea of the “invisible hand” of the market in our efforts to justify capitalism.  This notion implies that if everyone works towards individual welfare, it will work for the benefit of the whole.  There is an undeniable element of truth to this inference, as markets are profoundly efficient ways of distributing and re-distributing resources.  Yet, when left completely unrestrained, they often end up being unfair.  Markets need to be tamed within a political structure that minimizes the exploitative tendencies that arise.  Though we are quick to spout Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” in protesting the oppressive control of the economy by the government, we are oblivious to the real motivations of the world’s top 200 oil, coal, and gas companies (with a net worth of about $7.4 trillion), Wall Street, or the politicians they have bought.  The driving principle behind these entities is SocialDarwinism: using your position to get everything you can.  

Similarly, the likelihood of the world’s leading emitters of carbon such as the United States or the emerging economies of China and India cutting back the main source of emissions is extremely low.  China's emissions now make up over 24% of total global emissions (UN Statistics Division, MDG Indicators 2012).  The United States of America, the former world heavyweight champion of carbon pollution, is still generating 18% of the total followed by the European Union contributing 14%. India's emissions have jumped 9.4% to over two billion tons, placing it fourth in this game of existential "hawk-dove."  None of these leading emitters has agreed to sign an international treaty that would obligate them to cut emissions.  The excuse presented by the Global South is the difficulty of squaring the historic carbon debt of the overdeveloped world with the need for developing countries to accept universal emissions reductions now.

The hallmarks of our globalized society – greed, consumerism, and separation from nature, combined with the supine disposition of “democratic” governments are successfully fueling a mutually beneficial relationship that will eventually take us towards extinction.  Their shared worldview thrives on limitless economic growth no matter what the long-term consequences may be.  

Looking Inwards – A Starting Point

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh believes that fundamental change can happen only if we fall back in love with our planet. When we recognize the virtues, talent and beauty of Mother Earth, he says, love is born in us. When we reconnect with it, we naturally want to do anything we can for the benefit of the Earth, and the Earth will do anything for our wellbeing.  We need to start by revisiting ecological and evolutionary science that tell us that humans are part of interconnected, interdependent systems; that the thriving of the individual parts is necessary for the thriving of the whole; and that we are created, defined, and sustained by our relationships, both with each other and with the natural world. If we come to understand that deeply, we can invent new models of human goodness.  As such, what is needed is an evolution of our current worldview that starts at the individual level and transmutes into the structures of society.  In the article that follows this, we will look at how this awakening can occur at the individual and societal levels.  What we need is a new ethic, derived by a community of diverse “mindful” people that can reimagine our place in the world.

“The Monday Morning Question” is intended to be a forum to communicate diverse perspectives on reimagining development.  Although this conversation began as part of the Center for Poverty Analysis’s (CEPA) annual symposium in 2012, the ideas that are presented via the column are not limited to CEPA’s ideological stand on development.

The article was first published in The Island on 01.07.2013

 

07 October 2013

Contrary to the claims of the present regime, its urban development agenda is neither autonomous nor a product of indigenous thinking, rather it follows the well trodden though hazardous path carved out by powerful global financial interests and institutions. In this article, we look at two World Bank reports -Turning Sri Lanka’s Urban Vision into Policy and Action (2012) and Sri Lanka: Reshaping Economic Geography Connecting People to Prosperity (2010) -to underline how the interests of the state and a major global financial institution converge in ways that may limit the space for political engagement and alternative views regarding the unequal effects of the policies they advocate.

According to the Bank’s reports, policy measures must focus on removing restrictions on land markets and promoting financing of low-income housing, identifying and solidifying the economic functions associated with different regional centers across the country, and address inefficiencies in “overlapping functions” of government bureaucracy by streamlining local government, especially in Colombo. We question these prescriptions not only because they are not grounded in a sound analysis of economic and spatial inequalities in Sri Lanka but also because they promote a convergence of state and market interests in ways that are politically problematic.

Misplaced stress on ‘freeing’ urban land and market instruments

The World Bank sees land market restrictions as a major impediment to urban development. In, Reshaping Economic Geography, the World Bank argues that the Land Development Ordinance (LDO) of 1935, preventing sale of state owned land given for various purposes, along with restrictive tenancy laws inhibit market “diversification.” What this means in practical terms, however, is unclear. It also argues that by removing slums and providing clear title to the land and loans in new settlements, people will be able to buy and sell freely. What such a shift ignores is the class character of those who will benefit from an allegedly freer market.

The Bank papers over these issues, arguing that the resulting “beautification” of Colombo coupled with a boost in private land development will automatically benefit everyone. The stress in the Mahinda Chintana on improving “underserved settlements in the city of Colombo through private developers and liberate prime lands for commercial activities” already echoes this.As argued in our previous column, major investments in Colombo are geared towards enhancing its appeal as a destination for global tourism and capital rather than challenging urban inequalities.

The Bank’s Urban Vision report argues that existing banking agencies have focused too much on “commercially viable groups,” to the neglect of the poor and calls for expanding private housing finance to low-income households. Clear titles and secure tenure, a pre-requisite for such financing, are thus no longer entitlements but pathways to enhancing“bankability”. Moreover, what such financial inclusion means in the context of broader socio-economic and political exclusion and dispossession, which result in poverty and low incomes in the first place, remains unexplored. The Bank also calls for the promotion of a private mortgage-default insurance market but the pitfalls of such financialisation in a broader economic context geared toward financial speculation in urban land are not addressed.

Beyond questioning the tensions papered over and issues ignored in the reports, we also want to emphasize those areas in which the World Bank appears to contradict itself by arguing that land market restrictions and state-owned land are severe issues for urban development. The Bank acknowledges that the Colombo Metropolitan Region contains only 10-20% of such land. Moreover, the LDOaffects less than 2% of Colombo’s population.Finally, the Bank notes that rural commuters and migrant laborers in particular are unaffected by current land market restrictions such as the LDO. For example, according to the Bank, Colombo currently has about 400-500,000 commuters. Thus its misplaced emphasis on cutting land restrictions,signals the underlying project at work in the Bank’s reports on urbanisation.

Spatially apolitical, historically blind

On a national level, attention is paid more generally to linking together the economic functions of different regions. Following the National Physical Plan, the Bank identifies cities in five metro regions (Colombo, North-Central, Southern, Eastern, and Northern) and nine metro cities (Ampara, Anuradhapura, Batticaloa, Colombo, Dambulla, Hambantota, Jaffna, Polonnaruwa, and Trincomalee). Reshaping Economic Geography focuses on the concentration of 50% of GDP in the Western Province with the regional primacy in manufacturing.

The World Bank report argues that in spite of the apparent imbalance indicated by these statistics, the government should promote“spatially blind” approaches that increase national welfare in order to encourage migration “by choice.” The report recognizes that these approaches will not lead to actual economic transformation of the regions by redistributing industry. As the Bank puts it, instead of relocating industry and manufacturing to ease regional imbalances, the government ought to “identify what investors perceive as opportunities and constraints” for each specific region.

What this approach ignores however is precisely why different regions are associated with different economic functions in the first place. Given the historical importance of global capital in directing Sri Lanka’s economy, first through the impact of tea plantations in the Central Province in colonial times to the emphasis on Free Trade Zones in Western Province since the late 1970s, it’s telling that the Bank doesn’t “operationalise” factors involving uneven development in its report. Excluding this basic reality means that the report ends up legitimating existing regional imbalances along with Sri Lanka’s position as a dependent export-oriented economy.

More pertinent to the current political situation, the report renders invisible the effects of war on the North and East, translating the grave consequences to trauma-affected and displaced communities into a question of access to markets. Because of facts of “ethnolinguistic or religious heterogeneity,” which remain unproblematised, the Bank argues that the state should administer “spatially targeted” policies to improve access. As the report puts it, “Language, ethnicity, or religion may divide one part of a country from another, effectively reducing market forces of migration and interregional trade”.

This contorted description of the situation in war-affected areas completely ignores not only the flow of displaced persons but also the different spaces in terms of political access and power that have been carved out in the North and East by the LTTE and militarisation by the state. Moreover, it reinforces the government’s position that the current political issues can be reduced to that of “development” while negatingthe deeper political roots of the conflict.

Putting market‘efficiency’ over deepening democracy

To touch on our last theme, the Bank’s report on urban policy, in particular, concentrates on the overlapping regulatory functions of existing government institutions. It provides a brief history of the creation of the National Housing Development Authority, Urban Development Authority, and other important institutions pertaining to urban development with liberalisation under the Jayawardene regime after 1977. It then asks how these institutions have currently been reconfigured through the amalgamation of the Ministry of Defense and Urban Development. This narrative however ignores questions of political access, such as attempts to sideline local government, particularly the municipal councils, in current urban development projects, particularly in Colombo. Instead the report calls simply for increased efficiency.

While the Bank doesn’t explicitly state its preference for the current political and administrative setup, arguing that current government hierarchy is indeed both “centralised and fragmented,” the language used in its report on urban policy seems to effectively disable broader questions of political engagement. With people affected by major economic transformations such asinsertion of theurban poor into speculative real estate markets, and implementation of regional development projects that seem to reinforce uneven patterns of development,urbanisation policies promoted by the World Bank and the regime will have serious political and economic consequencesespecially for poorer sections of society.

“The Monday Morning Question” is intended to be a forum to communicate diverse perspectives on reimagining development.  Although this conversation began as part of the Center for Poverty Analysis’s (CEPA) annual symposium in 2012, the ideas that are presented via the column are not limited to CEPA’s ideological stand on development. Today, we invite The Collective for Economic Democratisation in Sri Lanka to shed some light on Sri Lanka’s post-war urban development and its implications for the wellbeing of the public.  The Collective for Economic Democratisation strives for a historically grounded and socially relevant political economic analysis in solidarity with progressive struggles. Its articles and other resources can be found on www.economicdemocratisation.org

The article was first published in The Island on 24.06.2013

07 October 2013

Colombo’s urban development is driven by the idea of transforming it into a “world-class city” and a “preferred destination for international business and tourism”, according to the Secretary, Defence and Urban Development. Therefore, many of the Urban Development Authority’s (UDA) initiatives, apart from those related to flood control or road improvements, have focused on enhancing the image of Colombo by building urban landscapes and spaces for consumption that are ‘world-class’, such as the Dutch Hospital and the Race Course, and providing sweeping incentives to real estate corporations and investors to build luxury apartments and hotels.

A key question that arises is what is the place of the poor in a world-class metropolis? Currently, the Western Province, the most urbanised in Sri Lanka, is not only the most prosperous but is also home to the highest proportion of Sri Lanka’s poor. The spiraling costs of living and lop-sided and non-inclusive growth will provide Colombo with more cheap labour to serve the elite. This is already evident from the number of the city’s poor and elderly who now work long hours under adverse terms for private contractors keeping the streets clean.

Over the next few years around 70,000 families, largely from poor low-income communities from the inner city areas, are to be displaced and relocated, freeing up prime land for commercial exploitation.  There has been little public discussion and scrutiny, let alone the active participation of these communities, in deciding on the need for, or the goals and terms of relocation, which will have profound implications for their rights and well-being.

Bringing the UDA under the Ministry of Defence was indication enough that the urban development agenda did not include democratic and accountable local governance. Rather than address shortcomings on the accountability and effectiveness of the Colombo Municipal Corporation by deepening democratic participation, the UDA, backed by the enormous human and technical resources of the military, has effectively sidelined it, and with it, local democracy itself. When the military does the work of the municipality, it is not just the physical but also the political landscape that is altered.

While hundreds of millions of dollars of loans are being contracted with multilateral and bilateral donors, including for projects that are merely of symbolic value, like the Lotus Tower project, there has been little investment in substantially enhancing public transport, upgrading low income settlements and quality low-cost social housing. The latter more often than not comes with forced relocation and is driven not by a vision of safeguarding rights and entitlements but of freeing up lands for commercial exploitation and investment.

Current development plans such as Mahinda Chintana propose to create a market for “pro poor” loans. The attempts to resettle communities are to be matched by offering collateral and housing loans to displaced residents. These loans tie into the broader attempt to incorporate the poor into official banking institutions, while a seemingly benign goal of development, such transformation of housing finance is also connected to removing land market restrictions for commercial developers. The state tenancy and land development laws are being revoked or reshaped in order to promote the private market. In a context of pre-existing inequalities, the market differentially benefits those with access to power and privilege. Thus in a certain sense the poor are being asked to participate in the very mechanisms of their dispossession.

The spate of high profile land deals involving global investors and capital is being touted as a sign of development and a promise of prosperity to come. However, it is well known that urban real estate is but a temporary parking place for speculative capital, which in the long run creates instability and potential for crisis. Successive financial crises, including the most recent one of global proportions, have been connected to the bursting of real estate bubbles. Moreover, even market insiders are expressing skepticism over possible oversupply of high-end real estate with a number of overpriced projects coming on the market at the same time. However, even if demand is borne out, the crucial question is whether this is a sustainable path to inclusive urban development?  

The current trajectory of urban development in Sri Lanka cannot be disconnected from the military-market nexus, which is narrowing the space for rights while expanding the footprint of market and financial interests. In such a context, claiming the right to the city is central to the struggle to reclaiming social and economic democracy in Sri Lanka.

None of this, of course, in a certain sense is "new." Historically, from colonial times to the recent neoliberal decades, problematic political and economic transformations have had a major impact on the development of Colombo. In 1978, the Greater Colombo Economic Commission (GCEC) was created along with the National Housing Development Authority and the Urban Development Authority. Under the GCEC, Sri Lanka became one of the first countries in South Asia to establish Export Promotion Zones, which promoted tax incentives for foreign companies in the interest of capital and to the detriment of labour rights. The EPZs emerged against the background of the Jayawardena regime’s attack on trade unions in 1980, what some economists innocuously refer to as “labour market flexibility.” To return to the present, what we are arguing is that urban development in Colombo is not a neutral exercise to reorganise space and beautify the city. It reflects definite political interests and is implicated with powerful mechanisms of accumulation and exploitation.

Needless to say, the influence of powerful global actors, such as the World Bank or UN Habitat, cannot be ignored. Relying on narrow functionalist claims and driven by ahistorical ideas about the spatial dimensions of economic changes in different regions of the island, along with static “poverty” indicators, they obscure the political economy behind urban development. Thus, while the World Bank does propose mechanisms for consultation or supporting displaced residents, it fails to address the vested financial interests and the undemocratic nature of state policies that cause dispossession and help reconfigure the economic geography of urban spaces to suit metropolitan elite and finance capital.While these issues will be further explored in the next article, it is important, in conclusion, to reemphasise the importance of vigilant critique and struggles in advancing the right to the city and guarding against undemocratic urbanisation driven by real estate and speculative finance.

“The Monday Morning Question” is intended to be a forum to communicate diverse perspectives on reimagining development.  Although this conversation began as part of the Center for Poverty Analysis’s (CEPA) annual symposium in 2012, the ideas that are presented via the column are not limited to CEPA’s ideological stand on development.Today, we invite The Collective for Economic Democratisation in Sri Lanka to shed some light on Sri Lanka’s post-war urban development and its implications for the wellbeing of the public.  The Collective for Economic Democratisation strives for a historically grounded and socially relevant political economic analysis in solidarity with progressive struggles. Its articles and other resources can be found on www.economicdemocratisation.org

The article was first published in The Island on 17.06.2013

07 October 2013

What is the biggest ethical challenge facing us today?  The reality that we have let economics guide our lives, and in doing so, we have devalued people and the associated virtues of respect, cooperation, empathy, and compassion.  The primacy that we have allotted to economics underlies and complicates daily challenges we face; do the following - “stressed and tired”, “juggling work and home”, “surrounded by selfish individuals”, “led by uncaring politicians”, “in strained relationships”, “constantly pressed for time”, “never enough money, even for the basics” sound familiar?  In other words, we have been carried away by the pragmatics of the “bottom line” dominate our decision-making, turning money, which is essentially a means, into an end in itself, while turning people, ethically understood as “ends in themselves” (according to Immanuel Kant) into mere means.  The idea that money is a resource that should be used to serve our ethical ends—ensuring that our society functions in a way that addresses the needs of everyone—is increasingly losing its allure; instead due to our collective preoccupation with money, we have discarded our responsibility to individual and societal development and lost touch with our values, morals, and relationships with our community and the environment.  This shift to market that aims at transforming society as a whole into a ‘market society’, has not only influenced the behaviour of individuals, government institutions, NGOs, and private organizations active in the domains of development, but also dampened intellectual diversity of ideas about human progress.

Do We Have Our Priorities Right?
Money-making is the raison d’être of the modern human civilization.  At the individual level, many of us, encouraged by parents and society, embrace wealth accumulation as our prime achievement.  Though most of us cannot afford to revolt against such goals created by the market culture, we must not underestimate the lasting impact such values have on our lives and the society at large.  For example, these goals induce pressure on our educational institutions to reshuffle their priorities in favour of the pragmatic goal of preparing young people for the workforce, as if technical knowledge and the skills of obedience and productivity are more important than history, identity, meaning, purpose, values, creativity, and vision.  In the business world, many investors do not see investing as a moral act, but a financial one. Instead of approaching investment as an opportunity to use their extra money to support those businesses they believe are serving society the best, these investors are motivated simply to use their extra money to make even more money for themselves:  they choose to invest in what they think will be most profitable, regardless of whether the values the companies they invest in line up with their own.    

The market culture has reduced people to being consumers.  Our addiction to consumerism is not only promoted, but also required by the capitalist economic process which is driven by interminable desire for profits and consumption.  According to the World Watch Institute (2013), there are now more than 1.7 billion members of the “consumer class”—nearly 50% of them in the developing world.  A lifestyle and culture that became common in Europe, North America, Japan, and a few other pockets of the world in the 20th Century is going global in the 21st.  Worldwide, the amount spent on goods and services at the household level—topped US$20 trillion in 2000, a four-fold increase over 1960 (in 1995 US$); and between 1950 and 1990 more goods and services were consumed than by all generations in human history!  But the irony is that a high level of consumption does not necessarily guarantee happiness (Happy Planet Index 2006; Diener & Kahneman 2013 – Gallup Organization).  According to the study, individuals can live long and happy lives without using more than their “fair share” of resources.  Data shows that many poorer countries achieve levels of life satisfaction just as high as their wealthier counterparts, implying that above a minimum level, there is no apparent correlation between per capita income and life satisfaction.  In fact, a recent study “Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility” (Oxfam/IDS 2012) shows that for most individuals in developed as well as developing countries, “home life is less harmonious, with the unpaid work of care left undone or shouldered by harassed working mothers, tired grandparents or children”, begging the question as to whether we are chasing a mirage with our current model of development.   

We often spout fashionable terms like “sustainable development”, but do our daily activities and behaviour reflect the type of “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Bruntland Report 1987)?  Instead, we constantly engage in arguments about whether it is realistic to convince states to live within their ecological means, with open, localized economies and resources more equally distributed through new forms of democratic institutions, or whether it is fair to convince individuals that limits on material wealth and comfort are required to secure the environment for future generations.  

What is the impediment, then?  We have a structural problem:  the over emphasis on economics has resulted in a de-emphasis on profoundly important things such as, relationships with other humans as well as with nature.  This pandemic in turn has lead to an unsustainable world where everyone wants more and more - giving into our desires at every turn, rather than exercising control and limits. Such irresponsible behaviour is applauded in the current world which values consumption over restraint.  This hierarchy of values, has seeped into our institutional structures (education, labour, politics, economy), through which disruptive social norms are endorsed and crystallized (Giri 2012; Loy 1997).  Most of us take great pride in conforming to this socially-constructed hierarchy of values, defining ourselves, our worth, and success in terms of money and power, go through our entire lifetime without realizing the lasting negative impact that we are leaving behind.

What is the Way Forward?
Traditional economic theory posits that physical resources are finite while our cravings are infinite.  As such, failure to reacquaint ourselves with the idea of self-limitation is a recipe for disaster.  But again, this is not an inherent or necessary problem:  it is socially constructed largely by how we have prioritized money above values and relationships.  Individuals can and do transcend this constructed dichotomy, and collectively we can choose to dismantle it by changing how money and power function in society.  We can start by thinking and talking more honestly about money, exposing and critically examining the mythology of economics representing the common good.  There is a paradox in this mythology: on the one hand, we moralize money, associating wealth with virtue; on the other hand, we regard money as morally neutral. In this paradox, perhaps we strive to create a non-moral value system by which to run our lives, but that itself is only a clever disguise for the re-emergence of “might makes right.”  What gets lost is human dignity.

Development is about the well-being of people, and so it is values, relationships, and ethics that should be the end while money is merely one kind of means.  It is not unrealistic to hold each other accountable to this standard and insist that our financial policies and social institutions uphold this ideal as well. It is imperative.  There is no inherent reason why living true to our ideals or doing what is best for society, the global community, or the planet should be economically impossible.  On the contrary, there is every reason to believe that our fundamental task is exactly to pool our resources, financial and otherwise, to solve these problems.  Reintroducing the idea of restraint, personal limits, and spiritual growth into this highly commoditized and monetized world is an uphill battle.  But we have to start somewhere.  

“The Monday Morning Question” is intended to be a forum to communicate diverse perspectives on reimagining development.  Although this conversation began as part of the Center for Poverty Analysis’s (CEPA) annual symposium in 2012, the ideas that are presented via the column are not limited to CEPA’s ideological stand on development.

The article was first published in The Island 27.05.2013

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