Saturday, March 28, 2015

The drag of Govt. Employment to Sri Lanka’s development!

It should come as NO SECRET to the people of Sri Lanka, that what seems to the people to be a great and wonderful policy of the 10 years of Mahinda Rajapakse rule to stuff an already bloated state sector with 600,000 new jobs (yes 600K) has been one of the greatest tragedies of Sri Lankan Govt. policy, more so than the 30 year war that cost 100,000 lives.

To carry this deadweight in public sector, NOT ONLY means we have to pay salaries, pensions and other benefits to people in State Service, but we DEPRIVE the private sector of workforce.

There is always the added attraction for those NOT in state service to go overseas too, due to the remuneration levels offered and the false incentives given to people who look at income over social upheaval and family destruction.

Due to this anomaly the Private Sector suffers from a double whammy, and I would say triple whammy due to inflexible employment laws, that prevent increasing the carder in the private sector as the ENGINE of the Economic Growth we so want to see for Sri Lanka.

200,000 jobs going abegging is not something to sniff at, as it is a serious labor shortage in Sri Lanka. Companies are leaving our shores to build factories in Bangladesh and India where labor is less costly, and with the added problem of labor immobility, and high price required to be paid for mobility, creates further labor market inflexibility.

Of course the MR Govt. made a huge political miscalculation in that it believed the people who got jobs in the MR Public sector, would be faithful voters for him. Further their greed showed, that when they were offered Rs10,000 increase by the new Govt. they were lured to that lucre, even though the new Govt. must regret making this offer, as it hugely expensive to keep! This further affecting the Private Sector ability to compete, and immense pressure the Private Sector now finds itself with their labor for wage increases that could bankrupt many a company.

So what are the alternatives or options available that are politically acceptable to the people? Therein lies the rub. The New Prime Minister, has said he is setting policies such that 1M jobs will be created in his administration, by encouraging the creation of employment in the private sector, though he has NOT mentioned this due to our aversion to work in that sector.

I distinctly recall him saying he wants 500,000 more entrepreneurs or self employment jobs created, using the innate talent of our people to build their own businesses, if they are shown the way, and SME loans are freely given for this.

Sri Lanka is a middle income country now. However many of the benefits have NOT reached at least 50% of the population. This can only be done, if huge productivity improvements are made in the agricultural sector, and Universities churn out skilled graduates in sectors of vacancies and NOT surpluses. Then the pressure on the Public sector would diminish, and within 5 years 500,000 state jobs can simply disappear out of normal attrition, and in a population that is NOT growing anymore, we can absorb the new entrants into the workforce into the private sector, with the Public sector savings, achieve the goals we set ourselves.   

Friday, March 27, 2015

The search for permanence in Employment! Job Security is paramount so lets price it right!

I had an instance today, where a young lady came to me for a job, where what she wanted above all was permanence of that employment! (Isthira rakiawak) She currently has a job where she likes her work, and has been at it for over a year, but it is NOT permanent. She could be let go at any time. So she wants one that she cannot be fired!!! This is the Sri Lankan job search psyche, and results in a lot of inefficiencies in the labor market. (marriage material)

This has been further exacerbated by this Government which has introduced a Rs10,000 a month extra for government servants when some in the private sector struggle to earn Rs10,000 as a basic wage. This has added a further very debilitative effect to an already rigid labor market, where an overloaded state sector is bleeding this country dry, with people who are not carrying their weight in that sector, and there are 200,000+ vacancies in the private sector that go unfilled, as there is no demand by the labor to take those jobs, either because they are not permanent! Or they pay too little, or they are not sufficiently dignified for those who they wish to attract. Further there is skills mismatch, where there are not sufficiently skilled people to fill the vacancy, at the higher level, while at the same time there is a brain drain of the self same skills to pastures new, as the terms of employment are not sufficiently attractive to retain these people. These are all factors in the current labor model, where the price point at which people will work, even if they are unemployed, is very high, for most people, due to the social insurances of living with family, entail livelihood security despite the lack of personal income.

Getting back to the theme I wish to introduce, due to the premium put on permanence, and the rigid labor laws, that make the private sector very wary of giving permanent jobs, THERE MUST be a lower pay grade for the Govt. job, NOT HIGHER! That is the challenge facing Sri Lanka today. People’s quest for permanent employment, and the public sector is the only one that possibly give some of these guarantees, should pay less. Only then will working in the private sector become more attractive.

I am inundated with people in the private sector seeking Govt. jobs, it is beyond comical, as it is the apparent employment security that the people are hankering after. So then pay them less. The other challenge, where it is held that Govt servants take bribes because they are paid less is also hogwash. They take bribes purely due to the bad example set in their service, not that they are badly paid, especially as they are simply greedy, and the offerings hard to decline!

Do not mix that with the fact that a PS member is only paid Rs10,000 where he takes bribes to supplement his meager income, and pay of his debts for winning office. They surely need a living wage to desist from taking bribes, not the current crop of Govt. servants. There are a few anomalies, like for judges, where unless they are paid a lot more, one will not get many with unquestionable superiority, who wish to serve in these positions, as being a lawyer is far more lucrative. That however is due to the profession itself that has gone out of its way to mislead the people who they serve, to enhance their remuneration, (read: cheat the public of life and limb by charging too much and dragging the cases for far too long)

Unless this anomaly is rectified, and supply and demand is matched, we will have this perception gap, that will affect free labor movement to fill the vacancies in the labor force.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Noise pollution in Public BUSES – Public Nuisance

I made an emergency day trip as some urgent work cropped up in Office in Colombo, while I had taken a few days off to work at my own and more productive  pace at my forest retreat in Ratmale. So I took the 5.15am bus (SLTB) from Kaduruwela to Colombo, which arrived in Colombo at 11.30 am! The Fare was only Rs249 so the Conductor famous for no change keeps the change out of Rs250.

The problem was that I unfortunately found the seat right under the speaker of this new State Bus, and the music was put on so loud, that 6 hours later when I had alighted, I was almost deaf!!!  There is NO other word to explain, but torture of the worst kind that I had to endure throughout the journey.

I know the people of Sri Lanka like to enjoy music at all times even sleeping time! However this decibel range, should be punishable, but more importantly today’s youth the driver must have been twenty something, realize that there are other people who are not in the same mold. I think consideration of others is severely lacking in youth today, as they are NOT parented and no one shows them the way of right and wrong and consideration of to others who may not be in the same frame of mind as them.

It is due to this social ill, that we may need rules to ensure that the peace of the average person is not severely disrupted by ignorance, and callousness at the extreme.

Personally, I don’t know for whose benefit this music is? Is it for the Driver and Conductor who are used, want, and immune? Or for the passenger who is harassed, and cannot even speak on a mobile phone for this shriek at the back. My ears were ringing when I got off the bus.

Another point to note that those who make the rules DON’T travel by bus. The secretaries in the Transport or the Ministers, who are blissfully unaware of this interference to people’s basic rights. Further the commuters themselves don’t realize they can make a stand. They are not strong enough, and their organization does not take this into consideration, when making other demands, or don’t believe this is sufficiently important.

The result is that thousands, no hundreds of thousands of us travelers daily are inconvenienced by this roar during the journey and seem to accept as inevitable and one they cannot do anything about. I would see if we can have NO sound designated buses, then if there will be a clamor, or no drivers to drive, as they need this as part of the opium for them to drive!!!

I returned on the same evening on the 7.15 train that dropped me off Gal Oya junction at 1am making it an exhausting journey, but well worth the experience to comment on how to improve both bust travel and train travel in Sri Lanka. The treatment of public with respect in public transport provided at a far higher level is important, as they are paying customers, and they should get their money’s worth! The train trip was Rs480 with a seat booked in third class sleeperette, and there it was lit right throughout the night, there were fans, and reclining seats, and in a sense a much more pleasant journey, as the express just stops at Gampaha, Polgahawela, Kurunegala, Maho Junction, Kala Wewa, Kekirawa! Still even that takes an age, and I would have preferred a sleeper in 1st class to rest my tired body, but this was the only seat available on reserved train!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Dilemma facing many large project - subcontractors

I have been approached by many of these small subcontractors of projects that have recently been temporarily suspended.

For a short list, not extensive, they are the Port City, Northern Expressway, Kadawatha to Kerawalpitiya part of the Outer Colombo ring road, Lotus Tower, Defence Headquarters etc.

Apart from the Port City which is a China financed project, that is delayed due to serious environmental concerns that have not been considered in the initial awarding of the contract, to say nothing of new revelations, such as the no fly zone over the Project area! The others are due to gross over costing of projects.

As far as the subcontractors are concerned, they had made arrangements based on the continuation of these contracts, and taken on new leases of heavy equipment and dumpster trucks to transport sand, rocks and building materials. I was also informed that even a rock in Mawanella was earmarked for the Port City! I hope it was not the Saradiel one which we always look at from the Kandy road as kids and his antics were told us as folklore.  

Anyway the problem is for the 500 or so small contractors who claim to have voted for Maithripala Sirisena at the last election! They are now screwed. They have taken out leases on over 1500 vehicles, and staff to drive these vehicles and are now unable to pay their leases and salaries, and are gradually running out of resources, and the bailiffs are out to pick up the excavators, loaders, backhoes bulldozers tippers and such like.

What can the Government do in these instances? They cannot appeal to the leasing companies to give them a grace period, as those who are paying off their leases normally will shout that it is unfair to help the overstretched people looking to make a fast buck on expensive and lucrative subcontracts.

There is ONLY one solution, and that is to immediately review these contracts, reduce their costs dramatically, get them to agree to new terms, and resume operations, and here, the sub-contractors too should know that their terms will also be reduced, and their hoped for profits cut  to size.

I am concerned that in doing so there are a lot of untrustworthy politicians in this Government hoping to cash in on this hiatus to make some money for themselves, without looking at the national interest and good governance issues they have pledged. They will be the cause for any delay in resumption till their cut is given!


I hope that Mr Clean Prime Minister, will have the sense to employ trustworthy professionals to urgently renegotiate these terms and get back to business as we need to finish Kerawalpitiya to Kadawatha for starters and also the expressway to Kandy and at least to Anuradhapura leg of the Northern Highway. Lets do it, I am ready.         

Friday, March 13, 2015

Prime Minister Modi in Sri Lanka (13th and 14th March 2015)

The PM of India arrived at dawn this morning, on the final leg of his Islands of the Indian Ocean tour, which saw him first go to the Seychelles, and then to Mauritius before disembarking in Colombo for the two day visit which I understand includes a stop over in Anuradhapura and Jaffna, as well as opening the railway pier at Talaimannar after an absence of over 30 years.

The latter to most is not of significance as they are too young to know, but it was the way my parents used to take the train to Talaimannar and then the ferry across the Palk Strait to get to India, whenever they fancies a short trip with friends by train, for a sari shopping spree, before the days, of rapid air transport.

Frankly unlike some defeatists, I am glad that the PM is visiting, after a lapse of 28 years, and a long overdue visit, which to intelligent people is a sign of closer relations with our neighbor (only) which is only natural.

Do not forget our blood and cultural ties to India, are far stronger than with any other country. Even the Sinhala and Tamil languages are from Indian based languages, and the Sinhala people also came from various parts of India over various centuries. Even my ancestors, with the name Semasinghe are derived from Andra Pradesh names and I believe came in the 15th or 16th centuries, and I challenge any purist bigot to claim any special rights to this land over mine!

Whilst I am a proud Sri Lankan, I also can be happy to have India as a neighbor with whom we can have excellent relations. I know that there were differences in the past, and I am also willing to accept that previous Indian governments acted against the best interests of Sri Lanka by unknowingly creating that Frankenstein’s monster AKA LTTE!

I am sure we can put the past behind us, and look forward to the future with hope, and mutual benefit of Sri Lanka and India, and the first news of visa on entry to Sri Lankan Nationals coming to India, is most welcome and a needed gesture, as I remember a few years ago, the hassle I had to go to India urgently to attend to a family emergency when a member of my family fell ill on a pilgrimage to India, and I had to go there urgently to bring her back.

In fact it is the only Country I would wish to visit in future from all the Countries I have so far gone to purely for the sense of kinship we have. I also wish to see more effort on the part of the Sri Lankan authorities to encourage Indian visitors and travelers to Sri Lanka, and I seriously believe that such a rich country like India can bring the well heeled tourist in their private planes direct to their destinations, as we expand our local airports for civil aviation.  


Sri Lanka is the most attractive destination for Indian Tourists to feel most at home, and with thoughtful marketing, we should attract the high spending families for a great family vacation in our numerous top class resorts dotted across the Island, and with the lower carbon footprint this will create, will also preserve the Earths depleting CO2 levels by this process, without the need for tourism from the far off places, even China which we seem to be making an effort at attracting. With a neighbor so much like us, our Indian visitors will feel more at home here, and we will learn to be better hosts to them, rather than the homage paid to the Europeans. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How about a Ministry to handle people’s grievances?


The daily dose of trying to clear the problems of our Citizens is without even a brief respite. If all Ministries are so inundated, I wonder, how if at all any of the Ministers, or their staff are able to get any work other than, sorting people’s problems, which they expect immediate relief, but reality dictates long drawn out investigative procedures in their clearance.  

I believe it would be far better for a Ministry or Department to be set up, staffed with suitably knowledgeable pool of Government servants, to handle these issues who can deal directly with the persons concerned, so that Ministers who really do not have any idea of the issues are NOT inundated with them, and have to merely get a team of staff, to draft letters and direct them to the appropriate Ministry, some of which may not be the Ministry to which the problem should be referred.

This huge waste of time and effort, which is currently clogging up the Government, can be handled in a methodical manner, where even the internet can be used to trace the progress of an issue, so a complainant will know at which stage his or her issue is being handled, reducing the clutter of phone calls and letters further crowding out the existing structure, leaving gridlock in its wake, and very disgruntled people.

I just had a calls from a PS member in the Kurunegala District with 5 different problems he was seeking advice on how they should be dealt with. I had to suggest a way of handling each, without merely writing to my Minister, asking for assistance which would just clog our systems, and not receive the relief. It would be most appropriate to identify the person who can actually resolve the issue, without assuming that any minister can personally intervene in each case for resolution.

A copy can be sent of the letter to the Minister of the related ministry to which the problem relates, in asking that assistance is given in resolving the matter, with his intervention, rather than assume that it is the letter from a minister which will begin investigative procedures.

No one thinks a problem through least of all the complainant. I find that few even give their phone numbers for contact, making it very difficult to speedily resolve a problem without being able to get the complainant to agree that he has gone about the issue in the wrong way!!

It is in this case that the Department or Ministry merely tasked with this can make a decision regarding the resolution and if they are unable to help, suggest a means to this resolution.

The people I deal with think that it is within 100 days that this problem will be solved, as otherwise there is NO chance of it ever being resolved.


Imagine the pressure we face in helping and the helpless state we find ourselves in when in that particular type of issue NO ONE has currently found relief. We cannot tell the people, who have got used to Minsters resolving ALL their problems, one way or another. With YAHAPALANAYA nothing is a sure bet until all the procedures are followed, and Ministers cannot force change or relief. No longer can change be imposed by fright, by demand and thuggery. So it is not too late for ONE avenue for problem solving. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Do we value Modesty? Or is it a bombastic show forced on us that we prefer?


As a nation of people used to being fed tripe which we accept hook line and sinker, I wonder when we are NOT fed then if we value abstinence or whether we miss it?

A case in point is the President of Sri Lanka’s current visit to London. He went on a normal flight with very few in his entourage. He did not grab a Sri Lankan Airlines Jet and take 160 cronies on an all expenses paid (by the state ) junket, and force ALL newspapers and TV stations to broadcast his arrival, and drive by the Palace to pretend to our people that he actually went in, when he probably would never get invited in, in the first place!

Today’s papers have very little on our Present President’s (Head of CHOGM’s) visit, except mentioning the essential details of his visit. I presume he has NOT taken a special photographer with him, and is using local services, which will then be made available to the Media in Sri Lanka if they so wish to carry the news! What a contrast in style!

What does it say about the contrast in personality? Mrs Sirisena’s very unassuming attire as against Mrs Rajapakse’s special designs are also a variance in show, further driving home the point, that extravagance and waste is out, and simplicity and modesty is in.

The avowed Rajapakse addicts must be in a state of cold turkey unable to consume inconspicuous waste which they have got used to, and are actually commenting on the lack of class of the President who actually does not seem to care a toss, about his dress sense either, with a suit jacket over his traditional style shirt, that is a first in style of a visiting leader of a country.

I well remember how the Rajapakse loyalists were trying to pretend that MR was wearing a national dress, when MS was trying to copy Modi, when in fact MR’s outfit could not be further from what one could call a traditional home grown style but merely a Rajapakse one, denoting a family style that all their family members begun wearing so they would stand out from a crowd. In contrast MS certainly does not stand out from the crowd in the photos emanating from the UK.

I am willing to accept that he is uncomfortable in a suit, and his local clothes certainly does not suit the UK climate at present, so he has to choose a combination that makes him feel comfortable first, rather than look like a clown.

We have not seen the full variety of his color and clothe combinations and I would only go as far as saying that modesty in dress, and comfort, overrides all other considerations.

We are a country that sees its parliamentarians in dress styles that probably are more varied than any Parliament on earth, so individuality appears to be the style of Sri Lankans, and their elected representatives.


Perhaps we can be known as the Country, where in all other respects we like to ape the rest of the world, whilst in respect of the clothes we wear anything goes, just as we are a multicultural nation, that appreciates its diversity, and non conformism can be built into our psyche.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Where has the present Government gone wrong with the 19th?


It is easier said than done to enact the 100 day program in full, and then go for a general election by dissolving Parliament on April 23rd.

The leading detractors sitting on the sidelines can easily find fault with some pieces of legislation or lack of them. However you cannot have your cake and eat it. So on the one hand there is this incredible insistence on changing the electoral system to a hybrid of first past the post and PR, and secondly on insisting Parliament be dissolved on April 23rd.

In practical terms, any fool knows that both cannot take place, it is either one or the other. The immediate requirement is the change of the Constitution to reduce the powers of the President, for which the mandate at the last Presidential election was unequivocal despite the MR proponents who wish to believe that the minorities don’t have rights, and so unneeded!

However whilst it was in the manifesto, the change in the Electoral system was NOT a major point in the election as a precursor to the next General Election. However the need for it soon was inevitable.

The SLFP is trying to hold the Govt. hostage in demanding the change in Elections, before agreeing to the 19th Amendment, and whilst it is them flexing their muscles a little in light of the clear UNP administration, to score political points for the next election, they do not care if it is really an impractical suggestion just yet.

With the history of our electoral systems as the backdrop, tell me honestly who in their right minds would wish a new electoral system which changes the Electoral Map, without extensive public discussion and debate? It would be one year at the earliest to come up with the fairest plan, as various permutations will have to considered, and experimented with.

It is therefore a no brainer that the UNP idea must be adopted, as the SLFP in their hangover are unable to think for themselves, but make suggestions that seemingly add to their political capital whilst holding the Country hostage.

It must be remembered that the local council or Pradeshiya Sabha elections are due/overdue. So as a start let us finish the demarcations of the wards as soon as possible, and go for a Nationwide set of elections immediately. We can first get a feeling on how this particular system works in practice and whilst not the same as the formulae in place for a general election, it will allow the people some degree of experience on how it works in practice.

I believe it is natural that we test this out and iron out some obvious anomalies of the proposed system before we go to the next step, which is to make proposals based on this experience on how best to improve on the present system of PR without jumping straight into it.

It is time the UNP hold up to the pressure, after passing the 19th Amendment, and follow all the other promises on the 100 day plan as practically possible. Permitting uncertainty amongst the people and those looking to be elected is not good for democracy, and allows past treacherous activity to re-emerge in the guise of patriotism, by the “you know who” underclass that was summarily kicked out on January 8th

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The psychology of our psychology students – they need therapy!

I spent my whole Sunday last, introducing a Counsellor to four of our women’s societies, so that she could give them an indication of the work she does, and engage in group discussions with the members of the societies about their common problems and give some basic guidance on avenues to pursue in dealing with common day to day problems.

I had arranged for a Psychology Undergraduate Student the previously evening to accompany us to the 4 meetings, so that she could get some practical experience identifying common issues in the Community, and get the feedback from a trained Counsellor who has been doing this for 10 years, I mentioned to her, and she accepted that a day of practical work in the field is worth more than 3 months of class work and that she would benefit enormously from this exposure. When I arrived the following morning at the appointed location to pick her up, and she not being there, I called her, she cut the line both times and did not answer the SMS that I sent her regarding awaiting her arrival!  

I was late for the first session due to her, and I contacted the person who asked me to help help her, and even he was not forthcoming or called back on why she was absent.

In my opinion, for someone training to be a therapist being unable to call me and tell me she was unable to come due to some reason, meant that she was ashamed of not coming and was unable to get it together to tell the lie so she just ignored my calls!! This is a sign of someone NOT competent to even attempt the field she is in, as she was simply unable to own up and tell the truth regarding her state at the time. In short psychologically unhealthy, and she knew it or did she not?

She must know that I will not call her next time, and as she lost a great opportunity to improve her skills, she has only herself to blame for her incompetence. This in short is the problem with youth in Sri Lanka, who lack commitment in anything they do. Small wonder they are unable to seek the thousands of jobs that are out there, and hold onto people’s saris in order to get a job, without searching out there for what is available. This is a practical example of what I have been extolling in my blog all these years about the employability of our educated people. They have NO vision of right and wrong good or bad, and thus are unable to think for themselves, being consigned to a life little more than slavery!   

At the session, the concentration with which the audience was listening to every word was amazing, and there was no doubt seeing the audience engrossed in the lecture meant that I was convinced it was something important and useful for them in their lives.  


IN speaking with the Counsellor, I was saddened as to how limited these services are to people in Sri Lanka, and NOT EVEN a fraction of the need in the community can be satisfied with the services available in this Country, and there is little effort to increase the output of this resource, that can be done extremely easily as the need for high tech equipment is not necessary, but the use of good teachers as always is necessary, and very hard to come by. This latter shortage MUST be filled by requesting the resources from the International Community to train these people, as there are at least 50,000 potential jobs that the community needs to fill over the next 5 years in the NEW FIELD of Counsellors, for Schools, District Secretariats and other Mental Health related services. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Typing - oh so simple but no one can do it! Those who are looking for jobs that is


I am inundated with calls, drop-ins and CVs sent via my Boss who receives so many each week on his work, for employment. However it appears that none of the above know what it takes to pick them in preference to others in the competition for employment.

In Sri Lanka unfortunately, the job seems to the seeker to be a God given right, and if a politico or a friend of the family cannot fix that, then there is something wrong with the individual who can help with finding employment for this “oh so darling offspring”. The real problem is with the offspring, who has NO clue how to go about getting this elusive job, and the simple things that can make a difference.

I am now aging, but my mother sent me in my school holidays, (I was at Boarding School in England and had a two to three month summer vacation when I returned home) to Sinnathurai’s School of Typing it was called, off Mile Post Avenue, Kollupitiya, for shorthand and typing classes, and for the life of me I never realized why! I just went. For a 14 year old amongst all these older women training to be secretaries I was quite out of place.

The long and short of it, I learned the basics of touch typing here, on these huge clunky typewriters and at the dawn of the internet, before high speed broadband in the days of Yahoo Messenger first version and “You’ve Got Mail” sounds over 15 years ago, in the USA, I perfected the art of typing at high speed, as I could chat with over 8 people at the same time on 8 different boxes on my PC in possibly 8 different Countries in the world, and in order to do this as conversation was all in typing then, without much effort automatically gave me the edge in speed typing. To Say nothing of Multitasking as the conversations were on diff subjects

My abiding regret is not learning to touch type in Sinhala, but in my desperation due to the lack of others who can, it may be the last thing I learn seriously,  so I can blog in Sinhala and use it in numerous areas of work here in Sri Lanka.

I gave this background above to show, that the ability to type in Sinhala or English and preferably both is almost a sure license in the job market that puts you to the top of the heap when it comes to being interviewed and getting the job too if other qualifications are similar.

I try to explain this to potential candidates I speak with all the time, and they fail to comprehend this importance. Funnily though our offices are desperately looking for Sinhala typists and in this case we are looking for those from our constituency, as it will not be politically correct to get from other areas, and despite the need for 4 people, we are still unable to find one who can.

Many come saying that they can type, and when tested show their true colors of believing that they can, when they just have no clue, and think typing is punching one letter at a time with their index finger!


So any of you who are looking for an entry level job typing various letters in Sinhala at speed for a Minister, and you are from Biyagama, please let me know and will test you out. To be politically correct I would face the wrath of the Party if you are not UNP! Damn!