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Youth, Women Hold the Key to Sri Lanka’s Prosperity

MD Staff

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photo: World Bank

In 2017, Sri Lanka had an estimated 497,000 job vacancies. Critical skills mismatches between the qualifications job seekers possess, and the expectations of employers, have left key industries like tourism feeling the pinch. With the country currently reporting high rates of youth unemployment, the figures underlined the importance of the reform agenda in Sri Lanka.

In a discussion held to mark the launch of the World Bank’s latest edition of the Sri Lanka Development Update [SLDU], panellists noted that when it came to job creation, the island was grappling with complex and interlinked challenges that spanned the spectrum from education to legislation. As technology forced rapid evolution in the world of work, youth would drive change.

We need youths to be at the forefront of creating jobs…We need them to push policy makers, the private sector and the public sector to lift hurdles in their way so they can get on with being tomorrow’s employers and innovators,” said Dr. Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough, World Bank Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

As Sri Lanka strove to increase its exports, the island’s workforce would be thrown into competition with global players. Ralph Van Doorn, senior economist and one of the author’s of the SLDU said: “We think that the job agenda is the competitiveness agenda – if you become more competitive, you will create more and better jobs.

Below are highlights from the hour-long panel discussion, moderated by economist Kithmina Hewage.

Realising the potential of women and youth

The SLDU notes that Sri Lanka needs to create jobs opportunities appropriate for its labor force, in particular for youth and women. In 2017, the unemployment rate for those between 15 – 24 years old stood at 18.5 percent – as compared to just 0.9 percent for those aged 40 and over. Among all age groups, women were more at risk of unemployment than men.

The way our tertiary system is structured now, it cannot react to fast enough to changes in the markets. We need to figure out models which can help us produce graduates demanded by the market,” said Dr. Nisha Arunatilake, Director of Research at the Institute for Policy Studies, sharing her conviction that finding a role for the private sector would inject resources and drive innovation in the education system. She emphasized that this must be done while ensuring equity and access to education for all.

Prof. Dayantha Wijesekera, former Vice Chancellor of Open University and University of Moratuwa, suggested that by reintroducing once popular apprenticeship schemes and making course admission criteria more flexible, universities could better support students willing to add new skills and knowledge to their resumes. “We should have more and innovative methods of attracting youth to the already adequate facilities for vocational training, rather than spending more money on infrastructure,” he added.

While such reforms would help young people across the board, more needed to be done to ensure women joined the workforce. The expansion of quality subsidised or community-funded childcare is critical, said Ganeshan Wignaraja, Chair of the Global Economy Programme at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Centre. He added that the level of harassment women faced on public transport and in the workplace was shocking and called for a strong, well-considered response from the state and from employers.

Addressing the legal and policy constraints creating bottlenecks

Critical to creating confidence in foreign investors and improving Sri Lanka’s business environment will be updating Sri Lanka’s labour laws. “Reform to the labour law is essential,” Ayomi Fernando, Industrial Relations Advisor for the Employers Federation of Ceylon noted, adding that efforts have long been underway to update and simplify the relevant laws, some of which date back to 1950s.

Quite a few of them pose huge restrictions to employment generation, to people moving jobs,” she said, explaining that investors naturally baulked.

The laws also weren’t made with the modern market in mind – for instance, many local offices must now consider the working hours of colleagues in other timezones, for which no allowances are made. The rising numbers of freelance and part-time workers, and those wishing to work from home were also not addressed, creating challenges for employers and employees both.

Meanwhile, SMEs in Sri Lanka’s large informal sector needed incentives to formalize said Ralph, pointing out this would in turn give them access to institutional support, market linkages and financial backing that could help them grow. Studies estimate that 60 percent of all employed people work in informal work arrangements. Here, reforms could pave the way for extending the protection of labor laws to such employees.

Designing protections for the most vulnerable

One of the fastest ageing countries in the world, Sri Lanka faces a demographic transition that will leave the country with fewer earners and a larger proportion of dependents. Highlighting that pensions were one of the key deciders for job seekers, Ganeshan pointed out that there was a pressing need to create viable alternatives for the private sector, perhaps by allowing reputed private pension providers to set up shop in Sri Lanka. Ralph added that it was important to gradually expand pension coverage and to increase portability of pension schemes to reduce the bias to public sector employment and protect informal sector workers.

The panel agreed that Sri Lanka’s existing social protection programs lack adequate coverage, and need to be better targeted. Currently, upon retirement private sector employees receive inadequate pension benefits, a lump sum payment at retirement or no pension at all. “Pension reform, as we age, will become the number one issue, otherwise I fear the country will face a crisis of old age poverty…” said Ganeshan.

Ayomi cautioned that the gender aspect of the issue should not be ignored: “One real problem that we have with pensions in Sri Lanka is that they are linked to employment, and what we are seeing is that 50 percent of females never work and they are the ones who live longer – they live eight years longer than men – and they are ones who don’t have access to pensions. So pension reforms should delink pensions from employment.”

In the end, the panel agreed that neither the public sector nor the private sector could rescue the economy alone. “We need to build financial literacy and encourage people to plan for their old age,” said Wignaraja. “The state cannot do everything, not in the macroeconomic situation where we are. I think it’s time that people woke up to this reality.”

World Bank

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South Asia

Fall of Dhaka: Lessons Pakistan should Never Forget

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In 1971, nearly five decades ago Pakistan lost its eastern part after civil war; loss of that part is one of the biggest tragedies in the history of this country. Pakistan not only loss its geography but also its face that how political, economic and ethnic grievances, if not solved timely could divide a nation which was founded on the base of ideology. It brings us to the point that ideologies do play important role in bringing people together to form a nation but they cannot act as binding factor if political, lingual and cultural liberties are not respected by the all segments of the nation.

Fall of Dhaka  endorsed the proverb that “you cannot always create a situation but can always exploit one”, when India took a benefit of the worsening situation in eastern border and not only send its forces but also provide finances and arms to the gorillas. Resultantly, the internal conflict took the situation of civil war in Eastern Pakistan and full fledge war between Indian and Pakistan.

In 1971, other external powers from whom intervention was expected to stop the war never intervened to stop the war as result Pakistan had to rely on itself. This act of external powers like US and China reveals that there are no permanent friends and enemies in international system but only permanent interests. So, to protect one’s own interests and sovereignty only reliable allay is one’s self. This lesson learned by Pakistan in 1971 war was duly endorsed by the India’s 1974 nuclear test, which brought Pakistan closer to the decision of nuclearization for its security vis-à-vis India.

Most important lessons from 1971 for Pakistan lies with the internal situation of country actors like only played their part in exploiting the situation but not in creating the situation. Today Pakistan has secured itself against Indian aggression and has also learned that if internal situation ever goes South it will be exploited by India. Moreover, Pakistan knows that Indian intelligence agencies are playing their part in supporting the banned military outfits in Pakistan; its example is arrest of Kulboshen Yadev, serving officer of Indian Navy from Baluchistan. Who later on excepted that RAW is supporting and funding Balcuh Liberation Army. But the question here arises why parties like BLA come into being? Its first answer could be that because there are always anti-state element within the state. But, another reason could be the grievances which are not addressed by the governments and resultantly armed movements are started to solve these grievances.

However, need of the hour is that elected governments should work more towards the political rights of the neglected parts of country which are continuously demanding these rights. At the moment, different segments in society are demanding the separate provinces for themselves because their issues are not streamlined in larger provinces. One such example is demand of Seraiki province by the people of South Punjab, which should be readily accepted. Not only the demand of Seraiki Province but of other provinces as well. Moreover, we should have learned from the fall of Dhaka and have taken the measures to included Gilgit-Baltistan into national streamline as this is the demand of the people of that area. So, that their issues and voice could reach into the parliament through their elected representatives.

Another alarming factor is the rise of ethnicity in the country. One cannot deny the role of ethnicity in bringing the 1971 upon Pakistan.  now, after 48 years of 1971 Pakistan is still divided into ethnic conflicts and different ethnic minorities are targeted inn different part of the country. The positive aspects are that ethnicity is not supported by any government but its mere existence in state is alarming and should be controlled.

These issues which Pakistan is facing should be addressed properly and resolved as we have learned from 1971 that they have the potential to become national security threats and can even lead to the disintegration of the country. It is also the responsibility of governments to cater political and economic rights of its citizens as it promotes national integration and put county on the path of prosperity.

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Pakistan Can Play Important Role in Afghan Peace Process

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No sufficient food, No education, No health Care, Severe shortage of electricity, Shortage of fuel, are witnessed in Afghanistan. It seems the sufferings of Afghans are going to end. The world has realized that it is enough and now think in restoration of peace and stability in Afghanistan. The common man has suffered for more than 4 decades, which started with USSR invasion of Afghanistan and then internal power struggle among various factions of Afghanistan and finally after 9-11 incident US, NATO and allied forces entered into Afghanistan. NATO allies have been fighting in Afghanistan for 17 long years, but are still without control anywhere in the country. Even now, the US Army cannot move freely and fearlessly outside of Bagram Airbase. Taliban forces still control major parts of the country.

Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located withinSouth-Central Asia. Afghanistan is bordered by Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan,Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China. With its population of 35 million approximately, having a GDP (nominal) of 22 billion US dollars in total, andper capita income of 600 Dollars only. Rich with minerals and natural resources,and well-known for its fruits and nuts, still suffering and laying among the least developed country of the world, ranked 177. Four decades of war hasdamaged the whole country and whole nation is victim of war imposed on them.

Its geopolitical location is vital for the wholeregion, as it connects Central Asia, Iran, China, and Russia, with Pakistanleading towards Warm Waters – Arabian Sea or Indian Ocean. All of the countries are suffering due to instability in Afghanistan and desires a long lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan. 

In fact, Afghanistan was never totally ruled by foreign powers, although in the country’s history many misadventures happened.The people of Afghanistan always defeated invaders. It has been invaded by Alexander the Great, Mauryas, Muslim Arabs, Mongols, British, Soviets and since2001, by the United States with NATO-allied countries. But it has proved itselfunconquerable. Afghans are brave people and believe in freedom only.

All of regional countries, including central AsianStates, Russia, Iran, China and Pakistan were trying to bring Peace and Stability in Afghanistan. Several initiatives for peace in Afghanistan were taken in past, but none was successful as they were not involved or owned by locals –Taliban and were opposed by US and its allies. The US-backed elected Governments in Afghanistan, do not enjoy popularity among masses and may notrepresent the voice of common Afghan national.

Pakistan, being neighbors with a long common border, understands Afghanistan well. We share rivers, mountains and a common culture, language and ethnicity and language. That is why we understand Afghanistan much better than anybody else. The role which Pakistan can play, no other nation can. There is no other country to substitute Pakistan in this regard. US was trying involve India in Afghan Issues, but due to the reason it does not have any land linkage, neither any cultural or ethnic commonalities with Afghan,cannot understand their society or issues and helpless in resolving their issues. The world may acknowledge Pakistan sacrifices and positive role in thisregion. Pakistan sincerely wishes for peace and stability in Afghanistan, andas we have suffered losses of around 75,000 lives and $250 billion due to unrest in Afghanistan. We will be the first nation to support peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Pakistan was very close ally with the US-led Westalliance, for almost seven decades. We were partners during the Cold Waragainst “Communism Threat” and a frontline state against the USSR invasion ofAfghanistan, a strong supporter and close ally during the war on terror.Pakistan was strongest ally with West out-side NATO. Pakistan can play a vitalrole in a sustainable solution to the Afghan conflict. Complete withdrawal andan Afghan-led solution is the only permanent way out. Pakistan can facilitate an honorable and safe passage for US withdrawal.

Prime Minister, Imran Khan, a longtime critic of theAfghan war, is in the driving seat in Pakistan. In his maiden speech after winning the election on July 26, he expressed his wish to resolve Afghan issues. Hisstance, though very unpopular a few years ago, is extremely popular now,domestically as well as internationally, especially coincides with the currently emerged Americans approach. The US government knows that Pakistanunder Khan’s leadership can woo the Taliban into accepting some kind oflong-term ceasefire.

Pakistan wants to help with the Afghan process; peace in Afghanistan would be the best thing that could happen to Pakistan in adecades, but certainly not at Pakistan’s expense. US has asked Pakistan tobring the Taliban back to the table. How can Pakistan do this when the US had previously intentionally derailed the quadrilateral peace process? Recently killing of Senator Sami-ul-Haq, who enjoys immense good-will among Taliban, wasa conspiracy to sabotage “Peace Process”.

The US has to wake up to the realities in Pakistan. It cannot expect on one hand to cancel Pakistan’s Coalition Support Fund reimbursements and on the other hand signing multibillion-dollar projects withIndia and still expect Pakistan to commit wholeheartedly to American interestsin Afghanistan. Criticizing Pakistan on “religious freedom” issues, while ignoring Israel and India, who are engaged in genocide and worst atrocities against muslin and other minorities in their countries. On one hand the USobjects to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and resists Pakistan’s economic takeoff. But on the other hand it breaks its own rules when it allows India tobuy defense equipment from both Russia (S-400) and the US and initiates an armsrace in the region. Arming India could destabilize the whole region and constitute a direct threat to its smaller neighbors. Putting sanction on “IranTrade” but giving exception to India unjustifiably. The Americans need torestore trust practically, through their actions, verbal statement may not besufficient.

The Taliban have been very clear in their demands from the very beginning, and that is a complete withdrawal of the US and its allied forces from Afghanistan. However, this might not be acceptable to the US so easily at this stage. But there are people in US who thinks that after spending trillion of dollars, and still no achievement on ground, is blunder. Tax payerare asking the government for accountability of heavy expenditures and wastage of their tax collected money. We hope, in the wider interest of humanity, US may show flexibility. It will be good for Afghanistan, the region and over-all for whole world.

Pakistan was close ally with US for 7 decades and willing to work closely with US and want to play its inevitable role in Peace and Stability of Afghanistan and Region. But we need a long term, friendship and cooperation with US, based on UN charter on the same lines how China-Pakistan friendship is booming and ever-green. We may not be “hired Gun”and “sub-contractor” for a miner part of any misadventure, which can be disposed-off after its utilization. Our role should be acknowledged and positive and sustainable and long term. We were good friends and wanted to begood friends forever. Our interests are emerging toward convergence and we must understand the emerging geopolitics. Let’s think tanks , intellectuals and bureaucracy (Civil and Military) in both countries work hard to bring the two nation on same page and work together in complete harmony for better tomorrow. Keep on struggling to achieve our common goals and realize our common dreams.

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Pakistan’s Increasing Tilt towards China

M Waqas Jan

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In a recent interview with the Washington Post; Prime Minister Imran Khan was asked what kind of relationship he wanted from the US. He responded by pointing out Pakistan’s long and storied relationship with China as an example of a successful and mutually beneficial relationship. He explained how Pakistan’s relationship with China, unlike the US was not one-dimensional and built more on trade, respect and mutual cooperation. In doing so he in effect presented the underlying reasons why China is often termed as Pakistan’s ‘All-Weather’ friend.

In fact, the very notion of China being an ‘All-Weather’ friend is borne in contrast out of the US’s more fair-weather and sporadic approach to Pakistan. This approach has been evident in Pakistan’s long-standing complaints of how after helping the US repel the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan was left to pick up the pieces as the US unilaterally withdrew from the region, leaving behind a devastating humanitarian and political crisis. The last two decades’ war on terror for which Pakistan once again allied with the US is also following a similar blue-print, which the Prime Minister made clear was an example of history repeating itself. In defining his country’s most recent reservations against the US, he made it clear that Pakistan would no longer serve as a hired gun for the US, and desired a more equitable relationship based on mutual respect.

Considering how Pak-US relations have deteriorated over the last few years, the Prime Minister’s remarks come as little surprise to observers who have witnessed this uneasy partnership throughout its peaks and troughs. Yet, what’s striking is the fact that this is perhaps the first time that a Pakistani head of state has directly presented its relations with China as the ideal blue-print for which to measure the long and troubled history of Pak-US relations.

In contrast, the official narrative ascribed to the Pak-China bilateral framework, has stood out amongst diplomatic and policy-making circles due to the broad poetic license that has more recently been attributed to it. The oft-quoted phrase of how Pak-China Friendship is ‘higher than mountains, deeper than the ocean, stronger than steel and sweeter than honey’, has been repeatedly used by officials representing the highest levels of government, from both countries to emphasize the far-reaching significance of their bilateral relations.

This includes their significance both within a more localized context, as well as a broader more regional context as evident in the $62 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The corridor which promises an end to Pakistan’s development woes focuses instead on fostering peace and stability through economic growth and development. This is as opposed to the more security and strategically driven approach of the US, which has seen the region become increasingly violent and militarized. It is based on this difference that CPEC has been widely hailed as a viable solution to the relative instability and insecurity that has for years characterized the South Asian region.

However, over the past few months, Pak-China relations have themselves undergone an uncharacteristic period of friction and uncertainty. Interestingly, one of the major reasons behind this friction has been none other than the newly elected Prime Minister himself. As part of his anti-corruption campaign rhetoric leading up to the elections, he had promised greater over-sight and transparency with regard to Chinese investments under CPEC. This came at a time where growing trade and economic tensions between the US and China, had led to greater scrutiny and broad reservations against China’s rising influence the world over. Calls to re-evaluate China’s investments were echoed across countries such as Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Kenya; with allusions to unsustainable loans and China’s ‘Debt Trap Diplomacy’ doing the rounds amidst key influencers and policy-makers across the globe. Pakistan’s rising debt too was linked to CPEC projects by none other than the US secretary of State, who had ruled out the possibility of US loans being used to bail out Chinese bond-holders in Pakistan.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has since gone to great lengths to dispel such sentiments, as was evident in his official visit to Beijing last month. In all his statements, he has been careful in acknowledging the benefits of China’s strategic partnership with Pakistan, and has lauded China’s tremendous achievements in eradicating poverty; something that he wants to emulate as part of his own government’s policies. His recent statements in the above-mentioned interview too, are based in part on these same reasons.

Taken together, the PM’s statements thus present a clear and very public declaration that the Pakistani government is quite willingly choosing to side with China in the ongoing US-China economic rivalry. Unlike before where Pakistan had to carefully balance its strategic relationships between China and the US, China’s grand overtures and the US’s more inward focus on ‘America First’ have accelerated Pakistan’s gradual tilt towards China. With the US-China rivalry currently seeming far from any sort of resolution, Pakistan’s need to pick a side in favor of the other represents a clear indication of which side the government believes its long-terms interests lie with.

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