Let us stop pretending…!
By Ananda Ariyarathne
It is a national grievance that our Nation has not developed as it should actually have. We have a political system declared as a very democratic one and we know for sure that the real and the most pressing matters are not addressed. On the outward appearance we can show that the logically required compartments are there, but we have no time to worry about the fact whether those compartments are well synchronised and the flow of activities are properly laid so that we can expect the correct things to happen.
Essential needs of the people
Food: We need energy and it is provided by the food we take, which is capable of enriching the energy. But all of us do not have access to all our food needs as all of us are not equally qualified to realise that we do not have access to the money that can solve such problems.
But how seriously have we thought of conserving agricultural land? How seriously have we started thinking about the need to increase productivity of the lands. While turning a blind eye to the encroachment into agricultural lands to develop housing schemes, we try to increase productivity of the agricultural lands by increasing the dependency on chemical fertilisers, which would cause price increases.
Deteriorating exports will cause reduction in Foreign Exchange Earnings, cause the inevitable devaluation of our currency. That will make us pay more for our imports and the great wizards who plan development expect development while wholeheartedly contributing towards Inflation.
Housing: It is the same with housing. All of us have no access to this as it is variable from one to another. While some inherit or even get houses as gifts, it is definitely a negligible and rare possibility, while all will have to pay a price that will vary from one to another. In other words, it will not be something that can be realised by everyone easily. The most important, but not thought of, is the truth that the majority of the people are not that fortunate. In that way, shelter is not a possibility for the vast majority of us.
We cannot forget the fact that some even do not have. There are vast numbers who may understand the concept of ‘a house’ but never the concept of ‘a home’, as all the houses cannot necessarily be ‘homes’. The meanings have drifted in such a manner that a ‘house’ may just be a shelter and we know that some in our urban societies, take turns to sleep and what kind of homes can we imagine in such environments.
All the members of our Nation cannot have places that can be called their own, or at least their right to stay in such a place being challenged. It is clear that it is possible only for a monetary consideration, to absolutely own or have the unchallenged right to occupy such.
Does not this indicate a large void? From one angle the high level of public health is a sign of National Prosperity and one indication is that the deaths are less than the births and a healthy younger generation means the possibility of the inevitable need for new houses for the young people who will long to have a house of their own.
How far have Governments proven their awareness? The easy answer that was found some years back, was to leave it to the private sector, which took it for granted and housing became a promising opportunity for those investors who concentrated on the market sector that covered the more affluent and those capable of raising loans to build their own houses.
We can see how valuable and very productive agricultural lands are ending up as Housing Schemes and we will soon be inching towards importing all what we need.
Meanwhile, heroic politicians can be seen promoting housing projects for low income groups and most of such can be seen in the urban regions. Rich or poor, there is a certain minimum requirement of square areas per person that can be logically justifiable. It raises goose-pimples if we think about the thinking capacity of those vociferous politicians, who prove to be clueless about the actual area that has to be ensured, as people are not hens and roosters who can spend the night on slim pole that can stretch from one end to the other in a room. A housing unit has to be at least a facility that can accommodate at least four to five adults if we can allow three children per family.
The funniest aspect is the square area of a housing unit does not seem to have received due attention. Those planners plan houses just like those tailors who cut the coats according to the cloth. The coat may be completed in style, but cannot be worn.
Where has it gone wrong? Everywhere. Those who support the ideas of housing schemes do not have an idea about the ‘total extent of land’ we have available for all our needs. The answer to housing is not that evasive. All the urban and sub-urban areas should have only high rise apartments located in ‘marginal lands’ where no agriculture is possible or in reclaimed land. High Rise Apartments can be planned in such a way that even the other social needs, such as Government administrative facilities, medical facilities, schools and recreation requirements are also taken into consideration so that we swill be conserving the limited land resources we have.
Clothing: It may be due to the influence of the garments manufacturing business, that there is a steady potential in manufacturing and clothing is fairly freely available. It has become a cottage industry and a very high level of ‘Cut-Throatism’ has developed causing discomfort down the line. Although attractive clothing can be found, what do we really have?
We have a Nation full of members who have no choice but to buy their food needs paying through their noses and it is really annoying to note brainy planners giving solutions like offering economy packages to the consumers. Giving a package of Rs1,000 is not a bad idea but how useful can such a package be is the question. We solve the problems for the New Year and can wait for Christmas.
As we do not have a concrete master-plan, which should be actually a contributing plan that would ease the burdens, it has become a scenario where all are busy and we try to convince ourselves that we are really achieving. Are we not really pretending that everything is smooth?
How priorities are selected
We select our priorities more on a spontaneous basis than on a predetermined logical path. Efforts are made and some results come. But, as we had not addressed issues specifically, and had enough logical solutions identified which may contribute directly or indirectly, the overall outcome has always behind the ideally suited end result.
Then, very graciously we pretend as if everything has been fine. We pretend that the result is acceptable. We do not have to go far to see examples. How is it that we could not bring down rice prices so far? In Sri Lanka we do not have mega farmers. How come the market prices cannot be brought down? Because we show the world we have understood the causes behind but for reasons beyond comprehension, measures are not taken. The main possible reason is the absence of proper reports on movements and also may be the reluctance to pursue matters due to a variety reasons which will not compel the enforcers to become more effective.
One of the main problems that may be recognised in this regard is the absence of a counter force capable of facing the contenders. The absence of funding arrangements to support such a counter force affects the enthusiasm of the enforcers and the already well established contenders are in a better position with their already deep involvements with the farmers and small time rice dealers.
The other important possibility is the absence of facilities offered through the authorised banks to execute the purchasing programmes. Another aspect that can be relevant is the lack of information about the ‘indebtedness’ of the farmers. Without having a proper background knowledge about farmers indebtedness, it will be nearly impossible to reach them on more intimate terms.
On the one hand, the administrative mechanisms of the Government have become almost inactive in the face of the swift reactions of the mega dealers who almost commandeer the situation. And the absence of a Paddy Farmer Friendly organisation has resulted in an environment that is easily dominated by the main contenders.
On the other hand, the absence of a concrete remedial plan and the required policies has made the situation more favourable to the contenders.
Forming remedial measures
However, it is not the end of the world as rice cultivation is mostly based rurally. This is where the so far unutilised strength of the cooperative movement is present. What has to be done is to revitalise the Rural Cooperative Movement in such a way, it will become possible for the relevant societies of the cooperative movement to get involved in paddy cultivation.
Through a well coordinated cultivation programme, the aspects of the activities ranging from tilling the land, preparation, managing the cultivation, harvesting and post harvesting activities can be brought directly under the relevant cooperative societies. That kind of a development will be the answer to the present domination by those mega buyers.
The time has come for us to stop pretending that everything is fine. The moment we stop pretending, we will become action oriented. That will be the Turning Point we all have been waiting for.