29 June, 2022


Questioning The Traditional Approaches To Growth

By Ranil Senanayake

Dr Ranil Senanayake

Dr Ranil Senanayake

On Friday Jan 13th it has been reported that Chinese Prime Minister had made the observation that, ‘We must question traditional approaches to growth,’ At last, someone has recognized the dangers of unquestioned growth. Our path to growth must be questioned even at this late stage. It was not that the current direction of growth went unquestioned. The observations made below were written in 1977, our politicians where were deaf to our pleas and blind to the consequences. Now that the Chinese premier has questioned the traditional approaches to growth, the type of growth that resulted in the poisoning of the freshwater streams of Guatemala by ‘foreign investors’. Perhaps our politicians will show us the types of ‘investors’ that they are hoping to attract and how they will give us a approach to growth different that what was being promoted in 1977.

Guatemala: A Sad True Story. Sun’ Newspaper Feb 1977

‘Guatemala city is the showpiece of Central America. With a heavy influx of foreign investment the city has bloom. I visited Guatemala last month after an absence of eight years, changes were quite profound. The city was modernized and everywhere there were signs of affluence. Fancy pizza palace were on about every street, whereas eight years ago I would have been hard-press to find even one.

Stainless steel floor discos and high fashion houses were just some of the handmaidens of development that were visibly evident.

It also seemed pretty impressive. I could not help buy wonder if these were the rewards that we in Sri Lanka were due to receive.

The last time I was in Guatemala I was collecting snakes and spent a lot of time in the mountains and backwoods. I have made many friends in the village and looked forward to meeting with them again. This time I was there looking for new fruit trees, vegetables and fibre crops that I intended to use in my rainforest analog model for the wet zone village designed in Sri Lanka. So after a few days in the city I began my journey into the villages.

The city bespoke of growth, massive multi-storey buildings were erected everywhere. The streets were full of sleek luxury vehicles. I visited many elegant houses and the mood was gay indeed. At that time I remember thinking “how lucky these people are, they have gained all the fruits of development in such a short while”.

My friends in the city were mostly businessmen and their days were marked by visits to great restaurants and nightclubs. Everyone spoke of investments, agencies, imports, exports and of what expensive things they have bought or were going to buy. It was like being in a great roaring tidal wave. One could not help but be carried along by the sheer exuberance, but even at that point I remember wondering about the pre-ponderance of Americans, Germans and other non-Guatemalans in all the high spots of the city.

Then I began my travel out of the city. At this time I went out with Francisco and Kurt who are basically middle class citizens. As we drove to the suburbs, I began to get a somewhat a different picture of the city. Francisco pointed out what were average three to four bedroom houses. “When you were here last my friend, those houses costed the thousand dollars. You know how much they cost now?” I professed my ignorance. “Over 90.000 dollars” he said, and continued thereby “ we cannot afford such accommodation any more, some time ago we could have spired for a house but now….. The gringos (foreigners) are the only ones who live here”.

I confess that the rosy image I initially had begun to get somewhat shacked. I said so when I come back to the hotel at evening and went out for dinner. My companions reassured me “you find malcontents in every society” they said “what you have to realize is the enormous gain the investors bring to the country by creating jobs and industries”.

The next day I was out looking for a fruit plant called ‘Jocote’. It had the ability to be propagated from branch cuttings and had extremely nutritious fruit. There were two varieties red and yellow. The yellow type was rarer but sweeter and came form the lowlands. On the way down to the lowlands I passed the forest road of Pallim, eight years ago this was one of my favourite observation areas for fish and reptiles, the air of nostalgia was strong and I had to turn my truck to explore the road again.

About 200 yards down the road was a lovely stream. I remembered from my last visit. It had fascinated me with the wealth of fish and by one part being warmer due to a volcanic spring. When I stopped my truck on the bridge the first thing that struck me was a strange odour, pungent and strong.

“It is volcanic gas” I thought and proceeded to climb down to the stream to explore. After about 3 minutes by the stream I began to realize that was nothing alive on it. I was by this time literally sick from the fumes. It was an unnatural, chemical odour, but even then I did not realize the truth. My thoughts were that a new volcanic spring had opened up. I was curious, so I summoned my Indian guide Bruno and we moved upstream. I was eager to see this new volcanic phenomenon.

A mille upstream the source of the smell was revealed. It was the new complex of the Bayer chemical company. So the stream was being poisoned by its effluents. The stream at this point was at least 400 feet in elevation above sea level. Consider the insensitivity of the managers. People living by the stream all the way to the sea would be affected by their discharges. The proud of my friends in the city suddenly began to ring hollow.

Then I began to make more penetrating enquiries and found that the “malcontents” ranged from the Guatemalan Chamber of Commerce who were fighting hard to keep the giant American corporation SEARS out of Guatemala to protect their native shop keepers: up to the dispossessed labour who were trapped into complete dependency on the huge agricultural complexes of the multinational.

These complexes grew crops for export and took the most productive farmlands out of the hands of the people. It was as if people did not matter and that only abstract economic goals such as: “growth” mattered. It was disturbing. The images were vivid. As the plane bringing me home clipped low over the beautiful paddy fields and the coconut small holdings around Negombo, those images came back to hunt me and chilled me to the bone. Wither go we?’

Chinese Prime Minister had made the observation that, ‘We must question traditional approaches to growth,’ We too must begin to question the value of this approach to growth which has become the traditional vision of growth since 1977’s. Forty years later, facing a non-communicable disease and a loss of native biodiversity that is calamitous. Sadly, our politicians cannot seem to see beyond that old hackneyed approach to growth. Therefore, we must question the value of giving out our lands to investors who would poison or land and our waters just because it facilitates economic growth.

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  • 3

    “we must question the value of giving out our lands to investors who would poison or land and our waters just because it facilitates economic growth.””

    Yes we must question not only giving out our lands to investors (both local and International) but also whether we have sufficient laws and regulations to protect our land, water and air. We have sufficient evidence locally to highlight the impact of mordernization or agriculture in Srilanka. In 1970’s we introduced dryzone development and investment on subsidiary food crops with intensive land, water and chemicals. Jaffna is one of those areas and it yielded substantial income to farmers but farmers used extensive use of chemicals, water because there was no system or regulations to control. Today, water is poisened, lands have become unproductive and human health deteriorated (cancer is now dominant). This is the reality. Investment is important but the measures to protection is more important.

    • 3

      Good work Ranil Senanayake!

      Sri Lanka is a development debacle – in a massive development DEBT TRAP to Chinese and IMF!

      The current Jarapalanaya govt, is worse that the previous Jarapassa regime, and has got a team of American Economic Hit Men who are totally out of touch with global trends including de-globalization, the fact that there is very little FDI out there because of global debt and Trump policies, and hence economic GROWTH is hard to come by, and must start bottom up and be locally driven with appropriate transfer of technology with minimum environment and social damage.

      Ranil Wickramasinghe and his moronic economic team including footnote man and Volkswagon scammer Harsha de Silva with a team of economic hit men following American instructions from Harvard are drawing up laws to evict people from their homes and hand over the land to Chinese and American “investors” based on flimsy promises.

      The Volks Wagon car factory was a good example of a total lack of DUE DILIGENCE and attention to detail.

      The Volkswagon Corporation which is in hot water in US and EU for cheating sold huge numbers of Audis to Ranil and his cronies while pretending to invest in a factory! Ranil’s economic hit men team with the Volkswagon foot note man Harsha de Silva is not doing any DUE DILIGENCE on so-called supposed Chinese and US “investments” for which massive tracks of land are being appropriated and people being thrown out of their homes and the Super Ministry being created.

      Ranil Wickramasinghe is committing crimes against Sri Lankan people in the name of development on the instruction of Harvard economic hit men! Truth is Sri Lanka would not be at the lower depths if Ranil had not collaborated with MR all those years while in the opposition. Ranil took over the corruption mantle from MR that is the truth.

      • 2

        The worst drought to hit Sri Lanka in 60 years is on now, due to abuse and overuse of natural resources and logging of forests and pollution of the air due to pollution from Colombo port city and other projects that are turning Colombo into a concrete jungle with a massive AIR CONDITIONING bill.

        There will not be enough water in 2 months time and Mega Polis Chinese emperor Pathala Champika is building a whole new port city with the greedy and bankrupt – where will the water resources for the port city come from.. in a period of DE-GLOBALIZATION due to massive world DEBT, and lack of FDI.

        Sri Lanka is well on its way to being a massive environmental and FINANCIAL DISASTER in the name of development! The people will have to pay for the folly of the politician’s delusion of graneur and mega vanity project!
        Miracle of Modayas indeed!

  • 3

    “Sadly, our politicians cannot seem to see beyond that old hackneyed approach to growth. Therefore, we must question the value of giving out our lands to investors who would poison or land and our waters just because it facilitates economic growth.”

    Keep it up, Ranil – although it is akin to flogging a dead horse or pouring water on that proverbial duck’s back.

    With the types of ‘leadership’ we have been cursed with for the past few decades it is unlikely that our beautiful, fragile, country will be spared the curse of shortsighted policies that are transforming (almost as we watch) Sri Lanka from the sublime to the ridiculous!

  • 3

    Thanks Ranil, We need DUE DILIGENCE, monitoring and evaluation when it come to hot aid development projects that end up being environmental and financial disasters. The Chinese have created massive financial and environmental disasters in the name of development in Sri Lanka such as the Hambantota Port and airport and now the Colombo port city. Sri Lanka is drawing in debt because of Chinese development projects and CORRUPTION of the Mahinda Jarapassa cronies and politicians who took massive bribes and did not do DUE DILIGENCE. Ranil Sira govt are doing the same thing,

    Sarath Amunugama after a jaunt to China has said that the proposed mega economic zone in Hambantota will have 2,500 new industries! Like the Volkswaggon car Plant! People are to be thrown out of their homes for hot aid development projects by the Americans as well.

    The public should be told what these 2500 industries would be first and how much environmental pollution and debt they will cause!

    • 2

      Chinese have promised 5 billion investment in Hambantota – for WHAT????!!! Chinese promise development but give us DEBT and and ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION?!

      THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAIL.. and DUE DILIGENCE vital. Ranil’s economic hit man Charitha Ratwatta is a GOB – no expertise on development

      Sri Lankan people and joint opposition should ask for the detailed plan of this new Chinese “development” in Hambantota and an ENVIRONMENTAL AND SOCIAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT.

      We need to know why people are being thrown off their lands to be given to the Chinese.

      What are is that clown Charita Ratwatta, Rani Wickramasinghe’s cousin who is supposed to be Ranil’s economic guru but lack qualifications doing?!

  • 2

    Of course, the Chinese “Policy” has been established to deviate from the “Traditional’ and “Adopt” new methods in the name of “Development”. How far and to what extent the Chinese approach has resulted in a “Disaster” is anybody’s guess. The reports (well studied and documented) indicate the dangers that have been brought about in the environment and the food industry. Most of the cities are overpopulated and the environment pollution has gone beyond limitations, that the life span of the population has been alarmingly reduced. The Chinese have no consideration or respect for such matters concerning environment, technology, human resource factors etc. in their mad rush to develop and go beyond other nations to be the “First” and “Domination”. The question before us is: Have we realized this “Psychology” and “Determined” what limitations must be placed in to protect our resources and environment? As things are, in our “Quest” and “Desire” to face the “Debt Problem”; the Authorities have forgotten the main responsibilities and have completely neglected and overlooked to PROTECT our “RESOURCES” of all types, including the Legal Systems

  • 0

    This due diligence that has been mentioned can only come about if honorable groups and contributors get together to invest in due diligence schemes.

    Let’s face it: the world is on a run of no return with corporations feeding off humans, animals and environment to make personal gain. Politicians like all politicians, that are/were/will be (especially Sri Lankan ones) do not have the genetic disposition to be anything less than that.

    Therefore, like the Kyoto Protocol, Sri Lankan needs local investors to go the opposite direction; such a scheme that will create profits if people, animals, minerals and the environment are protected (like Obama’s environment protection plan replete with solar-panels……one that Trump will probably/hopefully take to a higher level, even if he doesn’t believe in global warming, but believes in good clean environment and healthy livelihoods, thus taking the value of money to a new level also…..Obama had the capacity of being all-encompassing).

    For example, people can be put to work to ensure their rivers are cleaned and unpolluted, in the midst of the industrial incubus. The business opportunity of creating and installing cleaning equipment and processes will surely be a profit for anyone contributing to the schemes (this being a simplistic plan of course).

    I mean, where were people like Sobitha on these kinds of things? Instead of making names for selves on toppling governments, Sorbitha for example could have led the way for environmental protection corporations. It won’t be half as profitable as industrial ones, but will be honorable. And Buddhist priests who work for no money and no profit should be best at this.

    • 2


      I have proposed a mechanism that could help local investors to go the opposite direction.


      It only needs Sri Lanka to report on the value of our Ecosystem Services in our GDP.

      I hope there are some within the system who can understand and help us escape the trap that our so-called ‘leaders’ have got us into.

      • 0


        Certainly a very multiplex and viable set of plans by the Sri Lankan Presidential Delegation. So proud that Sri Lanka has this delegation in place. Where are the Buddhist priests (one or two is not enough)?

        Yes, it does need some capital to see it take off – not a lot, but the elite of the country does not seem to want to part with even this small amount. Let’s hope that some high–one will realize this is a good job-creation opportunity for the many people out of work. And hope they realize that while it might not be a quick one year profit, the profits that will generate from crops/fishes growing at a non-gmo/non-chemicalized 100 year sustainable rate, will surely take them and their progeny into very honorable heights for the sake of the Motherland.

        (If such convincing does not affect them, I can only suggest a dinosaur-tourism industry be implemented, where extinct plant-eating, environmental and human friendly dinosaurs are recreated to roam the forests, so tourists can come for visits. That way, the natural forests and associated soils can be preserved)

  • 0

    The author has expressed a whole bunch of common platitudes and half truths, but not provide ANY practical solutions or a blue print.What he proposes is NOT THE WAY.
    When amateurs propose half-baked solutions to complex problems, they cause more harm IF politicians accept such proposals and attempt to execute them; then it will cause much human pain and social disruption.

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