24 January, 2021

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Reading Economics Through Ethnic Lens

By Ameer Ali

Dr. Ameer Ali

Ethno-religious prejudice is running so deep in the venins of among sections of the media and journalists that even an innocent report from the World Bank on “Informality, Job Quality, and Welfare”, released on 2nd December is read through an ethnic lens. Two days before that, Ceylon Today dragged the Catholic Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, into an unnecessary controversy about sharia and its role in the Easter Sunday massacre. The Cardinal had to refute the words and sentiments attributed to him by a journalist. Similarly, the same paper carried another piece on the same day titled, “Non-Tamil Minorities earn more than Sinhalese – WB”, and opened its report with the sentence, “Sri Lanka Moor-Muslims and other non-Tamil minorities earn more than Sinhalese workers”. To a less discerning reader who just glances through the headlines and few opening sentences, that reporting would confirm what the Sinhala-Buddhist ultra-nationalists have been advocating provocatively since 2009, that Muslims in this country are taking over its economy. Their only evidence for this propaganda are the Muslim owned retail shops scattered over the Sinhalese Districts, the ubiquity of Muslim peddlers who vend miscellaneous items, and one or two successful Muslim owned retain fashion chains in the cities. Would these propagandists dare to ask the relevant government agencies to publish economic data relating to who owns what and how much do they earn? Would they also call for an ethnic breakdown of statistics relating to the extent of poverty in this country to see which community has the largest percentage of the poor? Be that as it may, what does the World Bank report say?

In a 58 page report on Sri Lanka’s informal sector and its impact on quality of life and welfare there is one sentence on p. 38, which says, “By ethnicity, Sri Lanka Moors and other non-Tamil minorities earn on average more than Sinhalese workers”. If one cares to read the entire report one would realise that the above sentence refers to the informal sector. The way Ceylon Today reported it was not to educate the reader but to deliberately create prejudice and sow hatred against the Muslim community. The report reveals an important economic truth about employment in Sri Lanka. According to its findings, informal jobs account for 70 percent of total jobs in the country, and “that there remains a wage premium associated with formal employment”. Within this, “formal public sector employees enjoy a wage premium even after controlling for worker and firm characteristics”. In other words, the wage and privileges enjoyed by workers in the public sector, which is predominantly filled with Sinhalese and openly discriminatory against minorities are above that enjoyed by employees in the formal private sector and far-far above that in the informal sector workers. Workers in this sector are at the bottom of the pile. If on “average”, Muslims are earning more than Sinhalese workers in the informal sector that is simply because of hard work and immense sacrifices – a fact that anti-Muslim provokers refuse to understand.

The fact of the matter is that because of prolonged negligence of scientific and technological education and poverty, the Muslim community in general is ill equipped to compete for employment in the formal sector. Public sector is discriminatory against minorities. Therefore the only option for many of them is to become self-employed as petty traders and tenant cultivators and enter the informal sector. The working hours are long and income depends on sacrifices. If some are earning more than others it simply shows how productive they are. Shouldn’t this be praised and be welcomed rather than viewed with jealousy and hatred? Unfortunately, it is the latter that sections of the media are trying to promote.   

It is a sad note on the history of public policy in Sri Lanka that its overriding objective had been to rob Peter to give Paul. When Sinhalese governments found in 1950s that Tamils were dominating public sector employment, because of English education, the remedy undertaken was not to teach English to Sinhalese children and make them competitive but to remove English as medium of instruction and introduce swabasha. In the 1970s, when they found that Tamil undergraduates were dominating the science, engineering and medical faculties in the universities, instead of improving science education in Sinhalese schools the standardisation scheme was brought in which enabled students with less score in science subjects enter those faculties. The end result was falling standard in higher education. 

A similar policy is now being advocated in relation to economic development also. If any community is found doing better than Sinhala-Buddhists that community should be punished and privileges be given to the lagging one. There is no denying the fact that Muslim farmers in the Eastern Province are among the most productive agriculturists in the country. Instead of encouraging them by providing them with more land, better irrigation facilities, fertilizer and modern agricultural implements, Gota’s Archaeology Task Force is bent on grabbing even the existing lands in the name of protecting ancient ruins. The latest destruction of cattle sheds belonging to Muslim cattle breeders at Tampala in Polonnaruwa, on the pretext of clearing land claimed to belong to the Somadevi Rajamaha Vihare is another instance of robbing Peter to give Paul. The government is powerless to stop this economic damage, because Buddhist monks are backing the clearance. As Gehan Gunatilleke wrote, there is a “symbiotic relationship between the Buddhist clergy and politicians” and that relationship is stronger under the Rajapaksa regime. With this sort of discriminatory policy however, how does Gotabaya Rajapaksa expect to realise his “Vistas of Splendour and Prosperity”? The clergy, sections of the media and a capitalist mafia are in collaboration with the ruling regime to recreate July 1983 with a different target. Because, that is the only way to divert increasing criticism against successive failures of this regime.   

While all this is happening, it is a pathetic sight to see the elected Muslim members in the parliament, including the Muslim minister in the cabinet, sitting like dummies without saying anything about the economic havoc spreading in Muslim areas. Their silence is more dangerous than the voice of Muslim haters.  

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Latest comments

  • 6
    0

    “If some are earning more than others it simply shows how productive they are. Shouldn’t this be praised ?”
    Yes ! Dr.Ali is spot on!
    This is exactly the dog-in-the-manger attitude that the majority has had from Colonial times. When the plantations were set up, they refused to work, but criticized those who did. Same story with the roads, railways, and other infrastructure. When the civil servants were mostly minorities, and running the country efficiently, (no striking doctors for example), the majority muscled themselves in and we went from Singapore Plus to Maldives Minus. Sirimavo B made a determined attempt to oust the minorities from business, even naming a few like Borahs and Sindhis in Parliament, and put the country at the mercy of incompetent and corrupt set-ups like the CWE.

    • 2
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      old codger,
      Sinhalayo who had a proud heritage did not want to do slave work for colonial parasites. So they brought millions as slaves from the race that speak the oldest language in the world. British took millions of Tamil slaves from Hindusthan to their colonies and abandoned them in those countries creating a headache for Native people.

      “When the plantations were set up, they refused to work”

      • 1
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        Eagle,
        “Sinhalayo who had a proud heritage did not want to do slave work for colonial parasites.”
        Yes, but they send their females to work for Arab parasites, while they strut around in fancy uniforms fighting Covid with holy water?

        • 0
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          old codger,
          There is a huge difference between Tamil slaves dragged from Hindusthan by colonial rulers to work in their plantations and Sinhala ladies willingly going to Arab countries to work. Arabs treat these ladies well, except in few cases and pay them well unlike Brits who gave a couple of ‘Roties’ and asked Tamils to work 10-12 hours.

          • 3
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            Eagle,
            What about the extra-curricular activities that the Arabs provide for your Sinhalayo lady slaves?

            • 2
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              Well said my dear OC. Our sinhalayas dont know who we really are. My arab colleagues in Europe knew srilanka as the country which exported them uneducated cheap house maids. Many of them had abused those poor women all along. Saddest reality of so called powerful sinhalaya. Can we ever bring any good argument defending us ? 😎😎😎😎😎😎😎

          • 0
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            EE
            Arabs treat the domestics well?
            You must be joking.
            Have you read accounts by returnees?
            They are desperate for money and post-1978 regimes encouraged such employment abroad.

            • 0
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              SJ,
              You seriously expect a senile foreign coot to know about SL domestics in the Gulf?

        • 0
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          OC
          The Sinhalayo for centuries did slave work for their own parasites.
          Things changed significantly for the better in 1956.

          • 0
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            Sinhalayo prefer to forget the unsavoury parts of their history.

    • 1
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      OC
      If the author’s claim that those earning more than others are more productive is correct, then drug barons, smugglers and crime world leaders must be among the most productive.
      *
      The problem with plantations was that it was difficult for the planter to rely on local labour, mostly cultivators, who were busy during certain times of the year. The planter wanted indentured labourers (the bext best to slaves) which was achieved by the Kankani system where the broker (Kankani) ensured that none of the indentured labourer ran away. Plenty has been written on the subject by historians of different persuasions. This was the case in Malaya too.
      And for whose benefit were the plantations? What did the plantation worker get out of it, and how did it help the local population?
      A powerful group of middlemen and plantation based industry of no relevance to the national economy emerged.
      *
      It was a plantation crop based economy all along, the rest was all peripheral to it.
      *
      If the country was run efficiently by its minority civil servants at one time, what progress did the country’s economy make?
      *
      Attempt to develop a local industrial base was post-1956, particularly after 1960. Even the UNP-led coalition did much in that direction between 1965 and 1969, thanks in particular to Philip G.

      • 0
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        S.J,
        “then drug barons, smugglers and crime world leaders must be among the most productive.”
        You forgot the most productive group, politicians.
        “If the country was run efficiently by its minority civil servants at one time, what progress did the country’s economy make?”
        Well, pre-1956, the economic vision was agricultural, and agricultural development did take place using locally raised taxes . Sure, everyone is materially better off nowadays, but in debt up to the eyeballs.
        *

  • 6
    2

    It is true, even though Dr.Ali tries to plaster over it, that the minorities do own the majority of large corporates, like Brandix, Maharajahs, St. Anthony’s group, MAS ,Atlas etc.
    Of course this creates envy in the typical Sinhala Buddhist, but the people who work in these places are from the majority. There is a glaring lack of entrepreneurship among the majority. Many businesses break up after one generation, or ask for state subsidies /tax breaks. DSI is a good example, which cannot compete with CEAT ,even though both have the same local rubber.
    The problem is in the majority culture, which doesn’t encourage hard work, curiosity, or innovation. Children in Sunday schools are told that everything they need to know is in the Dhammapada and there is no use in counting stars or reading technical stuff. Basically, if it is your Karma, you will get it! It is only when the majority realize who is leading them up the garden path that our country will start to progress.

    • 2
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      old codger,
      During British rule Native Sinhalayo were oppressed and discriminated by Brits as well as by Vellala Tamils who scratched the back of Brits. Have you heard about a bank called ‘Loganathan’s Bank’ that gave loans only to Tamils? Lot of Indians came to Sinhale during British rule and engaged in business and exploited Sinhalayo. That made transition from British colonial rule to a true independent nation difficult.
      If Tamils are so efficient as you claim why the hell there are millions still living in abject poverty in Tamil Nadu and Modi has to pay money to these guys to use toilets.
      Compare social indicators between Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. Sri Lanka is way ahead! If Tamils did not play hell exploiting the democracy and freedom, Sri Lanka could have become the paradise in Asia.

      • 1
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        Eagle,
        “If Tamils are so efficient as you claim why the hell there are millions still living in abject poverty in Tamil Nadu and Modi has to pay money to these guys to “
        You can make up any fake facts you like, but Tamil Nadu is now not indebted to anyone, and is the 3rd biggest contributor of taxes. Hambantota port survives on vehicle trans-shipments from TN.
        Tamils are only 5% of the Indian population.
        In Sri Lanka, 50% of the exports are produced by Tamils, and most of the Garments are exported by Muslim /Tamil owned companies.
        The majority loiter at junctions, in 3 wheelers imported from Tamil Nadu !

    • 0
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      OC
      I am afraid that you are oversimplifying.
      The richest local businessman today is a poorly educated member of the majority community.

      • 0
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        SJ,
        One has to simplify things to penetrate thick skulls containing one-track minds !

        • 0
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          I don’t think Eagle’s attention span is more than 50 words.

  • 1
    1

    Ameer Ali,
    Teaching English to Sinhalese to compete with Tamils was not something that could be done overnight. There were no English teachers to do that.
    Improving science education in Sinhala schools was also not something that could be done overnight. To improve science education, there should be laboratory facilities and teachers qualified to teach.
    Switching to Swabhasha was not the problem. Ignoring teaching English was the blunder made by those idiots.

    • 2
      2

      Eagle,
      It is now more than than 70 years, not overnight, and the Sinhalayo still don’t know English. The Sinhalayo doctors are killing more people than curing, with their strikes. The railway is falling apart. Sinhalayo DIG’ s are in jail. You blame minorities for this?

    • 2
      2

      Eagle,
      “To improve science education, there should be laboratory facilities and teachers qualified to teach.”
      Since you seem to live in a different world, I will take the time to explain to you that there were plenty of schools of that kind in the South. Ever heard of St.Aloysius’s , Galle and Ratnapura, St.Anthony’s Katugastota, Zahira Gampola, to name a few ? All staffed with dedicated teachers ,some from India.
      It was you Sinhalayo that destroyed this system, first with “free” education in the mother tongue in the 40’s and then the take-over of missionary schools Mrs.B, who however ensured that her own children attended two of the surviving Christian schools.

      • 2
        1

        St. Aloysius, for example, which produced Dr.Cyril Ponnamperuma, the only real Sri Lankan scientist, was turned into just another Maha Vidyalaya churning out mediocrities.
        It may be partly true that the majority did not have access to good education, but those who did were excellent, unlike now where practically everyone is “literate” but far from educated. These idiots get into Parliament too.
        It was Sinhalayo that screwed up the country, and there is no doubt about it.

        • 1
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          old codger,
          You are right in a way when you say Sinhalayo screwed up this country. They screwed up by giving citizenship to Dravidians brought by colonial rulers and saving Muslims from persecution by Portuguese. These two groups became the real trouble makers to Sinhalayo by producing terrorists that massacred Sinhalayo.

          • 3
            2

            Eagle,
            Don’t distort history. It was a Muslim fleet from Calicut that helped King Senerath against the Portuguese.
            Anyway, if the Portuguese didn’t turn up, Sri Lankans would all be Muslims and you would be minus a part of your anatomy.

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