26 September, 2020

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Technocracy & Economic Growth 

By Chamindry Saparamadu

Chamindry Saparamadu

With the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the President in November 2019, there seems to be much interest and talk on integrating merit and technocracy into the country’s political life and governance system. These discourses are manifested in the slogans of various lobby groups seeking to promote the election of newer, more educated and professionally qualified representatives to Parliament as well as in the various initiatives taken by the President to ensure that qualified and competent persons are appointed to top positions in state run institutions. 

The trends towards professionalizing the political space were already visible through the evolution of various professional-political movements such as Viyathmaga, Viyathpawra, professional associations attached to various political parties etc. In the run up to the Presidential elections of November 2019, a significant focus of the two main candidates as well as some other candidates was placed on the need to infuse professionalism and merit in to governance. 

The importance of merit / technocracy comes not just in the backdrop of a need to integrate the high number of educated and skilled personnel in view of our high level of human development but more in the context of a broader economic imperative. There is a need to look at this aspect more closely. We have been witnessing a steady decline of our economic growth rates in the last few years and there is a need to revitalize the economic growth – an imperative that cannot be ignored any further. Towards this end, why does technocracy matter? I argue that technocracy explains a fundamental factor that drives economic growth. 

To put it simply, I base my explanation on the core arguments advanced through endogenous growth theories. Departing from the neoclassical view that explains economic growth as being propelled by exogenous factors such as savings and capital formation, economists such as Paul Romer, Robert Lucas etc. have argued that economic growth is fuelled by endogenous factors such as investment in human capital, innovation and knowledge. These factors are believed to make a significant contribution to growth. In addition, there will be positive externalities and spill-over effects of a knowledge based economy as specialized and high skilled people would improve the skills level of the operational environment and the society as a whole. 

Sri Lanka is at a strategic moment in its history. The World Bank has classified Sri Lanka as a high middle income earning country which would impact the type of development aid the country would receive. With this transition, the country would have to face a new set of development challenges and a clear focus on how it would address these challenges is a compulsion than a choice. Investment in a knowledge based economy and a high skilled services sector seem to provide a viable option for the way forward. 

Against this backdrop, the measures taken to infuse technocracy and merit into governance come as a futuristic vision. The challenge for doing so emanates from Sri Lanka’s traditional political life which is based on reciprocity and rewarding political loyalties. The novel measures are likely to lead to political pushbacks and fallouts unless handled with caution and incrementally. The political implications need to be managed to ensure the political capital required for sustenance of the political establishment are not compromised.   

The initiatives to integrate technocracy into governance, in my view, is also a response to the increasing levels of brain drain Sri Lanka is experiencing currently with educated people migrating abroad for employment in high professional sectors together with permanent residence in those countries. When speaking to such migrant professionals, reasons adduced are the extremely limited opportunities provided in our labor market for high professional jobs without political or social networks. 

Whilst conceding that the current initiatives would not perhaps lead to an overall system transformation, it is prudent to acknowledge that they might be the right steps initiated towards a transformation.  

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Latest comments

  • 2
    1

    Sri Lanka is a country where the agricultural Peasant farming must be the major employment. Other than it it ie still TEA and Rubber. Then comes the govt employment. But, economists writing to CT discuss models relating to Industrialized countries. Where manufacturing is the key revenue for the country and tax earner. Sri Lankan can not and must not move away from agricultural farming. Every thing is tied to that.

  • 3
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    Academic achievements and technical competencies of those at the apex of the society alone will not fix the flaws in the country. I believe that Sri Lanka is in dire need to reinstitute a culture of elitism. No, I do not advocate the past feudalistic elitism based on hereditary, or its colonial successors, based on wealth and obeisance to western culture. What we need, I believe, is a new class of elitists to take up leadership in politics, in public service, in the judiciary, in diplomatic service, in the academia and other social institutions. Appointees to positions in high places, such as these, should not be purely on academic achievements, seniority or, as it now happens, through political patronage or nepotism. We need a whole new elite class to fill such positions.

    Who do I consider a new elite class? First of all, they need to be academically bright, like those who in the past were able to pass the highly selective and competitive Ceylon Civil Service (CCS) Exam. However, such academic ability must also be reinforced with a broad-based education and intellectualism, covering not only the selected academic field but also broader scholarship in philosophy, in ethics, history and other topics in the field of humanities. Secondly, they need to have leadership qualities, high moral and ethical standards, combined with humility and compassion. A tall order no doubt, but that’s what the country should aim at.

    • 1
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      C.B. Goonatilake,

      The thinking is good and acceptable. Where to begin? Ask the professionals of the last 100 years, to whom they owe their academic success and their subsequent nurturing. They will reply in unison, “To their committed and brilliant teachers”. We have lost that breed.

      Today, attractive material compensation ALONE can do the magic. The topmost in the intellectual hierarchy should be the highest in the hierarchical salary structure too. The CCS recruits and the teachers who produced them should draw the same salary together with all the hidden compensations from the first month itself.

      If everyone is timid to do it, and a loner is dictatorial enough to execute it, why not all authority to him? Lenin said a 100 years ago, “All power to the Soviets”. I assert all power to the dictator for this single and singular purpose. No results can be seen in less than 25 years.

    • 0
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      Mr Goonatilake

      I agree with you but do you think our education system is capable of turning out broad based, ethically minded intellectuals?

  • 2
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    Lets wait for the Corona pandemic to end and then assess where we stand. The main foreign income came from tourism(also the employment related to tourism) and the Easter tragedy just wiped out a year of business. When the sector is trying to gradually revive and come out of the ICU, now we have Corona which is already cost immense impact globally. Last week it wiped out anywhere from 1 to 5 % of the capital from international stock markets. Even though the normalcy may slowly return China will be the last to recover and that alone will lead to a negative global economic impact. I am sure Romer and Lucas did not expect these man made events, when they came up with their theories (it is not their mistake). So better to keep those theories away and look at the reality what we are facing now. Before talking about economy let us see how Tecnocrazy of our current govt will contain the Corona scare. Didn,t you the one tell us about holistic village level planning and a blue print ready to be implemented the very next day of elections.

  • 4
    3

    Let me tell you one more fact, today what the wannabe superpower China claiming as death toll is not at all close to reality. It is believed thousand of people already perished and the govt figure still reads as 159. If you do not believe, see the AFP news where, in one of the quarantine city a man is laying dead in the ghostly looking street,(just like in zombie movies)and the few masked security personal available are trying their best to cover the dead body with discarded empty card boxes found adjacent in a shopping mall.This is how things are conducted in China and in our sorry state too. It is almost going to be a year soon and Fraud Ranjith ,is pleading with his masters to find the Easter culprits and there is still a debate on actual war casualties, missing persons,political murders ____etc. China,s tecnocrazy and economy did not help in containing the epidemic. The main reason behind it, is not just the virulent virus but, how things are done in China (like in silly Lanka). So for starters lets forget the tecnocrazy and be real. Shall we.

  • 3
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    I have been campaigning for the last three decades on the need of a chemical based industry where our local mineral resources are fully utilized for economic development and job creation. They have all fallen on deaf ears. Problem is that our policy makers are advised by economists and administrators with no science background. Their only solution to bridging the budget deficit is to to borrow mo0ney from the banks, IMF and the world bank. For instance we have valuable deposits of rare earths which can be economically exploited to get high profits. Similarly we import phosphate fertilizer and the fertilizer subsidy alone comes to Rs. 5 billion a year. A complete sulphuric acid plant and a superphosphate plant can be built for less than Rs. 5 billion. A proposal was submitted to Mr. Mahinda Amaraweera when he was the agriculture minister. When his ministry was changed nothing happened to this proposal. Ministry secretaries are mostly arts graduates who do no0t understand such proposals involving science. We do not need foreign expatriates to advise on this kind of development and there are enough local professionals who can do this. Unfortunately those professionals in Viyathmaga should get the right kind of people for the development of the country instead of fighting to get positions for themselves if they have a true desire to develop the country

  • 1
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    We need to be like the Indo-Chinese countries. Our Buddhist philosophy is like them, and hence our natural physic, psyche and abilitiy. Indo-Chinese have no delusions about their abilities ; they work for the sustainance of their people. Only after re-establishing their cultural and agricultural base have they carefully gone into the technologies.
    *
    We cannot be continually trying to rival the industrialized countries in a continual and hopeless show of arrogance about technological brains. We should not use country resources of the struggling masses in the Middle East, to pay for technological education that in the end goes out with money, brains, and brawn to the West.
    *
    West technology base came out of the unnatural means of colonization of other lands and assimilation of their knowledge. We have to accept chronological realities. Our duty is to be true to the nurturing of our Island and the dignity of our people.

  • 1
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    Chamindry, you have not missed anything out.

    However, as long as the ‘machinery’ of our daily lives needs regular oiling (especially the government ‘machines’), then good, capable, talented people will search somewhere else where they will not have to put up with the debilitating shit.

    So, the important question is can Gota the vampire slayer clean out the stables? Some of the biggest commission kaka’s are still hanging on waiting for their turn.Time will tell!

  • 3
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    Technocracy Vs. Yahapalanaya Incompetence

    Just for for moment imagine if Yahapalanya incompetent nincompoops and crooks had been in power during Corona virus outbreak. Below nightmare would have unfolded without any doubt:
    1. Sirisena shopping in Singapore
    2. Ranil on tour in Norway visiting Norwegian hospitals
    3. SL students stuck forever in Wahun starving with nobody giving a damn about them
    4. Rajitha finding a way to rob and make money from the medicines and face masks
    5. Sajith in a deep coma going around opening useless model villages and houses
    6. Ranjan and Hirunika having their own private party
    7. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith on TV trying to calm the panic gripping the nation

    Aren’t we bloody lucky to have escaped that fate?

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