14 April, 2024


What Are We Borrowing For?

By Ranil Senanayake –

Dr Ranil Senanayake

In the current tussle for political credibility, borrowing money for ‘development’ is equated with success. All politicians laud ‘development’ without any idea of what it means. The question ‘what is development’ was asked as early as February 1978, but our ‘leaders’, from that time onwards never had a answer and are still stuck in the same old rut of blind consumerism, enriching themselves and their cronies while getting the population deeper and deeper into debt. 

Meaning of Development (1978)

Development and progress are words that we are very familiar with and rightly so. As a nation all our hopes and aspirations are centred around the promises attendant on these processes. Yet recently there have been some questions on the values of ‘development’, and as in every controversial issue, the battle lines have been drawn. the combatants are, as is usual in these affairs, mostly from developed countries. the people of developing countries, more often than not, are mere witnesses to these esoteric exchanges. I do not intend to imply that these arguments are not valid; rather I would like to draw attention to the fact that often both points of view have their references deeply rooted in ‘developed’ or Western technological thought. 

Development in the context of the current usage of the word certainly seems wedded firmly to Western technological thought. Whether we use it to describe an economic order or a social order, the roots are the same. e word development carries other connotations 

in the context of present usage. It suggests that the country to be ‘developed’ is some way inferior to the model to which it aspires to become. the point here is: inferior by whose standards? To an industrialist from a Western country, a poor village in the third World does indeed need to be developed. A view, that will more often than not, be held by the rulers of the same country. To quote Richard Gott (CDN 1978). 

“With the formal ending of colonial rule in all three continents of the third World, political independence was granted a tiny elite trained not to question the framework within which the world economy operated.” 

It is this elite that laid the foundation for education of people in those countries, thus the value system operating and transmitted was certainly not endemic. With this perspective in mind, lets us attempt to look at ourselves. 

We in Sri Lanka are continually talking about development. I believe that in the end this merely means an increase in industry and consumerism. It most certainly could not refer to a cultural or a philosophical development. 

A country in which a major part of her population comprehends philosophical concepts that are addressable only by a minority of scholars in the West must certainly be, in comparative terms, more developed. An argument could be made that we also do not need to be more developed in our agriculture. Does an agricultural system that does not rely on any form of energy subsidy, other than biological energy, need to be ‘developed’ so its productivity becomes reliant on subsidized energy? 

In the so-called developed world active research is under way for systems which are not subsidised by fossil fuel. We have it – and yet want to disrupt it in favour of energy intensive agricultural practices. Could this trend be attributed to the fact that most of our scholars are trained to look at problems in a purely Western technological perspective? Of course, all of us want to utilize our training for national good, but we should be careful and try to objectively evaluate the long-range repercussions of increased energy dependence.  

Hartford Tomas (CDN 1978), who is a proponent of third World development, comments on the help given by developed countries to the ‘to be developed countries’: 

“The philosophy of development from the grassroots comes up from the professionals, in Robert McNamara’s annual speeches and in the work of Schumacher’s intermediate development group.” 

Well now, with all due respect for this illustrious gentlemen, I submit that the grassroots existed long before Robert McNamara’s discovery of them, and that if one reads Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful, one gets the distinct impression that Dr. Schumacher took many beautiful things from so called ‘underdeveloped’ countries. I do not mean to belittle the great words of these scholars, but wish to point out that they are addressing the developed world. So then, what help do we need from the professionals? To tell us what we already know about ourselves in ‘developed jargon’? 

So we are still confronted with the dubiousness of the meaning of development. It would seem bizarre indeed if it transpired that we have been developing for the past 30 odd years mainly in a Western technological perspective. Some indication of our development can be addressed if we look at these questions in terms of the goals identified by those who describe the path. One of the standard answers to the development question is: the goal is economic growth. On this point Prof. Dudley Seers says, “in fact, it looks as if economic growth may not merely fail to solve social and political difficulties, certain types of growth can actually cause them”. 

An important question is: who accepts responsibility for the results of this monomania for economic growth? Are we, by changing the value system, creating an artificial need for goods and services non- essential to our well-being as measured by any endemic standards? It may be useful to reflect again on a statement by Prof. Seers: ‘the social barriers and inhibitions of an unequal society distort the personalities of those with high incomes no less than those who are poor. Trivial differences of accent, language, dress, customs etc. acquire an absurd importance and contempt is engendered for those who lack social graces, specially country dwellers’. 

Now let us take a case-in-point. Last week in the suburbs of Colombo, five youths were picked up for theft by the police. they each had on them at least Rs. 1000 worth of apparel (imported shirts, imported trousers, imported wristwatches, imported socks). their occupation? they were unemployed. How did they earn the money with which to buy the goods? they stole produce and other sellable items from the village. What was their need? they had to maintain their status (tathwaya). Is this development? How did these values come about? A.M. Hocart, who was the head of the Ceylon archaeological survey, wrote some poignant words that bear relevance to these phenomena. 

“Here is a politician who appeals for help in disturbing the pathetic contentment of Asiatic peasants and is ready to pillory as an inhuman wretch anyone who may wish them to remain contented. Contentment has become a crime, because it opens up no markets for goods or for doctrines, woe to the man who does not want more fish, more art, more science, more education, more speed. Trade has no use for him, politics and science abhor him. The men after their own heart is the one who can make two desires grow where only one grew before. What, though he threw to the wind, the old fashion restraints and time honoured virtues? What though he stoops to cringing or insolence, to false words, even to corruption? He is hailed as a creative artist for he has created desire.” 

I wonder how truthful an advocate of a Buddhist righteous society would be, if he believes in development in this context? 

We are often told we cannot remain apart from the world’s progress, and as illuminating examples of progress in the third World we are shown countries like Singapore, Hong Kong or South Korea. Have those, who want us to join the mad race of consumerism, really looked beyond the glitter and the tinsel? Do we want for ourselves a ceaseless struggle for the goods we will be taught are essential to our well-being? In a world whose energy resources are constantly dwindling, does it not seems obvious what the fate of energy dependent societies will be? 

My discussion is fraught with questions, and I believe that they are valid questions. As questions I am sure that they will receive replies from the people whom we, the public, have faith in entrusting our futures to. I am equally sure that I, among many others, will gain tremendous knowledge from these answers. This may serve to bring the dialogue of ‘development’ from the ‘developed’ to the ‘to be developed’ (us, in this context). For in the final analysis, demanding acknowledgement of individual responsibility for influencing national processes may serve to act as a safety valve on the social movement called development. 

Forty years later do we have even one politician who can comprehend or respond to these questions ?

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Latest comments

  • 1

    I wonder how truthful an advocate of a Buddhist righteous society would be, if he believes in development in this context? – Why it is only buddhists responsible. Lord buddha is not almighty savior who you must do this , I am watching you, SO you may be taken to hell. What buddha said is this is what is good and this is what is bad. IF you do bad, th ekarma come behind you. So, why only buddhists ? People know buddhism or they say they follow buddhist path. Yet why don’t you understand that everybody is greedy.

  • 0

    Thank you for the article is very relevant to the problems we have ever since independence…..
    The learning on the job for our leadership meant getting many issues muddled up such as the economic formula/social formula and where to start when you have poverty and all other forms of challenges we inherited in the post colonial era to deliver social justice. Then one led to the other as we have it today had not allowed us to have organic thinking process to device a home grown ideas too not to mention the great things we had as inheritance that got lost too. All this got taken to new heights with geo political issues we had to manage concurrently.
    We have been loosing bio diversity/way of life of people in our great planet affecting the environment irreversibly per se specially after the Industrial Age. Bhutan is a great example where Gross National Happiness is a measure of life quality now even many western CEO’s are seeking understanding…..many businesses are now focused on “human happiness” and “sustainable development” because the environment is unable to keep herself heathy therefore affecting all that lives in it too is visible to naked eye the evidence are every where in the form of trash/pollutants (in the air/land and water) which will not biodegrade for thousand of years if not more. Since we did not “develop” as much we would have done in the so called definitions of materialism/consumerism because of the war in Sri Lanka has given us a “window of opportunity” to set a different president only if people can unit. Since we have now become debt ridden and part of others life planning cycles outside of the country (recolonised so to speak) the chances of thinking out of the boxes are very slim. The new lenders,UN security council, IMF, World bank and the WTO are all too confining to allow one to live a different life according to their ethics.

    • 0

      Right on!
      Model of Development in Sri Lanka is an outdated neo-liberal and neo-colonial one, that has been rejected in most of the world.
      Sri Lanka is crying out for an alternative people-centered development approach..
      In Sri Lankan the Fake Development narrative is foreign “aid” /loans donor propaganda to advance their (USA, Japan, India, China, S. Korea, Russia) security and business intersts in Indian Ocean region. Sri Lanka suffers from a CORRUPT POLITICIANS and AID/Loans curse.
      NGOs and civil society organizations who work in the global poverty racket like Centre for Poverty Analysis but who are now colonized by Fake Aid Donors, badly need to conduct a PUBLIC discussion on the meaning of “development”, and challenge the spurious IMF/WB poverty line (1.25$ a day),

    • 1

      Western CEO’s are probably looking at Bhutan to see how best they can monetize this “human happiness” and exploit “sustainable development” for profit

      Sri Lanka has lost the opportunity to guide her own destiny.

  • 2

    “Forty years later do we have even one politician who can comprehend or respond to these questions ?”
    Watch what happens in Parliament and you have an immediate answer. Who is to blame ? The voter who put them in those comfortable and expensive seats.

  • 0

    Dead on Ranil! Thank Brilliant.
    Name of this game is “Fake Development” – with foreign Fake experts in an era of post-facts and fake news, to benefit of Global 1 percent, and advance national security interests of Fake Aid donors. Meanwhile in, Lanka Fake Dev. “AID” loans is a Bi-partisan UNP-SLFP Corruption racket for dirty politicians to get rich and loot working masses.
    Biggest fake aid is from US and done by Fake international experts from right wing Millennium Challenge Corp (MCC) fake X-erts, who turn a blind eye to and promote local corruption and Fake Dev. projects to advance their own security and business interests in Indian Ocean region. China is a new-comer to this Fake Dev. game which is “Colonialism by other means”. or Neocolonialism. Check out Social Sceince analysis by GJ Peña – ‎2015 – ‎Related articles

  • 0

    Thank You Dr. Ranil.
    Biggest causes of Sri Lanka’s gigantic Debt Trap and impoverishment, ironically is:
    1. Fake Development projects.
    2. Corruption networks and culture that fake international ‘aid’ projects cause and promote among greedy politicians.

    Lanka academics, NGOs and civil society organizations who work in the global poverty industry and who are colonized by it, badly need to conduct a PUBLIC discussion on the meaning of “development”, and challenge the spurious IMF/WB poverty line (1.25$ a day), Dr. Ranil is doing.

  • 1

    The present crisis calls for a new response. The globalization of South Asia and its people, Sri Lanka included, buttressed by the Structural Adjustment Policies (SAP), spells doom on the economic front; presents a threat even to the existing democracy and unleashes the demon of communalism and fundamentalist intolerance; increases disparity and discrimination; erodes livelihood opportunities; withdraws existing services and facilities, and instead encourages militarization and gender violence; and brings forth social and cultural deprivation. This process further reinforces and reconstitutes exploitative and oppressive structures in newer and newer forms. Finally, it breaks up the social cohesion by the degradation of the human spirit. All this is, of course, in the name of ‘development’.

  • 1

    Dr. Ranil,
    You say “A country in which a major part of her population comprehends philosophical concepts that are addressable only by a minority of scholars in the West ” . That is rather a moot point. If the population acyually understood this philosophy, would the mayhem anrder of the last 70 years have happened? Or even the extremist writings in this very forum?
    That apart, most of the ideas in the article are very valid, especially the part about “thathvaya”. This is at the root of much that besets the country. People MUST have a bigger house/ flashy car/ TV/ fridge whatever, all on borrowed money, to keep up “thathwaya”. The same applies to the country. Governments borrow beyond their ability to repay, and for what? To build totally un-necessary highways/airports/ theatres/ stadiums, to show off as “development”. Not to be beaten, the present lot plan even more grandiose megapolises. And the gullible peasants applaud while their pockets are being picked.
    Hocart’s words “Contentment has become a crime, because it opens up no markets for goods or for doctrines, woe to the man who does not want more fish, more art, more science, more education” are absolute truth. What was the point of the much-touted “free” education, when most of its products are unemployables looking for pensionable government jobs? The elite still have no difficulty finding jobs. Call me an elitist, but would not all these “educated” have done much better doing what their ancestors did? What if all that money had been spent on a REALLY effective free health service and some sort of social security scheme?
    As to consumerism, must we follow the West and have umpteen different kinds of sausages/ fridges/ TV’s/ cars and whatnot? Whatever Mrs.B’s faults (and she had many) she had the right idea in limiting freedom of choice in many items.
    Even the electricity crisis seems mostly due to the unbridled use of A/C in buildings.

    • 0

      I think Late Mr NM Perara Finance Minister along with all other visinary politicians under our late PM Mrs B had some economic policies very helpful to support home grown ideas & worked towards self sufficiency even when we had severe draughts and food shortages then… As India too on this green revolution towards self sufficiency and was very successful too. It is indeed a shame our people changed the government in 1977 to the other extreme policies……we even started importing box of matches??. We have been electing governments with one extreme principle or the other and where politics become more important than “nation building” responsibilities….even our education system has been tampered by the same? I would not blame the leadership but us the public are far too chiotic to have serious discussions on laying a strong foundation for a more “disciplined” form of life required to get the country on a sustainable path……this race/language issues we got ourself into is a good example amongst many other. The 1977 elections were a disaster to the entire nation from North to the South..followed by 1977/1983 riots fueled by the respective divisive parties UNP/TULF in power then and now hence we have a Constitution assembly as though this is the only think which we are missing to have the correct “economic formula” to feed all the mouths in the country? I really wish this 1977 election never took place in our countries history.

  • 1

    Fuel price is expected to go up between 30 – 50 % before year’s end. Those in power (financed by the nouveau-riche from BOTH sides) will lament the burden carried by ‘the people’ but act to preserve the privileges of the Colombo elites. Foremost will be cost to run the limousines, the ACs (so that suits can worn) etc. etc. Herein lie the answer to Ranil Senanayake’s question “What Are We Borrowing For?”.
    We now have two teams in the finals. Do they ever talk of growing our own food? Cutting waste like in SriLankanAirlines? We have to buy arms but can the source of problems be sorted out politically?
    Thank you Ranil for the lateral thoughts..

  • 0

    This speech by our former President JR during the state visit to US may shed some lights….realted to topic we are sharing

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