[..]the Census of Public and Semi Government Sector Employment 2006 reports that the Ministry of Samurdhi and Poverty Alleviation employed around 24,000 persons. This translated to one Samurdhi official for around 117 poor persons whose monthly benefits would have totalled around Rs.12,000. It is likely that the administrative costs of maintaining such a large contingent of staff would have exceeded total welfare payments to beneficiaries! [link]Hypocrisy isn't a new word for governance, particularly in Sri Lanka. I (somewhat) agree with the article in general, but I think the problem of "poverty reduction" need to be thought differently. Poverty after all, is the natural state of the world. We don't create poverty, poverty just is, poverty is what you get if you don't do anything. Wealth is the unusual thing, so the question to ask is not "How do we reduce poverty?" but "How do we create wealth?"
The moment you frame the question this way, you will stop thinking about subsidies, charity, handouts and free milk and start thinking about enterprise, microfinance, education, infrastructure and markets. That's the kind of thing that will get people out of poverty even faster.
If ever there is one mechanism which stops wealth creation and sustained poverty, that's bad economic policy, and we have an abundance of that in Sri Lanka. History stands testament to the fact - and I know of no exception - that the simplest mechanism for creating wealth is economic freedom - that's free markets, rule of law and property rights. These are the institutions we need to be promoting.
In fact, Sri Lanka's own situation with poverty rates - with the Western Province almost eliminated abject poverty, is a test-case for this hypothesis. As Shjanta Devrajan, the World Bank's South Asian chief notes,
The reason the Western Province grew so fast is that it benefited the most from economic reforms. Trade liberalization and industrial de-regulation led to a boom in manufactured exports such as garments and electronics. These factories were concentrated in the Western Province, which halved its poverty rate.That kind of sums it up.
Meanwhile, the rest of the country is heavily dependent on agriculture, which has seen very little growth. The reason is that there has been very little reform in agriculture. Owing to land regulations, farmers in Sri Lanka are forced to grow paddy, even though they can earn much more from growing fruits and vegetables. Fertilizer and other subsidies are also geared towards paddy farmers. Attempts to reform land regulations, or transform subsidies to across-the-board support for any crop, have been unsuccessful.
In short, Sri Lanka is a textbook case of how globalization works. Where there is liberalization, the economy booms; where there is no reform, the economy stagnates.
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