Census key to assess population shifts


(August 26, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) An important newspaper item this week which have attracted little readership interest apart from a cursory glance, is about Sri Lanka’s first comprehensive census in the entire island in 30 years.The census by the Department of Census and Statistics is to be held in 2011 and Ms Suranjana Widyarathna, Director General of the Department is quoted as saying that they are currently preparing maps and residential lists needed for the census.

Awareness programmes in this connection have begun in 12 districts with the Department planning to carry out these in other districts as well, she has said. An islandwide census of the population and housing stock is held every 10 years and the two previous surveys in 1991 and 2001were sans the north and the east or included just parts of it. The last full census was in 1981.

At various times, government ministers and economists have been expressing views on the lines that gross domestic product or annual economic growth is vibrant and resilient despite the war and the loss of production and output from the North and the East. Some have said that a few percentage points have been clipped off economic growth due to the lack of production and proper data collection from these troubled regions that for over 25 years had stunted economic growth.

The northern economy in particular had a wide range of goods and services that feed the capital and other parts like seafood production, vegetables and fruits (how can one forget the luscious Karatha Kolomba mango or the Odiyal from Jaffna), and industry -- cement, asbestos, salt, steel buckets and aluminium goods. During a visit to Jaffna to cover the recent Municipal Council polls, a Sunday Times reporter saw workers loading dozens of giant-sized lobsters into regi-foam boxes to be put on a flight to Colombo for export.

Apart from the collapse of all forms of industry or collection of data of the bare industry that is available, major population shifts from the north to the rest of the world has also eluded social and economic planners.

For example, according to officials, the population in the peninsula has dropped by more than half to little over 600,000 from 1.3 million before the war. Most of the Jaffna’s former permanent residents have gone abroad, mainly to Europe, North America, Australia and the Gulf states while others are in Colombo.

Tamil parties refer to one million Tamil Diaspora who have all gone after hostilities broke out in 1983. On the other hand, officials responsible for foreign employment say Sri Lanka’s migrant worker numbers – made up mostly of Sinhalese – is in the region of a million people. These two figures don’t add up and a census like this would provide some accuracy about the number of Tamil expatriates overseas and also the total number of what is considered as Sri Lankan migrant workers.

A comprehensive survey like this will provide valuable clues about Sri Lanka’s production, output, growth, employment and unemployment and other social indicators which haven’t come to the data collection process apart from a ‘bits-and-pieces (information at an ad hoc level)’ gathering process. The recent Jaffna Municipal Council elections was also an illustration of the lack of proper data when of the 100,400 registered voters less than half were physically present to vote – either being abroad or gone to reside outside the province.The comprehensive census in 2011 will be a boon to policymakers, economist and sociologists and provide valuable information for Sri Lanka’s social and economic progress in the next decade.

That hedging issue!

This week’s revelation in a report by the Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) that officials of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) went on ‘glorified’ foreign trips funded by banks reinforces what the Sunday Times FT and the Supreme Court has said in the past over the controversial hedging deals.

In the COPE report presented by its Chairman, Minister John Seneviratne to Parliament on Wednesday, it was revealed that then CPC Chairman Ashantha de Mel had admitted that fuel prices could have been reduced if not for the hedging deals.

In a recent damning indictment on the CEO of Standard Chartered Bank, a former bank officer Kimarli Fernando stated in a court affidavit how the CEO and another officer pushed ahead with the hedging agreements in spite of knowing that it was a one-sided agreement.

Despite all this and evidence before COPE and the Supreme Court of the wrongdoing of officials, no action has been taken against them. The only time some action was seen was when the CEO of Citi Bank, Colombo – another bank involved in the hedging deals – was given a punishment transfer out of Colombo.
-Sri Lanka Guardian