7:32 AM

Stephen Long report.....

I am well aware that the Government’s complete attention is on winning the war, as it should be. Victory over the terrorists is so close, and it needs to be the primary focus of the moment. But governing a country means looking beyond the immediate to the future – at least five years ahead, if possible. You’re probably going to have 100,000 troops returning to Colombo and the rural areas, and a huge percentage of them will be unemployed, maimed, traumatized, and maybe all three.

I would suggest immediately forming a task force that would examine this looming situation before it becomes a crisis. The finest minds in the country need to focus on creating jobs for these soldiers, planning for their rehabilitation, training counselors to deal with their trauma, and establishing programs that will help them re-enter the society for which they fought so bravely.

This is not an easy job, but it is imperative that the issue be addressed now – before the last battle bullet is fired and the final battle is won. The last thing you want is an angry mob of dissatisfied veterans protesting that the Government has nothing to offer them for their valiant service. Caesar was deathly afraid by the specter of his soldiers returning to Rome and staging a revolt. Such a possibility in Sri Lanka is not outside the realm of possibility if plans aren’t put into the works immediately. Imagine the morale-builder it will be for the troops if they know that their Government is thinking of their future – now. This will give them the will to fight harder and stronger for the peace that is just around the corner.

My second suggestion is to examine a very interesting phase of American history. When the stock market crashed in 1929 the bottom fell out of an era of party and prosperity. The then president, Herbert Hoover, did nothing to avert a crisis over the deep unemployment that ensued. He didn’t think the government should get involved in helping out during an economic crisis.

When one of my political heroes, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, stepped into the White House in 1932 he saw the potential disasters that could result due to the legions of unemployed. After all, the Russian Revolution wasn’t that long before, and it was still fresh in his memory. The possibility of revolution sent chills of angst through his gifted mind.

Roosevelt’s admirable solution was to create the New Deal, which was a large, powerful, and effective bundle of social programs designed to keep the unemployed working – and to use the down-cycle of Depression as an opportunity to build and strengthen America’s infrastructure. With the exception of Social Security, the Federal Housing Authority, and the TVA most of the New Deal organizations had a shelf life limited to the time of economic recovery, and were disbanded when no longer needed.

Here are a few successful examples of New Deal programs that the Government of Sri Lanka may want to examine for possible implementation in the motherland.

o The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was established in 1933 in every state and territory in the US. This organization was made up of the sons of unemployed fathers – victims of the Depression. At its peak in 1935 it had 500,000 employees in 2,650 work camps. It provided labor for a wide variety of Government Agencies including: Department of Interior, Department of Agriculture, Army Corps of Engineers, National Parks Service, Bureau of Forestry, Soil Conservation Service, General Land Office, and others. Employees of the CCC put up telephone and power lines, built logging and fire roads, engaged in tree planting, bee keeping, archaeological excavation and even furniture manufacture. Evening classes were held in most camps, and courses were offered in general academics as well as vocational training. Congress ceased funding it in 1942 when it needed all those boys to fight in World War II.

o The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) was created to combat the housing crisis of the Great Depression. The FHA was designed to regulate mortgages and housing conditions, and still exists to this day.

o The Home Owner’s Loan Association was established in 1933 to assist in the refinancing of homes. Between 1933 and 1935 over one million homeowners were saved from foreclosure by this program.

o The Public Works Administration was another department set up to create jobs during the Great Depression.

o The Social Security Act was passed to protect America’s senior citizens from poverty.

o The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was created in 1935 and had a positive impact on the entire country. The WPA built roads, buildings, and other massive infrastructure projects. It officially ended in 1943 after keeping millions of men and women at work throughout America until they were needed for the war effort.

o The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) built dams for hydro-electric power and created lakes and parks for recreational use. Today the TVA still supplies more electricity than any other hydro company in the United States – keeping the growing Southeast in lights.

In addition to examining New Deal programs the Government of Sri Lanka should also consider the following:

o Worldwide Nursing Shortage. Men and women in Sri Lanka could be trained as nurses and medical assistants for the growing demand in America, Japan, Europe and other regions where the aging population has created a huge shortage of skilled personnel in this field. The compassionate, caring nature of Sri Lankans could be put to good use. Male and female returning soldiers would be perfect candidates for these important jobs.

o UN Peacekeeping Efforts. Skilled Sri Lankan soldiers could be sent by the UN to peacekeeping fronts in Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and other areas where they are sorely needed and where they could put their high-level skills in warfare to excellent use.

o Middle East Labor. Unskilled labor is sent by Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and other countries to the Middle East, which currently has an insatiable need for humans due to high economic growth rates and an enormous construction boom. Sri Lankans go abroad with no training whatsoever, which puts them at risk for employee abuse, neglect, rape, and other violations of their human rights. Domestic servants don’t even know how to clean house or answer the telephone, which makes their employers angry. We don’t want to hear any more stories of cruelty – like sending maids to the desert to tend goats. Pre-emigration training programs would be a great help to assist these unfortunates who find the need to leave their home country to survive. Our last wish would be for returning soldiers to spend their lives as construction laborers and domestics in the Mid East, but if they decide to go abroad, please prepare them appropriately for their work.

o Other Labor Shortages. Look abroad and find out what other skilled labor shortages exist in the world, and set up training programs accordingly.

o Overseas Investment. Identify industries and specific companies from abroad that could be attracted to Sri Lanka to build factories and take advantage of the countries abundance of both skilled and unskilled labor.

The think tank I am suggesting could develop a number of projects that would benefit returning troops as well as Sri Lanka, but there is an urgent need to act quickly. No one would want to hear about the soldiers on the front prolonging the war for fear of losing their jobs due to peace. Let them know you are planning for their return, and announce projects now that would give them an incentive to fight harder and end the conflict sooner. Give them the good word that their Government is going to provide for them with employment opportunities, and chances to better their lives after the war.

Programs in the New Deal cost American taxpayers a lot of money at a time when they could least afford it. The Government of Sri Lanka will have to be creative and figure out how they will get their similar programs financed. In spite of the global economic crisis funds are still available overseas for assistance from both private and public sources. Get your new programs designed and written up now so you can apply for quick funding. It takes time for governments in the United States, Japan, Korea, and others to get them through the bureaucratic red tape and approved. Let’s not forget our NGO and INGO friends and hold them to their peace-loving word. Let them go to work on new projects that involve the returning soldiers for the country’s benefit. When the war is over and they’re back on the side of the Government, give these organizations a good reason for staying in Sri Lanka.

You have to act now to bring these ideas “down to the ground” and make them a reality. Think smart and stave off a potential disaster. You owe it to your men and women of the armed services to reward them for putting their lives at risk for their country. Welcome them home with honor and hope for the future.


Anonymous said...

Am amazingly insightful report on the future of Sri Lanka. Are we going to continue to be a 3rd world troubled country, or progress into the 21st century as the Singaporeans did. My vote, keep the army on the payroll, but occupied with building proper highways throughout the island, an urgent necessity!