Harrold the angel sings
It was decidedly uncomfortable for Peter Harrold last week. The
JVP that looks at the World Bank with the same disinterest as an
enraged bull at a red flag, wanted the Country Director sent packing.
the country would have gladly rushed into his air-conditioned office
and dragged him away to the airport, having suffered for years the
slings and arrows of World Bank economic policies - from slashed
subsidies to the selling off of public assets.
though popular anger at Harrold's purported remark to this newspaper
would still not penetrate the rhinoceros-like hides of World Bank
officialdom, Tourism Minister Anura Bandaranaike added his voice,
not to mention his considerable weight, to the verbal onslaught.
to be outdone, Deputy Foreign Minister Wisva Warnapala fired a diplomatic
broadside. All this appears to have forced Peter Harrold to take
to the barricades.
had the heavy artillery ceased when the World Bank's man in town
not only denied he ever used the words "a kind of unofficial
state" but went further to explain the role of one of Washington's
terrible twins and how it operates in Sri Lanka.
even said that a "careful review of the recording of the interview",
would establish what he actually said. What puzzled me was this
emphasis on "careful review". Why careful? Is it suggested
that just listening to the recording in the usual way would not
reveal what he actually said? Why is great concentration necessary?
more puzzling is the fact that the paragraph is shown as a direct
quote in the news story. Those not privy to the recording (whose
recording is it anyway), cannot review it- carefully or even cursorily.
I am somewhat reluctant to quote Peter Harrold's purported words
from other interviews lest he refers me to some recordings. Still,
at the risk of being contradicted some 16 months after his wise
words appeared in a State-run newspaper, I return to that interview
because it is too rich not to be aired every now and then. Such
delightful economics should not be allowed to go unsung and unhonoured.
the opening paragraphs of that interview - and repeated at the butt-end
which shows the importance of those words - the country director
says the whole of Sri Lanka should be linked through roads and technology.
In the technology area e-connectivity or access to modern technology
is a key issue. Then came the Socratic wisdom: "If a farmer
can get the prices of goods at different towns through a village
internet kiosk and could decide himself where to sell his goods,
that's the kind of development we anticipate to see in Sri Lanka."
else but the great thinkers of the World Bank and the IMF would
have given birth to such screaming naiveté. With the likes
of Peter Harrold planning and plotting the economic future of our
country, why, we will achieve the UN's Millennium Development Goals
long before the 2015 deadline and probably end up as an economic
picture the scene in the mind's eye. Dingiri Appu treks four miles
to the village internet café, sorry kiosk, carrying his two
gunny bags of wambottu (egg plant or aubergine to you, Mr Harrold).
There, at Podi Rala's all-purpose boutique, Dingiri Appu will tell
Podi Rala's son (who'd rather play with the computer now than go
to school thanks to World Bank ingenuity) to surf the vegetable
so far. Ah, says Rala's son. Wambottu is selling one rupee a kilo
more at Kilinochchi than at Kandy. So off goes an ecstatic Appu
in a state of utter kulappu even forgetting his serappu to catch
a bus to Kilinochchi. But in this era of privatised bus transport
(under the advice of the World Bank, I suppose) discarded coaches
from Japan that intermittently ply the roads carry 25 passengers
instead of the 15 they are designed to take.
the time Appu reaches the check point to cross over to the unofficial
state, oops sorry for that, the LTTE-controlled area, he is in better
shape than his wambottu.
he has been forced to pay the LTTE taxes, simple arithmetic will
tell him that he would have been better off selling his produce
at Podi Rala’s boutique to begin with. Meanwhile his crushed
wambottu is hardly likely to end up in dear old Prabha's sambar.
wonders whether Harrold and his World Bank wunderkinder in the Colombo
office have ever stepped into the rural farming areas where transport,
electricity and telephone services are rare, if not unavailable.
is in these rural hamlets, miles away from the next village, where
communications are sadly lacking that Harrold and his minions want
to run sophisticated electronic systems that could access markets
with non-existent daily prices posted on the internet.
Harrold deadly serious or does he still read fairy tales in bed?
Now that we are into this Silicon Kelani Valley why not go the whole
hog. Why not give every peasant farmer a laptop (preferably American
but even Japanese would do) so that instead of walking the walk
to the kiosk, he could surf the markets in his mud hut with leaking
imagine Dingiri Appu. He wakes up at the crack of dawn and, instead
of stuffing up the crack and going back to sleep like the great
wise men from the WB (World Bank not Waste Bin) and the IMF, he
opens his laptop and looks for the best price for his pathola. Meanwhile
his wife Menike makes him a cup of tea-no sugar, no milk. The price
of sugar is too prohibitive, thanks to Structural Adjustment Programs
(SAPS) fathered on us. No milk because he does not have a refrigerator.
And unlike in days gone-by he cannot rear any cattle. When he asked
some important officials who came to his hamlet from Colombo for
money to buy cattle so his children could have milk, he was told
that most of the animals have joined some institution in Washington.
asked whether he could go to Washington, wherever that is, and bring
a few cows home. The important official told him that the cows in
Washington are not for milking because their job is to milk the
country to which they are posted. That is done in different ways.
First the SAPs and now the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs).
Milking by any other name is still not the milk of human kindness
that Harrold and his colleagues blithely talk about.
you accept the basic rationale as to why the World Bank is around-
to alleviate poverty, …" he said in the interview. Whose
poverty, pray? The western commercial banks? The multinational corporations
that cherry-pick public assets for privatisation. It surely cannot
be the numerous countries that adopted World Bank/IMF policies and
found themselves several fold poorer than before.
next interviewer should ask Harrold about Ghana where he served
previously. Ghana once hailed by the World Bank as a "model"
is today what Tony Blair would call a scar on the conscience of
the world. Ghana was once self-sufficient in rice. But WB/IMF policies
led to slashed subsidies and open markets.
- Ghanaians are now eating American rice because American rice farmers
are heavily subsidised, the very policy the WB stopped in Ghana.
There is much more that can be said about the failed policies of
the WB-from Latin America to Africa and Asia.
let Harrold sing his angelic lyrics on poverty alleviation. However
I won't put him in a developing country choir. He is totally out