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Sri Lanka, you have a right to know!

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture
Sri Lanka's Right to Information act (RTI) can help citizens hold governments accountable and encourage citizens to participate actively in their democracy.
Sri Lanka's Right to Information act (RTI) can help citizens hold governments accountable and encourage citizens to participate actively in their democracy.


Today, the world marks the International Day for the Universal Access to Information. Fittingly, we in Sri Lanka, celebrate 7 months since the Right to Information (RTI) Bill was enacted.  

The product of a slow and steady reform process, RTI is a milestone in Sri Lanka’s history.

Yet how many citizens know about its benefits?

As open access to information takes international center stage today, I’m hoping Sri Lanka’s Right to Information Bill, one of the world’s most comprehensive, will get the attention it deserves.

There is indeed much to celebrate.

Civil society organizations and private citizens are putting Sri Lanka’s RTI to the test. Diverse requests have been filed, from questions relating to how investments are made for the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) to how soil and sand mining permits have been allotted in districts like Gampaha.

Interestingly, people living in rural areas are more aware -- and vocal -- of their rights to know than people in urban areas.

The government is making steady progress. In the last six months, more than 3,000 information officers have been recruited. An independent RTI Commission enforces compliance and acts on those who do not follow the law. If, for example, an information officer refuses to release information pertaining to a citizen’s life, they must provide a valid reason or face legal penalties.

In the next few years, the Sri Lankan bureaucracy faces the huge task of revamping its record management, including its land registration system. This reform is an opportunity to live up to RTI’s ambitions of open governance and help citizens access land title information and records that give them a legal title to their property.

Looking at Colombia through the peace lens

Marcelo Jorge Fabre's picture



The International Day of Peace is celebrated on September 21st.  After more than 50 years of civil war, we finally have a national Peace Day to celebrate in Colombia, too.
 

Reforms Sri Lanka needs to boost its economy

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture
 Joe Qian/World Bank
The Colombo Stock Exchange. Credit: Joe Qian/World Bank

Many Sri Lankans understand the potential benefits of lowering trade costs and making their country more competitive in the global economy. The majority, however, fear increased competition, the unfair advantage of the private sector from abroad and limited skills and innovation to compete.

Yet, Sri Lanka’s aspirations cannot be realized in the current status quo.  

While changes in trade policies and regulations will undeniably improve the lives of most citizens, I’m mindful that some are likely to lose. However, many potential gainers of the reforms who are currently opposed to them are unaware of their benefits.

Implementing smart reforms means that government funds will be used more effectively for the people, improve access to better healthcare, education, basic infrastructure and provide Sri Lankans with opportunities to get more and better jobs. Let me focus on a few reforms that I believe are critical for the country.  First, Sri Lanka needs to seek growth opportunities and foreign investment beyond its borders.    

First, Sri Lanka needs to seek growth opportunities and foreign investment beyond its borders.

Experience shows that no country in the world today has been able to create opportunities for its population entirely within its own geographic boundaries. To succeed in this open environment, Sri Lanka will need to improve its skills base, better understand supply and demand chains as well as produce higher quality goods and services

Experience shows that no country in the world today has been able to create opportunities for its population entirely within its own geographic boundaries. To succeed in this open environment, Sri Lanka will need to improve its skills base, better understand supply and demand chains as well as produce higher quality goods and services.

Towards a cleaner Bangladesh: Safe water, sanitation, and hygiene for all

Qimiao Fan's picture
 
 The World Bank
Bangladesh has made progress in recent years in the field known as WASH -water, sanitation access, and hygiene. Image courtesy: The World Bank

Community-Led Total Sanitation might be the greatest Bangladeshi export you’ve never heard of.  In countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America, a consensus has emerged that the best approach is Community-Led Total Sanitation, which is widely credited with changing people’s behavior around the world to no longer defecate in the open, which has greatly improved global health.

Bangladeshis can take plenty of pride in these far-away accomplishments. That’s because it is Northern Bangladesh - more specifically the Mosmoil village in Rajshahi district - that pioneered this approach seventeen years ago. Its success at home led to its widespread adoption abroad.

Safe drinking water is a right and proper sanitation is dignity of the citizens. Proper management of freshwater ecosystems and access to safe water and sanitation are essential to human health, environmental sustainability and economic prosperity. Water and sanitation are at the core of sustainable development critical to the survival of people and the planet. Goal 6 of Agenda 2030 not only addresses the issues relating to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, but also the quality and sustainability of water resources worldwide.

The ‘Global Water Supply and Sanitation Assessment’ by World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) reported that in 2012 about 40% (2.6 billion) of the world’s population was without access to safe water. Approximately 4 billion cases of diarrhea each year causes 2.2 million deaths, and majority of them are children under the age of five. This situation in Bangladesh is also challenging. A study by Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) wing of the World Bank reveals that Bangladesh incurred a loss of Tk295.48 billion in 2010 due to inadequate sanitation, which is 6.3% of the GDP.
 
Indeed, there is much to emulate in Bangladesh’s remarkable progress in recent years in the field known as WASH -water, sanitation access, and hygiene. Today, 98 percent of the population gets drinking water from a technologically improved source – water which comes from a manmade structure– up from 79 percent in 1990.  Bangladesh also largely succeeded in providing access to basic sanitation. It is estimated that only three percent of the population practice open defecation, down from 34 percent in 1990, thanks to behavior change campaigns and the building of many new toilets. 

But, much has yet to be done. Bangladesh has still a long way to go to meet the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of providing universal access to clean water and sustainable sanitation by 2030. The World Bank recently completed a study, the WASH Poverty Diagnostic, which examines the remaining challenges in ensuring access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene. The findings are startling.

Fresh thinking on economic cooperation in South Asia

Nikita Singla's picture
 Aamir Khan/ Pakistan, Sreerupa Sengupta/ India, Sanjay Kathuria/ World Bank, Mahfuz Kabir & Surendar Singh/ Bangladesh) Photo By: Marcio De La Cruz/ World Bank
Young Economists sharing the stage with Sanjay Kathuria, Lead Economist and Coordinator, Regional Integration (Left to Right: Aamir Khan/ Pakistan, Sreerupa Sengupta/ India, Sanjay Kathuria/ World Bank, Mahfuz Kabir/Bangladesh & Surendar Singh/ India). Photo by: Marcio De La Cruz/ World Bank


That regional cooperation in South Asia is lower than optimal levels is well accepted. It is usually ascribed to – the asymmetry in size between India and the rest, conflicts and historical political tensions, a trust deficit, limited transport connectivity, and onerous logistics, among many other factors.

Deepening regional integration requires sufficient policy-relevant analytical work on the costs and benefits of both intra-regional trade and investment. An effective cross-border network of young professionals can contribute to fresh thinking on emerging economic cooperation issues in South Asia.

Against this background, the World Bank Group sponsored a competitive request for proposals.  Awardees from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, after being actively mentored by seasoned World Bank staff over a period of two years, convened in Washington DC to present their new and exciting research. Research areas included regional value chains, production sharing and the impact assessment of alternative preferential trade agreements in the region.

Young Economists offer fresh thoughts on economic cooperation in South Asia

Mahfuz Kabir, Acting Research Director, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies and Surendar Singh, Policy Analyst, Consumer Unity Trust Society (CUTS International) presented their research: Of Streams and Tides, India-Bangladesh Value Chains in Textiles and Clothing (T&C). They focus on how to tackle three main trade barriers for T&C: a) high tariffs for selected, but important goods for the industries of both countries; b) inefficient customs procedures and c) divergent criteria for rules of origin classification.

Sreerupa Sengupta, Ph.D. Scholar at Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi discussed Trade Cooperation and Production Sharing in South Asia – An Indian Perspective. Reviewing the pattern of Indian exports and imports in the last twenty years, her research focuses on comparing the Global Value Chain (GVC) participation rate of India with East Asian and ASEAN economies. Barriers to higher participation include a) lack of openness in the FDI sector; b) lack of adequate port infrastructure, and long port dwell times; and c) lack of Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs).

Aamir Khan, Assistant Professor, Department of Management Sciences, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Islamabad presented his work on Economy Wide Impact of Regional Integration in South Asia - Options for Pakistan. His research analyzes the reasons for Pakistan not being able to take full advantage of its Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China, and finds that the granting of ASEAN-type concessions to Pakistan in its FTA with China would be more beneficial than the current FTA arrangement. The work also draws lessons for FTAs that are currently being negotiated by South Asian countries.

Education is the way forward for Afghanistan

Mohammad Homayoon Rahmani's picture
The Education Quality Improvement Program provides block grant support to the construction of school buildings and other facilities such as laboratories, libraries and computer labs. This improved studying environment has encouraged almost all families to send their children to schools in many districts of Balkh province. Photo Credit: Fardin Waezi/ World Bank


Someone wise once said that education is the foundation of a country’s progress. As every Afghan knows and feels, after four decades of conflict and violence, progress is exactly what this country needs to get back on its feet.
 
I have always had a deep interest in making my social context better and this is the reason why I joined the Education Quality Improvement Program (EQUIP), which aims to improve access and quality of education for Afghans. I joined the EQUIP team in the program’s second phase, which started in January 2008.
 
Through EQUIP, we have been working with communities to change their views and perceptions on education, especially in villages. I remember when I joined the team in 2010, many people would come and tell us they did not want to send their girls to school. But slowly EQUIP won them over.
 
Now, we can proudly say that we have the full support of communities everywhere in Balkh Province. For example, we have never had to buy land to construct a school in any district in Balkh. Every single time, it has been the people who bought or donated land and invited us to construct the building, even in the poorest regions.

How can we make water and sanitation more inclusive and accessible?

Kamila Anna Galeza's picture

“What’s wrong with this picture?” Louisa Gosling of WaterAid asked the participants at her training on Disability-inclusive Water Operations at the World Bank Water Week in March 2017. She pointed to a photo of a woman standing on the wall of a well. It was round and high, the ground around it muddy, and there was no lifting mechanism in sight.

More pictures followed… latrines and water sources with steep steps, narrow doorways, unstable construction without handles or rails. The more pictures we saw, the clearer it became what was wrong - all the facilities shown were inaccessible and dangerous, quite likely impossible to use for many people. 

Photo Credit: WaterAid

Sri Lanka: Building a more resilient economy

Smriti Daniel's picture



At the launch of the Sri Lanka Development Update (SLDU), our Twitter chat #SLDU2017: Environmental Benefits of Economic Management set out to explore how Sri Lanka could meet the twin challenges of increasing its physical and financial resilience.
 
The panel comprised experts from the World Bank - Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Idah Pswarayi-Riddihough; Senior Economist Ralph van Doorn and senior environmental specialist Darshani De Silva – and Kanchana Wickramasinghe, a research economist in the Institute of Policy Studies. Together, they unpacked the SLDU, discussed its key findings and fielded questions from across the region around its main themes.
 
The bi-annual report, notes key economic developments over the preceding months, placing them in a longer term and global perspective; in the Special Focus section, it explores topics of particular policy significance to Sri Lanka. 
 
Ralph started with the idea that Sri Lanka faces a window of opportunity during which key reforms could transform the country and its economy. He noted that Sri Lanka’s position in the global economy improved its global growth prospects, as well as that of its key export partners. Low commodity prices and the restoration of the GSP+ preferential trade arrangement with the EU had also combined to improve the outlook for the Sri Lankan economy.

For Idah, the country’s mood and the government’s commitment to change were critical to success:   
 
The panel delved into how natural disasters and extreme weather events posed a threat to Sri Lanka’s growing economy. In the short-term the damage was clear and serious, with losses amounting to several billions a year, as Idah noted in her blog. During the chat, she emphasised how Sri Lanka needed to be prepared for future disasters or it would cost the country enormously.
 
Kanchana pointed out that in the long-term, disasters could set back poverty alleviation efforts, especially in agricultural and rural areas, adding:
 

With the chat underway, questions poured in from an online audience who were interested in diverse issues – from managing Sri Lanka’s ongoing drought and its impact on the Northern Province to what insights the SLDU had to offer other countries in the region such as India.

Will decentralization in Tunisia bring young people into the political mainstream?

Sadok Ayari's picture
Young people in the streets of Tunis - Kekyalyaynen l  Shutterstock.com

Young people played a critical role in the 2011 Tunisian revolution and have made their voices heard ever since. Yet their engagement continues to be outside mainstream politics, as reflected by the feeble youth turnout in 2014 legislative and presidential elections.
 

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