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Budget blues (and whites)

Summary

What the Daily Mirror, FT or EconomyNext hates about the budget, we like, and vice-versa. We also have to fill in the mighty white blanks in the coverage

The budget this week has provided tax cuts to allow capital goods imports to assemble foreign cars here. Assembly and manufacture is not modern industry, it is primitive. Is it more cars we need? They will keep importing technology to improve yields and manufacture pharma. But no plans to recapture the home market from Unilever and set up rural industry. And certainly not to make machine tools. Meanwhile the media keeps up a din against import controls.

The main function of the capitalist public media is to hide the real plans of the capitalists and spread diversions to promote division. What the Daily Mirror, FT or EconomyNext hates about the budget, we like, and vice-versa. We also have to fill in the mighty white blanks in the coverage.

Take this news item: “Government opening Pandora’s Box with plantation wage”, warning “other trade unions may be tempted to get salary hikes included in the budget.” This is from the head of Unilever-linked Sunshine Holdings (Daintee, with a distribution network of 90,000 mainly rural outlets!, Watawala plantations, etc).

Here’s another headline: “Productivity-based model would benefit plantation workers vastly.” Not one plantation worker or a trade unionist is interviewed. Instead the Planters’ Association, a clique again dominated by MNC Unilever, steering the economy for over a century and a half, suddenly spins fantasies about how workers could earn more than the Rs1000 a day, which they had all along opposed!

The news just repeats over and over again the lies of the Planters’ Association that tea estates are loss-making and wage increases will ruin the industry. Low wages here are blamed on workers themselves, and the news dares not mention: it’s mechanization of tea cultivation in Kenya and Japan that tremendously raised productivity. Surpluses generated are not invested within the sector but wasted on conspicuous luxury consumption and speculative investments; the planters coupled with licensed export firms deliberately stagnate production forces and therefore maintain the colonial mode of exploitation, even in the absence of colonial rule.

It is true that we have a predominance of labor-intensive sectors of production, where a wage increase has a substantial impact on production costs. But the most important issue is why Sri Lankan capitalists refuse to invest in technology going beyond the labor-intensive. Why does Unilever invest its profits in England, in eg its Leverhulme Research Centre for Functional Materials Design? Don’t we own a part of it at least after 150 years?

Instead we are repeatedly told: Unilever Sri Lanka, “one of Sri Lanka’s largest fast-moving consumer goods companies” has “256 products covering 14 Unilever brands such as Sunlight, Lifebuoy, Signal, Lux, Pears Baby, Sunsilk, Wonderlight, Lever Ayush, Close up, Dove, Clear, Glow & Lovely, Ponds and Vaseline, manufactured at the Horana-based facility, produced under ISO 9001 certification” of the Sri Lanka Standards Institute (SLSI). What does this ‘manufacture’ mean? Packing? And do Daintee’s 90,000 mostly rural outlets, also distribute them?

There was scant coverage about the budget proposal for a National Development Banking Corporation, merging multiple small state banks. Some responded,”Don’t get excited, it’s not a proper development bank, but a housing and property development bank”. Others: “We won’t know the full function of the bank until the merger is done with a proper legal framework.” Let’s see if Unilever, Standard Chartered, Citibank or HSBC get to assassinate anyone or throw someone out of the cabinet like in “the good old days”, before this development bank is allowed to help one cultivator or worker.

Leverage for what? 1975: Sri Lanka’s performance still “disappointed [World Bank President] Mr McNamara very much”; “Mr Knapp asked whether Sri Lanka’s access to Arab and Iranian money was undermining our leverage” Knapp added, “Consortium contributions to Sri Lanka were ‘giveaway money’ which the Bank should not do.” [from George Zaidan to John H Adler, “Meeting of Review Group: SL” May 25, 1975, with attachment “SL Country Group Review Meeting”, May 21, 1975. JB Knapp had been on the Federal Reserve Board and in the State Department, a member of the inter-departmental committee to prepare the Marshall Plan, economic adviser to the first US delegation to NATO in 1950-1. In 1952 he joined the World Bank as director of its Latin-American operation, and in 1956 was appointed chairman of the WB’s Loan Committee. Zaidan was Division Chief, Population & Nutrition Projects Dept, WB. Adler was Director of the WB’s Economic Development Institute.]

Courtesy www.eesrilanka.wordpress.com

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