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Testifying before a rigged citizen’s commission

The sane faction of the opponents of trade liberalization had organized a Citizen’s Commission to work up a report on what Sri Lanka’s national trade policy should be. But it was not a qualified or balanced Commission, with only one economist (even that, an ideological economist, as evidenced by the manner in which he introduced me) and one person with experience in international trade. Every single protectionist appears to have been invited to present their views before the Commission. I was preceded by one of the leaders of the anti-CEPA protests in 2010.

There is value in these kinds of fact-gathering and report preparation activities outside government. We at LIRNEasia, did not convene citizens’ commissions, but we pulled together a whole range of experts (all who had attended disaster preparedness courses at APDC) one month after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Based on their inputs, we prepared a draft document by early February 2005. That was then made available for public comments over the Internet. We made people aware of its existence through the media. Reached out to specific experts for inputs. By March 2005 we produced the final report.

An even more elaborate process was followed with regard to the dam safety work. We intend to work on those lines in the sustainable garbage disposal work too. Here too we will first build the expert knowledge base and then invite stakeholder comments.

I will await the final product of the trade commission, but the structure and work process does not leave much room for hope. Here are the principles around which I organized my presentation.

We must look to the future, not the past. We must be realistic about where we are at present and what our potential is. We must always take into consideration our external environment, especially the actions of competitively positioned countries. We must give priority to the broad public and national interest, not those of narrow interest groups. My brief comments are organized around the above principles.

full presentation.

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