Don’t be too dependent
Japanese ambassador Akio Suda recently drilled in some home truths at a Colombo function, saying - while providing many lessons - that the media and intellectuals often misuse the word "donor".

Among the very valid points that he made were that some portion of the money received by Sri Lanka from abroad comes in the form of loans that must be repaid (and is not a donation) and even "free" money is aimed at helping to improve one's own efforts - and that Sri Lanka should move on (like Japan) to being a successful nation against one that repeatedly depends on foreign aid!

Since it's worth reproducing some of these comments for the benefit of our readers, here are extracts of the speech ambassador Suda made at a dinner to mark the installation ceremony of the Rotary Club of Colombo Uptown:

"Many praise this country, beautiful land, unique culture, historical heritages, friendly people with smile, diligent people at work (may be not everybody), high rate of literacy etc. However, it may be not interesting to you to hear a diplomat only praising your country and your people, since unfortunately a diplomat's comfortable words are believed to be untrustworthy next to the politician's.

In this country, I hear and see particular sorts of English words so many times. Those words are "donor" "donation" "donor country" and "recipient". Of course there are certain times when we cannot logically avoid using these words like "donation of books" or "donors meeting." But it is my impression that Sri Lankan media and even intellectuals tend to use these words too easily.

Maybe this doesn't happen so much in Sinhalese which I am sorry that I cannot tell. But I personally don't like these words. Although Japan is a single largest 'donor' by far to assist the development of this country, I don't like this word. Because the perception of donor recipient relations between countries or between individuals and groups tend to imply some what one way action, from rich to poor, from advanced to less advanced, or from higher to lower. It may have also an implication that both a donor and a recipient tend to be satisfied by the mere fact that it has given or that it has received, forgetting that what really matters is how assistance will help others do better by their own effort.

The flood of these words "donor" and "donation: everywhere might indicate some perception among people that there are two kinds of countries in international society and two kinds of people within a country, these two are those who donate and those who donated. I don't think this is a constructive philosophy, and I don't believe this reflect the true relations between countries and between people.

I recently saw a complaint in an opinion page of a newspaper, which said that financial aid from donors are not all grants but largely loans to which Sri Lankans have to repay with interest.. Sure, to count by the amount of money, large portions of foreign aid including those from Japan, World Bank and ADB are concessional loans.

Japan, for instance, provides technical assistance, grant financial assistances, and soft loans depending on the nature and scale of development projects; grant aid for building a hospital and a school, a soft loan with much lower interest than a commercial loan for power project and highway construction, etc.

Those who complain that the aid they receive are not all grants, sounds like saying that they like to be always in a position to be given rather than to make full use of aid for further development to the point where they need not receive much aid any more.

In the 19th century, Japan went through the Meiji Restoration. It opened doors to the western world after 300 years of closed policy and started adopting western civilization in order to make the nation competitive in the world. For that purpose, the government invited intellectuals and professionals at the highest levels from France, Germany, Netherland and UK at exceptionally high salaries, much, much higher than the salary of ministers. They taught and trained Japanese officials and students in government and at universities and colleges. Their knowledge and technologies were digested and absorbed by Japanese just like dry sand absorbs water. The big payments to those western teachers have reaped incomparable benefits for Japan after 20 or 30 years and made it the most industrialized country in Asia by 1900.

After the defeat in the last World War, Japan worked hard to restore its economy and society by receiving aid from the US and World Bank. Even that famous bullet train was constructed partially with a loan from the World Bank. And as you know the project has benefited Japan hundreds or thousand times more than what we repaid to the World Bank.

In Sri Lanka, I have no doubt that informed people and leaders in various sectors know better than I that any assistance from abroad is meaningful to the country only if the Sri Lankan people make full use of it for further advancement by their own hands.

There are many examples of Japan's assistance in this country, which has grown like a big tree in the hands of Sri Lankan people. In Gampaha, Japan built the "Upland Model Farm" and assisted in planting ginger, groundnuts, etc. Now, this model farm, without Japanese experts' help, has expanded its production to urban consuming items like flowers, and also started to train neighbouring farmers, particularly women in farming and marketing.

In Nuwara-Eliya, Japan built solid waste treatment facilities in a valley of Moon Plain and also helped the Municipal Council in environmental education. Now the municipality is working hard to make the entire city clean by putting disposal bins on roadside to collect solid waste and bring them to the treatment facilities in Moon Plain. They are also developing and cleaning the Moon Plain Lake. Nuwara-Eliya would possibly become a model of a clean city in Sri Lanka.

Now, after talking too much about of my hatred of a word "donor", I like to touch a bit on my another hatred in Sri Lankan. That is solid waste abandoned on or in streets, fields and water as well as polluted dirties in canals, rivers and ponds.

Sri Lanka should be one of the most beautiful lands with enviously rich fauna and flora, valuable heritage and old streets. But wherever people live, its natural beauty and comfortable environment is spoiled by solid waste and pollution. It is unfortunate that foreigners who arrive in this country have to be welcome by spreading waste on the road from Katunayake to Colombo and again from Colombo to Kandy.

Colombo is blessed with canals, rivers and lakes. But we hesitate to stroll alongside these waters because of their dirt and smell. I believe, the matter of cleanness is not a subordinate issue in the social and economic development of a country. It also affects the psychology of the people.

If a factory is not kept clean, you cannot efficiently produce a product of good quality, if a shop is not clean, you cannot make a good sale with shoppers, if a street is not clean, you cannot expect the people to enjoy walking and visiting the town. Needles to say, cleanliness greatly relates to the health of the people through sanitation problems like dengue disease.

I don't think, however, we need to be too pessimistic in solving this problem. I remember, when I was a child, teachers told us everyday about "public moral", which meant "Don't throw away waste in public places like street, park and water. It is a shame to do so while you keep clean inside you house." This repeated educational direction has given a profound influence upon our psychology and behaviour, although I must admit that there are still individuals and firms who litter or dump illegally in Japan.

Up to the 1960s, major rivers in Tokyo like Sumida River or Kanda River were all polluted by industrial wastes without any fish in the water. But in the 1970s, those rivers were transformed to beautifully clean waters with carps and other fish within and leisure boats floating on. Ever the gorgeous fireworks festival, which originated in the 17th century Edo, comes back to the Sumida River every summer.

So, it is surely possible, I believe, to transform the streets and waters of Colombo as well as to clean and enjoy places for everybody. It largely depends on how well people, children and community understand the importance of making their surroundings clean.

Clean up your house, clean up the front street of your house, clean up your town with the town people. These small moves and campaigns will make a fundamental change to the whole urban environment. And it eventually helps accelerate the development of society and industry of the whole country.

Japan has intensively assisted in this area for sometime including water supply, sewage, garbage collector, waste treatment, and water cleaning tractor, and it will continue to support people's efforts on this truck.

Incidentally, people ask me why Japan has been providing so much official development aid to Sri Lankan? I am too always asking this question to myself, and my answer is that it is not just because Mr. J.R. Jayawardene made a moving speech half century ago in San Francisco, not because we are both Buddhism countries (to be precise, the religious situation is quite different between two), but the main reason is, because what is good for the future of Sri Lanka is, I believe good for Japan in the long run. Sri Lanka is a country of great potential, values and attractiveness.

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