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World Bank increases social development package

The World Bank was giving a US dollar 900 million package for social development for a four year period and was considering an increase by another US dollars 60 million especially in view of the humanitarian problem in the North and the welfare services needed by the government,World Bank Country Director Naoko Ishii said at a panel discussion held in Colombo on Wednesday.

The World Bank human development division South Asia was looking at how Sri Lanka a middle income country that had so far achieved social development standards with more success than other countries in the region, could handle the issues consequent to world economic downturn, Michal Rutkowski visiting World Bank Director for human development in South Asia said.

He said though Sri Lanka was a middle income earning country it could face the effects of the downturn in terms of foreign remittances or lower foreign employment opportunity as well as other economic factors while it was also necessary to look at the aging population that was on the increase due to high life expectancy rate in the country.

In the social security and pension strategies new concepts would have to be looked at especially since a large percentage of people would have to be supported by a smaller percentage of the population.

Rutkowski said perhaps considering increase of the age of retirement may be one strategy and also other strategies like private sector-public sector partnership in pension schemes but it was a matter that the Government and the private sector had to discuss.

The main strategy of any pension scheme would be that it should be transparent and the beneficiaries should know beforehand what the benefits they would gain from a pension scheme.

According to studies the percentage of people living under the poverty line in Sri Lanka was around 15 percent but the Samurdhi poverty alleviation scheme was doling out benefits to 38 percent of the population.

There were reports that some of those who received Samurdhi benefits were not living in poverty and such persons should be taken out of the scheme. However when the effects of the world economic downturn begin to be felt it would become necessary to increase the quantum of benefit in cash and kind to the beneficiary families as the present quantum would not be sufficient, Rurkowski noted.

In the area of higher education, the World Bank was discussing with the Government the public and private sector participation in university education as the private sector could contribute to this sector for the greater benefit of the population. WB also was aiding the Higher Education Ministry to upgrade university education.

In his country Poland before 1989 there were objections to private sector participation in higher education but now it was mainly private-public sector participation going successfully, Rutkowski said.

Answering a question Economist Harsha Athurupana said the graduates of Sri Lankan universities did not have ICT and English Language skills and therefore were not employable.

But the World Bank will present its report on higher education to the Government in June where the WB recommendations would be made.

ICT was a necessity in this century and even children should be given those skills.


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