I write in reference to the letter titled "What happened to the World Bank money ?", ‘by Usvatte-aratchi, published in the Island on Saturday, December 5th, 2009. I hope you will publish this response, with an equal degree of prominence as originally given to his letter, in the forthcoming Saturday Island.
Usvatte-aratchi’s letter makes a serious and specific allegation of’ corruption, to the value, of Rs. 450 million, in the context of a World Bank higher education project. This is presumably the Improving Relevance and Quality of Undergraduate Education (IRQUE) project, as it is the only World Bank funded higher education project in Sri Lanka. The IRQUE project is implemented by the Ministry of Higher Education, University Grants Commission (UGC) and by 12 universities. Usvatte-aratchi’s sweeping allegation casts suspicion on a large number of past and present officials of the Ministry of Higher Education, the UGC, and the universities. As such, he should now reveal the identities of the particular individual or individuals he claims "received" 450 million rupees from the project, along with the evidence for his claim, for due process before the law, and to remove suspicion from all the other government and university officials who have been tarnished by this allegation.
Usvatte-aratchi also asks, in his letter, what did the project seek to achieve, and what did it actually achieve? A brief answer is that the project sought to: (a) introduce a culture of funding linked to proposals for the development of quality; and (b) support the universities to introduce quality assurance processes for undergraduate education, The universities have responded positively on both counts. Over 175 study programs submitted proposals to develop the quality of their undergraduate programs, and 40 proposals received funding through a rigorous peer-reviewed selection process, Students and staff in a variety of university study programs, including engineering, medicine, natural sciences, veterinary sciences, agriculture, and management and accounting benefited from the support provided by the World Bank for these proposals from the universities Quality assurance reviews have also been conducted, under the leadership of the Quality Assurance and Accreditation Council of the UGC, in all universities.
Usvatte-aratchi states that he and "many want to know" about the results of the higher education project, but do not want to be directed to any websites. I am sure that the Vice-Chancellors of the universities would be happy to introduce Usvatte-aratchi and his many inquirers to the, academic staff and students who have benefited from the project, so that they could personally observe these results. Alternatively, Usvatte-aratchi could contact the Policy Planning and Development Unit of the Ministry of Higher Education, which coordinates the IRQUE project, and request their assistance to understand the benefits of the project at first hand.
There are several factual errors in Usvatte-aratchi’s letter. First, he claims that I have worked with local bureaucrats to obtain a loan of $41 million for university education. In fact, this project, which is an interest free $40 million credit with a repayment period of 20 years, was agreed as, part of the World Bank’s Country Assistance Strategy between the Government of Sri Lanka and the World Bank. He greatly over-estimates my influence over the allocation of World Bank funds!
Second, he states that the World Bank "bureaucracy is rewarded for the volume of money they lend and help to lend " But the volume of ‘World Bank lending to a country is based on a -formula that takes into account the population, level of poverty and development Performance of a country, The World Bank "bureaucrats" cannot change this allocation in an ad hoe manner to increase the size of a loan and get rewarded, as Usvatte-aratchi incorrectly states.
Third, Usvatte-aratchi questions the good intentions and the efficacy and efficiency of the Bank in connection with Bank projects, But projects funded by the World Bank are prepared and implemented by the relevant government counterparts, in the case of higher education by the higher education institutions such as the universities, The results of the IRQUE project are, therefore, due to the creditable intentions, efficacy and efficiency of the university academics and management.
Finally, I must politely disclaim the comment made by Usvatte-aratchi in his letter that I do "more for the promotion of education in this country than the National Education Commission and the UGC combined ". The National Education Commission and the UGC consist of sincere and hard-working officials, who are doing their best to develop the education system in the country with the resources available to them. All I do is to assist them, and others in the education system who are genuinely willing and able to develop and strengthen education.
Lead Education "Specialist
Human Development Unit
South Asia Region