Friday, January 25, 2013

Sri Lanka’s Government to Ban Maid Exports

Here is an example of a knee jerk political reaction on what has been a lurid but seemingly isolated development. 

Writes the AFP (bold mine)
Sri Lanka said on Thursday it would bar women of all ages from travelling abroad to work in menial jobs, following an international outcry over the beheading of a young nanny in Saudi Arabia.

Information Minister Keheliya Rambukwella announced that women under 25 were now banned from going to the Arab state to work as maids, adding that it was the first step towards a worldwide travel ban for low-paying jobs. 

The move was in response to the execution earlier this month at a prison in Riyadh of Sri Lankan maid Rizana Nafik, who was only 17 when she was charged with smothering a four-month-old baby in Saudi Arabia in 2005.

"As a first step we are raising the age limit to 25. We will gradually move towards a total ban on our women going abroad to do low-paying jobs," Rambukwella told reporters.
An infraction committed by a single person has been used as justification to ban the entire female OFW deployment. This policy has been premised on plain fallacy of composition.

People go abroad for work because of their perceived cost-benefit trade off. Despite the various forms of risks (away from the family, potential relationship problems with employer, risks from cultural conflicts, risks of failing to adapt with regulations of the employing country, political instability and etc…) which they are willing to endure, OFWs look for employment (income), if not, better economic opportunities. 


Through ‘boil the frog slowly’ policies, the Sri Lankan minister would like to see ‘maids’ starve at home instead.  

[This seems to be logic of Sri Lankan policy: prohibition of OFW deployment eliminates such controversies. Unfortunately economic deprivation is likely to incite more domestic violence]
The minister’s pretentious adaption of paternalistic supposedly moral high ground policies will likely wilt in the face of economic reality: remittances accounted for 47% of foreign exchange earnings, according to the Sri Lanka 2009 Bureau of Foreign employment

In addition, the female share of OFW deployment accounts for 51.73%, which has more than doubled from 24% in 1986-87. 


Sri Lanka’s slippery slope of OFW prohibition will only exacerbate her already fragile current account conditions, which shows of the Sri Lankan governments’ desperate need of foreign exchange. 


Such pressure are presently being ventilated on a depreciating Sri Lankan rupee vis-à-vis US dollar (charts above all from

Bans only create black markets too

The Philippines should be an example.

The ban on Philippine OFW deployment in Afghanistan has been partially lifted in 2011. In reality, such ban failed to curb the incidences of backdoor flows of Filipino OFWs into Afghanistan. By lifting the ban, the administration tried to grab credit via PR stunt on what has truly been a policy failure—essentially political objectives has not been attained. The Philippines still maintains an OFW ban on 19 countries.

So we should expect maid exports from Sri Lanka to become a backdoor or informal economy phenomenon.

Also, discrimination against particular countries on what signifies as labor (trade) relations risks retaliation in different forms. Protectionism fuels geopolitical enmities.

Bottom line: a ban on OFW deployment equates to economic hara kiri for Sri Lanka, or that Sri Lanka’s government will have reverse to her impulse based policies soon.

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