A file copy of the first ‘ Shore Porters Society ‘ of Aberdeen. This Society even in 1492 was an up-and-coming Society as the photograph of their lorry indicates.
- Our system in this country failed due to political interference at various stages
The time has come for any government to think, develop and re-schedule the Cooperative system of the country. This system failed miserably in the face of the present crisis though it withstood two world wars, the malarial epidemic and various other crises that had occurred in the country over the years.
In the wake of the ‘Free and Open’ market, there had been a decline in the working of the system and it has forgotten the principles of the system, where it could have controlled the consumer needs of the people.
No doubt the British ‘forced’ the system into the country from India, but nevertheless it served a purpose as a ‘ Bumper’ in the face of a crisis. But unfortunately, this movement went on a reverse gear after T.B.Illangaratne and also for a certain extent of Minister Phillip Gunawardene.
For a brief moment let us look at the beginnings of this now worldwide movement which commences in the 19th Century in Britain and France. The first documented cooperative store was in 1498 known as the ‘Shore Porters Society’ in Aberdeen. Then from here, the movement spread, some survived, some winded up,. but hundreds of cooperative societies were constituted at various places the world over. The most developed are in Japan, Sweden and Denmark.
The best Societies that existed in Sri Lanka were in the North of the country.
The real foundation of this great movement came when the Rochdale Brothers founded a ‘Society of Equitable Planners’ at Rochdale, England. This Society had 10 weavers and 12 others as members initially.
There were also other pioneers like Dr.William King and Robert Owen who are considered as the founding fathers of the cooperative movement.
Our system in this country failed due to political interference at various stages and the last interference was when for the benefit of a Minister of Cooperatives amended a by-law of the Societies where a member could contest for the Board of the Society for life. This privilege has not been afforded even to the President and Prime Minister of the country.
This section of the by-law was ‘forced down the throat’ of the Societies whether they liked it or not deviating from the general by-laws of a society, on how they could proceed to amend the bye-law.
If the cooperative system or the chain of cooperatives were geared to the occasion, the government could have relied on their services rather than depending on the private or state sector and allowed them to fulfill the needs of the public, by organising an effective chain for consumer needs.
There were sporadic distributions of food items for a day or two, but on the whole, the system failed to buttress the effort of the government when it needed all support to fulfill the needs of the society at large.
Now it is left for the government to initiate immediate measures to re-vamp this area of society for the needs of the public and be an added arm for working relief measures in the hour of need whatever the occasion could be. We have to think of the future and not be complacent when the crisis has died down
Setting up of Committee’s or commissions would not serve the purpose, but what has to be done is to re-schedule the by-laws of the Societies and take out the supervisory powers of the Department of Cooperatives, retaining the auditing of the Societies and auditing the Societies at years end, instead of after two or three
years as it is now.
The cooperative system and the movement have to be retained as done by the Late Minister of Cooperatives T.B. Illangaratne and give them all the necessary impetus for its establishment. The Board of Directors has to be re-vamped and a member of the Society could only be elected twice on the Board of Directors, with a proviso that he or she could come forward for elections to the Board of Directors after a lapse of one year.
Had there been an effective chain of Cooperative Societies the government would have been spared the distribution system.
When the working of the country resumes normalcy, it is s good exercise if the Government goes into the finances of these public societies and take notice as to how it could be run effectively and take to task those who are responsible for the failure of the working of the Societies and how they failed to buttress the present crisis.
The writer is the former Information and Publicity Officer of the Swedish Cooperative Consumer Project