Nation wasted

Sunset Over LagoonCall is today for an ambitious effort from Sri Lankan rulers at the center and province level to create necessary framework for the grass root level people in the mainly agricultural Dry Zone North of the country. To boost the lives of over a million northern population in Sri Lanka, who were counted out in life by the bloody civil war in addition to climate shifts over the past decade and suffering with severe water shortages. Nation wasted six negative peace years’ under the previous regime and now people needs inspiration from the new government to reach their goals to become an active nation without waiting for handouts for living from other nations. Will the elected representative respond to the call?

The international investment forum has been initiated by the Governor for the Central government is a run-up to setting up a One-Stop Shop at the Jaffna Secretariat to help persons wanting to invest in the war-devastated Northern Province. Earlier on ending the civil war under Governor’s rule, the Central government, with involvement of the institutions at the center renovated and repaired the war damaged and neglected infrastructures in the North. The previous regime had then imposed into this programme many projects biased to discriminate the people in the north, who as the result experienced negative peace years. At that time the military Governor under instructions from the center discouraged many bottom-up proposals presented to him for implementation by enthusiastic northerners to develop the region. Though they were submitted through the government channels available at grass root level, these initiates were squashed down as too ambitious and expensive by the Governor. In fact it was a ploy to avoid people participation that would disturb implementing the projects of the state. When the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) was formed, the Governor continued with these top down policies and there was always the accusation that the devolution of power to elected northern provincial council as per the 13th Amendment of the constitution was being nullified by the actions of the Central government.

After the general election held a year ago, the autocratic rulers were replaced by more democratic unity government at the center which acknowledged the problems at the province and appointed a civilian as Governor. However most of the legislators from the old regime were in the new government and it utilized the same old state machinery without any significant change to deal with the NPC as before, thus retaining the same mind set. The Chief Minister of NPC made this clear to the new rulers stating the need to consult and involve the local elected leadership and institutions, considered essential to give effect for devolution of power and for post-war inter-ethnic reconciliation. On the other side of the coin there was a legitimate complaint to the Center that the NPC has done little to develop the war-hit Northern Province.

The bitter truth is both elected representatives at the center and province levels must remember that North with a population of over a million, have been waiting for over seven years to witness any development that would provide employment to benefit them. State which had taken control of the province after the war concentrated its efforts on rehabilitation without resolving the basic issues forced on the people by the war; only support these people got was from many diaspora living overseas, who in addition to helping their own relatives, extended to help in livelihood projects for the needy in the north. These uncoordinated ventures however were not sustainable or were able to lift their living standard to a reasonable level. In a few years, when the nostalgia dies down the diaspora funds will dry up and these low income families will drift back to poverty. In reality lot could be done to uplift the life of people at the grass root level in the north by the institutions in the province under the guidance of the Provincial Council, where the diaspora funds could be better utilized. Now the time is ripe to start next level of development that will create employment at grass root level. Since it is the policy of the new government to promote Public-Private Sector Partnership (PPP) rather than do all the development work by itself, investors both from Sri Lanka and overseas are well advised to participate in these ventures to uplift the lives of the people in war-torn region, which in turn will help the country to march forward with the participation of the northerners. The Chief Minister should view the initiative of the Governor from that prospective and let the NPC capitalize on it.

The economic struggle should not be left out because of the political struggle or be allowed to overshadow it. In fact both should go hand in hand in tandem if the Northerners are to join the mainstream of things; the alternative left is for them to become a nation wasted, relegated out altogether in the wilderness.