The Northern Province, once the most prosperous regions in the country suffered enormously, when all its opportunities to develop were blasted out by the 30 years of bloody civil war that brought all its economic and social activities to a standstill in which there were no winners. When the war ended in 2009 more than half of the northern provincial economy was accounted for by “Government Services” such a situation cannot sustain any development neither in a province nor for that matter in a country.
Earlier in 1987 the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka were merged by the Indo-Lanka pact lost half its working population by the war to became the poorest region in the country. When the war ended in 2009 the region regained the opportunity of achieving economic development, however previous autocratic regime derailed it all with a different plan. The regime de-merged the two provinces and began a development drive in the war-battered region with physical development that were deemed essential by it and set about resolving certain problems such as resettlement and livelihood restoration, but deliberately neglected the needs of the affected people. The previous regime failed miserably in this endeavor and disastrous six negative peace years passed without winning the hearts and minds of the people of the region.
In the meantime the security forces having won the war with the full blessing of the state made adjustments of troop deployment by removing hundreds of check posts throughout the country, without vacation of camps from Northern and Eastern Provinces. In return the previous regime utilized the large presence of security personnel in North and East provinces to undertake many pro majority activities discriminatory to the majority people in the region. It impacted heavily on the people of the region who had already witnessed employment opportunities bombed out of their life, many families lost their income earners, had homes destroyed, land taken over and occupied by the security forces due to the war. Unable to forget these war years, many survived the negative peace years without a roof over their head, struggled to feed their children, elders and the dependents disabled by the war; were not given time or place to grieve for their lost ones. These people just wanted their basic grievances resolved to move forward, thus the country as a whole and the region in particular to say the least was in a mess under an autocratic previous regime and all longed for a change.
In 2015 there was a change in government and its endeavor in the first year has put back in place lots of things, while carefully navigating through the rough seas of global geo-politics taking the country to a respectable status in the international arena. At home has restored public confidence in state institutions including the judiciary and the police, but there was still a lot more to be done. The government has delivered several of its election promises such as the Right to Information Act and establishing an Office of Missing Persons. But the biggest initiative so far has been the proposed new constitution, that is due to be drafted following the widest process of consultation in local history at political and societal levels, to resolve problems inherent in the present constitution, that would enable the country to advance in the direction of peace, unity and prosperity. Yet all this was achieved with a top heavy cabinet of ministers and the same old administration left behind by the previous regime and to make matters worse the progress has been dragged down by irresponsible activities both in and out of the parliament by the rebellious members of the previous regime.
Only solace the Tamils of the North and East provinces had was from their legislators at the center, who while seeking justice for their voters, appreciating the need to advance justice and development in parallel decided to take up a holistic approach by supporting the government on matters that affect the whole country. These legislators also responded to the concerns of the Tamil speaking people in the two provinces and their efforts resulted in the security forces handing over occupied some plots of lands belonging to the people. True there are much more lands that are still in the control of the security forces, but actions have been initiated to release back more land to the people and for land that are to be retained by the Security Forces owners are be compensated with alternate land.
The government as part of its responsibility to put in place the fundamentals that are needed for investments to flow to the region had conducted the investment forum in Jaffna this week that showcased the opportunities available in the province. But as it was an initiative from the center it gave priority to top down biased projects such as tourism which is only now emerging in the province and has the potential to make a big difference to the region. As reported in a previous posting in Northern Breeze there is a need to identify projects for industries that would help the agriculture, livestock and dairy and fisheries sectors; also many other sectors that would create employment to the unskilled workforce, who could be trained as found fit.
Now there is a situation where development and investment needs to be considered in a proper context to match the needs of the people. Thus developing the North should not be delayed for petty politics of the northern legislators at the center or their counter parts at the province. This will only send mixed signals to any investors and more so to the Tamil Diaspora who are now yearning to invest in Sri Lanka from their adopted countries. The legislators of the province at the center jointly with the councilors of the Northern Province should identify the needs and propose bottom up projects and work with the government to expedite these matters. A joint effort is needed from the Provincial Council and the Central Government to address the development and social needs of the people in the North. Granted, there are many things the Government is yet to do as far as problems faced by Northern people are concerned, but the fact is that this Government has shown real commitment to resolving all these issues and one must appreciate that these are not an overnight process.
Therefore much needs to be done at provincial level to identify the bottom up projects best suited for the people and with the available resources in the region to turn the province into a production biased economy, this could be best done at the provincial level by the Northern Provincial Council.