Irangika Range, in Daily News, 3 July 2013 with title “Peace did not come on a Platters
Rebuilding the North after 30 years of terrorist conflict was no easy task. The government’s rebuilding efforts in the North which are in accordance with the principles of the Mahinda Chinthanaya programme has gained fruition within four years since the end of the conflict and the establishment of permanent peace. The four main areas which have been given priority are de-mining, resettlement, developing infrastructure facilities and the provision of basic needs for rural development. Security Forces personnel have become an integral part of the massive social and economic development drive in the North. Around 95 per cent of the area has been de-mined, while over 400,000 civilians have been resettled in their places of origin.
Q: How would you summarize the current situation in the North?
A: When we defeated terrorism four years ago, the situation in the North was a mess. The recovery and rebuilding process was no easy task, but, hard work has helped realise our goals. Today, life has returned to normal where devastation and hopelessness were the order of the day. Not only have we brought peace, but, we have given the province a new lease of life with the necessary infrastructure development. Roads, lakes, ports, airports, houses, schools, farms, health facilities have been built and reconstructed, advanced technology introduced to a province which had been bruised, battered and bloodied by three decades of terrorist conflict.
No other country in the world could match the feats we have achieved in the North in such a short time by rebuilding, resettling, reconstructing, rehabilitating and working towards reconciliation. President Mahinda Rajapaksa had given us clear instructions. He had identified four main areas which had to be given priority. They are de-mining, resettlement, developing infrastructure facilities and the provision of basic needs for rural development. These orders have been carried out to perfection and only a few more objectives need to be achieved for us to accomplish our mission. When it came to de-mining, there had been hundreds of thousands of mines buried by the LTTE. There were pressure mines, claymore and many other explosive devices. De-mining was of paramount important as it was the only thing between resettling the people displaced by the conflict. Normally, it takes at least 10 years for a country that had engaged in a war for nearly 35 years to accomplish what we have done. Those are accepted figures in the de-mining discipline. We have not invented them. We have de-mined about 95 per cent of the entire area within four years. There are only two areas still to be de-mined and cleared, including Muahamalai and some pockets in Pudumathalan.
Q: Tell me about the progress of the resettlement programmes.
A: After de-mining, the next priority was resettlement. As many programmes considered for this purpose were time consuming, President Rajapaksa appointed a Presidential Task Force for Resettlement, Development and Security in the Northern Province under Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa to expedite the process. The mission given to the Task Force was to formulate a strategic framework for revitalizing the Northern Province and implementing a rapid resettlement programme. However, urgent it was, the programme we adopted were not ad hoc, but, well planned and focused. The policies behind resettling people were that it should be voluntary – no forced resettlement, and the persons displaced should be resettled in their native places. And, the process has to be within the norms of dignity and safety in concurrence with international humanitarian laws. The programme adopted by the Presidential Task Force had a three-branch approach; namely, to provide relief and humanitarian assistance, to restore basic facilities prior to resettlement and to establish an early recovery process paving the way for infrastructure development. This worked out well and during the four years in the aftermath of the conflict, our government has resettled more than 400,000 persons in their native places. The process was ably assisted by the members of the Security Forces, non governmental organisations and government machinery. We are proud to say that everybody has been provided shelter, no one is starving, and none suffers from the lack of basic requirements, such as, health, education and livelihood support.
A: The government had invested an enormous sum of funds for this purpose. We had to start from scratch. The conflict had taken a heavy toll on the infrastructure of the Province. We pumped funds to make it a place habitable and help people to regain their livelihoods. I must mention the fact that no other country in the world could boast of the records we created by developing infrastructure facilities in the Northern Province, which was devastated by conflict. That is why I invite our critics to visit the area and see for themselves the work we have done to help revive life there. Massive investments had been channelled to develop roads, railway, supply electricity, drinking water and to put other economic and social infrastructure needs in place. Roads of all types, rural, provincial and national, have been reconstructed. Many people who had visited the country immediately after the war witnessed the extent of damage caused by the terrorists to the two main highways – A9 and A32. We have rehabilitated these major highways linking the North and South.
Rehabilitation of the railway network has been fast tracked. With regard to electricity, we have been able to complete over 90 per cent of the electricity restoration project in all districts of the province. When it comes to drinking water, Jaffna never had enough. It seems to be the biggest problem in the Peninsula. The government embarked upon a massive project with the assistance of Asian Development Bank (ADB) to find answers to this problem. The project has been divided into nine sub projects which are being implemented now to provide water and sanitation facilities to all districts in the Province.
All rural and main hospitals are now equipped with better facilities. Northerners are enjoying better health facilities than those in other provinces. For example, dengue has been a menace to other provinces, but, the authorities have managed to arrest the spread of the disease in the North. The achievements made are far more impressive when it comes to education. There are 1,106 schools in Jaffna and Vavuniya. Of them, only 97 schools functioned during the time of conflict. Many schools buildings were destroyed during the conflict. Some schools did not have teachers. We have obtained the support of many international agencies to rehabilitate schools. Almost all schools are functioning at present and the teacher and student attendance records are exemplary, probably the best in the country.
The government’s Mahindodaya school laboratory project, pre and secondary school development project, 1,000 schools development project have been utilized to bring about this change. Children in the Province have recorded good results at national level examinations. I felt that our commitment had been rewarded when I heard that 23 students of the province achieved the best results for mathematics in a recent national level examination. NGOs and INGOs have been of great assistance with regard to livelihood development programmes.
Most of them implement micro-credit programmes supporting villagers. We are also strengthening the Cooperative network in the Province. Agriculture and fishing activities have returned to normal. Within four years’, Jaffna farmers will be on par with other farmers in the country. The Uthuru Wasanthaya programme has given a boost to them and the government has also started rehabilitating tanks and reservoirs that had been left to the elements and left for ruin during the conflict times. All the major tanks have been renovated. There is another plan being implemented to renovate 800 minor scale tanks in the region with ADB assistance. Paddy farmers in the North received a bumper harvest during the last Yala season. There was a surplus and we directed it to other provinces through the cooperative societies. Similarly, there were surplus produce of grains, chillies, onions, fruits and vegetables. Their surplus produce was sent to the Dambulla Economic Centre where farmers receive a steady income. The Fishery industry has been revived, but there is so much more potential for development. The Northern Province which was supplying only two metric tonnes of fish to the market per day in the past has now increased its catch to 232 metric tonnes!
Q: What sort of future do you see for the people in the North?
A: Well, the rebuilding efforts of the government in the North are in accordance with the principles of the Mahinda Chinthanaya programme, which refers to an integrated society consisting of one country one law. This is the basis of the development programmes we have put in place in the North. The government has been successful with the work it completed and has won the confidence of the Tamil community. It has been observed that the Northerners are satisfied with achievements of the ongoing reconstruction efforts. They have utmost confidence in the President who saved them from suffering. The government has provided everything to keep them strong and happy. Now, the time has come for the people to make a wise decision by showing their gratitude to the government. We hope that we would get the biggest mandate from the people.
Q: How would you comment on recent remarks made by the TNA that the Governor of the Northern Province should have a civilian background?
A: The Governor of a province under the provisions of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution is appointed by the President. The Governor has been given certain responsibilities and is expected to carry out his duties on certain administrative guidelines. He, either from military or civilian background, cannot act beyond this mandate. The governor is the President’s direct arm to the Province. He carries out his work by the book and on the guidance of the President. Thus, it could be seen that their remarks were aimed at achieving narrow political gain and is far from the actual truth.
Q: Are you prepared to work with a Provincial Council which is not under the ruling party?
A: As I have already said the Governor is the direct arm of the President. Whichever party comes to power, it is the responsibility of the Governor to make sure that the President’s vision is carried out in the province. It is the duty of the Governor to make use of the government machinery to implement state decisions and programmes in the entire province. He is duty bound to do so irrespective of the party that secures power in the Provincial Council.
Q: What arrangements are being made to ensure a free and fair polls in the North?
A: There is a peaceful atmosphere in the North. The people have been given a good opportunity to exercise their franchise. They can elect their own representatives. The government is fully committed to holding free and fair elections. No body will be allowed to disrupt the electoral process. Elections in the North would be held in accordance with the country’s election procedures.
Q: There is an accusation from the TNA that four years have lapsed since the ending of the war, and that the North is still under military rule. The presence of the Security Forces has become a stumbling block according to them. Your comments?
A: The members of the Security Forces made the ultimate sacrifice to liberate the North from terrorism and then help in the rebuilding process. The peace, the government ushered in, did not come on a platter. There had been many untold stories of sacrifices made by our soldiers. They sacrificed their life and limb for the benefit of the country. The Presidential Task Force had been assisted by the Security Forces personnel to rebuild the North. The donor community had visited and witnessed the reconstruction process at grassroots level.
The troops did a commendable job in developing the infrastructure, de-mining, resettlement, providing basic needs and improving the livelihoods of the northerners. Despite what these politicians have to say, the Tamil people in the North are highly impressed with the rehabilitation and development work carried out by the government. Today, Security Forces personnel have become part and parcel of the massive social and economic development drive in the North under the directives of Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
Daily community programmes are being conducted in the North with the assistance of the Security Forces. Security Forces Headquarters in Kilinochchi organizes education exhibitions for schoolchildren. They plan to grant 1,200 scholarships to children from Grade Seven to Grade 10 in Kilinochchi schools.
The TNA says various things at various times. They TNA worked under the direct instructions of the LTTE during the conflict. They were LTTE proxies. They were only puppets in the hands of the LTTE leader. They are not recognized by the people today. People have not forgotten. The people have placed their utmost faith in the government. If the TNA thinks they could make a comeback by playing the racist card, they are sadly mistaken.
Q: How would you summarize the large scale development activities in the North in the aftermath of the war?
A: Mega development projects have been undertaken throughout the Northern Province. The supply of adequate fresh water has been the perennial problem of the Jaffna Peninsula. Therefore, the Iranamadu tank was renovated to improve fresh water facilities to the people living in entire Kilinochchi and Jaffna districts.
The bund of the Iranamadu tank will be elevated by another three feet ADB financial support. This will increase the water storage capacity during the rainy season. The additional water can be supplied to the entire Jaffna Distrit and Delft islands.
The shortage of fresh water for drinking and farming purposes would be alleviated with this remedial measure. Plans are also afoot to set up industrial zones in each district of the Northern region. A 25 acre land has been identified to establish an industrial zone at Achchuweli town and 18 acres have already been vested with entrepreneurs to commence ventures.
Several food processioning and garment factories have already commenced operations in Kilinochchi, providing job opportunities to youth. This would improve productivity in all areas and spur economic growth in the North. Meanwhile, vocational education and training courses have have also been introduced in the fields of plumbing, masonry and house wiring for youth wishing to pursue these lines as a source of income. The construction of 40,000 houses under the Indian government’s assistance in the North is also gathering momentum.