M. Sooriasegaram, for the Jaffna Managers’ Forum, 13 November 2013
In light of the opening created by the provincial elections after twenty five years in the North and the urgent need to address the continuing economic problems after the war, the Jaffna Managers Forum held the first in a series of public discussions on 10th November 2013. The discussion titled, ‘Northern Provincial Council: Finances and Economic Development’, was well attended by people from various professions and perspectives. The Jaffna Managers Forum and the participants decided to convey the salient points of the discussion to the Chief Minister and Councillors of the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) and the public at large.
The first few months of any new government, including a provincial government is a critical period in gaining momentum towards making broader political, economic and social changes during the entire term in office. Given the strong mandate received by the Chief Minister and the TNA, we call upon them to make their vision public for addressing the grievances and aspirations of the people in the Northern Province. The draft Financial Statement (provincial budget) for the year needs to be made public and explained to the population, which is a basic exercise in transparency and accountability. The input from the public could be accommodated to the extent practically possible before finalising and placing before the Provincial Council for a vote later in the year. However, the development vision needs to go far beyond that and articulate the strategy and roadmap to uplift the people socially and economically over the next few years.
The NPC should engage the Centre and work towards economic policies that can rebuild the North and create employment opportunities. While considerable funds have been spent on large infrastructure projects by the government and the international donors, they have not improved the socio-economic situation of the broader population. Since the end of the war and the opening of the A-9 road, the North has merely seen the influx of consumer goods and the expansion of credit, which have in fact indebted the local population. The agricultural and fishing communities in particular are in a dire situation. The emphasis of future investments should be on employment creation. In this context, the NPC should play a watchdog role with respect to the Centre’s intervention.
Given the limited funds available to the NPC for capital investment, it should lobby and initiate agreements between international donors and the Government of Sri Lanka. The Fifty Thousand Indian Housing project, the most significant grant to the Northern Province, has been important in addressing the housing needs of the war-torn population and created employment for skilled and unskilled labour force. Such projects, particularly to create employment, are the need of the hour. Some donor projects focused on micro credit and other revolving fund initiatives around livelihoods have failed, and the lessons of such failures should be taken into consideration in engaging international actors for support.
Next, given the indebtedness facing the Northern population and the failure of rural incomes, there are increasing reports of food insecurity. Four and a half years after the end of the war, the war-torn population requires food subsidies and other grants to address this crisis even as medium-term measures towards livelihoods and employment creation are considered. The foreign dignitaries attending the Commonwealth Conference should be invited to address the plight of the people and to provide financial assistance to overcome the humanitarian crisis.
The NPC should carry out a needs assessment that considers the immediate, medium and long term development needs of the Northern Province and move on engaging the various actors that can support rebuilding the North. However, finances alone will not determine successful reconstruction. At the heart of the issue is also the model of economic development suitable to the social and economic conditions in the Northern Province.
The citizens of the Northern Province should not leave the issues of governance entirely to the newly elected Chief Minister and to the Board of Ministers. The citizens should be fully awake to their civic responsibilities, be incessantly vigilant and continuously engage with the policy making and the governance processes in order to ensure that the TNA does not deviate or compromise at this historic juncture. The public have an important role in keeping the NPC accountable. The Jaffna Managers Forum calls on the citizenry to be active in engaging the Provincial Councillors and the bureaucracy to ensure this valuable opening created by their own votes is not squandered. The first step in that direction will be the unveiling of a development vision by the Chief Minister and a vibrant public debate on the present situation of the Northern Province and its future.
The Jaffna Managers Forum offers a platform for all those civic conscious citizens of the Northern Province to engage in such an important endeavour. In this context, the next public discussion in this series by the Jaffna Managers Forum is titled ‘The Role of the Cooperative Sector in the Northern Economy’.
Jaffna Managers Forum
For inquiries and further information, contact:
Jaffna Managers Forum
17 Agrarian Services Lane