The shift in political priorities – from “national security and economic development” to one of “good governance”; and the emergence of civil society actor-networks may represent tectonic sifts in the political landscape of Sri Lanka and provide a template for similar transformations in other countries. Perhaps they merely signify ‘little changes’ that would pale in comparison with the bigger changes that may eventually follow.
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’.
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Jaffna Managers Forum
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