Wigneswaran on Post War Socio – Economic Development And Constructive Engagement

wigneswaran   I am indeed flattered that the Sri Lankan academia, under the leadership provided by the University Grants Commission, has thought it fit to invite me today to deliver the keynote address on “Accelerated Provincial Development – The Way Forward”.

The theme of the conference is Post War Socio – Economic Development and Constructive Engagement with Sri Lankan Diaspora.

I consider the theme very relevant and timely for the Northern Provincial Council (NPC). Secondly, the emphasis on economic development in the post-war context is particularly apt, as there is a critical need to adopt a holistic view of the prevailing context of the war torn society of the Northern Province, which was the most affected by the war, and their multifaceted needs such as psycho-social issues, loss of livelihoods, socio-cultural issues, environmental issues and rule of law and human security issues.

Thirdly, the emphasis on constructive engagement between Sri Lanka and the Diaspora is a prudent one. The Government of Sri Lanka does not have the financial resources, professional technical input and knowledge capital to contribute towards post war recovery on its own.

Finally, I would also like to commend the organisers for the thrust on ‘Accelerated Provincial Development”.I see the use of the phrase “accelerated provincial development” as being reflective of the understanding of the differentiated needs of a war-torn society.  It is imperative that government leaders and policy makers should clearly capture the prevailing context in the NP, especially the post-war phase and its peculiar needs and characteristics, without adopting a one size fits all national approach for post war rebuilding and reconstruction.

Let me summarise the four fundamental ideas contemplated by the theme: We are in a post-war society not a post-conflict society, which in turn requires resolution of the causes of conflict; economic development is fundamental and any attempt at achieving it requires a holistic approach; we need to engage the diaspora; and finally we need to understand that a one size fits all approach cannot be adopted.

No problem can be addressed properly without understanding the problem in its entirety.

Current situation in the Northern Province

Development in the North has been impeded by policy failures and specific problems.  There are three fundamental policy failures. The first is the tragic abandoning of a pluralistic identity of Sri Lanka and adopting a majoritarian approach.  The second is the historical folly of not being people-centric.  The third is the unfortunate policy paradigm of viewing security and freedom as competing interests and not as complementing values.

Shortly after independence, majoritarian views were fostered for political reasons resulting in pluralism being abandoned and ethno-religious-centric policies adopted.  Sri Lankan society was stratified by law.  Even the free market reforms initiated in 1977 discriminated against the North-Eastern Provinces.This was natural as the residents of those provinces were now second-class citizens.

Instead of a pluralistic approach we have taken a majoritarian approach.

The failure to be people centric and attempt top-down approaches to development is another major policy failure.  The current national programme implemented by the government is akin to the victor in the war furthering his own political agenda over the vanquished by disregarding electoral mandate the war affected had given their elected representatives both at national and provincial council elections. The vanquisher’s largesse to the vanquished is stressed; the People’s needs and wants ignored. The emphasis was not on people friendly development projects but Central Government friendly development projects.

At the provincial council elections held in September 2013, the Government,with the help of the military and public service apparatus, canvassed by highlighting their post war development agenda – namely construction efforts.   Despite overwhelming odds our party received an overwhelming majority from the people of the NP.  A people-centric approach would have approached the issue holistically – it would have prioritised the needs of the people, it would have employed locals in the workforce, it would have taken into consideration the specific context of the post-war scenario of the North.It is essential to remember development must go hand in hand with the needs and aspirations of the People who are destined to benefit by it- not foisted by forces from outside.

The decision-making process currently in place with regard to socio- economic development is devoid of participation by the People’s Representatives. It has been able to prevent the Northern Provincial Council from engaging meaningfully in socio economic development activities in the North.

The third policy failure is treating security and democratic freedoms as competing interests.  Democratic freedom contributes towards national security.  The aim should be to attain both – not use national security as an excuse to deny fundamental freedoms.  In May 2009 around 350,000 people were kept incarcerated in open prisons. Applications made to court to release these people or at the very least provide a legal basis for the detention, were resisted on the basis of national security.  No significant steps were taken to release these people.  Suddenly in December with elections looming ahead around 200,000 people were released.  The point is we are willing to accommodate political goals and security considerations as equal partners, but we are unwilling to accord democracy and fundamental rights the same privilege that we accord political expediency.

Much criticism has been levelled against me for repeatedly requesting demilitarisation in the Northern Province on the premise that demilitarisation would compromise national security. Recently, in Tellipalai, His Execellency the President publicly stated that there were only 12,000 military personnel in the North.  My underlying point is that we wouldn’t be having these controversies if we take a genuine effort to ensure both fundamental freedoms as well as national security.

How does this policy failure translate into problems? In the North-East of the Peninsula over 6000 acres of lands have been taken over by the Army and they have completely destroyed the habitations of the locals and have started constructing palatial buildings, golf courses and swimming pools to install comfortably the leaders of the Government and the Armed Forces when they visit the North.They cultivate the lands of the unfortunate displaced in the Wanni and sell at a price the produce from the people’s own lands to the very same owners. The combination of these three policies have put paid to any hopes of development, leave alone accelerated development.  The administrators here must realize that the North is not a normal society. Let me now turn to some of the specific problems of the people.  I have already addressed the travails of militarisation and land grabs.  There is a marked absence of human security- defined as the absence of fear.  Social institutions such as markets, political parties, legislatures, the judiciary and the media contribute to development by enhancing individual freedom, and are in turn sustained by social values.  Values, institutions, freedoms and development are all inextricably intertwined and you cannot expect development without guaranteeing freedoms, he has argued.

The rural economy has gone out of the reach of the rural people. Absence of basic infrastructure for the revival and development of the economy, the numerous restrictions on the locals on fishing and the deliberate importation of Southerners to fish in areas where locals have been fishing for centuries, all impede development.

Complex mental health and psycho-social problems at the individual, family and community levels abound in the post war context. There is a critical need for a context specific policy framework.

Focussing on the specific needs of the people means understanding the context and taking cognisance of the mandate given to elected representatives. To rebuild a war torn society effectively you need to understand the characteristics of the region and formulate and adopt specific polices as done in other war affected regions. The NP is bereft of quality manpower, has weak governance institutions and weak market structures, is in a militarised environment; its people  have endured multiple displacements, and are affected by post war trauma and psycho-social issues; it functions with the rule of law seriously impaired. Definitions such as ‘developing regions’ or ‘middle income regions’ are not appropriate to the North. It cannot be handled under blanket National policies that are based on National parameters.

Unfortunately, when we are attempting to give expression to the voice of our people, as mandated, we are now being forced to carry on with the Government’s agenda for development along national policies.Case in point is the President’s formal invitation to me in November 2013 to Co–Chair the District Coordinating Committee meetings in NP-

The said letter highlights, I quote

“It is the responsibility of the District Coordinating Committee to coordinate, implement ,direct and monitor at district level the medium term investment plans 2013-2016 being launched by the governmental and non-governmental organisations in accordance with the “Mahinda Chintanaya Vision for the Future” endorsed by the majority of people.

I would be most grateful if you could arrange for the implementation of overall District Development Plans based on the Rural Development Plans and Divisional Development  Plan formulated with community participation , thus ensuring the accomplishment of the target as anticipated.”“Endorsed  by the majority of people “ it says. Isn’t such a request in the teeth of the unequivocal mandate given by the people of the Northern Province? How can a development agenda that was prepared without the participation of the peoples of the Northern Province, without the conducting of a comprehensive post-war needs assessment, and without regard to the ground realities of military occupation and the post-war context contribute towards development, leave alone accelerated development?

At the discussions I had with H.E the President on 2nd January 2014 when I raised the above issues, I was advised, the above approach is what the government does in all provinces and we need to comply with it.In other words, the government did not demonstrate interest in adopting a participative and consultative approach bearing in mind the mandate received to us to address the specific post war needs of the people of NP.

A war-ravaged society cannot be treated on the same footing as other societies.  We must adopt a differentiated approach.

As Mahbub ul Haq, founder of the Human Development Report said “The objective of development is to create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy and creative lives.”.

At the societal levels it means having secure livelihoods, security against crime and violence, enjoyment of political, social, economic and cultural freedoms, equitable access to life sustaining services. At the provincial level it means guaranteeing access to private property and lands, ensuring law and order, protecting the most vulnerable and the war affected, rehabilitating the war affected, building key institutions, developing and nurturing an efficient public service etc.At the national level it means a greater degree of understanding from national political leaders on resolving outstanding political issues, actively contributing to the addressing of the legacies of the war, delivering justice to the missing and war battered and recognizing the unique challenges each province face in the post-war context.

As we attempt to forge a way forward, we ought to address the political, humanitarian, human rights and rule of law dimensions of the post war context. There is an imperative to lay the foundation for the people of the North and East to embark on a development path in keeping with their needs and aspirations within the sphere of democratic governance. This means there is an immediate and urgent need to set about demilitarising the society at large, including reduction of armed forces, disbanding of paramilitary apparatus, demilitarisation of civilian institutions and curbing militarisation of economic life of people of the North and East.

There is a critical need to transform the central government’s counter-terrorism mindset focused on state security to post-war need for human security. This in turn should be followed by meaningful security sector reforms by the Government. Sri Lanka need not have such a huge defence structure and manpower. In the post-war context military personal should be demobilised, reintegrated into society and should be permitted to pursue their own vocations based on their interests and needs.

There is an urgent need to strengthen and build the capacity of the Northern Provincial Council administration. Due to the protracted war during the last two decades the North-East Provincial Council  (precursor to the Northern Provincial Council) experienced brain drain, substitution of meritocracy by patronage politics, politicisation of the bureaucracy, erosion of good governance principles, lack of accountability and corruption. We need to build the capacities and capabilities of the existing provincial administration staff, and recruit and appoint qualified and competent professionals conversant in governance to contribute effectively to the post war reconstruction and development.

Besides, GOSL does not have the financial resources and professional technical input or knowledge capital to contribute towards an effective post war recovery. A transparent screening process can address any security considerations.

•    Exert your influence on the Southern polity to make them understand the needs of the North and East in the post-war context.

•    Counter the false propaganda carried out in the Sinhalese and English media by explaining that the Northern polity is committed to non-violence and a political settlement within a united Sri Lanka.

•    Ensure that you promote and support the Rule of Law, democracy and fundamental freedoms.

•    Foster a climate to come up with innovative models of cooperation and governance models between the provincial councils and central government to enable each province to develop based on its needs and aspirations in keeping with democratic governance principles.

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