By S. Krishnananthan –
The 13 Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka was introduced in 1987, may be to resolve ethnic problem that had reached gigantic proportion at that time, but have progressive provisions also inbuilt to address socio economic issues at the periphery. Apart from the objective of balanced regional development there are items that could imaginatively manipulated not only in the Northern and Eastern provinces but also in other marginally developed or underdeveloped areas in the Uva, Sabragamuva and North Central Provinces. The Colombo centric development paradigm could be easily circumvented and a periphery centric development model installed.
Northern and Eastern Provinces
Northern and Eastern Provinces are minority dominated and limping back slowly to normalcy after a 30 year conflict. Majority of the people in these provinces earn their livelihood from agriculture and fisheries and the income from these activities continue to be marginal and they could lead only subsistence level of existence. Private sector employment is almost unknown in these Provinces.
Most small and medium enterprises were destroyed in the course of the 30 years long war and their immediate restoration is bleak due to lack of capital and entrepreneur skills.
Presently there are only a few micro and small enterprises.
The educated youth clamor for limited government jobs with little success. The district is resourceful but utilization of resources is minimal due to lack of entrepreneur skills.
The result is widespread unemployment resulting in poverty and misery for many. The parents dream of sending their youth to foreign countries, rather unsuccessfully.
The key to rejuvenate the Northern and Eastern Regions is through development of micro, small and medium enterprises and encourage the youth towards self-employment.
Governance in the Provincial Councils
The Primary duty of the Provincial Councils like any governing structure in the modern globalised economy is to guide, facilitate, and regulate the development process within the territory for the other actors to take charge of the actual development agenda. This is in addition to the traditional service delivery expected from these tiers of governance. The most important actor in the development process is the private sector. But the Provincial Councils do not expect big fishes but only small fishes. However it is irony to say that they miserably failed may be due to lethargy or engaging most of the time in finding faults for political gains or incompetency or all of these taken together
Now to the Ignored, Development Oriented Out of the Box Item in the Provincial Council List
Out of 34 items in the Provincial Council List of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution the Item No 21 opens a new outlook of opportunity for the economic development of the Provincial Councils.
I quote in full the Item No 21 in the Provincial Council List of the 13th amendment.
“Subject to the formulation and implementation of National policy in regard to development and planning ,the power to promote, establish and engage in agricultural ,industrial and commercial and trading enterprises and other income generating projects within the province without prejudice to the power of the government and public corporations to have such enterprises and projects’
Why this provision has not come to the notice of devolutionists is a miracle. Even it had not received due attention of “Wayamba”,Provincial Council -the leading new path finder of the early 90s of the last century for innovative initiatives is beyond comprehension.
Whatever it may be let us have a fresh look and think and act innovatively.
Interpretation of Provisions In the Item No 21
The item No 21 defines the scope within which any provincial Council could exercise their power, but opens vital areas that could be imaginatively make use of .
The powers include the power
- To promote
- To establish and
- To engage
In agricultural, industrial and commercial and trading enterprises and other income generating projects within the province.
The Provincial Councils could play their role within the scope set by this item leaving the actual implementation to the private individuals and civil societies within the Province or outside to capture and make use of the opportunities.
If economy of scale is a drawback, the people with initiative could innovatively form producer cooperatives and overcome such shortcomings. Even the Diaspora could form viable cooperatives with their kith and kin in these areas and engage in economic activities. The Diaspora could provide the capital and technology and also access to markets in their own domiciles.
THE Diaspora could make intelligent investment with their loved ones taking only calculated risks .
Public-Private partnership in a small manageable scale is another area that could be looked into.
Furthermore, the much criticized “Development Bill” could be redesigned with the participation of Provincial Councils for mutual benefit. When there are already necessary existing institutions why create additional governing structures making it more messy when lean organizations are the preferred structures for economy efficiency and effectiveness.
One possibility is for the Provincial Councils to directly engage and this raises question of funds for investment an also the lessons learnt from past experiences in Sri Lanka as well as in the outside world when governments engage in commercial activities and turn them as dens for corruption and nepotism and for in efficiency. In this scenario the viable alternatives are to encourage formation of producer cooperatives and private sector or private- public partnership.
Lastly I come to the most crucial part of this article with a strong recommendation for the provincial Councils to promote new enterprises through the establishment of Business incubators.
The item 21 envisage promoting enterprises as one of its key objective. The item could be skillfully interpreted to in a positive approach by establishing Business incubators in every local authority areas of the provincial Council that will achieve proximity and easy access to surmount initial indifference on the part of potential clients.
But a modified incubator unlike conventional Business incubators could be especially designed to meet the specific needs of these poverty stricken areas to train and mentor potential educated unemployed youth on entrepreneurship for identifying business ideas, for innovation, for value addition and for marketing assistance and gradually services rendered by these modified incubators could be suitably upgraded depending on the progress. The incubators succeed or fail depending on the caliber and dedication of the professional staff recruited and the political backing necessary for this colossal task.
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