Colombo Telegraph

Budget 2016; How Tamils Can Go Along

By S. Sivathasan

S. Sivathasan

Quite a few worthwhile projects for the North and East of Sri Lanka, with due financial provision are found in the nation’s Budget for 2016. Several steps have been taken and some hurdles cleared, at the highest levels to reach this threshold to implementation. Much requires to be done from early next year by the administration to see that the ambitious objectives are realized. While not getting distracted in any way, as we go along in 2016, the project needs and provision for 2017 and the ensuing years may be considered and plans mapped out. The Tamil polity needs to engage with the government very actively in this regard.

North and East Development

Provision in a sum of Rs 14 billion for Financial Year 2016 is great. Its dimension may be seen in the light of the Donor Conference 2016, announced in the Budget Speech. Next year starts with several advantages for the North and East. For the moment I will limit my attention to the North. A Governor, a Council a Board of Ministers, a Chief Secretary and Secretaries exclusively for the North are all in place for two years. The process of normality is moving towards consolidation. Physical infrastructure is built up sufficiently for tri-sector take off.

Experience of 2002

Thirteen years are now past, providing a rare fund of experience. The benefits are more to those yet in service. The Centre and two in one Province engaging with the most powerful militants positively was uncommon for any country. A major reconstruction effort proceeding smoothly under a tenuous atmosphere of peace was a rarity. External assistance flowed generously and it was utilized with checks cleverly built in. Elements neither official nor the powerful had a chance for private profit. Multi-tiered mechanisms completed the surveillance process. In sum results were substantial and neat.

With distance in time, performance then seems more enchanting now. A little reflection shows that personalities made the difference. As is seen at present a bi-partisan government led the country following on the ceasefire. President Chandrika and Prime Minister Ranil were mutually accommodative. They had the large heartedness to see North East being reconstructed and rehabilitated. To programmes of resettlement and money in the hands of the displaced and the impoverished, they lent their support unreservedly.

Needs Assessment Report

Donor countries and international financial institutions made for the flow of funds. It was not with speeches and sweet canvassing that this was done. With empathetic understanding of people’s deprivations and a proactive approach to their needs, World Bank and Asian Development Bank made a valuable and continuing contribution. So did the donors. Solid paper work was done by in service public servants and select retired personnel. In six months Concept Papers for 17 sectors were outlined in 1,700 pages. Cursorily orders of magnitude were worked out. They amounted to $ 4.5 billion for the programme. Fund flow was to follow with firm estimates, for pledges to translate into cash. They were all contained in one CD and was available to make hard copies. A similar CD was available for affected areas bordering North East. For central direction, personalities of the caliber of Bradman Weerakoon and R. Paskaralingam were ready at hand and they led the way. It may be noted that both are there for a similar purpose now at the PM’s office.

To match Colombo, the North-East had its Provincial officialdom in Trincomalee. Major General Ashoka Jayawardene handpicked by the President as Governor made it a point to assume duties only after gaining a fair mastery of the nuances of Provincial administration. With a quick brush of it in six weeks from the Colombo office itself, he transited from the military to civil administration. In turn the latter gained a development orientation with the launch of the multi-million dollar rehabilitation programme. His term provided seamless movement. He selected S.Rangarajah SLAS as his Secretary and subsequently appointed him Chief Secretary. SR’s ability like his integrity was of the highest and he acted freely even as he worked tirelessly. There was merited response from officialdom stretching from Pt.Pedro to Amparai. By early 2006, results were there on the North-East landscape for all to see.

Challenges; 2016 Onwards

The forthcoming tasks are more challenging compared to the past ones. Programmes initiated earlier are by no means complete. Added to them are the needs created by an intensified war fought to a finish in 2009. They are more diverse and more long drawn out. Restitution in times past has to be superseded by redevelopment. The way major highways have been done illustrates the point. When spread across all sectors, the finances required can be estimated. The time span may also be forecast. A NEEDS ASSESSMENT SURVEY similar to the one undertaken in 2002/03, will spell out the parameters and the magnitudes. There is reason to think that this will be the very first step in a Multi-Billion Dollar journey that will take a decade or more to traverse.

Donor Conference 2016

The scope of work and the scale of investment envisaged by the government for the North are explicitly conveyed by its reference to an Aid Conference for that purpose. The sentiments expressed by the Finance Minister and the explicit wording inspire confidence. “Our government is extremely cognizant of the grievances of the people in the war affected areas. The people of the North East have been requesting the government to provide them with basic facilities during the last several years. While the government has committed itself to a significant amount of funds for the development of the war affected areas, we also plan to convene a Donor Conference in 2016, to generate support from bilateral and multilateral agencies to enhance the rehabilitation of the North and the East”.- An excerpt from the Budget Speech.

Projects Specified in Budget

Among the projects with specific mention in the Budget are:

  1. Engineering Faculty in Kilinochchi
  2. Agriculture Faculty in Vavuniya
  3. Upgrading Jaffna Hospital
  4. Cancer Hospital Nallur
  5. 20,000 houses in Mannar and Mullaithivu, and
  6. Red Clay Factory in Oddusuddan

It is worthy of note that the two important Faculties pressed for by the North are going to be established. The government should blast through so called land limitation and choose to select and reserve 400 acres or more for each one of the faculties. Abandoning primitive plans, state of the art design should be opted for. Through competitive bidding the best architect and the best contractor need to be selected.

There are besides other proposals with locations unspecified and no mention or even suggestion of North or East. However since they deserve consideration for the North, clarification may be sought. They are:

  1. Three New Airports
  2. Maritime Hub
  3. Megapolis and Urban Development
  4. Industrial Parks
  5. Bio-Technology Parks
  6. Wind and Solar Power Projects

Under item 1) Palaly Airport deserves to be developed into an international airport. Potential revenue from travel to and from India alone is enormous. Benefit for the Jaffna economy too will be huge.

Under item 2) KKS Harbour should become the northern magnet of the Maritime Hub. Both passenger and goods traffic in large proportions can be envisaged. Of as much importance or more is hinterland development. It is for interest groups in the North to ascertain and to push ahead, if not in 2016 then for 2017.

Of the Expenditure Proposals with allocations provided for the nation, item 9 is province specific. Others have relevance to the North as well. For clarity, they will need people’s intervention and communication in the media.

Proposal                                                          Rs Million
Construction of Cold Stores                                2,000
Economic Zones                                                    200
Development of Industrial Zones                           700
Tourism Skilled Development                                100
Upgrading Primary Schools                              10,000
Facilities to 1,000 Secondary Schools              20,000
Basic facilities for 1,360 Schools                      30,000
Establishment of Police Stations                        1,000
North and East Development                           14,000
Development of Sports                                       1,000

Action by Northern Polity

With vigilant attention to the way the proposals progress and with ceaseless interaction with Ministry and Departmental Heads, much traction can be achieved. Professionals of the North taking the cue from the Tamil Lawyers Forum can form their respective organizations, study the budget proposals each year and mount their agitation. These moves are necessary to demonstrate liveliness.

Taking the path of least resistance and trusting the traditional trustees will take the Tamils nowhere, if resurgence is their target.

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