By S.Sivathasan –
While thanking the contributors for their response, may I express my thoughts on them. To me the approach to administering the Province is three phased at the beginning.
Phase l – From the holders of sovereign power – the people – the Party intent on governing seeks and obtains a mandate through an admirable Manifesto. The Manifesto limited in length, sets out in clear perspective but only in broad outline the direction that the Provincial Council envisages taking. It is now done, whatever may be the infirmities. The mandate is awaited for 21st September.
Phase ll – The Party installed in power, will be led in governance by the Chief Minister (CM). Together with the permanent bureaucracy he will prepare a Policy Statement (PS) setting out the parameters of policy and action for the full five year term of the Council. The PS, prepared within three weeks, endorsed by the Board of Ministers and approved by the Council will enjoy the sanction for implementation.
The PS will serve as the sheet anchor for framing the Budget and the course of administration in the ensuing year ie 2014. An extremely important condition for vertical take- off is a one off grant to be negotiated with the government with all the persuasive skill that the Chief Minister can marshal. The scope of work and the magnitude of investment in the remaining four years will be determined by the success achieved in: 1) The rapport established with the Central government. 2) Ability in mobilizing resources.
Phase lll – An Action Plan covering the full tenure of the Council needs to be formulated. Under the chairmanship of the Chief Secretary (CS) and with the collaboration of the Secretaries, such a Plan has to be prepared. The segment on development will embrace the important sectors in which Education will have precedence. This exercise to commence in October this year should be concluded by September 2014. Within this span of one year, administrative and technical capacity shall have been built up. At all times, direction from the CM and interaction with the Ministers will be available. Discussions with central Ministries and important institutions will be deemed indispensable.
Prospecting for and securing finances will be the most paramount task for the CM and the CS. Foreign aid will form a major component of the finances. This will be done as per the constitutional provisions and with the necessary approvals of the Central government as are mandated by law.
Quite correctly there was a query about financial strategy. It is fundamental to any progress. The best course is prescribed by Valluvar. A government should create wealth, consolidate that fund, conserve it and distribute it equitably. A pro-poor approach, however lustily it is bandied about, can distribute only poverty. It is palpably wrong to imagine that the provincial economy should be having an inner dynamic of its own to generate wealth. All it takes of a politician is to have the generosity of mind and to be resourceful enough to distribute it. If regulations stand in the way, overwhelm them with greater fiscal powers appears to be the attitude.
For the Northern Province, the need of the hour is not more fiscal power than what is available, but far greater FINANCES. For those in governance in the NP, it should be an article of faith that what should precede wealth distribution is its creation. To create it and particularly in the background of decades of regress, investment capital in staggering proportions needs to be mobilized. From where can it come? From foreign aid and the private sector both local and foreign. The state commands meager resources of its own and that too only to provide some rudimentary infrastructure.
A perusal of the nation’s economy and finances will present a picture. In 2012, total tax revenue was about Rs.1. trillion. Debt service payments were close upon Rs.1 trillion. Outstanding Public Debt stood at Rs. 6 trillion while the GDP was Rs. 7.6 trillion. Yet over $ 8 billion are poised to flow in over a few years into the port cities of Colombo and Trincomalee, though as FDI.
Are PC funds any the better? Total expenditure for all 9 PCs in 2012 was Rs, 159 billion out of which Rs. 23 billion was capital expenditure and Rs.136 billion was current expenditure. Of the current amount Rs.101 billion was spent on personal emoluments. The remaining Rs.35 billion went for current expenditure which is more or less mandated as for highways, irrigation, agriculture, buildings, fuel, stationery etc. for maintenance. Grants to PCs at Rs.112 billion by way of central government transfers helped meet the salaries bill. Finally how much is available for deployment? Virtually nothing. For capital expenditure the actual in 2012 was Rs.23 billion for 9 PCs. When amounts committed for continuation works are discounted and new works already identified and budgeted for are also taken into account, funds available will be minimal for inclusion in the course of 2014. It is in this context that donor funding has to be solicited, negotiated for and secured through the goodwill and collaboration of the Central government.
What is fiscal power of the Provincial Council? Power over levy and collection of taxes and authority to spend it along with other funds at the disposal of the Council. What was the level of expenditure of NPC in 2012? How much was collected as taxes? All parameters of collection and of expenditure from Provincial sources would indicate that it is very negligible. It is not sizeable enough even for Western Province which accounts for 44.4% of Provincial GDP. Tax revenue collected by all 9 PCs is Rs. 41 billion or 3.9 % of the nation’s. The latter gets 96.1%.
A comment was made about “One thought missing”- Reconciliation. The sentiment behind it and the spirit in which it was posed have my appreciation. But can I ever mention it even? Has the moment come for it? Haven’t all Tamils within and without cried in unison with their parched up throats for a swift resumption of normalcy? Wasn’t there a sustained call for civilian governance for four years and more? Didn’t the people demand unanimously that military occupation be diminished substantially? Was any resonance seen from the government? War weary citizenry of the North longed for a change and a peace dividend. They hoped for a return to their place of residence with their house and property handed back. Instead they were herded in ghettos in 2009 and their house and land were confiscated. What the people experience is an iniquitous perpetuation of military occupation for more than four years after war ended.
How did the British set about to make the people of India feel their sense of liberation? With sensitivity to their sentiments they worked out certain timelines.
6 08 1946 Wawell requests Nehru to form Interim Government. Nehru accepts.
2 09 1946 Interim Government sworn in.
1 10 1946 British troops of 80,000 to be reduced to 36,000 by 1 April 1947.
1 04 1948 A further reduction to 23,000 by this date.
If the SL regime announces a similar agenda for civilian governance and army withdrawal, it will be a declaration of welcome intentions that will motivate the NPC and the CM to reciprocate. Then the Northern polity will begin to think, talk and write about Reconciliation, though forceful articulation will take much longer. Yet very many more steps need to be taken by the government to spur the conciliatory frame.
“Worked successfully…..the space will open for further devolution”. This observation of Prof. Silan Kadirgamar is very perceptive. This thread underlay my thinking in the entire narrative. The new administration has to take on this unspectacular but strenuous task. In a few months the spirit of the new order will display itself. Soon after being placed at the helm, Deng Ziao Ping addressed staff and workers at several meetings in order to instill discipline and to tone up. He said “We will transfer you even 365 times if you are found wanting”. There was a marked change and the space of this approach was exhausted within three years. Then a visit of the leadership to Japan opened up vistas of far higher productivity through technology. This was 30 years back.
SK has said “Good governance with whatever powers that are available”. Yes at all times available powers are good enough for efficient administration and frugal management. A fear was expressed by one other that all the flows designated for the North may not reach that place. The greater threat is that for want of administrative and technical capacity what reaches may not be fully utilized. So building capacity is of grave concern.
What was your purpose one person asked very overtly. Many might have thought so. Firstly there are several categories of thought and no single trajectory can accommodate them all. What I feared most about the TNA Manifesto was that it would be a relapse into the past, taking us further into the mire. I preferred a wrench freeing us for the future. I wished that political undercurrents are overwhelmed by economic imperatives and that the latter should engage our attention and consume much of our mental energy. Quite advisedly some preparations made in 1949, 1957, 1976 and thereafter were placed in the back burner. They could be warmed up when the need arises. They are not the best to be served now or to be on the surface of our consciousness.
Resuscitation of the economy is the current compulsion. There may be inadequate realization that a fund flow of nearly 40 billion rupees in 2003 to 2008 has made life tolerable in North East. There may be even less understanding that more than 10 times that amount is needed in the NP alone in the next 10 years, not to become opulent but to be near some of the evenly developed Provinces. According to much of Economic and Social Statistics of the Central Bank available in respect of Provinces for 10 years,
the Northern Province ranked last among all, consistently for 10 years. It may even be for 20 consecutive years. Hence my constant reference for ‘Marshall Plan’, Reparations and a flood like funneling of funds through Central Government with Provincial Government initiative and persistence. To inch along to a common meeting ground, these need front burner placement without the traditional ones crowding them out. To recharge the aquifer after a 30 year drought, a 10 year flood is compulsive.
We have to be mindful of our plight now. The rushing flood post 1983, had taken away whatever water that remained. The land was wiped clean in 2009. Our situation is best portrayed by Chanthiramathi’s (Arichanthiran’s wife and one time Queen) lament and description of her condition. “We have lost our kingdom, our son and all our wealth. What we now have is only our sense of honour”. So let us –Tamils – safeguard the modicum that remains, restore dignity and rebuild our lives. A temporary freeze of intemperance and a jettisoning of the unpalatable are seen as advisable. This is what we admit in private. Why not acknowledge it in public for a while and reach for the pragmatic? TNA has been circumspect in this regard.
A Serious Observation
I have sensed it all my life. Obsession with the last comma and the last decimal is a frailty common to all Tamils. However long the wait, when an arrangement comes out, our inscrutable minds look for completeness and perfection. They must all be compacted in the final effort of the ‘Last Chance’. Failure would mean eternal damnation. Therefore dissection into black and white, seeing no intermediate shades of grey is the only track we can take. If a single weak spot is seen or suspected and yet the formula is well received, the present generation has sold out posterity. The leadership cannot be pardoned for its act of betrayal. So the two parties reassure one another of their fidelity and strike together in rejecting it. Throwing the baby with the bath water at all times has brought us to a single plane of forlornness. These hoops of iron grip us firmly denying any elbow room to move differently. The time is now to blast them away and veer to virgin territory.