By S. Sivathasan –
Investing resources judiciously, creating wealth, consolidating it and distributing it appropriately are prime tasks of governance – Thirukkural.
People with a History
Sangam literature serves the Tamils well in the study of their social and economic history. The better known Chola exploits of a millennium back owe their origin to the Sangam era. The first Tamil Poet Laureate of Tamil Nadu after India got independence was Namakkal Kavignar. He said “We Tamils are legatees to great achievements; let us do all that is appropriate to regain our past glory”. Life affirmation and material prosperity characterized earlier times. Full awareness of it influences their thought and action in both places across the Straits. With such consciousness perhaps Edmund Samarakkody MP speaking in Parliament in 1961 said; “Tamils are a proud people, a people with a history”. Yes, people with a rich heritage will seek to reassert their rights to give the appropriate economic dimension to their aspirations.
What stands in their path and against their forward movement will have to move out of their way. When the Treaty of Versailles heaped humiliation on Germany, Mao Tse Tung as a young revolutionary of age 25, addressed some French leaders in 1918, along these lines – You people think you have done something great. In ten or twenty years war will break out – What a warning it was to those insensitive to the susceptibilities of the defeated and impervious to the inevitable destined to follow. What a parallel it has to the war and its aftermath in Sri Lanka.
The unconventional way in which Japan and Singapore grew in recent times has dazzled the world. The irrepressible energy of the Japanese was duly channeled by good governance to make the economy top notch. The mental energy of a single leader in Singapore has taken the nation to laudable status among first world economies. They have blasted the notion of richness in indigenous natural resources as basic to create more wealth. To them the richest resource was the people to whom modern education was provided and skills imparted. As important or more was the luring of foreign finance together with transfer of technology.
Sri Lanka and the Northern segment are rich in human resources, though yet to be cut, polished and value added. The last three-quarter century has shown the world over, how material wealth can enhance human resources that have remained stagnant for long. For the segment of the North, economic opportunities abroad have opened up possibilities never considered practicable earlier. It is to such material that those in governance owe an obligation to provide the environment for further growth.
Attractions of the Modern
To cite but one area of meaningful and profitable engagement it is tourism. A post Tsunami inspection took my colleague and me in early 2005 to coastal Mullaitivu where we marveled at the tourism potential of NANDIKADAL. How many really know of the incredible tourism resources allowed to lie fallow? Do many Sri Lankans know that Singapore on par with Ceylon in tourism 50 years back gets 15 times as many tourists now? This would show potential but let it not go by default for want of clear thinking. The writer knows as much as any Tamil that education, IT, health, agriculture, food security, infrastructure and housing count for more. What is considered practicable for the bulk of diaspora financing is investing with a modern flavour. Their business like computations will smack of the ultra-modern.
Tamil Diaspora as Investor
With a global perspective World Bank says quite assertively that Diaspora can be a source of capital, investment and technology transfer. International migrants in 2013 estimated at 230 million by WB compose 3% of world population. Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora approximates 30% of its parent community in Sri Lanka. Its earning capacity is therefore disproportionately higher compared to that of 3%. It is further pointed out that recorded remittances received by developing countries at $ 404 billion in 2013 exceeds official aid flows. Capital from Tamils mobilisable abroad and investible in the North is huge. But what flows in as of now is only a fraction.
It comes in disjointed driblets merely to make life tolerable to their near ones. Why such a phenomenon? The prevailing no-war situation has failed to create an environment of calm or repose. The bitterness of war is made to fester. The heavy presence of the military is a constant abrasion to foil any healing of the Southern ulcer. Lest they begin to forget, there is a raucous reminder of it in the annual calendar of celebrations. In the fifties Japanese imports bore the label ‘Made in Occupied Japan’. That was designed to rub insult upon injury. Even without it, General MacArthur blazoned it with his presence. The existence of the military Governor in the North is precisely to reinforce such animosiy. To rub in that the East is no less prostrate than the North, there is a military Governor there as well. The government relishes the thought that a perfect ensemble is in place as a rivet of its despotism.
Why Tamils Recoil
Are learned theses necessary to explain why the diaspora does not invest in the North or in the rest of the country? Whatever goodwill that existed even during the conflict is being dissipated by a single entity –the government. It is doing all within its power not to abate ill feeling but to embed antipathy. What the diaspora thinks is in sync with Tamils throughout the globe. More importantly, it resonates with the feelings of the parent community resident in the land of their birth. It was this unity that brought the jitters and forced a weird theory upon the LLRC. There is a good Tamil diaspora and a bad. A patriotic SL government should entice the former, alienate the latter and marginalize both.
What a strategy; using a wedge to unite! The approach of the government is same as the Britisher’s attitude to India’s aspiration to freedom. Bharathi puts across in memorable words as coming from the white man – “A slave born to labour, how dare you nurture thoughts of being free. Have you known it before? Can you ever use it?” The poet repudiates, “Those robustly intent upon independence, will never settle for anything less. With a keenness for nectar, will they ever waste their breath on toddy?” (read 13A). An effusion of stirring lines decades before independence galvanized the Tamils. With the government standing asininely insensitive to Tamil aspirations, they too will remain equally obdurate. Five years have remained the same and Tamils have little thought of investing nearer home. Yet a change in national consciousness induced by a new leadership can make the difference. In that hope some ideas are outlined.
When a nation is pressed against the wall it is constrained to go for climate change. Many a state has opted for it and herein we have seen economic progress. Consequent to the climate change, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) which started in $ millions in the sixties reached billions in a few decades and then touched $2 trillion in 2007. The slide since then is now getting reversed and in 2013, $ 1.461 trillion was recorded. FDI projected for 2016 is $ 1.8 trillion.
Global FDI stock has now reached $25.5 trillion. Global investment needs are in the order of $ 5 to 7 trillion per year. It is assessed that developing countries need $ 3.3 to 4.5 trillion, which is mainly for basic infrastructure. It may also be noted that in 2013, 54% of FDI inflow was to developing countries. Developing Asia is No. 1 global investment destination – (source: UNCTAD). The significance of FDI to Sri Lanka and inflow from diaspora may be seen in such perspective.
UNCTAD’s Investment Policy (IP) Emphases
Outlining 11 core principles in the area of FDI, the UN body says in 3 of them:
“Investment policies should be developed involving all stakeholders, and embedded in an institutional framework based on the rule of law that adheres to high standards of public governance and ensures predictable, efficient and transparent procedures for investors”.
“In line with each country’s development strategy, investment policy should establish open, stable and predictable entry conditions for investment”.
“Investment policies should provide adequate protection to established investors. The treatment of established investors should be non-discriminatory in nature”. (emphases added)
The most salient are highlighted. How many of them obtain in the Northern Province or in the country? Expected Investments have not measured up to the billions devoted to the reconstruction effort. Tamils know of the energy and resources that have been channeled in more than restituting road and rail infrastructure together with bridges and as relevantly power and communication network. When they are not purposefully utilized to attract foreign inflows or for governmental investment, no worthwhile results follow. We have seen it in recent years.
In the last few years World Fact Book did not even publish the FDI data of Sri Lanka. SL had lost her credibility. WFB wished to retain its name for reliability. Prior to that the information showed an upward variance compared to statistics elsewhere on SL. Zimbabwe is in the same boat.
Aversion to Northern Development – Why?
Reference to North is the precisely demarcated Northern Province. Statistics are official. Perceptions are not confined to a single ethnic entity. Of late they are very much at variance with official pronouncements. The percipient and the honest accept only what is tenable and credible.
It is sought to examine why the North has not surged from May 2009. The present and the future are inseparable from the past. The germ of constraining one community was well planted in the last century.
It was in full political flush before independence. Its growth was inhibited by the ruling power – the British. Since then it was war by other means – politics – till 1983. “Extension of politics by other means”- war- followed. From 2009 it is war under camouflage. Tamils are not naïve to wish for the fruit of war to fall from defeat. The benefits are scrupulously reserved for the victor. In what form?
In the North a show of development with high visibility structures for visitors. To the gilt cage some shine is added. Life is certainly made more tolerable with easier commuting, good communications and the benefits of electricity. Very little is added to economic progress or employment or the quality of life. They are however no substitute for self-government. The Provincial Council is instituted for the purpose of engaging the people in their own governance. But it is negated through Governor’s government, a single orifice that constricts any meaningful development. Where did the Province stand in 2008, assessed through economic and social criteria? LAST in the country. Where does it stand in 2014? LAST in the country.
When the Province is circumscribed in every respect by central authority and displays only negative features, what is the attraction for foreign or Diaspora investment? Military infestation was irksome to everybody. Para militaries made it worse. High Security Zones had expelled tens of thousands. Iniquitous land misappropriation has added to displacement. There is no resumption of normality and this is not the way to attract investment or development. Tamils are wont to think that this is by intent and design. Making the investment climate hospitable is the first step in drawing investments to the North.
What the Future Holds
A reputed writer in a recent publication of his has expressed a worthwhile and credible viewpoint. Put in my words, a statesman in the mould of Mandela may have the stature to attempt a change of national consciousness among his people (Sinhala). But he must have a higher vision to be worthy of such a mission.
Having said that, he adds that only President Rajapaksa himself personally can find a way out of this impasse. “However, given the elements that comprise Mahinda Rajapaksa’s consciousness, such a transformation in the southern consciousness is not likely to happen. What is more likely is that Rajapaksa will stoke the southern supremacist consciousness in a downward spiral into a deeper and wider conflict”.
It is difficult not to hold with the writer. If that be the reality, Tamils have to be prepared for a long haul to experience the benefits of peace. It would seem that our path to redemption is not laid out in velvet. Government’s proactive policies, responded to by Tamils with investment, development and economic progress can deflect dire prospects.