By S.Sivathasan –
To move away from the visible marks of war, there have been options. Bland restitution was one. But veering from it and embarking on reconstruction to meet heavier needs of the future became the preferred choice. Such policy is manifest in the North for highways. Quite conspicuous in visibility is the redevelopment of some of the important highways. But were the corollaries thought of and planned for or are they being met? If the Provincial and Central government move in tandem, they can yet be realized giving a new dimension to the programme of economic and social regeneration.
By all accounts, visual reports have it that A class highways in the North are executed well and without discrimination. They certainly impress foreign personnel and casual visitors while they serve the purpose of easy transport and comfortable travel. But prying eyes which peer beyond see an unspectacular interior. Staid statistics of trade, transport, industry and construction which account for nearly half the GDP of the nation, depict a picture more telling than photos or a video. When these four sectors are grouped together for the nation, the total in 2011 was Rs.3,051 billion and in contrast the North had Rs. 66 billion for the same four sectors. A stark picture of 1 of 9 Provinces, having 1 of 46 of GDP share emerges. By comparison, the Western Province had 23 of 46.
Today the North has highways it deserves, but not an economy to match. Is it correct policy to have roads first? Definitely yes. But no programme is yet in place to expand the economy even though a road network is at hand. More pertinently, people’s wellbeing demands it and with expedition. Quite a substantial component in the nation’s GDP is transport. Prior to 1983, under normal order of things, the North pulsated with life with a thriving economy. It reflected in the transport sector. As at end of 2011, when the country’s transport was Rs.754 billion of GDP, the share of the North was Rs. 28 billion or 1/27th. One may say that transport is now at a low profile, since there is precious little to move to and fro. That is precisely the point being made here.
The statistics noted above relate a harrowing tale consigning the people to an impoverished life. They relate the real story as it manifests at the hearth, the closet and the home. Changing it is the task of the government. The Provincial government with its feet and its ear to the ground has of necessity to be unfailing in its mission. The central government needs to be proactively supportive with resources. Why such support? The thirty year war has destroyed the economic assets of the North and knocked off the income source even to make ends meet. A tax base to provide some revenue worthy of mention does not exist. Hence the persistent allusion to: Reparations, ‘Marshal Plan’, Institutional borrowing, Multi-lateral funding and Central government financing. These are indispensable in the short term to provide the basis for intermediate and long term growth.
Economic activity in agriculture, industry, fishing, trade, construction and transport require a strong stimulus from the state. The Services Sector has to achieve more than proportionate growth compared to agriculture and industry. Only then can the current 3.7% share of the North in the nation’s GDP, change for the better. Even to reach a 3rd of WP’s current GDP, the NP will need a 4 fold increase in several segments. For the last 6 years NP has occupied the last place among all the Provinces. Was this the position 4 and 5 decades ago? All island per capita income in 2011 was RS.313,000. For Western Province it was Rs. 490,000. For Northern Province it was Rs.200,000. When there is a slide all round, individual incomes can only be the lowest, consistently and continuously. The people have the resilience not to reconcile to this position.
Slide Among Sectors
To which sectors should investment capital be directed? To areas which generate both income and employment. In some sectors there is both an economic and a social angle. Areas devastated by war and neglected for long certainly require concerted attention. One such is fishing. In total, for almost 20 of the 30 years, that community was excluded from pursuing its activity and was made bone dry. Where do they stand now? This section of society which together with its counterpart in the East produced 2/3rds of the country’s fish, six decades ago produced 1/3rd in 2012. This performance was despite the North East operating 52% of the craft. The North operated 5 Multi Day Inboard Motor Boats in 2012 while the country operated 4,241 of the same type. The East operated 583 such craft and as per information a few years back, not one was owned by a Tamil. The above account emphasizes the pressing need for affirmative action to revive the industry, modernize it and to resuscitate the community.
The nation’s Factory Industry (FI) was Rs.1,084.2 billion of GDP in 2011, while the Northern Province had Rs. 3.4 billion. The North plagued by turmoil forfeited its consideration by BOI investors. The importance of BOI enterprises may be assessed when it is known that employment in that segment is over a third of public sector employment and gross export earnings in 2012 were Rs. 702 billion. Roads done so far are a good beginning and an elementary requirement for SEZ is getting into place. Factory Industry needs large volumes of transport and NP lacks in many elements that compose transport. Of particular importance are goods transport vehicles where the banking sector can enable individual investors in procurement.
There are a few other areas that merit attention. Among two of the major sectors are, Domestic Trade and construction. The former is a study in contrast with Rs.702 billion for the nation and Rs. 8 billion or 1/87th for NP. A similar story holds for Construction, where the national figure was Rs. 511 billion and the Provincial one Rs. 26 billion. There are two important utilities besides: electricity and water supply. As for the former an appreciable amount has been accomplished. What remains to be done on the distribution side may be seen from the fact that the consumer accounts in the North are 1/28th of the nation’s. Water supply situation is infinitely different. The North has 1 consumer account for every 200 in the country. As for the utilities, we blame no one. We are experiencing collective deprivation for collective moral default. All we urge of the state is to afford to the North an essential service, while catching up on lost time.
When the current status of the Northern Province is examined, the most glaring sight is deficiency on all sides and in every respect. The burden to be borne and to be shared by the Centre and the Province is Himalayan. Mobilising finances is primary among them. The picture presented through a few studies is to throw the searchlight on the magnitude of the damage and regress that have come about most regrettably and very prominently in the North. The tasks ahead and the immensity of cerebral activity that are called for are also highlighted. It is believed that the the Province is on the threshold of change when the first elected Council is set up. A few years will show how the Council braces up to the challenge and how the Centre would respond.