18 July, 2019

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Victims Of Sri Lanka’s ‘Development’ ?

By M A Sumanthiran

M.A. Sumanthiran

The opening of the Mattala Rajapaksa International airport in Sri Lanka has been hailed by representatives of the Sri Lankan government as a significant boost to Sri Lanka’s economic development. In keeping with the priority the government clearly seems to be placing in the last few years, on large scale development projects, environmental and even economic concerns about the airport have been summarily dismissed by the unwavering government claim that the Mattala airport opens a new chapter in Sri Lanka’s economic development.

The Tamil National Alliance has repeatedly raised concerns regarding the ‘development’ policy of the government in the North and East. Government boasts of new roads, bridges and culverts in the North and East have done little to ease the desperate needs of those who live there – basic needs such as a return to their lands and property which they are still prevented from occupying, housing with proper facilities, and proper nutrition. These are needs that the government seems determined to ignore.

I have raised this concern many times, in particular following Hon. Gunaratene Weerakoon, Minister for Resettlement’s  statement in Parliament on the 21st of March 2013 that 470 houses have been built by the government in the past 4 years. I emphasized that it is important to consider who truly benefits from such development and even more importantly, at whose expense such development takes place.

I have often said that the histories of Sri Lanka’s peoples are connected. The people of the South cannot forever stay unaffected by what happens to the peoples of the North and the East. Today, we see this in relation to the economic and development policies of the government.

Some weeks ago, the government announced the much anticipated revisions in the electricity tariff. The overall hike in the cost of electricity is estimated to be approximately 65%. Economists predict that the revisions in the electricity tariff will further deepen electricity poverty in Sri Lanka.

In addition to the cost of electricity itself, the increased cost in the production of goods and services will lead to a significant increase in the overall cost of living as well, placing an even more crushing burden on the consumer.

The announcement of the hike, unsurprisingly, led to a wave of protests from various groups, even resulting in a furor in Parliament that forced the Speaker to adjourn sittings. Opposition parties and trade unions have announced their intention of resorting to legal action in order to challenge the tariff hike. To date however, no proper response has been forthcoming to public questions relating to the tariff hike.

The Ceylon Electricity Board cites high production costs as the reason for the hike. This is however, amidst widespread allegations, including claims by employees of the Ceylon Electricity Board that the increase in the tariffs is to cover up massive waste and corruption within the Ceylon Electricity Board. Minister for Power and Energy Pavithra Devi Wanniarachchi, responding to questions in Parliament raised by acting Leader of the Opposition John Amaratunge, stated that the proposal to implement the recent power tariff hike had been made by her predecessor, long before she assumed duties. She stated that she had no choice but to continue with the decisions made by her predecessor. Her predecessor, Minister Champika Ranawaka however, is of the opinion that the present Minister’s attempt to blame him for the latest increase is unfair, and that he himself believes that the latest price revision is unfair.

While it cannot be denied that action must be taken to reduce the significant losses faced by the Ceylon Electricity Board, what is unclear is why the government decided to address this by placing the entire burden of it squarely on the shoulders of the consumer.   The reluctance of government officials to take responsibility for the proposal clearly reflects the fact that even they cannot deny that this is completely unjustifiable.

Despite the financial crisis of the Ceylon Electricity Board and the resulting rise in the cost of living in Sri Lanka today, the government seems to be willing to spend colossal sums of money on large scale ‘development’ projects, such as the Mattala Rajapaksa International airport, which is estimated to have cost US $210 million. Was a second international airport really Sri Lanka’s most pressing need? If the Ceylon Electricity Board was facing a crisis so serious that the government proposes to address it with unprecedented tariff hikes for the consumer, would it not have been more beneficial to the public if this money was instead invested in alternative strategies to address the crisis within the Ceylon Electricity Board? The crisis is not a new one. The International Monetary Fund has repeatedly emphasized the need for power reforms and a more sustainable model for the generation of the country’s energy needs. Money could have been invested to provide short term financial assistance to the Ceylon Electricity Board, thus eliminating the need for such excessive tariff hikes for the consumer. Investment could also have been made to create and incentivize the generation of alternate sources of energy in Sri Lanka. Steps could have been taken to restructure the Ceylon Electricity Board and address the massive waste and corruption in generating, transmitting and distributing electricity.

A responsible government should not be content with defining development merely in terms of carving its name in stone and concrete; merely in terms of the number of large scale development projects; merely the number of large scale investors. It should not be content with making the rich richer, at the expense of making the struggle of the poor to survive even harder. Real development uplifts the lives of the people it is supposed to benefit. A government must measure development in terms of human well being, and in terms of an increased standard of living for its most vulnerable inhabitants.

I have cited previously, the following statement in a report of the International Crisis Group, titled ‘Sri Lanka’s North II: Rebuilding under the Military’ (dated 16th March 2012), which stated that:

‘A more central defect of the government’s focus on large-scale infrastructure projects is that it has come at the expense of meeting the urgent needs of those most affected by the war’.

It is now clear however, that the government’s focus on large-scale infrastructure projects is not merely at the expense of ‘those most affected by the war’, but indeed at the expense of all its peoples.

With the end of the war, foremost among the government’s promises to Sri Lanka’s peoples was the benefits of economic development. Whatever economic ‘development’ that has taken place however, has only lined the pockets of a privileged few and has required the sacrifice of the economic well being of most of Sri Lanka’s citizenry. The victims of the Sri Lankan government’s ‘development’ are now not only peoples of the North and the East but peoples of the South as well.

It is time the government stopped defining development in terms of roads, bridges, airports and harbours and began defining it in terms of the true well being of all Sri Lanka’s peoples.

*The author, M A Sumanthiran (B.Sc, LL.M) is a Member of Parliament through the Tamil National Alliance, a senior practicing lawyer, prominent Constitutional and Public Law expert and civil rights advocate.

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Latest comments

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    Spot on Mr M A Sumanthiran. Here is a politician who seems to talk in a balanced sense.

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      The victims of Rajapassa’s development, JVP and other opposition groups, trade unions and civil society organization should launch a massive opposition campaign against the CHOGM aka. Commonwealth of Clowns circus being held in Colombo and the massive waste of funds to host an irrelevant organization by the Rajapassa dictatorship – in front of the British and Indian High Commissions and at the CHOGM venue..
      Let us prepare for the Lanka Spring to gutter the CHOGM in Rajapassa ville!

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    Good points, the fact is the the white elephant projects in Hambantota in addition to their debt burden have very high maintenance costs. Imagine how much electricity it costs to air-condition and keep the Mattala airport running on a day to day basis. This is the bill that the people are being asked to pay!

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    Country is said to be developing. Per Capita GNP increasing. How come the ordinary people are sinking more and more into poverty. Of course a few select families are enjoying booming prosperity. Hambantota is said to be the epitome of development and prosperity but if you go there and see how the local people are living you will wonder what this nonsense is all about.

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    Mr Sumanthiran,

    Whom are you trying to fool with your assertion that the new roads, bridges, culverts, power plants, pipe borne water schemes, the fastest and the biggest mine clearing operation in the world, railway line, K K S port, hospitals and schools have made the people of Northern Province victims of development?

    For every inhabitant in the Northern Province, there is more than one affluent Tamil living abroad. When I was in the Northern Province I did not see any houses or anything else funded by this heartless & stingy Tamil Diaspora. Only service they are providing is using their extorted funds to influence moderate politicians to become their lackeys. They are also making good use of their ill gotten funds buy the services of journalists, politicians, human rights related organisations Etc to sing the Tamil Tiger tunes for their supper.

    Few years ago, you were a moderate politician to get together with other moderates of all parties to chart a new direction for Sri Lanka. Don’t sell your soul for a pot of porridge offered by the Tamil Diaspora.

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      so… your overall message is “tamils in jaffna have relatives abroad. our govt. says they’re doing more for these people than their rich relatives, so shut up and forget about the needless waste and destruction of habitats that the govt. is doing”?

      rocket scientist, you are.

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    Safa

    Central Bank statistics throw some light.
    In 2012 GDP increased by Rs.1.0 trillion and reached Rs. 7.582 trillion.
    Per capita income in the same period grew by Rs.60,000 to reach Rs. 373,000.

    Statisticians say that one can get drowned in a tank where the depth of water is 1 inch. The analogy highlights the deceptive nature of averages.

    The cumulative public debt was Rs. 5.133 trillion in 2011 and Rs.6 trillion in 2012.
    Per capita it is Rs. 300,000.

    Why can’t you do the grand at Hambantota? the charlatan will ask.

  • 0
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    Well said Sumanthiran. Spoken as a Sri Lankan not as a Tamil

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      see, this is why i’d actually consider voting for this guy if he ran for prez :)

  • 0
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    Correction

    …where the average depth…

  • 0
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    Mr. Sumanthiran.

    You are from TNA. You need first to prove that you are trust worthy.

    Because you are a politician as well as a Lawyer.

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    This is a very thought provoking piece which poses the question of what kind of development is most beneficial to the people in the North. Well done Sumanthiran. What I like most about the article is that Sumanthiran seems to be saying all Sri Lankans are impacted by what is going on in the north and I like that because I maintain that this man is a unifier….

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    Before talking anything about the developments of the government, Sumanthiran must voice for the Jaffna fishermen whose livelihood is systemeatically destroyed by the Tamil nadu fishermen.

    TNA or Sumanthiran or the Diaspora Tamils still silent on the pleas of the Jaffna fishermen. Jaffna fishermen are now going behind Douglas Devananda to save their nets and boats from the Tamil nadu fishermen!

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      M.Sivananthan

      Why doesn’t Minister Douglas deal with the issues related to Fisherman’s lively hood.

      He should take a trip to Tamilnadu by boat as he used to do in the 1980s and have a go at the Tamilnadu fishery Mafia and return as a victor.

      There are some votes in this act of bravado.

      Don’t forget to send windbag Weerawansa too with him.

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      First of all we should understand the mindset of the Tamil politicians. They talk about normalcy publicly, but they are the ones who hates normalcy in the north and east. They want innocent people to undergo sufferings. Then only they can do politics from their sufferings.
      They will talk about lack of developments,but they are the ones against developments.When Jaffna university was to be opened didn’t they boycott it observe hartal?In the last sixty years of their leadership have they even built a bus shelter?
      They will talk about the political solution publicly ,what did Sampanthan do when madam Chandrika brought her package to the parliament in August2000? Chandrika’s bullet proof car and the commandos are good NOT the package.
      They will come to know about the fishermen issue only if they live in Jaffna.They spend their time mostly in India and European countries.
      As long as Sampanthans remain in the leadership,Tamils will never prosper

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    You should come with national political agenda. Not as confine to north-east. TNA would be national political Party.That what we want as Sri Lankan. Tamils are our brother community for several centuries, but indeed leaders of Tamil political class had been divide from Tamils from Sinhalese, as what Two Major political parties did in South.
    All round Development of Sri Lanka- for all and equal basis and fair share and fair play by ruling class and political class under democratic TASK, but that is not happing at all since 1948.
    We need far reach reform and revolution in democratic task led by New political class in Sri Lanka. That class NOT base on their mindset of racist or cast or uneducated or uncultured social background.
    We have to have well worse elites led by Sri Lankan who are related to people-oriented policies.

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    Sri Lanka needs a statesman, and I see that in Sumanthiran

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      There is no question that Sumanthiran is a true statesman….
      Only someone like this who finds a lot of support from diverse people’s can heal Sri Lanka’s wounds and unify the nation. Someday, when he is president there will be some who say they could see the spark early on….

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