15 August, 2020

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What Options For Jaffna Economic Revival?

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Industrial and agricultural development prospects seem bleak: What options for Jaffna economic revival?

Sometimes countries rise phoenix like from the ashes of devastation and war; the best known are Germany and Japan after WW2. Others like post-crisis Central African basket-cases remain depressed basket-cases. The Northern Province, unlike the East which is picking up smartly is near the bottom end of the spectrum. I spent the last three days in conversation with a Tamil businessman-entrepreneur who is keen on “doing something” to revive the North, especially the Jaffna Peninsula, two concerned Sinhalese (an academic and an NGO person) and a Colombo ex-businessman all of whom are keen to see real economic activity in the North. While you are reading this I will be in Jaffna with a group which will conduct a three day study, led by local activists, to get hands on experience. The purpose of this piece is to say that so far the scene is depressing; it seems difficult to get anything moving. The worry is not the army or the government, though that side is not encouraging. It is that stuff has happened in the last thirty years during the war; conditions have changed so much that to pull oneself up by the bootstraps and rise again is difficult. I need to explain carefully.

KKS and environs

KKS and environs

Lest anyone get the impression that I intend to whitewash the military and the state let me spend a few paragraphs explaining their deleterious effects. The army first; it has surrendered a portion of the occupied territories. I am not sure if the figures provided by anyone can be trusted so let me stick my neck out and say that about 30 to 40% of occupied lands have been returned. The point however is that the choicest pieces are still in army hands. Two types of land are not returned; the best agricultural lands and chic houses and mansions. The latter are occupied by military brass; spacious homes with nice toilets and fittings. Brass enjoying an uninvited sojourn in other people’s homes is not going to give up privileges without a fight – President Sirisena note. Top quality pieces of real estate have been turned into holiday resorts and circuit bungalows to earn bucks, or for the enjoyment of top brass.

The beneficiaries of occupied agricultural lands are the ranks. Produce is marketed and a tidy profit earned. I don’t know how it is shared. Produce from these lands is sold well below the price that the local farmer asks, so he is going to the wall. The manpower ‘cost’ of army labour is zero, or rather you the taxpayer pays, and there is no way a farmer who has to feed a family can compete against fully remunerated labour. Soldiers collect a salary from the taxpayer and a reward from agricultural business. This arrangement of the military commandeering the choicest houses and engaging in business is known the world over. In Egypt the military is the country’s largest business empire and monopolises key product lines. In Egypt as in Lanka tall stories of national security are bunkum; its just money. I was amused by the lacklustre labours of Minister Swaminathan on BBC (or was it Al Jazeera) explaining that there were “certain technical reasons” why return of military occupied lands was held up. Financial gain is a funny version of technology that my Engineering Faculty professors failed to enlighten me about!

I don’t know whether Commander in Chief President Sirisena is naïve and swallows “security concerns” fairy tales served up to him. He would do well to visit Jaffna in mufti with a civilian escort and insist on entering occupied lands and homes without notice. He will be in for a big surprise. Both he and the PM know that the security yarn is a cloak for business gains salubrious vacations. But both fear that they are powerless. This is false; the Gotha-Mahinda rump in the army is not capable of mounting an extra-constitutional challenge to elected institutions.

The foregoing is by way of a lengthy introduction to my subject, which is that even if impositions and obstacles were removed the likelihood of agriculture flourishing is not high. One of my discussants put it pithily: “What annai, what all you are talking; where are the farmers; who is going to farm the land even if we get it all back?” And he went on to explain: “All those old farmers, all those buggers in komanam (loin-cloth) who made Jaffna’s onions and chillies, rice and tobacco famous, they are all dead, all gone; they do not exist now. These young fellows in their fancy jeans with cigarettes dangling from their lips, can you imagine them farming? They want motorbikes, desk jobs and Canadian papers. What annai you are dreaming?” (It sounds so much richer and more musical in Tamil).

And this sentiment is endorsed by others. The Jaffna farmer that we fondly remember is much depleted though I hope not entirely gone; times have changed, things have moved. I remember Oliver Goldsmith from school days “A proud peasantry, their country’s pride, when once destroyed can never be supplied”. The question then is this. Has the thirty year hiatus and social, material and commercial havoc wrought by war made harking back to the old days of past glories of Jaffna (Northern) farming an illusion? The concern is less serious with fishing. Notwithstanding the numerous impediments put in the way of the fishing community by the navy, the sea fortunately is a little too big to seal off. Let me mention though that the prohibition on fishing from the Mailaddy beaches is cruel and unjustified.

The scene is not much more encouraging on the industrial side. What projects are feasible in the NP? Restarting the KKS Cement Factory and the Paranthan Chemical Plant have to be looked into but to check out true feasibility they should be offered to private investors on fair terms. Let us see if there are takers? A project that has interested local and Indian investors is development of the KKS harbour where the biggest step, the breakwater, was erected before the war. A large Indian cement manufacturer and a local (Tamil) shipping entrepreneur are keen. The idea is to dredge the harbour to accommodate larger vessels, import clinker which the Indian cement tycoon will grind with gypsum, pack and release into the local market or re-export. The investment will be of the order of Rs 500 million and the Indian thinks it may be worthwhile. It will probably be a joint venture with a Lankan state owned port enterprise. Other customers will have access for a fee. There are so few doable industrial options in Jaffna that the matter is worth following up.

And this is the depressing point; there are not many credible industrial options. The government is pressing ahead with road building and the Palali Airport; infrastructure development is on the move but hard projects – manufacturing and agriculture – that will turn out tangible commodities are not visible. I inquired about the fishing industry only to be told that thirty years ago there were two or three merchants with large ice making plants, packing and transport facilities, who moved big consignments. They like the farmers are no more. And there seem to be no (not necessarily Tamil) businessmen who wish to invest in Jaffna. There is difficulty in identifying feasible industrial projects. As with farmers so with industrial entrepreneurs there is not much to do and not many businessmen (apart from jazzy hotel projects and the aforementioned KKS harbour proposers) who are straining at the leash to get on with investments.

Therefore the big picture, leaving to one side the military and the state, is a depressing one. The thirty year war has brought about a huge emptiness. I have focussed here on the impersonal side and not touched on the now well know social breakdown among young people – unwillingness to take on skilled (electricians, carpenters, welders, masons, fitters) or unskilled hands-on employment, a drug problem and even footloose and fancy free young ladies. All evidence points to the conclusion that unless ECTA is rammed through, economic growth, not only in the Western Province but in all parts of the country, will be stymied. More generally, the economic outlook of this government is no help. The Ranil-UNP way of life is to create openings for the private sector and foreign capital and sit back and wait for Godot to deliver. This is not working; these two actors have frozen up. The leadership of this government and Lanka’s cannot-think-out-of-the-box NGO “experts” simply do not have the experience nor can they conceptualise how an interventionist state leads development.

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Latest comments

  • 8
    3

    Only People existing in Sri lanka Jaffna Tamils.

    They want Reconciliation.

    they want Federal Solution.

    they want eelam.

    they want Economic revival.

    They want sinhala army prosecuted for killing their heroes.

    they want Tamils only province and the sea.

    They want democracy to live anywhere in the as they prefer.

    they never talk about any contribution from them to the country. What would happen if John F Kennedy happened to be born again as a Tamil politician in Jaffna ?

  • 7
    0

    There are number of potential opportunities for revival of economy. It is true that 30 yaers of armed struggle and previous 30 years of unstable political enviornment have lead to substantial destruction of economic resources, human resources, land resources and technological advance. Unfortunately, even after the end of war, the political conditions are not in favour of revibal of economy. The people have to feel that they are safe,and there are no barriers to entry into the market. The people have to feel that this land is ours, this state is ours, this government is on the side of people. Unfortunately, these things are not there and there is no signs of improvement.

  • 3
    3

    The east is flourishing because of the moors. They are enterpreuners. In fact they have migrated from the east and have established successful businesses in areas such as mullaitivu.
    The people of the north need to be educated in industry. The chief minister should have seminars, work shops etc: extensively.
    The north could also offer businesses good tax breaks for industry (if it is whithin their purview) this would encourage business to start up.
    Its a matter of looking at it positively, Is the glass half full or half empty?

    • 3
      4

      Tungsan Yu,

      “Only People existing in Sri lanka Jaffna Tamils.
      They want Reconciliation.
      they want Federal Solution.
      they want eelam.
      they want Economic revival.
      They want sinhala army prosecuted for killing their heroes.
      they want Tamils only province and the sea.
      They want democracy to live anywhere in the as they prefer.
      they never talk about any contribution from them to the country.”
      -courtesy, gim softy.

  • 0
    2

    [Edited out]

  • 9
    0

    Prof KD, let me highlight one area that you didn’t discuss in this article…

    Jaffna is the historical/cultural home land to Srilankan Tamil Diaspora. One of the outcomes of the ethnic unrest was to move up to half million middle class and lower middle class people out of Sri Lanka and let them financially stabilized and then hope they would help to develop their communities back home. The plan was not to depend on government jobs and quota based university admissions.

    Next phase should be focus on 1st and 2nd generation of Tamils to visit their home land on regular basis and spend part of their vacation/money in Jaffna. Then let them invest in North. Palaly airport development is necessary. Jaffna’s traditional asset is skill workers. There is always demand for young workers who can do math without using a calculator. There aren’t any shortage for that kind of skill workers in Jaffna. But their weakness is lack of social skill. Let them lean that skill from their distance cousins from south of the boarder. We also have local industries that make consumer products. Those industries should be expanded to produce enough consumer products to supply to the local market.

    • 5
      0

      It might surprise readers to know that the Northern Province reached 1st position in Inward Remittances, beating the Western Province for the first
      time, as revealed in Govt. Statistics! This goes to prove what the NP
      will be able to achieve in the short-term, only if the Sinhala Majority Govt.
      is not jealous of another community? This indication of jealousy is very
      noticeable in the grant of dual-citizenship as the I/E Dept. has thus far
      provided it only to about 10-15% Tamils among the 10,000 granted? Will
      Hon. Navin Dissanayakes Ministership be able to prove otherwise?

      The diaspora was created willy-nilly by MRs Regime and it has back-fired!

      • 1
        0

        punchinilame,

        “This indication of jealousy is very noticeable in the grant of dual-citizenship as the I/E Dept. has thus far provided it only to about 10-15% Tamils among the 10,000 granted?”

        Are not all the former SL citizens who left as refugees excluded from applying?

        Maybe Tamils have not applied?

        What does the 2nd and 3rd generation in Diaspora need a SL citizenship for?

        Is it worth while to apply?

        • 0
          0

          Yes the 2nd generation is slow to take this up, however the 1st Generation
          is keen but most prefer to take advantage of the Over 55 yr. category!

          The cost is very high, as my knowledge of Switzerland residents, who told me.Apart from the SL Fees due, the collection of documents costs and Legalisation of those are as follows: CH Citizenship Certificate Fr.50.
          CH Passport Certification Fr. 50. Police Clearance Fr. 40. Plus the
          SL Consulate alone charges a “Processing fee” – i.e. forwarding it to
          I/E at Fr. 240 per applicant.!! This is most unreasonable. If and when
          an applicant is on holiday he/they would be able to hand it over free at the Dept. itself. Therefore the SL equivalent of charges to be borne prior to submission is approx. LNR 56000/- each! Plus travel costs to
          Geneva Consulate and back of each applicant-

          A Status check of application is possible on weblink. Applicants made as early as April 2015 are still pending as far as Switzerland Ref. Numbers are concerned. What is most surprising is for a sizeable “tip” one can
          get his Foreign Passport sealed with the D/C Stamp, within a week at
          location!!! That is the rate of corruption at the I/E – personal
          experience.

  • 3
    3

    Well, even Kumar David has not been able to glean worthwhile opportunities in the North let alone the Sinhala Government!

    I think this problem will never be able to be solved so long as the Tamils make over emphasis on Tamil-centered demands-be it war crime investigations, land demands, political power etc. If one looks at Tamil politicians they never are serious about real issues of development and well being but they are consumed with war related issues: war war war war! They can continue along these lines and create another war may be in another 60 years! Good Luck to them!

    • 0
      0

      First things first, Sir. Do you expect families to concentrate on Development
      and Economic status when they are not sure of their existence the next day!
      Things are changing – but the political base MUST be guaranteed- Is this not
      so with the majority community? Politicians on either side have made use of
      their communities to rise and have tasted the benefits in their personal lives
      to great extents with the ordinary citizens still looking up to them for
      guidance.

  • 3
    0

    Prof. David,

    Very little or none is the answer to the question that is posed in your title.

    The lack of enlightened and farsighted poltical leadership combined with the drastic change in the character of the ‘Jaffna man’ due to events in our post- independence history have compounded the problems posed by insufficient water resources, non-recourse to modern technology in water management and recycling, water drainage issues, man-made underground water contamination , extensive migration from the entrepreneurial segments of society and overwhelming desire amongst younger generation to migrate.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 1
    1

    One of the outcomes of the ethnic unrest was to move up to half million middle class and lower middle class people out of Sri Lanka
    Have they hadtheir education & remain in Jaffna prior to their departure?

    Its time Diaspora stop meddling in internal affairs of Sri Lanka through their political proxies TNA.

  • 3
    0

    The fact, releasing development after a crisis in any area in SL is much determined by it`s own people. Cream of tamils migrated to greener pastures south of the border in SL; their education leading to command in many fields; education or commerce as was for years.

    Lovingly cared for by the majority nothing was to stop them, except political opportunism of the Sinhalese themselves.

    Getting together of this “cream” of the past, so much amongst us and in sl, will come to be the turning point in deserving investments to the north. Others outside is always asking the question: What are the tamils themselves doing to better themselves ? Nobody is interested in the tamil politician who is capable of doing any. Do these politician fear that the “silent cream” is too knowledgeable to remain dormant and unwilling to be together? Relying for miracles without one`s own initiatives, thereby, expecting sinhalese governments to carry the bucket and on behalf of tamils is not modern thinking at all. Such, delays initiatives for investments. SL is not an island on it`s own, anymore.

    A grouping of the said “best” making a move is far vital to undermine what the so called tamil diaspora wishes – nothing for their areas and nothing for the tamils; their media being hell bound to see the worst for the best. This difference must be addressed soon and could be done; I believe so.

  • 0
    0

    Professor Kumar David,

    “The purpose of this piece is to say that so far the scene is depressing; it seems difficult to get anything moving. The worry is not the army or the government, though that side is not encouraging. It is that stuff has happened in the last thirty years during the war; conditions have changed so much that to pull oneself up by the bootstraps and rise again is difficult. I need to explain carefully.”

    Thank you for your piece. I hope that you manage to reach the decision makers in Jaffna, Colombo and abroad with this knowledge.

    Somebody should study the age structure of the people who work with agriculture and fishing. Somebody should research the wishes of the youngsters and their parents. Somebody should find out how many of the inhabitants are in reality able to work and what are their skills. Somebody should think whether any fish will be left in 10 years time. Somebody should study the water resources and what is sustainable.

    All of the above should have been done before the plans to revive agriculture, fishing and the cement factory.

  • 2
    0

    Prof.Kumar David

    An analysis presented with much discernment.Absolutely at grips with harsh realities. “Gotha – Mahinda rump in the army is not capable of mounting an extra-constitutional challenge” is what every student of history or politics would endorse.

    Are 1 & 2 not in the know of? What the country is being told by them is blatant camouflage.

  • 1
    0

    An excellent analysis by Kumar. Bensen

  • 0
    0

    Kumar David,

    AGAIN KALLATHONI MENTALITY. [Edited out]

    Army represents Sri Lanka Government body to protect a country from internal and external threats. therefore, it is a right of any government in the world to position Army or tri forces strategically for the purpose.

    Therefore, do not expect anything beyond this as Army and tri forces are going to stay strategically in any part of the country.

    Keep aside your dreams, whims and fancies asking to withdraw them as it will never happen.

    Besides, Any government has every right to acquire lands for the purpose of security because Nationl Security is above everybody and everything.

    I[Edited out]

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