By Suthaharan Perampalam
North and east Tamils have provided united power for the TNA, making it the third largest political party in the nation.
The TNA has demonstrated remarkable maturity during the last couple of elections by isolating itself from the LTTE label and positioning itself as the voice of local Tamils. Disregarding the continuous pressure from a fraction of diaspora group who wish to fulfil their agendas by riding on TNA. R. Sampanthan’s experienced leadership and his friendly approach with the Sri Lankan Government following the 8 January elections has started to pay off decent dividends for the people in the north and east.
Lack of focus beyond political solution
However, the TNA’s four-page manifesto is inadequate as it has only managed to highlight the need for political solution and some of the other transitory subjects. There is a lack of focus on key areas such as employment, education and livelihood development, whereas the other political parties have brought forward very detailed actionable inputs and promises to strive towards achievement over the next five years.
The TNA’s manifesto lacks smart suggestions and focused effort required to meet the needs of people in order to enhance their lives. A clearly detailed plan as opposed to the current one is essential for an area severely destroyed socially, economically and culturally. The TNA’s approach, being a very reactive and not a future-oriented one, focuses only on some of the pressing issues while conveniently ignoring the rest.
Learn from past mistakes
Even after almost 30 years of war, with thousands of lives lost, losing billion worth of infrastructure and with the support of 1.5 million diaspora living abroad, the TNA still emphasises and their only mandate is the need for the same political solution which was demanded back in the 1970s. Thirty to 40 years have been ruined without forming any tangible solution to directly benefit the economy or the livelihoods of the people residing in the north and east.
Utilise the opportunity and friendship with new Government
The north/east related future plan is mainly focused on a political solution and ambitiously demanding a federal solution to the longstanding problem. Therefore, it’s not rocket science to understand that the TNA’s claim for a federal solution would not be given any if not no consideration at all. However, from a highly optimistic perspective, even if a solution was granted to form a separate federal state, does this mandate outline the plans and vision to function?
Tamils in the north and east need a major development agenda and a positive environment has just arrived with a Government like never before that is willing to listen to Tamil needs. Therefore, this is the moment the TNA needs to act and produce a detailed plan of action by utilising the golden opportunity to work together as nation in an inclusive manner to achieve an economic solution benefiting all.
Meeting the economic needs of N/E people before it’s too late
It’s very important to remember that the north and east population mostly chose the oppositions and voted against those in power. During the post war period when the Rajapaksa Government overspent on economic development, the north and east demanded solutions for emotional issues. Right now is the chance to improve north and east economic stability along with the nation.
Five years from now, if the north and east lacks in terms of economic wellbeing compared to rest of the country, this would result in a major trouble for TNA. The highest unemployment rate prevails in the north and youth representing university communities were supporting alternative political parties promising better job opportunities during the recently-concluded Parliamentary elections. So there is already a sign of the spark and TNA needs to listen and act accordingly without taking their mandate for granted.
Besides emphasising on a political solution, the mandate outlines some of the temporal issues limited to a limited cluster of people subjected to certain geographical areas such as de-militarisation, speedy resettlement, addressing the needs of the families with missing family members, war widows, orphans, elders and disabled. Yet, there is a lack of concern towards unemployed youth with high exposure to drugs and resulting in inappropriate behaviours and higher rate of crime.
Solving certain matters from the past is necessary but how many years are we going to destroy by focusing only on the past? The north and east is wasting precious time instead of developing the next generation by equipping them with the necessary resources to lead forward as an educated and informed nation.
Even after 30 years of war, questioning whether ordinary people in the north and east are still in hunger for a political solution rather than their livelihood development. What is the rationale behind the TNA’s reluctance towards demanding a meaningful economic package benefiting the people in the north and east? Do they think the north and east could survive without an economic model and continuously function on remittances from 1.5 million diaspora living abroad? It’s very critical at this point of time to learn from the past in order to prepare for a bright future for the Tamils and the nation as a whole.
Boosting economic benefits
Some of the potential demands that the TNA could put forward to economically benefit the north and east by establishing the below:
Large IT park in Jaffna: Attract South Indian or diaspora for investment
Large-scale service related industry/company (IT, BPO, Software, and Insurance etc.): At least one company probably an international brand with an ability to provide 1,000+ employment and insert high-end technology. (Similar to the proposed Volkswagen factory in Kurunegala.)
Regional capital market environment: To encourage portfolio investments from diaspora
Agricultural research institution: High-end, state-of-the-art institution for agricultural research, most importantly for vegetable, fruits and organic products.
Formation of a free trade zone or export processing zone: While providing tax holidays for local companies interested in establishing a plant in a selected zones
Enhanced livestock, poultry farming and milk production/milk-based production in the region.
Training institute for fishery and marine based industries: To train people regarding marine culture and aquaculture technologies due to the favourable inland and marine resources.
Re-establishment of main State-owned institution: Those functional prior to war (Cement in KKS, Chemical in Paranthan, Paper in Valaichchenai) or possible alternative industries with private-public
Private universities (may be Indian, etc.): Providing alternative educational avenues without limiting education with State universities.
Strengthened school education system: Carry out the special program targeting O/L and A/L students to minimise the school dropout and improving performance of students in selected districts such as Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu.
Another way of looking at this is, how could the TNA demand the requirements as listed above when the Government is reluctant for any power sharing or to provide least minimum powers and funds even for Northern Provincial Councils? However, during a situation like this, isn’t it better to raise demands so that Government would focus on striking a balance to satisfy the north and east people?
The TNA needs to seek out the demands and needs from the Government in terms of employment, education, health, economic development and in overall improving the lives of north and east people. In order to move forward, when purpose-driven people work together for a worthy cause with a definite plan we can always bring economic prosperity, happiness, peace and equality.
(The writer is a Senior Researcher attached to a Think tank organisation active across emerging Asia Pacific.)