|Thursday, 23 January 2003|
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North-South economic exchanges
In the compounded crisis which is the National Question, economic issues, have been found to play a significant role. In the Nineteen Sixties and early Seventies, higher educational opportunities were seen by most Tamil youths as a passport to gainful employment in the public sector.
It is for these reasons that the "Sinhala Only" Act of 1956 and the "Standardisation of university admissions" in the early Seventies, for instance, are seen as storm centres in our ethnic tangle. The passing of the relevant legislation and regulations prevented a considerable number of Tamil-speakers from fulfilling their job and professional aspirations. Most of them had no choice but to look to the land and farms as means of earning a living.
This brought control over land to centre stage of the island's turbulent ethnic arena. Today it is not possible to envisage a solution to the long-running conflict without the main parties to the dispute countenancing the vexatious issue of who will control how much land.
However even this effort by sections of the Tamil youth to plough the intractable Northern earth for a sustainable livelihood, came up against obstacles when the liberalized economy was ushered in by the mid-Seventies. Until then, the Northern farmer could market some of his produce in the South and vice versa. For instance, Southern markets were replete with red onions, chillies and other agricultural produce harvested in Northern farms. It was the policy of the day to foster these almost symbiotic links between North and South.
These links could be said to have constituted the main arteries of the Northern economy.
Come the whirlwind economic changes of 1977 and these links collapsed, as we now find, to the detriment of the country. Under the new import-export regime, Lanka came to depend more on chilli and red onion imports, for instance, resulting in the South's economic links with North gradually coming asunder. These developments aggravated the economic grievances of the Northern populace to a great degree. With the onset of war and civil strife, of course, no significant economic interaction between North and South was possible.
It is for these reasons that efforts to relink North and South on the economic plane need to be welcomed. We are given to understand that the CWE would be playing a lead role in this endeavour. Under the inspiration and guidance of Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Ravi Karunanayake, the CWE would be arranging for the transport of Northern agricultural produce to Southern markets once again, with Southern goods being enabled to penetrate Northern markets through the same means. The CWE itself intends expanding its operations in the North for the benefit of the Northern consumer.
Among other things, these nascent efforts at reviving the Northern economy would have the effect of contributing towards national, economic self-sufficiency because we would be less dependent on imports of the relevant commodities. One of the most significant effects, however, of these economic plans would be the betterment of the economic prospects of the Northern populace. If the Northern economy could be thus kickstarted and made to thrive, social discontent could be considerably defused. Consequently, the lure of the armed culture could be proportionately blunted.
These developments sum up some of the economic dividends which the peace effort is expected to deliver. This moment needs to be seized by the decision - makers of this country. Already some paddy lands which were lying fallow for years in the East are yielding a bountiful harvest under the conditions of normalcy which the ceasefire has ushered in. The time is ripe to relaunch the mutually-beneficial economic ties between North and South which once promised to ease some of our material burdens.
Produced by Lake House