Fast-tracking development with a
That the Northern development process is being
fast-tracked is not news any longer. It is widely known already
and we would not be adding even a jot to public knowledge by
stating here that development is being persevered with in the
region. However, what is new in our front page news report of
yesterday is that the state is increasingly introducing a
personal touch into this development thrust.
To begin with, President Mahinda Rajapaksa is personally and
fully supportive of the Northern development drive and is the
primal power behind it. It could be called a development
initiative in which the President is profoundly interested.
Besides, Northern development is not being guided by
bureaucratic big-wigs in posh air-conditioned surroundings in
Colombo. What is noteworthy, on the contrary, about this
development experience, is that state officials are on the spot
in the North, directing operations on the ground in a
personalized way, which is rare for this country. Development
from the front is what is needed and some comfort could be taken
from the fact that Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa
and MP Namal Rajapaksa are physically present at the scene of
It is this interest and care for the Northern people which
has been lacking on the part of the state until recent times. As
we have time and again reminded our readers in these columns,
the North was left to its devises almost, for years, with the
only indication of government interest in the North, if it could
be called that, coming in the form of a ‘District Minister’ who
never visited the North. Of course, the conditions in the North
were not conducive to much development over some 25 years, but
there was no personal care and attention for the people of the
North on the part of state personnel and this element could have
worked wonders for the region if it surfaced sufficiently.
Unfortunately, it was not to be because subjugation happened to
be the main concern of those past governments.
Accordingly, what we have now is a paradigm change in the
state’s relations with the people of the North. By being present
in the North now almost 24/7, the state is proving that it both
cares and that it is in earnest when it speaks of development.
We call on the government to keep matters this way in connection
with not only the North but the East as well. This interest
should not die out with the conclusion of the local government
and provincial polls.
As we have repeatedly said in this commentary, development
should not merely mean infrastructure development on a mega
scale. Development, to mean anything, should be empowerment of
the people and this would not be possible until they are brought
into the decision-making process at the local, provincial and
national levels of government. While the presence of more and
more state personnel in the North should be hugely welcomed,
development should be translated into empowerment of the people
in the truest sense of the term.
In this connection it should be also pointed out that the
current decrease in the country’s defence budget should be
hugely welcomed by the country. This means that the savings from
the defence bill could be siphoned to development. This is what
may be called a peace dividend and we hope more and more of this
country’s financial resources could be diverted from ‘guns’ to
However, the current peace in the North could be rendered
durable only with working out of a political solution to the
conflict. Very soon Parliament will be entrusted with the
responsibility of working out this settlement. We call on
Parliament to go ahead with forging this solution with
single-minded intent. It should set itself a time-frame and
ensure that no time is lost in working out this settlement which
should be acceptable to all sections.
We believe our political actors should not lapse into a
fatalistic mindset over this issue but get down to the task of
finding a solution as quickly as possible since they have now
been given the ‘go-ahead.’
Meanwhile, more should be done to enhance people-to-people
relations between North and South, now that the country’s
political leadership is leading from the front in taking a
personal interest in the issues of the North. The communities of
the land should be forged into a single collectivity called a
nation and this is a process which must be speeded-up.
Meanwhile, bridge-building between North and South or
people-to-people contact must be carried out apace.