The Centre’s rightful role
What could be more encouraging
for the people of the North than to have the President of the
country not only visiting the region but presiding over the
Jaffna District Development Council (DDC) sessions! Given that
for decades the North was a veritable self-imposed ‘no-go’ zone
for the majority of our Heads of State and government, this is a
refreshing and most welcome change in state attitudes and
It was around 30 years ago that the DDC scheme was conceived
and implemented as a means of decentralizing the central
administration. The backdrop to this initiative was the
emergence of unrest and terror in some sections of the
The scheme was apparently aimed at defusing this rising tide
of armed confrontation against the state. However, as far as the
North was concerned, the DDCs proved a most disheartening
non-starter. One wonders whether any good came out of this
decentralization project. There was a ‘District Minister for
Jaffna’ who could not visit the North, apparently, on account of
the deteriorating security situation, and nothing by way of
development ever took place, as far as we can remember.
Small wonder, then, that the North suffered increasing
marginalization in the Lankan body- politic. The development
mechanism was seemingly paralyzed to a halt but the state of
those times was not at all inclined to kick-start the process of
bringing a few material benefits to the districts of the North.
It required political leadership, will and sagacity of the
highest kind to bring the North out of the political and
developmental cul-de-sac in which it was finding itself, but
this was not to be.
Instead, the North witnessed the initial, highly unsettling
stages of the criminalization of this country’s politics. In
those times, the rulers seemed to be guided by the dangerously
irresponsible bit of reasoning that ‘fire must be fought with
fire.’ Interestingly, it was during a DDC election campaign in
the early eighties, for the purposes of which political goons
from the South were transported to the North, that the world
renowned Jaffna Public Library was torched. Thus was
precipitated the political turmoil of the North-East which was
to bleed this country white for over 30 years.
Therefore, the political Centre of those times past could
have been seen as looking on passively as things fell apart in
the rest of the country. Now, there is an effort on the part of
the political Centre to take control of things and this augurs
well for the future of this country, provided supervisory
control over the development effort continues and that too very
vibrantly. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has chosen to keep a
close eye on the development initiatives in the North and this
is the way to go. The North-East has to be increasingly
integrated into the rest of the country and countrywide
sustained and equitable development is the key to this.
Concurrently, efforts need to be accelerated to increasingly
bring the people in all parts of the country into the
decision-making process. Yesterday we mentioned that this is
part and parcel of the process of democratic development and it
is to the degree to which the latter process unfolds that
normalization could be speeded-up in the country. So, it should
be a concerted effort at development from now on.
Political leaders need to be a prominent presence in the
North, even if this is to happen occasionally. What the
North-East citizenry in particular has lacked thus far are
national leaders who could closely identify with them and truly
represent their interests. This needs to happen in a selfless
manner if the healing process in Sri Lanka is to be speeded-up.
The legitimate aspirations of the totality of our people need to
meet in our foremost national leaders.
It should be also noted that a substantive difference exists
between decentralization and devolution.
Administrative functions or tasks could be decentralized or
distributed from the Centre to the provinces, but devolution
would require, essentially, the empowering of population groups
in the provinces to make decisions with regard to or pass
ordinances on crucial subjects the Centre has ceased to have
control over. It is devolution that is now the talking point.