‘Post-war context demands different approach to governance’

The Northern Provincial Council is attempting to carry out a comprehensive and professional needs assessment, C.V. Wigneswaran, Chief Minister of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province said here on Friday.

Speaking at a conference titled ‘Democratising the North: A Dialogue on Governance, Development and Vulnerability’, organised by the Colombo-based International Centre for Ethnic Studies, the former Supreme Court judge said the post-war context in Sri Lanka’s north demanded a different approach to governance.

“Good governance is about how we make decisions,” he said, adding that his ideas on governance were shaped by the challenges currently faced by the Northern Provincial Council administration.

Elaborating on the challenges, he pointed to militarisation as a major impediment to governance. Many families that were internally displaced during the war were yet to be resettled. The Sri Lankan army, he said, had taken over private land and in some cases even agriculture. “Locals have to purchase produce from their own land cultivated by the army,” he said, adding that women and children suffered periodic intimidation by the army.

Inequalities posed a further challenge to society, Mr. Wigneswaran said. Referring to “brain drain” from the north, he said there was need for professionals who could engage and work in the region. In this regard, he has initiated a dialogue with the Sri Lankan government to aid the return of Sri Lankan nationals of the north living in other countries at present.

The Northern Provincial Council — which was formed after the Tamil National Alliance won a massive mandate in last September polls — was constrained in many ways, he said.

Having started from scratch, the Council was grappling with lack of adequate staff and infrastructure. Pointing to his recurring differences with the Governor, a former major general of the Sri Lankan army, he said: “We are having difficulty as our staff is used to the Governor’s ways.”

The Chief Minister, who recently met President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is said to have raised some of these concerns with him. “Things are moving better after the meeting.”

Jaffna-based researcher and political economist Ahilan Kadirgamar, speaking on the need to look at democracy in the north within the larger context of democracy in Sri Lanka, said the Sri Lankan government had lost a great opportunity at the end of the civil war in 2009 to address the Tamil question. The current regime, he opined, squandered it in order to consolidate its own power.

Tamil politics could do with some self reflection for, it had, for long, been pegged on exclusivist, narrow Tamil nationalism, Mr. Kadirgamar said, adding that democratisation would work only in a bottom-up approach and for that it was crucial to strengthen social institutions.

Raga Alphonsus, Economic and Programme Development Advisor to ZOA, a non-governmental organisation working in the area of rehabilitation, said food insecurity was emerging as a major concern in the north. Pointing to increasing indebtedness among the rural community, he said there was need for independent debt counselling.

NPC Education Minister Thambyrajah Gurukularajah spoke of the challenges facing the education sector, such as inadequate infrastructure and land being taken over by the army.