PM’s Economic Policy Statement; How Tamils Can Respond

By S. Sivathasan

S. Sivathasan

Placed before the country is an economic vision spread across several sectors, crossing provincial boundaries and bridging ethnic divides. Reference to North and East in a bid to take them into the economic mainstream is a clarion call to the ‘left behinders’. It is significant it comes off the highest levels. The onus is now upon the Tamils to develop on the initiatives made open by the Prime Minister and to sail along.

Change in the Offing – Or so it Seems

“We will pay attention to the imbalance in development on a geographical basis”- PM. So runs the statement.

In Sri Lanka geography denotes ethnic colouration, it also connotes historical rigidities. Yet overshadowing them is the melting process which has been at play for nearly a century. When the census figures for that period are analysed, changes in topography – ethnic and religious – are seen. Migration and emigration induced them within the country and out. To this phenomenon, economic changes, political turmoil and ethnically defined transplants made their contribution. Time seems now for the economy to direct our destiny.

PM’s Exposition

“We plan to rebuild war affected areas in the North and the East – we have discussed with Japan the possibility of convening an aid summit in this regard in 2016”- PM.

No better strategy could have been thought of. One recalls a similar effort initiated in 2002 and set in motion in 2003, with the thrust coming from Ranil, who was Prime Minister then. It was a multi-billion Rupee programme which made a difference to the war affected in the North-East and in adjacent areas. Tamils have to show interest and define the parameters.

“The airport and the port must be developed” – PM

This statement is with reference to the nation.

When going into specifics for the North, into that programme may be incorporated Palaly Airport and Kankesanthurai Harbour projects, both of which are lumbering along for a quarter century.

“We will encourage air connections that will connect the North and the East efficiently to the rest of the country” – PM.

Most important is the air connectivity from Palali to Trichi and Chennai for a two-way flow of passengers and international tourist traffic. Trade will follow tourism by air and sea.

“The greater metropolis between Negombo and Bentota will experience a high level of economic activity, powered by global and local businesses” – PM.

It is the hope of the Tamils that the Jaffna Megapolis envisaged as one among 5 cities will experience a similar level of activity. The Peninsula and Kilinochchi is the space to so develop, powered by the globally spread DIASPORA and global and local businesses.

“We will establish 11 business and technology development areas … also commence work on the information and agricultural zone”- PM.

The vast war devastated North, lowest in Provincial GDP at 4% is well qualified to merit them. Diaspora investment can never be lost sight of.

Recognizing the Inevitable

For decades on end we Tamils have seen the onward flow of many rivers. Demographic incursion into Amparai illustrates my point most convincingly. So with certain other Districts. The status quo ante cannot be reinstated is an incontestable realization. The rivers will not flow backwards because they cannot. So, taking the current position of where we are, we are constrained to take off from there. A case in point may be cited. Being quite modernistic, PM asserts “Our approach to the development of ICT… will cover areas such as software development, innovation centres, ICT and science knowledge hubs, digital infrastructural services and support investment”.

The above are the norms prescribed for the future. To move in tandem with the way the nation charts its course, the Economic Policy Statement provides a decade long frame. Coming as it does from the Prime Minister with the full imprimatur of the government, bearings may be taken by the Tamils about the educational parameters they have to go by. Prospects for wealth creation too have to be noted and acted upon. The direction proposed for the country is clear and the frame is likely to remain for no less than two terms. To get into the employment stream Tamils have to note the mention of “Tremendous opportunities within ICT”- PM.

How do opportunities manifest? Through employment. It should be realized that ICT is high end and training needs to be specialized. Higher proficiency in English would make those proficient more than equal. This is the way for the Tamil side to be considered on par. No number of Articles or Clauses in bold type in the Constitution can ensure idealized equality. The perspective is long term and the beginning point is now.

Land Tethers

For decade after decade Tamilian obsession has been with land as sure security. It was definitely an asset of last resort. It was a source of wealth and of employment. It has certainly worked for agriculturists in times past. But times have changed and what a developing economy in a knowledge society offers are different. The young among the Tamils sidelined for long have to seize the new openings. The Prime Minister has outlined the intended changes and the likely outcome. Hence the bold assertion “We will lay the groundwork to provide 01 million jobs within the next five years”. Never ever can even a fraction of this come off land.

In an earlier era land allotments came the facile way. For colonist selection, successive governments placed premium value on the fecund and the impecunious. The fossilized idea of two acres and a goat dutifully added was supposed to make life livable by the peasant. It never worked. Now agriculture itself has become un-remunerative. Land is treated as of value mainly for buildable purposes. Agriculture becomes attractive only when producer subsidies visit farming with consumer subsidies in tow. This is a conspicuous feature in OECD countries embracing one billion people. Industry and services enable the subsidy regime. It appears Ranil’s economic vision plans to engage less and less farmers on less and less land to produce more and more food with leverage from productivity. The only worthwhile and workable strategy. What do others do? Prepare for the 1 million jobs in fields that are planned to get diversified.

Timely Preparation

Selection for ICT will demand a stiff process in talent identification. Prior training in college at AL or higher standards by teachers appropriately qualified in all segments of ITC will have to produce the catchment in the North for selection by the South. This is in the short term and it is unavoidable. Public – Private – Partnership initiatives may have to produce ICT curriculum suited for the international market. May it be known that Silicon Valley has a good Sri Lankan presence in firms not to mention academic institutions.

In the North, trained teaching cadres in more than adequate supply, well equipped computer labs, and a flooding of PCs in homes are indispensable. In Jaffna, determined intervention with parental authority should diminish mobike presence. They have to be bartered for Personal Computers. Senior students have to go in for special advanced courses in English. In accomplishing this, NPC is duty bound to focus diligently and deliver. As for the people and the diaspora, commendable munificence has been shown in temple rebuilding. More funds are now needed for ICT to benefit by the government’s programmes.

For the negative environment or lukewarm responses putting the blame on drugs or talking about indiscipline among students helps nobody. They have to be contained and mended through social intercession. Principals have a courageous and sustained task in this. As for infrastructure (telecom and electricity) the central government has to correct the imbalances. Nothing happens on its own volition. Provincial and central institutions need coaxing to become alive to the requirements of students. Who but teachers, students and parents can have a shared responsibility. Their engagement is crucial in this long drawn out engagement. This work is nothing short of social engineering to rectify the disintegration process induced by war.

Foreign Direct Investment

The preparation written about earlier is crucial to every sphere of economic activity. Without it dialogue for foreign investment cannot be contemplated. Nor can foreign ventures be managed. When a talent pool is available, a hurdle is cleared.

“The cornerstone of our medium term economic strategy is to generate employment and increase income.…We have to encourage foreign investment and investment by individuals”. – PM

Tamils taking due cognizance of the physical infrastructure already built up have to develop human resources speedily in order to garner foreign investments. Making a good assessment of diaspora potential and their propensity to invest in the mother country, the government too has to make redoubled efforts.

Negative sentiments against FDI have all but disappeared. Globally, stock of FDI was US $ 7.2 Trillion in year 2000. The stock was US $ 26.038 Trillion in 2014.

In banking on FDI to deliver results the Prime Minister is doubly wise.

So he is in placing a massive trust in Tourism. Success in the North in tourism will flow from a smashing of negative sentiment.