Nothing Tangible Has Been Achieved As Far As Tamil People Are Concerned

Nothing Tangible Has Been Achieved As Far As Tamil People Are Concerned -C.V.K. Sivagnanam

by Camelia Nathaniel

Even though the people in the South think that all Tamils are pro LTTE and in favour of separatism, even in the last election, the Tamil people voted for Sarath Fonseka, in spite of him being the past Army Commander and him being responsible for the damage done to the North and the Tamil people. These were the sentiments expressed by the Chairman of the NPC C.V.K. Sivagnanam.In an interview with The Sunday Leader he said that the Tamil people of the North went all out to vote for President Sirisena.
These are all indications that they are certainly not communal minded. He said that they have nothing against the Sinhala people, but the people of the South must also understand that the Tamils are also equal citizens of this country and have their own aspirations and policies. He pointed out that they are not asking for separation but the Tamils want to handle their own affairs in a structure that will ensure a free and fair autonomous power sharing arrangement preserving their identity as a community. Unless that is met provided and agreed on, he stressed, there will no political settlement in this country.

Following are excerpts of the interview:-

Q: What is your opinion regarding the country’s economy and the current government’s economic policies?

A:  I don’t have in-depth and detailed information being here in Jaffna, but from what I gather, the country’s economy is very bleak, in the light of the fact that the present government has to shoulder heavy debt and consequences of corruption of the previous regime. So what ever steps needed to be taken, has been taken by this government I believe. But it might take time for the economy to recover, having gone through all the destruction of the previous regime.


Q: This regime too has obtained a huge amount as loans, and taking into consideration the current plight of the economy, do you think it’s wise for this government to be taking more loans?

A:  Be it the previous government or this one, when they obtain loans either from foreign countries or the IMF, it’s a burden on the people of this country. But I believe the present government will have to face more criticism if they just keep borrowing funds and don’t attend to at least some development work. Although we see them borrowing so much, even this government doesn’t seem to have a proper strategy. The government is in a pickle as far as I can see. If they continue in this manner and simply keep borrowing and not doing any development work they will soon be in deep trouble. It’s a two way problem for the present government.


Q: With regard to the Diaspora, the government has invited them to come back and invest in Sri Lanka and assured them of a safe environment. Do you think that they trust the government’s word, and will they want to come back?

A:  To be honest and frank I think although the government is inviting the Diaspora, I personally don’t see that the government has created a conducive environment for them to come back and invest or do business here.  Still there is no proper atmosphere for them to come and invest in Sri Lanka. Moreover the government has not made any concessions or even streamlined the relevant processes like the licencing or the approvals and the BOI etc for them to come here with confidence. There are many who want to come and invest but the problem is that the red tape that they have to go through simply puts them off as there is no proper system still in place. So under these circumstances they will never come here to invest as they still don’t feel confident that the government is genuine in their invitation. A conducive environment must be created for them to come and invest but so far I have still not seen such a setting in place.


Q: What is the economic status of the people in the North, and has the government delivered on their promises?

A:  The GDP contribution of the Northern Province is just 3.8 and we are the lowest in the country and the economic outlook of the Northern people is very bleak. The unemployment rate in the Northern Province is very high and the income and employment opportunities in the North are very low.

We have not been able to do anything in that aspect either even as the Northern provincial council. I personally feel that a comprehensive policy program combined with the NPC and the government will be the only solution. Otherwise we will be living in isolation in watershed compartments and shouting for nothing.


Q: With regard to the housing needs of the North, the government had proposed to build iron and steel houses, but you had opposed it. Why?

A:  We had discussed this at length at the NPC meeting on the 24th of March too.  To be precise these precast iron and steel houses do not suit the climatic conditions of the North and is therefore not suitable.

The cost too is very high and the security level of these houses is not up to mark. People should be able to sleep peacefully at night knowing that their homes are safe, but these houses do not have that guarantee. Each house costs Rs. 2.1 million, but with that cost you can actually build 2 cement houses for these people which is not only cheaper but also sturdier.  There is a dearth of housing in the Northern Province and people are yearning for houses and why waste so much on these steel houses when double the number of cement houses can be built for that sum.

The NPC wants the government to get involved in the housing projects of the Tamil people and we are certainly not opposed to the government’s involvement. But we have to be practical. So if the government takes a practical stand on this instead of 65000 houses the government can build 130,000 houses, which will benefit more people.

The interior furniture alone for these houses is costing around Rs. 500,000 but it is not necessary. What the people want is a roof above their head and not extravagant living. There are hundreds of thousands still living in shanties and shelters and instead of these houses they can provide houses to a larger number of people. Hence what we asked is for the government to stop this wasteful extravagance and in consultation with the NPC to review the project. The government never consulted us and we would also like to be part of this housing project for our people. We have conveyed our view to the president the PM and the minister of resettlement.


Q: You said that the NPC was not aware of the decision to construct these iron and steel houses for the people of the North. Why was the NPC not part of this decision making process?

A:  We were not invited to make our contribution and we were not made aware. I don’t know why we were not consulted on this matter and we were not involved in this decision.


Q: You say that the unemployment rate in the North is very high. What is the NPC and the government doing to address this problem?

A:  Here again we are helpless as we depend on the Central government for the finances, assistance and resources. But there is clearly a lack of coordination between the NPC and the Central government.

Q: But isn’t there a way that the NPC and the government can work together?

A: I was one person who worked really hard for a change of government. But at one stage I was taken to the police station too, but we went through all that because we wanted a change. But sadly although we are happy about the change and happy with the President and the Prime Minister, I don’t think we have achieved anything tangible as far as the Tamil people are concerned. I am also very sorry that the government does not include us and take us into account as we expected. This is a frustrating situation not just for me but for our people and the council as well.


Q: The Good governance regime came into power promising a lot of changes, do you see these changes?

A: As far as the Northern province is concerned and even in the South, there is some sort of a greater freedom. Some of the promises they made are coming through. Even the lands have not been returned to the people as we expected, but some lands have been given back. There have been some changes but not enough as we expected.

In one or two instances where the NPC was concerned, the government promised us the duty free permits etc. We are a council and we never had these benefits for 25 years. But while all the others are being given these benefits, when it comes to us the government is dragging their feet and saying that the finance ministry has new policies etc. This is a very disappointing factor. This council has not enjoyed any of the benefits given to the others. They must remember that we struggled to bring them into power and for the changes. Hence I am sorry that the government is treating us this way.However in spite of all that, I am still for the government.


Q: During the previous regime there were serious concerns of corruption. However these corruptions are still happening. Why is the TNA or the opposition raising these issues?

A: I am from ITAK and our people have never been involved in any corruption or frauds. Unfortunately all these issues are only in the South and some in the North East.The government is also facing a lot of problems in conducting these investigations as there are many who are trying to hamper these investigations.

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