Jaffna Investment Forum May Become An Issue Between Governor and Chief Minister Wigneswaran

COLOMBO:  The Governor of Sri Lanka’s Tamil majority Northern Province, Reginold Cooray, is organizing an international investment forum in Jaffna on August 22, and is planning to set up a One-Stop Shop at the Jaffna Secretariat to help persons wanting to invest in the war-devastated Northern Province.

But this move could become an issue between the Governor, representing the Central government in the province, and the elected Chief Minister of the province, C.V.Wigneswaran. By organizing the forum unilaterally, the Governor may be intruding into the domain of the Chief Minister, his Board of Ministers and the Northern Provincial Council (NPC), political observers said.

Asked at a press conference here on Thursday, if he had taken the Chief Minister on board, and whether the CM and the NPC were involved in the organization of the event, Governor Cooray said that when the Chief Minister came to see him on some other matter, he had told him about the investment forum and invited him to it. “The Chief Minister had no objection to it,” Cooray said.

But Chief Minister Wigneswaran has been bitterly complaining that the Central government is doing things in the province routinely bypassing the Provincial Council, the CM and the Board of Ministers.

Devolution of power to elected provincial councils as per the 13 th.Amendment of the constitution is being nullified by the actions of the Central government and its representative in the province, the Governor, the CM has often said.

Admittedly, there is a legitimate grouse in the Center that the NPC under Chief Minister Wigneswaran has done precious little to develop the war-hit Northern Province. It had sent back monies allotted to it by the Centre without spending them. The NPC has also passed resolutions instilling a fear of secession among the  Sinhalese majority in Sri Lanka.

But the Center too has not been correct in its dealings with the NPC and the Chief Minister. The need to consult and involve the local elected leadership and institutions is still not recognized as essential to give effect to the constitutional provision for devolution of power and for post-war inter-ethnic reconciliation.

The One-Stop-Shop to be set up for the benefit of potential investors is to be located in the Jaffna Kacheri (Jaffna District Secretariat). The Governor will be able to do this because provincial officials come under the Center, and its representative in the province, the Governor. That provincial councils have no control over its own officials.

Legally, the Governor is entitled to order provincial officials, but using  provincial officials and provincial offices without the express consent of the Chief Minister could be viewed as being politically improper and against the spirit of devolution and reconciliation.

There is a suspicion that Governor Cooray is organizing the International Investment Forum at the instance of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickemesinghe who are not happy with Chief Minister Wigneswaran’s  high pitched demands and belligerent stance on many issues.

The Governor’s Investment Forum might well be the first in a series of the Central government’s actions to bypass the CM and the NPC, do constructive work in the Northern Province and isolate the public from Wigneswaran and his Tamil nationalist cohorts.

The Center perhaps hopes that its development orientation will secure for national parties like the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led by Sirisena and the United National Party (UNP) led by Wickremesinghe, a voter base in the Northern Province, hitherto dominated by parochial ethnic Tamil parties.

Talking about the potential for development and investment in the North, Governor Cooray said: “There is bright sun shine for nine months in a year which can be used to generate solar over. There is great potential for the use of the wind to generate power. Disused salterns and closed factories can be revived. Unemployment is a major problem in the North. That can be addressed by promoting investment.”

Since it is government’s policy to promote Public-Private Sector Partnership (PPP) rather than do all the development work by itself, investors both from Sri Lanka and overseas, will have to be attracted and their ventures facilitated, Cooray said.

“While the forum will propagate the need and potential for investment, the one-stop-shop at the Kacheri will render all help under one roof. In it will be representatives of all development promotion institutions, “ Cooray said.

The Investment Forum will be addressed by the Central Bank Governor Indrajit Coomaraswamy and the Board of Investment (BOI) chairman Upul Jayasuriya. Efforts are on to get President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe also to attend, the Governor said.

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