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Tuesday, 7 February 2012

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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 practice.

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 North-East.

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.

R2P and the democratization of the UN


R2P is an issue that raises serious reservations and doubts in the minds of policy makers of the less affluent nations who are all members of the Afro Asian group of countries. The Asian African perspective on R2P has therefore to be one of cautious deliberation that brings to my mind the oft repeated and somewhat aphorism that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Rather I would opt to agree with either Milton Friedman who famously said “concentrated power is not rendered harmless by the good intentions of those who create it,” or with Bernard Shaw who was more realistic of the limits of human endeavourer when he said “Hell is paved with good intentions and bad ones. All men mean well.”

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Prof. Indraratne - he made Economics Sinhala-friendly


This week Reminiscences features a much loved and appreciated figure in the field of education - Professor A.D.V. De S. Indraratna. He is an authority on a large chunk of the history of university education in Sri Lanka.

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Conducting business at airports - issues to ponder upon


More and more, airports are evolving from being basic aeronautical infrastructures into complex multi-functional enterprises serving the travelling public while at the same time catering to their commercial needs and those of others who visit the airport. Such enterprises include duty free shops, specialty retail and brand name shops, restaurants, hotels and accommodation, banks, business and office complexes, leisure, recreation and fitness centres just to name a few.

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Physical independence and mental shackles…


Sri Lanka just commemorated the 64th year of its independence from colonial rule, and in fact it is a period long enough to bring forth a whole new generation of citizens in this country who knew nothing of how life would have been under colonial rule. The 443 year colonial domination of ‘Sinhaley’, Anglicized to call ‘Ceylon’, is now part of our history but commemoration is also a time for evaluation of the 64 year path, the lessons learnt and the shackles we still carry, in our journey towards building a sovereign and sustainable nation.

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