Soldier at Keerimalai Springs, Jaffna
Sarvi has a new, short paper on the economy in the North East. This is notable in that he’s a reputed economist and one of the few with an actual office up there, in Point Pedro. Aside from crab, the North and East used to be major agricultural, industrial and cultural producers, before the war took them off the grid. Things are way way better now, especially with the opening of the main A9 road and the flow of goods and people up and down. Prices used to be way higher in Jaffna but now they’re about even. Like a lot else, however, this dev has been militarized to the point that a lot of transport and even roadside tea stands are military. I’ve taken military transport and drunk military tea, but Sarvi seems to think opening up a bit more to private enterprise is a good idea. Gota was walking around and said they’d loosen up the high security zones, so perhaps he understands.
I shall frontload this bit to get the political beef off the plate.
the current situation is much better than during the ceasefire time (March 2002 – August 2006) when all commercial and personal cargo passing through the A9 was subjected to illegal taxation by the LTTE; thereby increasing the prices of all goods in the Vanni and Jaffna. Currently, prices of goods in Jaffna or the Vanni are the same as in Colombo or elsewhere.
Full respect for the Rajapaksas for sorting that out. The recommendations Sarvi has are basically moving from a government implemented, donor driven development plan to something based on entrepreneurship and opportunities. Not privatizing roads or anything, but giving more space for private transport and tea stands and hotels and stuff. That seems somewhat obvious but security concerns means a lot of the transport is mili, stalls on the road are mili and land in Jaffna (especially) is occupied. They are loosening up and God knows it’s better than a year ago, but you still need MoD (MinDef clearance) for commercial transport, you still need MoD for foreign tourists and you still need MoD for any real business, especially involving land. Or fast boats. Not that this is such a big issue, but I took a ride on a 40HP boat (cleared by MoD) and that was fucking sweet.
Sarvi seems to imply that everything should be privatized and the government should get out. I don’t fully agree. Perhaps it’s the wholesale collapse of Western Civ, but I no longer believe in small government. I believe in good government. The government buses suck and I smack my head on the metal, plus I always pick sides wrong and end up in the sun. But, ah, they’re cheap. The private buses are sometimes A/C’d and more comfortable, but they’re more expensive. To Jaffna, however, the Thinakaran bus is quite comfortable and government. There are also still security issues and I do not want stuff blowing up again and sending us back into lock down. Furthermore, I have had the best pol roti of my life at a military checkpoint. Perhaps I was just hungry.
But on the whole, I agree with Sarvi. We need to look at NE development not in terms of stuff and donor reports but people and opportunities. Full props to this government for making this sort of development even possible. With a few adjustments I think we could do it right. Or righter.
Sarvi’s full paper is worth a read. You can download it here – ICCR talk – April 27, 2010. His full name is Muttukrishna Sarvananthan if you’re Google.