Financial Times

The Economy of the Conflict Region: from economic embargo to economic repression

The author attempts to study the nature and the extent of the economy of the two provinces North & East ravaged by a 25 year- old conflict. He has also undertaken the near impossible task of explaining the causes and effects of the social decline in the conflict region during the past quarter century.
I was baffled by his desire to make a qualitative and quantitative analysis of chaos, conflict and turmoil. In fact I read the book twice purely to fully comprehend not the contents of the book but to understand the purpose and the intent of this remarkable peace of economic analysis. Then I arrived at the unmistakable conclusion that Muttukrishna Sarvananthan is a very courageous man.

He has done what he is eminently capable of doing and produced a virtual road map for the restoration of the Northern and Eastern provinces by drawing attention to what needs are to prioritized.
He writes ‘in terms of available infrastructure, the North and the East have the lowest number of households with ELECTRICITY, lowest ROAD density, and lowest TELEDENSITY (fixed line) in comparison to other provinces’.

Reading this remarkable compendium of demonstrable statistical data I learnt that ‘in 1980, the North & East produced 25 million litres of milk, which increased to 31 million litres in 1990, 38-39 million litres yearly between 2000-2003 and then increased to 40-41 million litres during 2004 and 2005. There are some more startling statistics that I cannot include in this brief review.

Sarvananthan offers no solution for resolving the conflict. He contemplates the future. He is equally concerned with the Tamils as well as the Moslems who have been uprooted from their traditional habitat and are now in either IDP camps or in temporary shelters. These people once contributed to a vibrant economy and can do so again under conditions conducive to resume their inherent entrepreneurial skills and habits of thrift and hard work.

I have just picked some observations made in this book which is in fact a narrative of a conflict between a myopic government and a terrorist movement who had one thing in common. They were not overly concerned with an unfortunate people who were firmly held on the anvil of the de jury government yet exposed to the relentless hammer of the LTTE. While the anvil obliged by remaining still the diabolical wielder of the hammer had the flexibility of deciding the direction from which it was flung with added advantage of deciding whether the blow should be fatal, near fatal or just intended to intimidate, a people held captive by fear and uncertainty.It is this inhuman process that the author describes in the subtitle as “from economic embargo to economic repression”.

When the government imposed the economic embargo on nearly a million people who were living in the LTTE-controlled north the author states that it broke the economic backbone and the social stamina of the population. It also allowed the LTTE to take control of the administrative, economic and social affairs of Jaffna and the Vanni which ultimately resulted in a pseudo administrative structure which gradually started dealing with law and order, economy and health institutions under its control. It was quick to seize the initiative in converting the altered circumstances to its economic advantage. Smuggling of contraband goods from India and many other activities were undertaken by the LTTE in the backdrop of the embargo.

The author describes these developments with a detachment that makes the narrative leave an indelible imprint if you happen to be concerned with the subject as I was. Then at another point entrepreneurial skills of the LTTE are again described in greater detail. It is during the CFA. The opening of the A9 road and the free access given to the LTTE cadres to do political work resulted in the LTTE resorting to open extortion under the guise of tax collection.

If you are interested in learning of the tormented history of a people whose only crime was that they called either the North or the East of Sri Lanka their home in lucid prose with irrefutable evidence painstakingly collated by a researcher who has no theories to propound “THE ECONOMY OF THE CONFLICT REGION” is a must read. I find confronting reality an enriching experience. It is highly recommended for those who are concerned about the future of our nation, and its territorial integrity. It is also an effective antidote to the devolution skeptics.

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