Business Times

End of conflict: A year later

Almost a year has passed after the Sri Lanka military crushed the LTTE in the jungles off Mullaitivu. Various celebrations are underway to mark this historic event including a ‘Heroes Week’ for military personnel who died in the conflict.

It was on May 18, 2009 that dreaded LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was killed by the army and resulted in an overjoyed President Mahinda Rajapaksa kissing the ground at the Bandaranaike International Airport on return from an overseas trip.

A year has gone by and what has happened? Have Sri Lankans enjoyed the fruits of peace? Has there been a peace dividend? Most observers will say it has been a mixed bag: Opening of the A9 highway and increase of traffic to Jaffna; creation of a Reconciliation Commission on the lines of the Truth Commission of South Africa; easing of some emergency regulations this week; President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his ruling party being returned to power at presidential and parliamentary polls, etc, among other matters.

On the negative side, the continued detention of former army commander General Sarath Fonseka has been a black mark on the government while a presidential pardon for jailed journalist J.S.

Tissainayagam this week must be commended and would hopefully lead to a better environment for journalists; though the assault on Daily Mirror senior reporter Sandun Jayasekera this week indicates that the level of impunity still continues.

The Reconciliation Commission, one hopes, won’t go down the road of a similar Truth Commission appointed by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga where victims of the conflict are yet to receive the compensation recommended. These initiatives should not be just token gestures but pursued vigorously as a healing process and reconciliation between communities.

In this context, the kind of development taking place in Jaffna is far from desired. The authorities are yet to win the hearts and minds of people. Thousands of southerners visiting the north and resorting to somewhat rowdy behaviour of dirtying the road and driving at breakneck speed without a concern for residents is certainly not the way to win over the north. There should be more respect for culture, tradition and customs of the people. As of now there has been a rush by banks, finance companies and insurance companies to open branches in the north but what is sorely lacking are large scale projects that would provide jobs, jobs and more jobs. The sooner some of the projects that are lined up for the north with job-creation as the objective, get off the ground, the better it is for the people of the north.

Winning the hearts and minds of the people must be handled with a conscious understanding of the culture of the people and one hopes these concerns would be taken on board by powerful minister Basil Rajapaksa who is spearheading the northern development drive. Development, taking people’s considerations into account, is a sine qua non for advancement of the north in the post-war era and the government has a very good opportunity to open out to the people of the north as a caring adminstration. They should not squander this God-given opportunity.

There has been a relaxation of security in Colombo and one observed this week the road behind the Cinnamon Grand hotel in Colombo, that leads to Rajapaksa’s Temple Trees residence, open and and sans checkpoints or the intimidating presence of any guards.

This is commendable. While security is absolutely essential given that one cannot fully rule out the ugly head of the LTTE rising again, security agencies should resort to a more subtle way of ensuring a military presence in the capital so that visitors, particularly large numbers of tourists, feel welcome and not intimidated.

The economy however has serious management issues and the confusion over the budget presentation is a case in point. Inflation and the cost of living are expected to rise while a string of other hikes in essential commodities are on the cards as the government moves fast to restore revenue measures that were put on hold due to the polls.

All in all the past year has been mixed for Sri Lankans recovering from 27 years of bloody conflict. One now hopes that government leaders will display statesmenship and courage (are we asking too much?) to steer the country on a development path that is sans discrimination, corruption and is openly accountable to the people.

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