The newly appointed three-member Task Force Committee for the Northern Development (TFCND) by President Mahinda Rajapaksa commenced its activities last week by giving the Northerners a ray of hope for a speedy development process with the people’s participation.
Minister of Social Services Douglas Devananda, who gives the leadership for the Committee including Minister Abdul Rishad Bathiudeen and Senior Presidential Advisor MP Basil Rajapaksa, said that the unlimited powers entrusted to the Committee would be used effectively to bring development to the North. “Sky is the limit for my powers,” he said
Q: What are the duties of the TFCND
A: Our main target is to create a political leadership in the Northern Province. As there is no political body to co-ordinate the activities, it is difficult to conduct elections due to the present situation in the North. So basically the Committee will be the body co-ordinating authority.
The EPDP proposed three stages to solve the national problem and this is the first stage towards that - the appointment of an advisory body to look after the political aspects. The main task of the TFCND is to advise the Acting Governor and state institutions on development and resettlement activities.
The Committee will look after all the affairs except the war.
Q: This Committee was appointed barely one week ahead of the Eastern Province election. People are thinking that this is a political gimmick to get more votes?
A: No. This is nothing to do with the Eastern elections. It was a proposal by the EPDP and President Rajapaksa appointed the Committee timely. I discussed this with the President and explained that we need some sort of a forum to oversee the activities in the North.
Whether it is an Interim or Advisory Council, the name does not matter. The President told me that if the government appointed the TFCND some other issues would have cropped up. But later he agreed and there is a hide and seek here.
Agriculture and fisheries, which are the two main livelihoods of the people of the North will be given priority. The areas like health, education and infrastructure facilities have been neglected for years due to the war. But we would give much consideration to develop these sectors while implementing programmes to resettle the IDPs.
Q: Very recently, the government announced about appointing an Advisory Council for the North under APRC recommendations. What is this Committee? Is this the same?
A: This is the first step towards the Advisory Council and if the TFCND functions properly this can be the Advisory Council too. This comprises of only Cabinet Ministers representing three ethnic groups. So this is a coordinating body, which will guide all the state institutions.
Q: How do you plan to extend the activities in Wanni?
A: As a politician I have access to the government officials and people there.
We are planning to have a radio channel, in which we will broadcast daily events. Now the people of these areas do not any access to the happenings outside. They are unaware of the help that the government has extended them. For an example the government allocates money for road development but the LTTE use that money for their benefit.
The LTTE will send a letter through the government officials about the completion of the development project. But people of Wanni are unaware that the LTTE has played out money. So we hope to keep them informed about such activities.
Otherwise people will curse the government. When people know the amount of money that has been given to the particular area for development, if the LTTE played out the money they will be exposed.
In Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu over 90 percent of people are not with the LTTE and they want the military to liberate them. They want to come to the government controlled areas.
In Udikuruppu Pradeshiya Sabba the LTTE is taxing people illegally. We have summoned the officials and discussed their problems. Now we are going to implement some programmes there. It is like a remote control. If the LTTE uses remote controls to explode bombs why cannot we control their activities in order to develop those areas?
Q: How do you get access to the North. Will the A 9 road open soon?
A: We can reach these districts - Mannar and Vavuniya through land, Jaffna by air and sea and Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu through government officials, provincial council members and people. That way we can co-ordinate our activities there. The other thing is that I keep in touch with them about the development programmes in Kilinochchi.
Q. The LTTE’s Political Wing Leader Nadesan has recently said that the LTTE will re-capture the East after the elections. Can the LTTE achieve its aim?
A: No I don’t think that as long as the government is on the correct path the LTTE cannot do anything of that nature. That is only a political statement. The LTTE does not have support of the people and the majority of the people are with the government. It would be a difficult task for the LTTE now. The LTTE cannot go back to its past position and they have been defeated badly.
Q: But with the Muhamalai attack the assumption that the LTTE has been weakened is doubtful. Is it true?
A: No. It is certain that the LTTE has been weakened. Normally the LTTE tries to justify their actions and the opposition will be critical about this issue whether it is right or wrong. Before a lamp flickers, it is so bright. That is the LTTE. In the face of a heavy defeat, the LTTE pretends to be strong.
Q: Are you able to get the support of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA)?
A: They are the LTTE’s mouth piece.
They are under the LTTE’s influence and the LTTE rigged the election and sent them to Parliament. That is their background. So, we cannot expect genuine support from them. And I do not think we need their support.
Q: But don’t you think that the support of the other political parties is vital to form a strong political body in the North ?
A: I have already extended an invitation to them. They can take part in the process but we are the ones who initiated it.
Q: Are there any plans to increase the number of Committee members in the future?
A: This is a Parliamentary Group Committee and I think that too many cooks will spoil the soup.
Q: What are your predictions about the election in the East?
A: I think the UPFA will win.
Because people of the East know the value of freedom and they want to experience that forever. And also they want to develop their areas. So the government will win.
Q: People claim that while defeating the world’s most ruthless terrorist - Prabhakaran, the government is bringing up another - Pillaiyan will turn his guns on the government. What is your comment?
A: Compared to the LTTE, the TMVP is nothing and is a not a threat to the government.
Q: What is your assessment about the ongoing military offensive to liberate the North?
A: In every forum I stressed the fact until Prabhakaran is alive nothing will happen. There is no doubt the LTTE should be destroyed. But I do not justify the war and we need a political solution for our grievances. That is why I always say that it should be solved through negotiations.
I think if I was given this task two years back, the LTTE would have been eliminated by now..
*The task Force Committee will look after all affairs except the war.
*Appointing of the Committee is not a political gimmick before the election.
*A new radio channel for the people in the Wanni.
*As long as the Mahinda Rajapaksa government is on the correct track, the LTTE cannot gain control of the North.
*Over 90 percent of people in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu hate the LTTE.
*The government will use ‘remote controls’ to control activities in Wanni.
*If the Committee was set up two years back the LTTE would have been eliminated by now.