Politics should not hamper development – Northern Governor | Sunday Observer

Politics should not hamper development – Northern Governor

5 January, 2020
Northern Province Governor P.S.M.Charles
Northern Province Governor P.S.M.Charles

Newly appointed Northern Province Governor P.S.M.Charles, who is an impeccable senior public servant says she is looking forward to listen to the people and work with provincial leaders to develop the region.

“The bitterness between provincial councils and the central government can only hamper the development of the area and people’s wellbeing,” she said, adding that, “ You can’t do politics in development and you cannot do development by politics. We have to understand this, and then there will be less issues and less confusion.”

Excerpts of the interview

Q. You have worked in numerous positions in the North as well as in the East as a public servant. Do you consider your new role as the governor of the Northern Province a challenge?

A. Yes, when I got the appointment to the North and the East to be a representative of the central government to do development, we had a lot of challenges. I know this will not be any less difficult. I will have to be a bridge between the people and the office of president. I know it’s a difficult task.

Q. What will be your economic development priorities in the region, where do you think you will start your mission?

A. The President and the Secretary to the President highlighted that education, health, water supply and other infrastructure facilities in the region needed prioritising to make them on par with the rest of the country. We will take into account feelings and aspirations of the people. And understand their requirements while taking into consideration the ground realities when specific projects are planned.

Q. Do you think social and community welfare projects need to be given priority over other development requirements?

A. The President in his speech in parliament emphasised the wellbeing of people. He gives equal importance to community projects. He said economic development of the country is one of his top priorities. Community welfare and economic development will go hand in hand. While the infrastructure facilities and basic requirements are immediately met, everything else will be studied first, and we want to ensure that what we do is what the people in the North need and want.

Q. Even the best of projects can be sabotaged by politically driven elements if there is lack of awareness among people. How do you plan to address this crucial element of administration?

A. We have understood that and people’s support is vital. We will work towards that. Sri Lanka is a democratic country. Everyone is free to do the politics they believe in. In such backdrop, people’s support is crucial.

Q. Do you think, as a person who has a track record of being an apolitical and fair public servant, you will have the support of the people to carry out your program?

A. The expectation is that people will support, but it may depend on the time, kind of projects and the way other local leaders behave.

The people need to have sustainable development, and we need to remove disparities within the regions. The locals have to support, and they have to accept our genuine efforts. If they have concerns about their culture and environmental aspects, these can be taken on board and incorporated into our development efforts, but people must realise the need to implement the projects.

Q. The Northern Provincial Council is not functioning due to delayed PC elections. Governors have added responsibilities as a result.

A. It’s not only for the North, the Provincial Councils are not functioning everywhere. Elections are expected near future. This is a period where governors can make use of a neutral administration and have freedom to study the set up to bring in reforms if there is a need to do so. And make the system effective and efficient to deliver services to the people and ensure that they are benefited.

Q. Poaching in Lankan waters by Indian fishing boats has been a major concern for the Northern fishermen. Do you think that you can play a role to help alleviate this situation?

A. It is an international affair. It should be handled by the central government. It is premature for me to speak of what I will do, but certainly the issues of the northern people will be addressed as per the powers given to me.

Q. The former Northern Chief Minister accused the central government and the Governor’s office of lack of transparency and keeping them off the radar with regard to the development being carried out in the region. Your comments?

A. I don’t believe that it has been the actual state of affairs. The District Coordinating Committee meeting is chaired by political leaders. Without the approval of the DCC committee, a provincial council or the central government cannot do any development projects. Hence, it is not correct to say that they were not consulted.

There is a structural system to get their formal approval to implement projects. So not only the consultation, they had to approve the projects that are to be implemented in the region. District Secretaries, provincial council members, chief secretary or secretaries from provincial councils, head of the departments of provincial councils take part in the DCC meetings where they present their project proposals. It’s the provincial political authorities who have to give them the final go-ahead.

The bitterness between provincial councils and the central government can only hamper the development of the area and people’s wellbeing. You can’t do politics in development, and you cannot do development by politics. We have to understand this, and then there will be less issues and less confusion.

Q. What is your ultimate goal for the region, how would you like to see the region at the end of your five year term?

A. I hope we can have a united nation, where everyone enjoys the fruits of development with better living standards and improved health, education and other indicators. I want to improve the nutrition level of the people. Accessibility of transport, gender balance and child rights are other areas that I will be paying attention.

We will work on all those areas with the cooperation of the people and the provincial political leaders.

Q. There are a lot of unemployed youth in the region and gangs of such groups are said to be creating trouble for people?

A. Unemployment is a common issue. It’s not confined to the North. Even in the Western province, we have this issue. This is the reason why the President has proposed a 100,000 employment program for low income groups.

Most of the unemployed youth want jobs close to home. I have been told when I tried to recruit them for state jobs. They don’t want to travel far. So matching them with available jobs is a difficult task.

On the other hand, our education system is not producing the required skilled people. There is a mismatch between demand and supply. When I was the District Secretary for Batticaloa, I provided jobs to 2,500 graduates as development officers. More than 700 graduates of the recruits have graduated in drama, music and dance.

Q. Will there be a system for the diaspora community to take part in the development of the region?

A. We have an open economy. There is no barrier for them to take part in development activities.

They are welcome to do so. In most countries, the economy is developed by diaspora. For instance in Africa, Jamaica and South Korea, it has been the migrant workers and diaspora who helped develop the economy.