Development amid amity cornerstone of Governor’s game plan

Newly appointed Northern Province Governor Jeevan Thiagarajah has adopted a novel approach based on 53 priorities to ensure the overall development of the Northern Province.

He is working tirelessly for a province where people of all communities could live together on the basis of equality with zero tolerance for extremism and corruption.

The Daily News spoke to Governor Thiagarajah in a wide-ranging interview about his blueprint for development and peace and harmony in the Northern Province.

Thiagarajah is ready to bring the politicians and the Government servants to the table with the objective of addressing the burning issues of the public.

Politicians are in the habit of maintaining and expanding their vote base as they survive on it. The Governor is not a politician and he will ensure an efficient service to the public, Thiagarajah said.

Thiagarajah paid tribute to former Parliamentarian, the late Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam, PC, for his guidance. “I learnt a lot from him, especially work ethics,” he said.

The full interview follows:


Q. The people in the North have been battered by 30 years of conflict and it has led to making the Tamil community distant from their Sinhala and Muslim brethren. How are you going to promote reconciliation and unity among the communities?


A. The concept of ‘unity cluster’ is an exceptional framework which will address all issues related to reconciliation and unity among the communities by bringing together the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR), the Office of Reparations, and the Office of Missing Persons. We are now looking at how this mechanism is made accessible to the people with the close cooperation of all stakeholders in the Government.

The Governor’s office will play a key role as a focal point to promote reconciliation by helping implement these policies. This mechanism is the answer to many issues with regard to disappearances too. The Governor’s office will come forward to help implement these policies. This policy framework is aimed at creating a pluralistic society where people of all communities are able to live together in peace and dignity.

Q. The Northern Province is a multi-ethnic province even though the majority community is Tamil. How are you going to strengthen the public service in the province?


A. I have set up focal points at district level to address issues of the people within the district. They are no longer required to visit the Governor’s office in Jaffna. I have delegated powers to the focal points at district level to address the issues of the public. The issues that require my intervention will be referred to me.

The Government servants in the provincial service from Governor to the lowest rank should have a name tag with their designation on their attire or uniform. This system is in place in the Armed Forces and the Police and it will help inculcate the sense of unity and oneness in the hearts of the Government servants.

The province should be bilingual and the provincial Government servants should have a working knowledge of English and IT.


Q. What are the areas that will receive priority in the province under your leadership?


A. The people living in underdeveloped houses will receive my serious attention. I have sought the assistance of the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) to identify underdeveloped houses in the province and a programme will be launched to provide them with habitable dwellings. The SLAF has sent me pictures of unlivable houses in several areas in the province. This programme will continue in the future too.

The Vavuniya and Mannar Government Agents have already been issued instructions to explore the possibility of building houses for the people living in underdeveloped houses. Every family should live in a decent house with sanitary facilities to at least comply with SLS 745 standards.

Special focus will also be given for the sanitation and welfare of the employees, particularly for women in the public service. A programme would also be in place for the preservation of water and not a single drop of water will be wasted in the province. There will be no more abandoned tanks and we are committed to the protection of fauna and flora.

Discussions were also held with the SLAF to carry out aerial seed bombing missions with the intention of increasing forest cover.


Q. You have drawn special attention towards the welfare of the less privileged people and animals. How are you going to promote the welfare of the poor and the animals?


A. I will set up dinning halls in the province which are dedicated for the poor. The needy people will be served free meals at these halls. When these people become self sufficient, they would not need to come to these places.

A special programme will be in place covering all districts in the province to provide dairy milk to the people at a lower price. In India, dairy milk is available at every nook and corner at the lowest price. I want to make dairy milk available in all parts of the province at a lower rate.

We will also seek the possibility of establishing food stalls similar to ‘amamachchi’ stalls in Tamil Nadu to provide quality foods to the people at an affordable rate.

The elders and differently abled will be well looked after. A comprehensive mechanism will be implemented for the rehabilitation of drug addicts who are languishing in prisons.

The Dangerous Drug Control Board is opening an office in Jaffna soon. We will coordinate with them for the rehabilitation of these drug addicts. I visited the Jaffna prison where 500 persons have been remanded over drug-related offences and among them over 100 are drug addicts.

The Provincial council offices in Jaffna.

If an unclaimed animal is found dead by an accident or any other cause, we will give it decent final rites. We will not allow their bodies to rot on the roads.

Every morning I give instructions to the police on the A9 road and by roads to give due dignity to the animals which die in accidents.

Veterinary services in the province will also take care of all stray animals.

Q. There is vast potential for investment in the Northern Province in the field of eco-tourism and the energy sector. How are you going to attract investments to the province?


A. I want to make the province very investor friendly and cutting edge technology needs to be introduced to the province to cope with global trends. We will have to introduce e-filing and e-payments systems to attract investors. Special focus has to be given to attract those who left the country by uplifting the standards of the service industry.

The province should be made a second home for those who left the country by upgrading our service industry. French or German nationals will not arrive in the province if our service industry is not up to their standards.

A development council to ensure overall development in the province will be set up in the North and it will be run by a group of quality private sector CEOs and fund managers.

A sports council will also be set up in the province and these institutions will not be limited to name boards. They will start working with the aim of bringing early results.


Q. There was an era in which educational standards in the North were above other provinces. However the quality of education deteriorated over the time due to various reasons such as the protracted conflict in the country. What are your plans to provide quality education to the children in the province?

The Northern landscape


A. The average teacher–student ratio in the province is 1:12 whereas the Education Ministry’s policy is to have an average teacher–student ratio of 1:19. Students who are underperforming in schools will be given special attention. These backwards students should be given all assistance to rise above others and reach the top rungs of education.

The skills of fishermen farmers electricians, carpenters and domestic aides will be given proper recognition through the NVQ certification process.

This certification programme will recognize their skills. Those who have completed Ordinary Level can reach the degree level through vocational education.

They will be given vocational education and training beginning from NVQ 2 level to give them better recognition locally and internationally.

A massive programme is in progress to provide 4G coverage through the Information Highway and our students can also join study courses online conducted by world-renowned universities such as Monash in Australia and Kamraj University in South India.


Q. The Northern Province is in the grip of armed gangs from time to time despite the presence of the Armed Forces and the Police. They use improvised machete or ‘aruval’ as seen in South Indian movies. As the Governor, how would you tackle these gangsters?

An aerial view of Jaffna.


A. These armed gangs in the North are using very primitive weapons which can be kept at museums. They should stop behaving like Bollywood film stars. We have already discussed with 51 families of these gangsters who were involved in attacking people using swords and machetes. These armed gangs have damaged houses and set many places on fire.

We have given them an ultimatum. If they don’t want to work with us, they will be put into prison. Those who are willing to work with us will be given different types of assistance.

They would be provided free psychological and livelihood assistance in addition to mentors to ‘hold their hands’ for three years. We are not ready to tolerate their activities any longer.

We want to stop contraband being smuggled to our shores. We don’t want to see contraband landing our shores.


Q. Extremism in any part of the country poses an unprecedented threat to very socio-cultural fabric in the country. Is there any room for extremism in the North again?


A. There is no room for any kind of extremism in the province and we are not promoting extremism. I am for a secular province where people of all communities live in peace and harmony.

I am a Hindu but I visit the sacred Jayasri Maha Bodhi several times a month. I visit Catholic churches and meet priests and bishops.


Q. The country has a formidable strength of Government servants numbering above 1.5 million. Are you satisfied with their service to the public?


A. I will never allow any employee in the Government service to misuse State properties and I will take zero tolerance approach to any kind of corruption in the province.

There are employees in the Governor’s office who have done 200 hours of overtime. That means they have to work 30 days continuously to reach 200 hours over time. We are bound to protect the public servants, but they should also remember that any act of wrongdoing will not be tolerated.

The Government servants should be dedicated to the service of the public. They should not send the people seeking their assistance from pillar to post.

Affordable accommodation will be made available in the province and the public servants in oher provinces are also be encouraged to visit the province


Q. Is there any move to launch a power supply project to the people living in islands the off Jaffna peninsula with financial assistance from India?


A. I am not aware of such a project but these islands should receive electricity.

Renewable energy is our future and we are seeking the possibility of establishing solar farms. India has started installing solar panels in public places too. They have solar farms too.


Q. For centuries, Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen have been fishing in each other’s waters without any issue. But the Indian fishing boats are reportedly poaching in Sri Lankan waters by using illegal fishing methods, depriving the local fishermen of their livelihood. Is this issue solvable?


A. The fisheries issue is very complex because it is connected with the citizens of two countries. The Indian boats are fishing in our waters using illegal fishing methods.

This issue can only be solved through discussions. Fishermen representing Indian fishing cooperatives came here and discussed their issues with their Sri Lankan counterparts. Representatives of fisheries cooperatives from the North should visit India and start discussions to reach an amicable settlement to this issue.

A solution has to be found for the fishermen’s issue soon. I expect to go to the region where illegal activities are said to be taking place and assess the situation for myself.


Q. You have met the country’s senior most Tamil politician R. Sampanthan after being sworn in as the Governor of the Northern Province, before President Gotabaya Rajapaka. What is the outcome of your meeting with Sampanthan?


A. We have known each other from the ’80s, trough Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam whom both of us were associated with. I was listening to Mr. Sampanthan. His mind is very sharp. I told him to give me a list of issues with regard to the development in the North in writing so that I can deal with them effectively.

I also met former Northern Province Chief Minister Justice C.V. Wigneswaran who stressed the importance of giving education to children after schools were opened in the aftermath of the third Covid wave.

We discussed little politics, but more of matters related to common issues.


Q. What do people expect from a Governor?


A. The Governor is not a politician and he will ensure an efficient service to the public. Politicians are in the habit of maintaining and expanding their vote base because they survive on it.

I am willing to bring the politicians and service providers to the table in order to address the burning issues of the public. I would moderate their discussion.

The politicians can take up the issues faced by the people at the discussion and I challenge the political leaders to rise up and come to the table to air the concerns of the people represented by them.


Q. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa recently called upon the Tamil Diaspora to work together and help develop the country. How can the Tamil Diaspora help develop Sri Lanka?


A. We have to engage with the Diaspora as they bring us huge potential. The Tamil people have been living with their Sinhala brethren for centuries.

But they had to leave the country due to the riots. These people of Sri Lankan origin should return to the country and spend some time in Sri Lanka.

I want to make the Northern Province the best province in the country. We have to make the province more welcoming to them with no disrespect.


– Daily News Sri Lanka

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