By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
The newly appointed Northern Province Governor, Jeevan Thiagarajah, who completed his first month in office, was the former Executive Director of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies and had also held executive positions in several humanitarian and human rights organisations. In December 2020, he was appointed as the member of the Election Commission of Sri Lanka, but he stepped down, in October 2021, in order to take up the Governorship of the Northern Province to serve the people of the North. He says that there is an initial list of 53 plus active action plans to work on.
Excerpts of the Interview:
You have been appointed Governor of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province to serve the predominantly Tamil-speaking people. You now hold a governmental position after serving as the director of the CHA, a non-governmental organisation. How do you see yourself as the Governor of the Northern Province, which will be scrutinised by the local and international communities on human rights issues following the end of the war?
A: As a secular technocrat, open to communication by all, irrespective of political affiliations, responsible for Treasury finances and harmonised, optimised, corruption-free usage, the mentor senior manager for the public service in the NPC (i.e., 36k+10k central cadre), friend and carer of the citizens, driving ‘growth and development’ whilst protecting the environment at all times and open to criticism, I am ultimately responsible for failures, if any, in the Province.
What are the Government’s objectives that are expected to be achieved in the Northern Province in the next two years?
a. Uplifting the poor.
b. Sufficiency in water and food.
c. Hyper efficient NP Governance.
d. A second home for those from overseas.
e. A investment zone for education, an exports industry, value added products and specific international service sectors.
f. Affordable homes, safe drinking water, SLS 745 sanitation.
g. NVQ 2 certified citizens with pre-existing skills.
h. Exemplary public servants in top management.
i. A Province where four faiths radiate.
j. Where the policies of the GoSL Unity Cluster is found real time on the ground.
k. A Province where citizens are free to realise their full potential.
l. A province with song, dance, theatre, art, drama.
m. Where all animals are safe and secure.
n. Where memories of demons of the past are much less.
What are your thoughts on Sri Lanka’s Tamil political culture, particularly the TNA in the North? Are they diverse in their focus and attitudes on the right track?
A: Governor should not comment on individual parties or politicians. He can though critique those who are paid proxies, agent provocateurs, rabble-rousers, those corrupt and /or managers of localised violence or those who persecute opponents and their agents.
What are the initiatives you have planned for the North that could be carried out during your Governorship?
A: There is an initial list of 53 plus.
Is it necessary for Tamil youth, men and women, to become more involved in the cause of peace without becoming politically involved? Many people claim that they have learned to oppose Government initiatives at every turn. Are you having any difficulties in implementing projects or events?
A: They should become people who have found ‘peace’. People oppose, revile, hate NP Governance because we are like ‘maharajas’ who are fundamentally self-serving and corrupt, ruling over citizens who we think are second class, untouchables. Governors of the past and a Chief Minister had been frustrated. I am sure such fun and games are planned and on – going on the incumbent. All of us off course live to learn and unlearn!
There is currently no Chief Minister in the North. Do you consider that to be a deficiency? Tamil politicians see it as a way to get rid of the LG elections. Is that right?
A: No. Local views hold water. They are heard and counted!
The Northern Province was the birthplace of the ‘one law, one country’ concept. Is your governorship involved?
A: We are in one country with one Constitution and scores of laws. The Governor is duty-bound to follow the Constitution and the laws that flow from it.
Many people believe that the Government has won the war but not the hearts of Sri Lanka’s Tamil people. If it is yes or no, what is your response?
A: Yes, there is more to be done yet. Let us assume we are in a 300 metre relay race. We are in the second baton change. One more baton change coming up once we turn the corner for the last 100 metres! We are still in first 25 metres of the second leg.
When people wanted to remember their dead in November, which is a basic human right, they were harassed and suppressed by the Police. Even the chair of the University Grants Commission claims that the Mullivaikkal memorial has “threatened North-South unity.” We didn’t see your reactions to this. What do you have to say?
A: Private grief has not been outlawed and cannot be practically either. Private grief linked to outlawed entities crosses the law.
President Gotabaya stated that the issue of enforced disappearances and families searching for their loved ones will be discussed. There is compelling evidence that many were kidnapped in front of their families. How do you think this case will be resolved? Is there going to be any action taken in this regard? Are you going to meet with those who have been affected by the disappearances?
A: Yes. The OMP, the Office of Reparation and Reconciliation are tasked with mandates to address these issues/concerns. The Northern Provincial Council is supporting them.
Also, last week, the Navy and the Military were seen on social media attempting to seize plots of land that were thought to be owned by private individuals. A journalist also claimed to have been assaulted with barbed wire wrapped around a pole. The military denied it. Is the land taken over by the Navy, State property? What can you say about these occurrences?
A: Land, Title, Alienation, handing back or acquisition have legal procedures. It has to be fulfilled to the letter. The protests, though illegal were a blessing. It helped the Governor find many a gap which will be addressed.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) strongly condemned the attack on a Tamil journalist at Mullaitivu. How do you see the Tamil Media operating in the Northern Peninsula? Are they lively and balanced journalists who advocate for peace and reconciliation?
A: The media must be free. Responsible, not be libellous, treasonous nor be triggers to illegality. They must be ethical. The media is vibrant here.
Another source of concern is that women are underrepresented in politics and in positions of power, even in the North. Have any steps been taken to improve women’s representation?
A: Yes they are. Good point. We will ensure they are heard at critical junctures of decision-making.
The fishermen’s issue appears to be unresolved in Tamil politics. How do you see this issue being resolved under this Government and under you as Governor? Are there any steps that have been taken under your supervision?
A: I wrote to the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M. K. Karunanidhi. I seek to meet him and discuss the issue. It would perhaps result in reciprocal developments. I went out to sea and saw for myself the unacceptable sight of swarms of illegally present craft engaged in fishing, using illegal methods.
The ex-LTTE combatants are in a precarious situation, with no income, no housing, and no prospects for the future. Have any efforts been made to improve their standard of living?
A: Once again it’s a good reminder. Yes they must be in a protective cocoon until they are firmly on their feet and others in vulnerable situations would also be attended to.
According to Muslims, those who fled from the Tamil Tigers have yet to be resettled. Is there any news on that front?
A: They must, they can return.
You would have gathered information about people’s problems in the North by now. What are the most important issues they’ve confided in you?
A: They want an administration which can find solutions, be responsive and one which ceases to foist problems on the Military and Police. They also want an end to inefficiency in public service, discriminatory practices, ugly, delayed or failure to take decisions, corruption and illegal acts by interested groups, and totally illegal acts by the administration.