An American Academic on

The Civil Administration in Thamil Eelam

A US Academic, who spent several months in Thamileelam
during a three year period (1994 - 1996), on his return to the US in 1996 sent this special report to the Tamil Voice. In this report he outlines his observations on the LTTE administration of the north (March 1990 to November 1995).

I spent a total of 18 months in the northern province of Sri Lanka since early 1994, as a volunteer working with farmers and educators. During this period I came to know the LTTE administrators and their administration of the Northern Province areas under their control.

My observations below are based on that experience.

The Sri Lanka government services are provided through the Government Agent (and the divisions within his responsibility) and by government ministries, such as the departments of Agriculture, Education, Health, Irrigation, etc. Since 1988/89, positions in the north that became vacant due to retirement, resignation or transfer have not been filled in any of the government departments. Equipment, such as machinery, vehicles, etc. for the conduct of government services also have not been replaced since that time. As such, government services are provided by a skeleton staff, with none of the facilities that their counterparts in the rest of the island have. Electricity, transport, water and other such departments of the government do not function at all in the North.

The civil administration in the north, with the exception of the army camps, are under the control of the LTTE. Mr. Prabakaran is the Leader, equivalent to Head of State. The LTTE civil administration is headed by Mr. Thamilchelvam. The two major administrative regions are the Jaffna Peninsula and the Vanni region. Services are provided by "sectors," and each sector is headed by a secretary (Porupalar - literal meaning person responsible) - an LTTE appointee.

The Porupalar for Thamil Eelam Financial Division is Mr. Thamilanthi. Transport and Trade affairs are also the responsibility of the Finance sector. The Secretary of Justice is Mr. Para. The Secretary of the Protection Department (Police) is Mr. Nadesan. Mr. Ravi Champion heads the Economic Development Department (EDD) which is responsible for Agriculture, Fisheries, Industry, and Environment. The Education Department is headed by Mr. llangkumar. I have not met the person in charge of the Health Department. Each of the Districts in the Vanni region and the Jaffna peninsula have LTTE offices for each of the Department and sections within the departments such as Finance, Justice, Police and EDD. At the district level there are about 20 divisions functioning through committees, structured on functional as well as on departmental basis. The EDD has a division consisting of 12 persons at the village level for each of their divisions.

The Visa (Pass) office, under the internal security division within the Eelam government, has offices in all towns. Visa or Pass is required to go out of the Northern region. When entering the Northern region visa is issued at the Omanthai LTTE checkpoint. At Thandikulam (Vavuniya) the Sri Lanka government issues a permit to go into Vavuniya town or to other parts of Sri Lanka. People who are fifty and over have no restrictions on leaving or entering the LTTE controlled area. However, those who are under 50 have to get someone to stand surety (bond) before they leave. Those who wish to leave the North for good have to pay an "exit fee". The amount depends on the financial status of the family. It can be up to Rs.300,000 per person.

At the district level, the LTTE staff coordinate their activities with the Government Agent (GA) and his staff. No decisions that concern the welfare of the people or the land is taken by the GAs office or government officers or committees without consultation with LTTE officers responsible for the sector and/or area. In effect the GAs office, except for the routine government affairs such as salaries, pensions and other such matters, is used as an arm of the LTTE government.

The civilian air link to the northeast was cut off in 1990. The shipping lanes are also closed to traffic other than the army and the international humanitarian agencies such as ICRC, UNHCR. There are no train services in the north. The railway lines in the north were destroyed during and after the Indian occupation. There are no tracks or stations now. Because of the embargo on iron, the railway lines are used as a source of iron. The train service up to the northern border town of Vavuniya is functioning on a regular basis. The journey of about 160km from Vavuniya to Jaffna takes 16 to 36 hours by road and sea. The roads are no longer maintained by the government, though the GA allocates limited funds sporadically to the LTTE operated infrastructure sector. There are foot-deep potholes on the roads, as well as on the gravel and sand tracks, which were once highways. A total ban on tar and road machinery has prevented repair of the roads. The LTTE administration has done limited repairs with locally available materials.

The LTTE administration has prepared blueprints ready to build airports, seaports, town centres and a comprehensive road and railway network, schools and other buildings in the northeast before the current hostilities started in April 1995.

Means of transport
There are no planes, cargo ships, trains, large buses, trucks or new cars in the north, for a population of over 1.2 million. There are approximately 200 pre-1956 Morris minor and Austin cars, 300 trishaws, 400 vans used as buses, and a few hundred motorcycles. In all there are less than 2000 vehicles in operation. This is less than 10% of the vehicles that were in the North prior to 1956. Vehicle population in the north is less than 1% of the total vehicle population of Sri Lanka. This state of affairs was brought about not only by the economic blockade and embargo, but also due to the confiscation and destruction of vehicles by the invading Sri Lankan and Indian armies.

The main mode of passenger and small goods transport is bicycles, which number over 200,000. Most people walk or cycle (2 to 3 people on a bicycle is the norm). The LTTE operates public (road and sea) transport services. Privately run road transportation is also available. The fares, operations and passenger loads are prescribed and enforced by the LTTE administration. In spite of the limited vehicles, fuel, spare parts and tyres, the road and sea transport is efficient, reliable and orderly.

The north has no telecommunications link with the rest of the island or world. In total about 100 computers were in use before the October 95 offensive. The Sri Lankan radio and television programs are received in certain parts of the north with a tall antenna. International radio stations are the main source of reliable news. The LTTE operates an FM station for a few hours each day.

Electricity was cut off to the north in 1990. The power lines and the transformers are now in disrepair. Electricity is produced in small amounts by tiny generators, solar panels and windmills. Biogas is also produced. Kerosene lamps are used at night to study and for housework. Remarkably, research and development is carried out, despite the army embargo and blockade, to produce large scale cheap energy from sources such as wind, waves, solar power and methanol gas. Firewood or kerosene is used for cooking.

In the absence of a public sewage system, there are only individual septic tanks. This is now encouraged and regulated by the LTTE to protect the environment and control water pollution. Since the 1990 embargo on chlorine and cement, the latrines and wells are not repaired adequately and, the wells are not disinfected properly. This has lead to dangerous levels of coliforms in the drinking water. There are no pipe water systems for households. Water is drawn from the well by kerosene pumps or humans. Water pumps are a banned item and what is available now are those brought in before the war started. During the past four years some of the reservoirs, ponds and canals which the Sri Lankan government failed to repair, are being repaired. Cement is a banned item and repairs to reservoirs last only an year or two.

Schools and universities
Schools were functioning normally (with a Thamil curriculum, sports, music, dancing and prayers) before the invasion by the Sri Lankan army in October 95. University admissions are on a point system. Private tutories were flourishing. University faculties were operating with limited resources and facilities. Repairs to buildings and equipment are not done due to the embargo. The Faculty of Agriculture conducts lectures in wall-less, thatch-roof buildings. Computer education is only at the theoretical level due to the embargo on computers and lack of electricity. Except for the Faculty of Agriculture at Kilinochchi, no other faculties of the University are functioning since the October 95 army offensive. The university administration is now in Kilinochchi and Chavakachcheri. The staff and students are scattered in Vadamaratchchi, Thenmarachchi and the Vanni. The schools in the North were also disrupted in October. All schools in the North were closed to accommodate the refugees from Valigamam. In 1990-92 the schools in the islands and the northern coast were closed due to army operation that resulted in displacement of the people from these areas. In March the LTTE administration reopened the schools at the request of the parents and teachers.

This is a success story for the LTTE administrators. In 1994 I reviewed the agriculture policy manual of Thamil Eelam. It is a superb modern document which addressed all environmental concerns and the sustainability of agriculture production. I could not make any improvements on it. Despite the war agricultural production reached a point that, if not for the war, and the embargo on Ammonium sulphate, the north would have been in a position to export rice. This is something the Sinhalese government has tried to do since independence and has failed. LTTE achieved this within four years despite the war and the army embargo and blockade. Various cash crops like potatoes, tobacco, and fruit trees, are being cultivated very successfully. Agricultural research stations and garden centres have been set up by LTTE to ensure that the agricultural revolution is complete and the north can be self-sufficient, once peace returns.

When the government banned ammonium fertilizer to the north around July/August 1995, the LTTE administration established a food production program called "Vilai Poomi" with the advice and assistance of the Faculty of Agriculture, Farmers Welfare Societies and the extension staff working in the area. The government actions and the drought have hampered the program.

The process by which the Vilai Poomi project was established is a good example of the LTTE philosophy on administration and government. With the embargo on Ammonium Sulphate the EDD estimated that the north will not be able to achieve the yields of the previous years. They then brought together farmers, agriculturists, researchers and extension workers to a two-day Seminar/workshop in September 1995, to discuss a plan prepared by the agriculturists and researchers from the University and the Regional Agricultural Research Station on food production with locally available material.

The Seminar was organized by EDD (agriculture section) with Mr. Champion giving the keynote address. It was held at the Faculty of Agriculture in Kilinochchi. The conference was opened and closed by Mr. Karikalan, who was in charge of affairs for the Vanni and Eastern Region. The Government Agent of Kilinochchi took part in the final stages of the workshop. Students of agriculture and the Sri Lankan government agriculture extension officers from the northern districts were actively involved in the preparation of the final project which was approved at the conference. At no point did the members of the LTTE interfere in the deliberations or decisions of the professional groups.

The decisions were approved by the workshop and given to the District Agriculture Committee (DAC) in the Northern Province who adopted it. The DAC consists of all the heads of divisions, the GAs senior staff, heads of other government departments, University deans and heads, farmers and other key citizens. LTTE members were also present and the GA was the Chairman. In October 1995, the DAC appointed a sub-committee to implement the Vilai Poomi project. The EDD assisted and encouraged the implantation of the project.

All farmers are registered with the EDD. All assistance to the farmers and distribution of scarce inputs are sold through the EDD and the government agrarian services staff.

Due to the embargo and economic blockade the fuel supply is limited. Fuel is received by the GA for the Multipurpose Co-operative Societies (MPCS). The distribution is monitored and controlled by the LTTE administration. There are no petrol stations. Instead, road-side stalls sell kerosene in bottles. Most small spare parts for the cars are made in local workshops. Diesel is rationed and is used only to operate the few generators still left in the north. Since April, 1995 diesel is not available, but locally made diesel is available in small quantities. Tractors and other machinery operate on kerosene, and the local craftsmen have developed a unit which is attached to the exhaust manifold of cars that allows kerosene to be used instead of petrol. The University operates their generators for about two hours at night and thereafter the students use the kerosene lamps. During kerosene shortage or when kerosene was required for the boats and lorries to transport displaced persons in November last year, kerosene sale was restricted to one litre per family per week. The trade of kerosene is monitored by the LTTE administration. No one is exempt from the rule.

I have studied the industrial development policy manual of Thamil Eelam. It is a modern plan of a free-enterprise system, with environmental protection and human safeguards built in. The Industrial Development Organization (IDO) of the EDD is responsible for promoting industrial development with loans and technical assistance. IDO also monitors the quality of the products and their environmental impact, and makes recommendations to the manufacturers.

Industrial development in the north is suffering due to lack of electricity and fuel. This makes it impossible to start any large scale industries. Most of the industries are small cottage industries with power derived from human and animal effort. Some of these industries are sponsored by the LTTE. Despite the killing of several technicians and artisans by the Sri Lankan and the Indian Armies (and migration of others due to fear for their lives and unemployment), the LTTE has managed to train a new generation of workers with technical skills.

Very few new houses were built during the past 12 years. This is mainly due to the current war. The economic embargo and the blockade have made it difficult to build or repair homes especially those which were damaged by bombings and shelling by the Sri Lankan and Indian occupation forces. Most homes are over 30 years old. Those houses that were abandoned by the fleeing refugees are now maintained by the LTTE civil administration and given back to the owners who returned. House prices have appreciated significantly during the past 5 years. This is due to the shortage of housing created by the Sri Lankan and Indian armies who not only took over some of the residences, but also destroyed over half the residences, offices, shops, factories, cinemas, and warehouses. The government has not replaced them or paid compensation or given permits to purchase building materials for reconstruction. Property rights are now protected by the LTTE.

Hospitals and clinics
The largest hospital in the north, the Jaffna Teaching Hospital, is not functioning. Other hospitals and clinics outside Jaffna city are operating with limited facilities despite the current invasion. This was possible only because of financial aid and human resources assistance to supplement the local doctors and nurses from the Christian missionaries, Red Cross, Care and other international charities. There are still a number of Thamil doctors and nurses working and practicing in the north on the strength of protection given by the LTTE. No new hospitals have been built during the past twenty years and the limited facilities and medicines available are reminiscent of pre World War II conditions in the north, or 19th century Europe. All aid and donations from foreign government and aid bodies have been diverted to the South in an attempt to force the northern residents to poverty and ill health, to pave the way for military, social, political and economic domination from the south.

Licenses and taxes
Licenses and taxes are collected to operate various services including a police force and a justice system. All motor vehicles and bicycles have to take a license and carry number or license plates issued by the LTTE administration. To protect the palmyrah and coconut trees an annual duty is levied. Cutting down these and other trees is by special permission only. There is also a tax on the sale of goods and services, and a duty on property transactions.

Banking system
Banks from the south are still operating in the north, mostly for taking deposits from the thrifty residents and to lend for business, speculation and development in the south. This is at the expense of the northern residents who need financing for agriculture, fishing. business vehicles, machinery, trade, housing and education. Banks from the south continue to earn commissions from foreign remittances by overseas Tamils, which amount to over US$300 million per year. In addition, the banks are charging a tax on these remittances to finance the war. The banks also use very old currency bank notes which are put together with cello-tape or gum. The above were some of the points brought up by the north with the banks and the government, but to date it appears no steps have been taken to rectify the problems faced by the Tamils.

Since October, 1995, The Peoples Bank branch in Kilinochchi and other cities in the north has refused any loans to the farmers or traders, even though 85 to 90% of the loans are paid back. The rate of repayment in the south was 20 to 25%, but there loans are written off and new loans are given. The LTTE administration guarantees the loans and ensures the loans are paid back. In 1994 the repayment rate was 100%.

To meet the shortage of capital to finance small businesses, farmers, fishermen and others in need of capital for economic development, the LTTE has set up a rural development bank and a commercial deposit taking bank. In addition, there is also a finance company operated by north-east entrepreneurs.

Bribery and corruption
The LTTE administration has been successful in virtually wiping out the caste system, bribery, corruption and begging. The age old dowry system is under review. The LTTE, with the assistance of progressive Thamils, is conducting an education campaign to abolish the dowry system. These social evils have not only hampered economic and social progress, but created dishonest politicians, administrators, businessmen and civilians in the whole of Sri Lanka.

Another great achievement of the LTTE administration is the successful reduction in unemployment and the substantial increase in the employment opportunities for women. Following the world trend, a high proportion of women are employed in the medical, judicial, security, police, professional and administrative services. Their performance in terms of professionalism, attitude and politeness gives Tamils hope for greater achievement in economic and social progress in the future. Practically every person who is willing to work and perform well is offered employment at reasonable wages, similar to wages paid by the Sri Lanka government or related businesses. In fact, there were vacancies for skilled workers, teachers and professionals before the current invasion by the Sri Lanka armed forces.

Discipline is another area in which the LTTE administration has made progress. In waiting for a bus or a boat, people stand in queues in an orderly fashion. Hire vehicles take their turn.

The safety of all vehicles and especially the boats are rigorously checked. The safety of passengers who travel long distances at night are ensured by the LTTE imposed logistics.

High priority is given to the eradication of poverty. The northern residents, despite the economic embargo and the blockade, are reasonably well dressed, groomed and observe reasonable standards of hygiene. Public places are kept clean.

Police force
The LTTE administration has set up police stations all over the North. Violent crimes have dropped drastically. In Kilinochchi during the two years I was there, there was one rape and two murders. The cases were tried, appeals heard and judgments delivered. Public drunkenness is under control. Citizen groups are, however, calling for a total ban on liquor. LTTE members do not drink or serve drinks to anyone at any functions. Most of the complaints at the police stations were family quarrels, drunkenness or property disputes. Robberies are rare. It is safe for a single woman to move about without fear of robbery, molestation or rape - a matter for which people are grateful, especially after what they suffered at the hands of some of the Sri Lankan and Indian soldiers in the past. Police are unarmed, helpful and free of corruption or favoritism.

Judicial system
Law courts set up by the LTTE administration are in operation in the main districts of the north. Judgments are handled usually within a month. Legal costs are one of the lowest in the world. Lawyers who have left the North do complain. The citizens prefer the present judicial system because of the lower cost and quicker resolution. Legal precedents are based on existing laws in the north, updated for current social values (E.g. spousal abuse). Most of the disputes that would have gone to courts twenty years ago are solved by mediation outside the courts. By noon the courts are empty in Kilinochchi.

Environment and pollution
The absence of large scale factories, fewer vehicles, scarcity of petrol, diesel and other industrial pollutants has made the north-east pollution free. The embargo on Nitrogen fertilizers has also reduced the Nitrogen level in wells and waterways. Previously, the N-level was twice the VMO recommended limit.

The LTTE administrators initiated a green revolution in 1991 which is already showing results. Garden centres have been set up in towns and villages for plant experimentation and supply of vegetable and fruit tree seedlings to the public at cost (often free to those who cannot afford them.) Most types of tropical plants are available. Citizens are encouraged to plant vegetable and fruit trees in their gardens. The roadsides are being planted with shady trees. Large tracts of sandy coastlines are being planted with coconut, palmyrah, teak and Casuarina trees. The LTTE policy on forest and wildlife preservation since 1990 has now stopped deforestation. Before 1990, under the Sri Lanka administration, 25 lorry loads of prime timber was leaving the North to the South illegally every year. Now no tree can be cut down by anyone without a permit. Elephants are also protected by law. The North has 40% of its land in forests. The World Earth Day is celebrated by all households, government departments, schools and businesses by planting a tree each. LTTE administration observes all international days.

Town Planning
The LTTE administration in 1990 formed a committee of specialists from the University, Government departments, private sector and citizens to plan and rebuild the Jaffna city. The committee completed its work under the chairmanship of the then Vice Chancellor, Prof. A. Thurairajah, a civil engineer. The plan and architect drawing were presented by the LTTE infrastructure team at a meeting of the DAC in Kilinochchi in 1994 where I was present. It is a modern plan for a destroyed ancient city. During my stay, a committee was elected to plan the Kilinochchi and Mankulam towns, which completed the draft in April 1995. The committee had full freedom and all assistance to hold meetings for people to present their views and recommendations.

Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Seminar and Workshop.
In May 1994, the LTTE administration undertook to estimate the cost of reconstruction and rehabilitation. The EDD secretariat coordinated the exercise. Subcommittees for each of the sectors were formed who, in consultation with the public, from records and direct inspection, assessed the reconstruction need and prepared the policies, plans and estimation of cost. Preliminary documents were then sent by the GA to the Ministry of Reconstruction and Rehabilitation. A private consultation team headed by a Dr. Gunasingam was appointed by the Ministry to coordinate this activity. These documents were then discussed in a three day Seminar/Workshop in July 1994 at the conference hall of the University of Jaffna in Thinnevely, under the patronage of Mr. Thamilchelvam, Mr. Karikalan and the organization of Mr. Ravi Champion. A final document was produced and a summary of this was submitted at the 1995 Peace talks.

The government in the next peace talk session produced a proposal for the reconstruction of the North which was estimated at Rs. 39.9 billion. The LTTE leaders presented the government document to the committee that produced the initial draft and organized another Seminar Workshop in Kilinochchi on 4th and 5th January 1995, with wider representation from other districts with about 500 participants from all walks of life, including the government departments responsible for various sectors. The final report was then given to the 3rd peace talk session.

At no time did the LTTE leaders dictate to or interfere in the functioning of the planning committee. The LTTE council accepted the document as presented without any change. The last meeting with the committee and the private consultants was held in Jaffna. At one stage the chairman of the consultancy group said to Mr. Champion (who chaired the meeting to finalize the proposal,) that his team came to talk to the LTTE about the plan and did not want to discuss the proposals with the members of the heads of government departments or others. Mr. Champion replied that the LTTE recognizes the consultancy group and the committee as the experts, and what this group agrees to is acceptable to the LTTE administration.

This was the standard approach of the LTTE in all matters concerning the development of the North. I have had the privilege of examining the final draft of the document. The final draft was similar to the first draft in cost (Rs.39.9 billion) but had more details and contained a section giving the summary of the proposal presented by the LTTE for approximately Rs. 100 billion. I have not seen this level of mass participation of citizens in planning processes of governmental function anywhere else. In the south such a process is highly centralized.

(May 10, 1996)

This article was first published in the Tamil Voice