“He went about his task methodically, employing just the resources at his disposal. It was all done according to a plan. With the support of the Government Agent who had direct access to him, he got the civil administration back on track. He reactivated the cooperative system to counter the problems caused by the LTTE putting a stop to the movement of goods into the Peninsula. Within a year and a half, Jaffna was unrecognizable from what it was when Maj. Gen Chandrasiri took over as the de-facto administrative head of the Peninsula. Schools were reopened at 135,000 children were back in the classrooms, along with the teachers. The Government servants were back at their duty stations, attending to the numerous tasks of day to day administration and implementation. The cooperation of I/NGOs was secured, with relevant personnel working under Maj. Gen Chandrasiri, who held monthly meetings to discuss problems and formulated mechanisms to address these. The Jaffna University reopened and some 7000 students were able to pursue their undergraduate education.
“Neither was the military element of the overall equation ignored. The security situation in the Peninsula improved and right up to the end of the humanitarian mission to liberate the entire Northern Province from the grip of terrorism there was hardly any incident recorded. Preparations set in place were such that troops were able to break through Muhamalai just 4 days after Maj. Gen Chandrasiri left the Peninsula to take up the post of Chief of Staff of the Sri Lanka Army.
“His next appointment over and above his Chief of Staff duties, the Competent Authority for Northern Province one could argue, was even more challenging. Although everyone expected a large exodus of people from LTTE-controlled areas, it was impossible to predict numbers or ascertain the 'how' and 'when' and 'where from'. At the beginning, therefore, planning was difficult. On one occasion 100,000 people had arrived, and 80,000 had arrived on another occasion. Facilities had to be provided, systems had to be put in place to feed, shelter and provide medical attention for the IDPs. Maj General Chandrasiri was in fact rudely greeted by chaos.
“Within one and a half months, 5 zones in what came to be called the Manik Farm Relief Village. More camps had to be set up to accommodate the ever increasing number of people fleeing LTTE-held areas. It was a logistical nightmare but things were quickly brought under control. Systems were established. It has been argued that the discipline and commitment brought to bear on the entire process is the secret of its success. Maj. Gen Chandrasiri was able to marshal his forces, secure the support and contribution of relevant government institutions, public servants as well as I/NGOs to ensure that even though the camps are temporary facilities, all residents had enough food, that the sick were looked after, that there was enough drinking water and adequate sanitation. Things were chaotic to begin with but they moved from 'chaotic' to 'manageable' to 'could-be-better' to 'reasonable'.”
Considering the achievements he recorded in such a short time, his knowledge of the region and trustworthiness, President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed Maj Gen Chandrasiri to the post of Governor in the Northern Province on July 12, 2009. Five years on, a looking back at the times he had accepted the challenge and enumerating the changes he effected could be a long, long story that could be summarized into a single person’s profile that epitomize the 'duty, service, country.'
The assignment before him in 2009 was a Herculean task and after five years of service he seemed to have accomplished the ‘cleaning of stables’ to the satisfaction of his superiors, for President Rajapaksa re-appointed him governor of the Northern Province again this year.
In an interview with news.lk Maj Gen Chandrasiri recounts the numerous challenges he had faced and how his leadership style stressing on preparedness, discipline and rigorous training could help him to surmount those daunting tasks. Those were hard times that we have passed as a nation and not easy to repeat again.
Asked to explain the challenges he had confronted at the time he took over as the governor Northern Province, he recounted that there had been challenges of various sorts administratively as for him to understand the system of provincial council itself was a challenge. He spoke appreciatively of the assistance extended to him by his good friend and colleague, Governor of the Eastern Province Hon. Rear Admiral (Retd.) Mohan Wijewickrama. It was Rear Admiral Wijewickrama, who not only explained the duties and responsibilities of the new job to Maj Gen Chandrasiri but also gave the latter a heap of books, constitutions, amendments, parliament acts, gazettes etc to study and understand how the civil administration system of a province worked. Rear Admiral Wijewickrama taught the new Governor that he should never forget the fact that he was the representative of His Excellency the President. “Soon I realized the areas where I should adapt my skills and how I should transform myself and started work accordingly. I started working with administrative officials to get familiarize with provisions and regulations in the Acts, gazettes, administrative and financial regulations, provincial financial regulations etc. When it came to officials, there are various tiers – national, provincial and pradeshiya sabhas when it comes to political administration. Then there are district and divisional secretaries. I remember how I used to sit down with Chief Secretary and ask various questions on governance to understand how this system worked. He also came with his secretaries; I asked questions they kindly explained me of each and every aspect of the provincial council system. This process lasted for about one month.
Then only I started working with the departmental level of the administration of the Northern Province. It took about the three to four months for me to understand what this departmental level administration. For your information there are 24 departments under the Northern Provincial Council coming under the five secretaries who are in-charge of education, health, local government, construction and infrastructure, fisheries and agriculture and all other areas. Over and above you have a Chief Secretary who is in charge of the finances of the entire province. I learnt how all those 24 departments functioned, their limits and scope. So it took me about six months to get thorough of this system and I was well assisted by the officials of the NPC. This process of getting thorough is not the only task, I had been working as the governor too and facing various other challenges such as resettling people, helping them to revive their lost livelihoods and resume their life through implementing the Northern Spring, which is Uthuru Wasanthaya in Sinhala and Vadakkin Vasantham in Tamil,” he said.
Recalling the process of recovery and how it proceeded, Maj Gen Chandrasiri said that when the end of conflict was nearing, hundred thousands of people majorly used as human shield by the terrorists, started to come over to the cleared area from the LTTE held areas. These people came in groups. Each of them came with one or two bags with all their possessions in them. Some of them did not have even proper clothes. These people had to be looked after. They had to be resettled. “Imagine 350,000 people with almost nothing, shaken by the war, lost everything they had. They had to be fed; they had to be looked after psychologically, their problems of various natures to be addressed. These matters were in addition to security aspects involved in the process. His Excellency the President instructed us that everything except the lost lives that we cannot give, should be given to these people. Whatever they had before destruction we should provided them with better conditions,” he said.
After 35 years of conflict, there was a complete devastation and destruction of the infrastructure in the Northern Province. In addition to security aspects, there had been administrative problems too - the administrative structure except for some places in Jaffna and Vavuniya was in total disarray.
It was under such conditions the Northern Spring programme was commenced on May 08, 2009 with the target of empowering the people in the Northern Province, who had been victimized and displaced to start a new life and move forward. An Early Recovery Programme spearheaded by Economic Development Minister Hon Basil Rajapaksa was launched with collaboration of the Presidential Secretariat and Presidential Task Force with several line ministries, District and Divisional secretariats, NGOs and INGOs. The Early Recovery Programme comprised of re-establishment of administration, resettlement, re-establishment of cooperatives, rural industries, local government, social services, probation and children care and reconstruction of basic infrastructure. “The very next day my assuming duties as Governor, I received a telephone call from Minister Rajapaksa who said, Governor we have to go to Kilinochchi, we are providing electricity to those people. With that initiative to provide electricity to Kilinochchi upto now, we have been working very hard to bring life back to Northern Province.”
Then there was the land mine threat, which was one of the major challenges. By now, 96 percent of the area contaminated by mines in the Northern Province has been cleared. Only four percent of the areas earmarked for the demining to be cleared. Most of the remaining areas are shrubs and jungles.
In agriculture sector, when we started only 10 percent of land had been cultivated with arable lands lying abandoned. Today only 10 percent of land is not cultivated in the province as 90 percent of area has been cultivated. When Maj Gen Chandrasiri assumed duties as the Governor, the tanks, anicuts, culverts in the Province had been destroyed. The government spent Rs 520.92 million for infrastructure development to improve agriculture sector. Farming machines and equipments were distributed among farmers and farmer societies. “We encouraged them to cultivate abandoned lands by distributing 10,345 metric tonnes (MT) of new varieties of seeds including paddy, maize, black gram green gram, gingili, chili, red onion etc, 39,181.63 MT of subsidized fertilizer and by conducting capacity development programmes for farmers. In addition, Rs 4,043.78 million invested for the development of irrigation sector,” he said.
Those people who lost their houses had to be assisted to have their shelters back or the government had to build houses for them. Thus, 40,716 low-income families have been provided benefits under various housing programmes. Under the Indian housing project, a pilot project of constructing 1,000 houses completed, and its secondary project of constructing 39,000 houses is in progress while funds had been released to construct 10,000 houses by owner-driven mode.
When it came to the education sector, Maj Gen Chandrasiri said, Kilinochchi in the Northern Province had been considered one of the worst places for education in the country then. Children had been taken out from the schools and sent to the battleground after conscripting them as child soldiers. One of the problems the parents had was then that their children did not receive proper education. The government invested Rs 5,011 million to improve the education sector of the Northern Province. Today island-wide best mathematics advanced level student is from Kilinochchi. Under the guidance of Maj Gen Chandrasiri 695 schools were reconstructed or repaired providing them with water supply and sanitation facilities, 28 Mahindodaya labs were constructed, 1642 pre-schools were set up with 2,890 teachers to teach 48, 252 children, the number of schools functioned were increased from 614 in 2009 to 990. “Today we are proud to notice that the President, wherever he goes says that education is best in the Northern Province. Apart from our efforts, I have to mention that those children too are hard working. Education had been taken out from them. These children when they start to work from the morning they continue till evening. They do sports as well. But they are very, very studious children. It is heartening to note that these children, who had been once denied their right to learn, gather at Mahindodaya laboratories whenever they got free time or during the week end to use computers. Each laboratory is equipped with 64 computers,” Maj Gen Chandrasiri said.
Recovering the infrastructure was an entirely different story. The government rehabilitated roads, restored power supply, rehabilitated major and minor tanks, renovated canals and culverts and restarted water supply schemes. When it came to roads- there are three types, roads coming under government, provincial council and municipal and urban councils. Of the national roads 1,254 km had been rehabilitated with the loans taken from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Chinese funds spending 776.5 million US dollars. Of the roads coming under the Northern Provincial Council, 250 km and 100 km of roads belonging to the Municipal and Urban Councils were rehabilitated at a cost of 86 million US dollars given by the World Bank (WB) and the ADB. In addition, 840.72 km of C and D class roads coming under the Northern Provincial Council were rehabilitated at cost of Rs 1,634 million, 935 km of rural roads rehabilitated spending Rs 1140 million. Reconstruction of 260 km of Northern Railway line was commenced utilizing Indian government funds.