Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday focused on the need to link the Northern Province with southern development corridors to develop its economy focusing on agriculture, fishing, tourism and manufacturing.
Wickremesinghe speaking in Kilinochchi during a visit to the war-affected Province noted that despite the war ending nine years ago, the region had not seen an economic regeneration. He pointed out that despite the development of infrastructure significant challenges, especially on poverty, water and housing access remained in the area and required Government assistance. He acknowledged the region would need a multipronged approach including better education and employment opportunities to improve its GDP contribution and provide better living standards for its residents.
“Out of the nine provinces in Sri Lanka, we must remember that the poorest is the North. Other than Jaffna, this situation encompasses Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu. Vavuniya has seen some development since the end of the war, but Jaffna still has several challenges that need to be addressed. One key point is the return of military-held land to civilians. Another is the need to address chronic water shortages in what is primarily an agriculture area,” he said.
He insisted that progress could be seen in the return of Tamil people to their homes and these efforts were being supported by the Government. However, he conceded that more needs to be done, especially in providing better water access to the region. Wickremesinghe pointed out that the Northern Province should be connected to larger development efforts in Hambantota, Polonnaruwa, Rajarata and Trincomalee that are to be connected to economic corridors as per Government policy.
“Sri Lanka’s development should be planned from Jaffna to Hambantota. In that effort, we should first focus on the Kilinochchi area, which would require water supply projects including rainwater harvesting. In olden times much of this region was covered in paddy and grains. We need to bring that era back. In addition we need to develop fishing in this area. Tourism could be developed in Trincomalee, Jaffna, Mannar and Vavuniya. We will pay attention to establishing a manufacturing centre in Paranthan. We will look at how this area can be developed through these efforts.”
The Prime Minister stressed that the North and South has to come together to develop Sri Lanka, and that it was imperative to address issues that stand in the way of unity. He noted that the Office of Missing Persons would be holding sessions in Kilinochchi, and assured the Government was dedicated to providing for the people beyond simply building infrastructure.
“I expect to return to this region to observe development activities. Kilinochchi must improve its contribution to the national GDP. I will hold discussions with the Board of Investment after land in Paranthan has been acquired. The Government must move beyond putting down concrete and develop the economy in a way that benefits the people. Every effort made by us should be to raise the living standards of the people.”