Development of the post war Northern economy Tamil Diaspora did not contribute even a Rupee – Douglas Devananda
There are still around 35% of the people who are still unemployed.
BY RAVI LADDUWAHETTY
Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) Leader and Minister of Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development, Douglas Devananda, in startling revelation, alleged that the Tamil Diaspora had not contributed a single cent for the development of the North in the post war era.
They pumped in billions to the LTTE at the time of the war, but they have not contributed a cent or a Rupee for the welfare of the North, that they were shedding crocodile tears, the EPDP Leader and Minister said.
He also said that there were over a million members of the Tamil Diaspora comprising over 500,000 in Canada, over 300,000 in the United Kingdom and the rest in Germany, Switzerland and France and also in Australia.
Here, he is in conversation with Ceylon Today at his Layards Road Colombo 5 residence.
It is five years since the war was over. The government has done much for the development of infrastructure in the North. Now, what are the unsolved issues?
A: There are a large number of issues relating to housing, employment and livelihood. This is natural.
So, what is the government doing about it?
A: The government is doing its best to uplift the lives of people. They also need upliftment of their lives with value addition. For starters, they might feel that a cup of Kanji is enough. Tomorrow, they would want to eat rice and curry. The following day, it would be Biriyani. So, that is human. The issues of the North would be different from the South. The vestiges of the war could be still there.
What are the vestiges?
A: Housing, employment and livelihood in addition to the trauma. There are issues of schoolchildren who could not get jobs, those who could not have a proper schooling and a large number of issues relating to these. They were engaged in activities which did not give them an income. Then is the big challenge of providing training to people who are outside the schooling system, back into the social mainstream. This is really, an uphill task, which has been neglected for 30 years. That cannot be rectified in 30 months.
What is the role of the government and the Tamil National Alliance – led Northern Provincial Council in this set up?
A: Both have particular roles. The government is doing its best and invest to fulfil its role in the area of solving issues of education, unemployment and the uplifting of the living standards of people and the corresponding infrastructure. But, the biggest challenge now, is to get the people of the North to return to the social mainstream.
What are the employments issues that you are talking of?
A: There are lots of them.
A: Around 30% – 35%
So, what are the employment opportunities you advocate for the people of the North?
A: The Northern Province is agriculture – driven. A large number of them are self-employed farmers. Their issues are land, agricultural implements and water.
Ok. About land, what is the issue? Is it the lack a land or its unavailability?
A: Unavailability, to say the least. The issue is that most of the people in the Vanni and the North do not own their land. There is government land and they do not have private land. The challenge is now to connect them to income sources. They have to be trained to be employed. Just because an investor injects capital and money that does not mean that these people would be employable. They have to be trained. Just because you provide them goats, chicken and cows, does not necessarily mean that you will get meat, milk and eggs immediately. The same goes with the cooperative system for the milk collection. Operations have to be streamlined. They need capacity building and training. These are people who have not been occupied in a livelihood for 30 years. They have been displaced and have been travelling from are location to the other for 30 years as of now. It is not an easy task for their revival.
So, the revival will take a long period?
A: You are right. These things cannot be done overnight.
So, what are the crying expectations of the North after 30 years of war?
A: The entire infrastructure has to be rebuilt from scratch. The government has up to now, spent Rs 209 billion for the development of the North from May 2009 to September 2014, where the main infrastructure, the power supply, the water and the roads have been restored.
So, the roads and the power are in place now?
A: Yes, but, 30,000 houses have been damaged in each of the districts; but Vavuniya, it is slightly less, as Vavuniya has not been dragged into the war much.
So, who has to do the balance work? Is it the task and the responsibility of the Northern Provincial Council?
Then, who has to do it?
A: Well, there projects which are channelled either through the government or the Provincial Council. There is a total revival of the North since the war was over and with the cessation of hostilities in 2009.
So, what are the expectation from Sri Lanka’s private sector which generally perceives Jaffna as the largest market after Colombo and Kandy?
A: The private sector has to come in a very large way. The MAS Holdings Group has started two factories.
Cargills Foods has started a processing factory in Kilinochchi. There is phenomenal growth in the tourism sector.
There are two large hotels, but you get a large number of small hotels in every nook and corner.
There are some lodging places in very good conditions. The hotel industy is booming in the North.
Are there tourists who visit Jaffna and the North? Locals the foreigners?
A: Now, more Sinhalese are travelling to the North. So, are the foreigners.
Are there is a tourist segment overseas who come to Jaffna to see the North after 30 years of war?
What are the prospects of converting Jaffna and the North as an industrial base? What about the Kankesanturai Cement Factory?
A: The main proponents of the Northern Province are the KKS Cement Factory, the salterns and the Paranthan Chemicals factory. The salterns are under my ministry. The Paranthan Chemicals Factory, uses the key raw material, salt, from which Chlorine is produced. Now, coming to the KKS Factory, unlike the time that was established around 50 years, the environmental conditions relating to the cement industry are very strict. The manufacture of cement involves the digging and grinding of limestone. The pits have to be filled up.
But, cement is manufactured in other parts of Sri Lanka. So, what is the issue?
A: The difference in the other factories, is that they get down the clinker and grind it into cement. When he visited Jaffna, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has also proposed that cement could be maintained from clinkers, but the cost of the investment is very high.
Talking about the socio-economic aspects of the Northern economy, what about the fishing industry, now that the war is over?
A: Prior to 1983 the minimum fish production was 26,000 tonnes per annum. But, we have now equalled and has exceeded that landmark. To have surpassed the pre 1983 from production after 30 years of war is indeed an achievement.
So, how do you see the revival of the Northern economy?
A: What is important is the upliftment of the livelihood of the people?
So, now are you going to generate more and more self employment opportunities and with your ministerial portfolio synergizes well with that aspect? What is the development model and blueprint for the North? It is the larger Colombo corporates establishing business there or it increasing self employment opportunities?
A: We have to have a perfect product unite between the large Colombo based corporate as well as the estate industries developing at the same time.
So, so you want another 50 years more?
A: The development in the world takes a long time. The Ambassador of Korea in Sri Lanka was in the North and he was very impressed with the Mannar in which Sri Lanka’s North has grown soon after the now. He said that it was faster than Korea’s growth after the war.
Then, what about the other ground issues such as water?
A: The MAS Holdings Factory should have been stated in Jaffna. They did the feasibility there. But, later they found that there was a water problem. They could not do their bleaching operations without water. So, they shifted to Trincomalee. There are two issues regarding water in Jaffna. There are water shortages in July, August and September. There are severe water shortages in the coastal belt.
There is severe pollution in the water because of the artificial manure. There is also another issue in the Jaffna Peninsula when the sewage pipes are six feet deep and the drinking water wells are 12 feet deep. There is also a possibility of the sewage water leaking into the drinking water wells. The government understood this issue and negotiated with the Asian Development Bank for a MoU in Feb 2001 for Rs 21 billon (US$ 164.4 million) project.
The water will be taken from the Iranamadu tank which is between Kilinochchi and Vavuniya. From then, the water from a water purification plant in Palai would be supplied to Jaffna, Pooneryn and Kilinochchi. The government has even been paying commitment fees to the ADB from the time the MoU was signed. This is the second target water related project/irrigation related project in Sri Lanka.
There is a clause in the Project Administration Manual of the Asian Development Bank which says that the Irrigation Department also has to be a signatory to the MoU. They too, have to revisit the profit, prior to the commencement. Irrigation has also become a devolved subject since last September. It comes under the Northern Provincial Council led by the TNA. They have refused to sign the MoU.
The government is aware of this as negotiations with the ADB started in 2002. SMEC from Australia commenced the feasibility study. It has now taken about 12 years since the feasibility studies have been completed.
This is a government loan which will be then and the TNA led NPC has stalled it. So, are they working in the interest of the people, or are they working in their interests?
So, you can see how the Provincial Council is operating now. The government is giving everything, but the TNA is sitting on it. They are not doing anything about key issues. Water is a key issue and the way that they are handling it, is absolutely disgusting.
One of the key components of this Iranamadu water project is a sewerage scheme for every municipality. The sewerage scheme has to be redone. According to reports, Jaffna has the worst contaminated water in the whole world because of the sewage problem.
The TNA is not doing anything about it. We have brought this to the notice of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The water issue, when it is properly addressed, will lead to the start a large number of industrial ventures.
One of the other aspects is what is directly under my portfolio. That is traditional industries and small and medium scale industrial development.
So, arising from that, what is happening to the Atchchuveli Industrial Zone, which was opened with much fanfare? Are investors coming in there?
A: The infrastructure of the zone has to be done and that was done with the assistance of the Indian Government. Investors are coming in. There are eight investors have already signed up.
Local or foreign?
A: Local. There are 24 slots available as of now. Eight have already signed up. Some of the investments are for food processing and so forth. These are all positive developments which are taking place graduating.
The government started paddy cultivation in the liberated areas in the North in 2011. What is the progress?
A: The liberated areas in which paddy is being cultivated in the North are, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and others. They are being produced and are transported and marketed in the Dambulla Dedicated Economic Centre.
What issued quantities are you talking of?
A: I don’t have the reports with me right now. In the Vanni District alone, there are over 100,000 new hectares in which Other Field Crops (OFC) have been cultivated. This is in place of paddy which cannot be cultivated as there is and an acute water shortage for that.
: What about vegetable cultivation, chillies, onions and mangoes for which Jaffna was once famous ?
A: Vegetable cultivation is booming now.
So, are you happy with what you are getting from the government?
A: Yes, all these programs are under the Uthuru Wasanthaya programme. When the Jaffna Development progress review report was read out by the Jaffna Mayor to President Mahinda Rajapaksa during his visit there, he said that Rs 69 billion was spent for Jaffna, the President asked whether that was for Jaffna or for the Northern Province in its entirety.
So, now does the entire Northern Province have electricity?
A: Around 95%. It will be 100% in about 3 months from now.
So, what does Jaffna and the North want more?
A: Investments and livelihood.
What is the percentage you are talking about?
A: There are still around 35% of the people who are still unemployed. But there are over 130,000 families who are benefiting from the Divi Neguma.
What about the teaching of Sinhala to the Northern people in a bid to buttress racial amity and national integration?
A: That has to come as a National Policy from the Government and Ministry of Education where all the people are taught all the languages.
: Sports is a great leveller. There were the inter-schools cricket matches between the Jaffna schools and the Colombo schools in the 1970s. There was this brilliant Jaffna Central College opening bowler/seamer Ramalingam Naguleswaran who took eight, nine and ten wicket-hauls in a single innings against the more fancied Colombo schools such as Royal College, Colombo 7 and S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia and others. Don’t you think that these links should be revived?
A: You are right. These will automatically come with the passage of time now that the North and the South have been linked. We have asked President Mahinda Rajapaksa for an Exchange Programme. This should go beyond merely bringing Jaffna schoolboys coming to Colombo to see the Parliament and the Colombo Museum!! They should see the other parts of Sri Lanka as well. Especially rural areas to see lifestyles.
: So, when can we see the North giving Sri Lanka another Muttiah Muralitharan, a Mahela Jayawardena or a Kumar Sangakkara or for that matter a Duncan White or an M JM Lafir?
A: It is from the North that Muralitharan received the highest acclaim. He has some coaching clinic and also some tournament. These links will be fostered and buttressed. As for the North producing international stars, only time will tell!!