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DateLine Sunday, 13 July 2008

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Supporting the entreprenuer culture must to develop East

People need vocational training for sustainable jobs:

Excerpts of the interview:

Question -


Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha - Secretary General, Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process

How would you describe the present Eastern Province, exactly one year after its liberation from the clutches of the Tiger terrorists?

A: Itís a very heartening place at the moment. I was able to speak to many people of civil societies, teachers, university professors, religious leaders and security forces during my visit. The situation is much, much better than it used to be. There is a sense of togetherness among the people.

Obviously thereís going to be spoilers for a variety of reasons. People have identified that communication among people is of paramount importance in peace building. Though there is more to be done, the infrastructure

developments are speedily going ahead.

Q: What is your comment on the path taken by the Eastern Province since its liberation?

A: Democracy is not the ideal but it is better than anything else. It is important that the Government took the decision to hold elections. When we spoke to people of all the communities it was evident that the election was an acceptable one.

There was not much ill feeling among the people. What is needed is rapid social development in the Province. The feeling was that the present Local Government body in the area should be active and it should be very pluralistic. People are of the view that human rights situation is very much better and it can be improved by providing more job opportunities to people.

Q: Can you be satisfied with the overall progress?

A: Very much. But I still think it would be excellent if these developments happen quicker. I guess it goes with my nature mostly - Iím very much satisfied if things happen more quickly. But I must emphasise compared to the progress of the entire country the Eastern Province, given where it started from, has moved very quickly.

Q: Has the country taken the most appropriate steps, in the present context, for the development of the East?

A: Of course I do agree that we have taken the most appropriate path but I believe if the strategies in the 13th amendment are implemented more quickly the results would be much better. That could have improved the conditions of many areas such as the health sector. I see that the donor countries funding these development activities have become very positive about the situation.

There are signs of Japanese and US funds are all over the Eastern Province. We see a slight drawback in the European countries, may be because they are surrounded with more LTTE supportive groups residing in those countries.

Q: Do you think the real needs of the people are addressed in these processes?

A: Well, considering that fact I believe the authorities should pay more attention to the education sector.

The education sector should focus more on the real situation. Focus should be more on non traditional education. People need to be trained to be skilled professionally with English language and computer literacy is needed. In addition analysing the potentials of the area better results can be achieved if more attention given to food preservation mostly in fruits, vegetables and fish.

Q: Developing the economy is a key element to achieve progress. What is the situation in the East?

A: We need to move a bit more faster in supporting the entrepreneur culture. In the field of commerce, private businesses need more encouragement. Perhaps more support to the business community to provide micro credit facilities can be supportive in the development process. People need sustainable jobs.

Therefore, skills training for jobs that would encourage business investments is important. Especially English and computer training is important in providing vocational training. People of the East should be in a position eligible for the existing job opportunities. I saw an excellent project in the East by the Sarvodaya on vocational training.

Q: Fishing and dairy industries are thriving in the province. Hence, money is continuously flowing from Colombo and outstation main cities to the farmers, producers and traders thereby increasing the peopleís purchasing power. How do you analyse this situation?

A: The Government is doing a fantastic job in fish transport joined with the private sector. Eight lorries per day go out of the province transporting fish to other parts of the country.

Iím not saying money is flowing in but I would say they are doing much better than they used to. Although there are pockets of poverty a lot of commercial activities are happening. Markets are opened.

We saw people enjoying their evenings. So there is a sense of prosperity coming in. They can do much better. Even with the restrictions on fishing the industry is going up-hill.

The moment the security restrictions were released to few hours the LTTE attacked the Ashroff jetty. The fishermen understand the gravity of the situation. So there is a constant threat. The dairy industry is in the initial stages but with its high potentials we can have high hopes in the development of the sector.

Q: It is said that the province can be a model administrative unit for the entire nation. What is your comment?

A: One of the School Principals I spoke to said that since they (a Sinhala School) do not have a cricket coach they share a coach with a Tamil School. This is the sense of brotherhood. What we need is a much more liberal interpretation of autonomy - More concerted divisional coordination.

Divisional plans will be more effective and they would help to create a sense of a community - in the health sector, education, policing etc. This is important since areas of the East have certain differences. And the divisional counselling institutes, which the Government is planning to set up, will be important as a confidence building measure for the people.

Q: How do you think the East should direct its progress in the future in relation to its achievements so far?

A: I think it is through pluralism this could be done. And therefore it must move very quickly towards uniting the community through projects. With the existing potential of the area the agro-business sector should be developed and factories for small and medium scale enterprises should be set up.

We need to encourage more mega companies to invest in the area. Already I saw Hayleys and Cargills have set up their farms in the East. A priest in Muttur suggested the setting up an English medium school so that all the children of all the communities can learn together. So the people are very positive towards ethnic harmony, though there is a slight resistance from certain groups.

 

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