Uplifting the Northern economy | Daily News

Uplifting the Northern economy

We focused on education in the North in these columns on Saturday, highlighting the North’s contribution to producing some of Sri Lanka’s eminent personalities over the years and how its education sector received a battering from the war. But there is another sector that suffered even more heavily as a result of the conflict – the Northern economy.

Fittingly, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, an ardent advocate of ethnic reconciliation, has just concluded a three-day visit to the North to assess the economic situation there. Incredibly, this is the first time that a Finance Minister has visited the North in his official capacity since 2009, when the war ended. As our sister newspaper The Sunday Observer reported yesterday, Minister Samaraweera was on a three day visit to the Northern Province to raise awareness about provisions made for rehabilitation and debt-relief in his 2018 budget presented last year.

The North is perhaps unique in that it has the highest number of female-led households in the country. This is, of course, a result of the protracted conflict which claimed the lives of thousands of youth on all sides. One can imagine the scale of this issue on noting that Puthukudiyirippu, which bore the brunt of the final stages of the war alone has more than 2,000 women headed households. Going by the Divisional Secretary’s numbers, there are 2,045 female-headed households, 438 war widows, 156 orphans, 707 disabled and 957 rehabilitated youth there. Overall, there are more than 7,000 women headed households in the North. Now the challenge is to uplift these women-led households.

Indeed, the Minister has announced a series of measures to improve livelihoods and alleviate crushing indebtedness in vulnerable war affected communities in the region. The Minister asserted that the grant of a six month moratorium on loans and the launch of the Enterprise Sri Lanka programme in May 2018 will help usher in a new era for the North.

Accordingly, with the moratorium in effect, when a new loan is obtained, there is no need to pay interest or capital of the loan for a period of six months. In addition, the Enterprise Sri Lanka scheme will provide concessionary loans at a maximum rate of 6.75% per annum. Women who want to engage in businesses will be provided an additional 10% concession on interest. These measures will no doubt provide an impetus for Northern women to start more ventures that can uplift themselves as well as the local economy.

Women’s groups have also appealed to the Minister to set up a state-owned garment factory to assist females in addition to the privately run factory that already employs around 2,500. In line with this demand, the authorities should invite more local and foreign investors including members of the Diaspora to set up investments in the North. Minister Samaraweera said the Government’s new Inland Revenue Act which comes into effect today, will especially benefit those seeking to invest in the North. Tax concessions offered for potential investors to the Northern region will be almost doubled.

Even as the co-operative movement has declined in many other parts of the county, it has remained vibrant in the North with more than 36,000 members, of which 90 percent are women. This is an ideal conduit for loan disbursements and investments since Co-operative Rural Banks and the Thrift and Credit Co-operative Societies can be found in every nook and corner of the North.

Developing the fisheries sector in the North should also be a priority for the Government. The Government has already taken many measures in this direction – for example, the Myliddy fishing harbour was vacated by the Navy and opened for fisheries activities last year after a gap of 27 years. But the biggest problem facing the fisheries sector in the North – poaching in Sri Lankan territorial waters by Indian and other fishing vessels – must be resolved as soon as possible. Otherwise our fishermen, many of whom still do not have motorized boats and trawlers, face the prospect of losing their rightful catch to more powerful foreign vessels.

More attention should be paid to developing tourism in the Northern Province which can also give a boost to the economy. Now that the locals’ fascination for war artifacts and remnants seems to have faded, we need to invite more foreigners to the North to appreciate its natural wonders and famous man-made cultural and religious structures. More publicity should be generated for Northern tourist attractions.

The airports and sea ports in the region should be developed further with an eye on passenger traffic as well as exports and faster local distribution of northern produce. The Government also intends to build a faster highway to Jaffna that will help the latter aim.

But it is essential to win the hearts and minds of the Northern public whilst undertaking a massive development drive. This is exactly what Minister Samaraweera has done by touring the North. Then only will they get a true sense of belonging in the Government’s social and economic uplift programme. 


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