A new dawn for North and East | Daily News

A new dawn for North and East

While the protracted conflict affected people in all parts of Sri Lanka, it was the North and the East that suffered the most. This was more or less the theatre of war for 30 long years, until the war ended in May 2009. The North and the East remain among the least developed regions in the country, though vast strides have been taken in the last 10 years in terms of social welfare and infrastructure development.

President Maithripala Sirisena, himself hailing from the North Central Province where some of the villages came under frequent attack by the LTTE, understands this situation rather well. Hence his decision to appoint a Presidential Task Force with the objective of expediting development activities which were deterred by the protracted conflict in the Northern and Eastern Provinces in order to uplift the living standards of the people in these two provinces.

With the latest political developments, the President will have the fullest support for his mission from the leader credited with ending the conflict – none other than Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who as President initiated many development programmes in both provinces after 2009 including the reconstruction of the Northern Railway line and the road network. It is also heartening to note that the TNA has pledged its fullest support to these endeavours despite certain policy differences.

Appointing a Task Force is certainly not the end of the matter. As an astute leader, the President knows all too well that constant monitoring is essential to get the work done. This is why he regularly meets the multitude of task forces which have been assigned different tasks. It is in this vein that he met the Presidential Task Force on Northern and Eastern Province Development this week to review its accomplishments during the last two months. This Special Presidential Task Force will look into the development activities now in progress in the Northern and Eastern Provinces and plan new projects to be implemented in these two provinces.

Lauding the work done so far, the President invited all parties to join hands with the Task Force to continue its programmes. The President said he is determined to fast track this programme in these two provinces and all parties should carry out their responsibilities by joining this programme.

As the President clarified, the authorities have eschewed the usual top-down approach to development (where decisions are made in AC rooms in Colombo sans people’s participation) in this instance. Instead, the planners are listening to the people and getting an idea of what their priorities are. Thus all new projects in the two provinces are being implemented based on priorities and feedback of the people living in these two provinces. For example, special focus was laid upon the provision of potable water to the people in the two drought-hit provinces.

While infrastructure development in the two provinces is vital and must go ahead at a faster pace, it is even more important to address the psychological wounds of war. To its credit, the Government has rehabilitated nearly 11,000 former LTTE cadres who are now engaged in vocations that benefit the society. De-mining is mostly complete and many families have since resettled in their own lands. Many of them have gone back to their previous livelihoods such as fishing and agriculture.

It was also revealed at the Task Force that the releasing of the lands occupied by the Security Forces in the North and East is in its final stage. They have reviewed the progress of the programme of releasing these lands by end of December 31 as directed by President Maithripala Sirisena. It was disclosed that 79 per cent of government lands occupied by the Security Forces have been released to the relevant state agencies while 90.2 per cent of private lands held by the Security Forces in these two provinces have been released. These released lands included areas of religious, economical and educational importance in these two provinces. This is a noteworthy achievement and we hope that the release of the remaining lands will be expedited in line with the President’s directive.

The Task Force has also discussed widening the scope of opportunities available to local and foreign investors in the two provinces. Now that the two provinces’ infrastructure facilities are almost on par with the other provinces, more investors can be directed to the region to set up their ventures. The Government should also encourage the Small and Medium Entrepreneurs (SME) in the two provinces.

Despite the advent of peace, many foreign tourists are still somewhat reluctant to visit the North, though the East is doing rather well from a tourism perspective with destinations such as Trincomalee and Arugam Bay. The Government’s new tourism promotion campaigns should focus more on the North to get more tourists to visit the area.

The North and the East have the potential to make a major contribution to the country’s economy. The people in both provinces are resilient and determined to make up for lost time. The authorities should lose no time in granting their fervent wish.


 

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