According to a needs assessment done by the Prison Reforms, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs Ministry, approximately 137,000 houses are needed in the war-affected northern and eastern provinces to fulfill the needs of these communities. In this context, it was a welcoming sign that the Government approved a project financing 65,000 houses in November, 2015.
However, as highlighted in a recent press article and a civil society statement, the irregularities in the bidding process and the rushed manner in which a project of this magnitude is being taken forward is deeply worrying. The Sunday Times article, on January 17, highlights that months before the Cabinet approval, it was known by the Ministry that a ‘French Company’ would construct the houses. It states further the timeframe given for the submission of proposals was less than a month, while the requirements for the contract was changed after the proposal submissions were received. Though the Minister has stated that the contract has not been awarded, other sources have confirmed that the contract is to be given to a French steel company called ArcelorMittal.
The houses will have steel structures and prefabricated panels. Each house is expected to cost around Rs. 2.1 million, almost four times the amount allocated for the previous housing projects. For 65,000 houses that is a total of Rs. 136 billion (almost 1 billion dollars). For such a massive project there has been no consultation at the community level. Even high ranking Government Officers within the districts seem to be left in the dark on arguably the only substantial investment the new Government has made in the post-war districts.
We request the Government to consider the following as a matter of urgency before embarking on this development initiative.
Lack of employment opportunities
A housing project of this magnitude must be structured in a manner that can stimulate the local economy. Indeed, the postwar regions are in crisis due to the lack of employment opportunities and local production. Large housing projects - as with the Indian and other housing schemes - created demand for local labour and in the process provided livelihoods; particularly in the context of falling demand for labour in agriculture and fisheries due to problems in those sectors.
Furthermore, a well-planned housing project can stimulate small industries in the production of bricks, roofing and house-fittings, creating further local employment. These are only possible if the scheme is owner-driven or community-driven, and not contractor-driven.
In the past, owner-driven projects too have created many social issues including indebtedness and exploitation of vulnerable persons in a community, due to bad planning and implementation. Harsh lessons were learnt from previous projects including the underestimation of actual cost of construction in the locality where houses are built.
Any new housing project must take into consideration such lessons and find alternatives to burdening an individual on driving the construction process.
Encouraging community-driven initiatives, where houses are built through collective pooling of resources as oppose to individual efforts, could have prevented some of these consequences. Housing projects have catered only to those who possessed land and/or houses which were destroyed during the conflict.
The issue of landlessness which left the most deserving and marginalized without the prospect of acquiring housing assistance is another serious concern which must be addressed. The most important lesson learnt is the paramount importance of community consultations of the war-affected people before a housing project is formulated for them.
A house is something built once in a lifetime. It is not just four walls, but a space in which a home is created and families are nurtured. The vision of the Resettlement Ministry is to create a ‘Satisfied Community of Resettled People’. We urge the Government to stay true to this vision.
We call upon the Government to keep the project on hold until the respective war-affected communities of various localities are consulted. We further request the Government to commence such community consultations as a matter of urgency on what type of housing the war-affected communities are seeking. Such community consultations will highlight pressing issues such as landlessness and solutions to resolve issues arising through owner-driven housing.
We further reiterate to use the Rs. 136 billion that is the estimated cost of the current project for housing wisely and expand the housing units to cover the total need in the north and east. It is our understanding, a house in these regions will need approximately Rs. 800,000 to Rs. 1,000,000 for construction. Hence the project cost on the order of Rs. 136 billion is sufficient to cover the housing needs of the war-affected population amounting to 137,000 houses.
We further request the Government, that if in the event the units of housing cannot be increased, to invest this sum in promoting small scale industries and income generation activities which would boost the local economy and uplift communities.
It is the duty of the Government to ensure that concerns of the war-affected populations are considered through consultations before proceeding further with this project. Otherwise this costly project to the country which is meant as a progressive policy of reconstruction may result in further alienation rather than integration of the war-torn people.
Signed in protest of the massive housing project
1. M Sooriyasegaram – Jaffna Manager’s Forum
2. S Mohanadas – J/Ariyalai Citizens
3. M Ramathasan – Engineer, Euroville
4. M Thillainathan – Consulting Engineer
5. N Nantharupan – Engineer / Sarukaya Construction
6. Ahilan Kadirgamar – Collective for Economic Democratisation
7. S Yoganathan – Centre for Child Development
8. S RodricArudselvam – SOND
9. N Thamilalagan
10. K Thanikasalam
11. Swasthika Arulingam – Attorney-At-Law
12. Niyanthini Kadirgamar – Researcher, Jaffna
13. Tharmalingam Sriprakas– Teacher
14. Sarala Emmanuel
15. Anuratha Rajaretnam, Batticaloa
16. Elangeswary Arunasalam, Batticaloa
17. Sumi - Afflicted Women’s Forum, Akkaraipattu
18. Vane - Afflicted Women’s Forum, Akkaraipattu
19. Vasuki Rajasingham – Teacher
20. Somesasundary Krishnakumar – Senior Lecturer, University of Jaffna
21. Krishnakumar – Retired Senior Registrar, University of Jaffna
22. S Arivalzahan – University of Jaffna
23. Rajan Hoole
24. Kirupa Hoole
25. S C C Elankovan
26. N Sukirtharaj, Jaffna Social Action Center
27. K Ramanaskandha, Jaffna Social Action Center
28. Krishnaveni Manoharan, Managing partner, m/s Manoharan and Vettivel
29. P M Mujeebur Rahman – Journalist, Mannar
30. Kurushanthan Mahaluxmy - Mannar Women's Development Federation
31. Rev I D Dixon – Coordinator, Jaffna Inter-Religious Group
32. Godfrey Yogarajah – Executive Director, Alliance Development Trust
33. Dr Ranil D Guneratne - Department of Chemistry, University of Colombo
34. Sr Nichola Emmanuel - Child Development Initiative
35. Rajany Chandrasegaram – Feminist, Jaffna
36. Hemalatha Kathirkamanathan – Women’s Action Network, Jaffna
37. Asha Mariyathas - Member of the Social Movement, Jaffna
38. Sumathy Sivamohan – University of Peradeniya
39. Farzana Haniffa – University of Colombo
40. Prof Priyan Dias - University of Moratuwa
41. S Hasbullah – University of Peradeniya
42. Shamala Kumar – University of Peradeniya
43. Harini Amarasuriya - Open University of Sri Lanka
44. Amali Wedagedara – Open University of Sri Lanka
45. B Gowthaman
46. Mahendran Thiruvarangan
47. Dayapala Thiranagama
48. Sathy Kulasingham
49. Indika Arulingam – Researcher
50. M Mangaleswary Shanker - Attorney-at-Law