By Rajiva Wijesinha –
Though the Reconciliation meetings I attended were confined to Divisional Secretariats in the North and East, the concerns looked at previously were general. In addition there were concerns relating to the conflict situation, in some instances affecting Sinhala communities too.
Chief amongst these were problems about land title. The LLRC Action Plan highlights the importance of dealing with these, reflecting the anxiety of all communities in this regard.
Another area of concern was livelihoods. This was of particular concern to Tamil communities in the North, reflecting the deprivation many suffered during the conflict. This means they have difficulty taking advantage of the opportunities created by the impressive programme of infrastructural development development government has undertaken.
Third is the problem of psycho-social support, which is minimal in the North. The traumas of war are compounded by uncertainties about those whose fate is not known for certain. In addition individuals of different ages in single parent families are also affected by economic and social factors.
Finally, while the commitment of the government to multilingualism is clear, putting this into practice has proved difficult because of a lack of personnel with bilingual and trilingual capacity, while translation skills are in extremely short supply. Teaching of the second language in schools is rare because there are insufficient teachers, and the Education Ministry is not in a position to increase the supply, even were the urgency understood.
I will present here the recommendations I have put forward with regard to the first two issues discussed above, with the rest to follow.
- Promised amendments to the Circular issued last year, which should by and large resolve many problems but has been challenged in Court, should be made and a new draft put forward to expedite the settlement of the cases.
- As surveying of lands for the distribution of deeds takes time because of a lack of trained personnel, the Survey Department should as a matter of urgency deploy teams headed by trained personnel, together with suitable trainees, to expedite the finalization of plans.
- As there is uncertainty in Divisional Secretariats about the instructions to be followed, the Ministry of Lands should clarify the position, and issue a new Circular that makes clear the provisions that now obtain.
- There should be no delays in formally taking over lands required for official purposes and paying appropriate compensation. While government must affirm the principle that acquisition of lands for national purposes, of which security is an essential component, is within the powers of government, minimizing such acquisitions and providing adequate compensation promptly is essential for such powers to prove acceptable. Agencies involved in surveying lands to be acquired, and fixing compensation, should work expeditiously, and with sympathetic understanding of the needs of those who will be dispossessed.
- Vocational programmes based on the needs of people in the North should be started on an extensive scale, with attention also to marketing and value addition with regard to agricultural produce. Entrepreneurship training should be conducted, along with soft skills to enhance employability both in Sri Lanka and abroad.
- Service delivery should be by a range of institutions, including the military on the lines of the vocational training institutes the Pakistan army has developed, for both soldiers about to retire and members of the community where they are posted.
- Schools should be used for this purpose too, as suggested in the latest proposals for education reform put forward by the Parliamentary Consultative Committee on Education.