More mega projects launched in the Eastern Province
Deputy leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress(SLMC) Naseer Ahamed
who is Minister of Agriculture, Animal Production and Development, Rural
Industries Development, Fisheries and Tourism of the Eastern PC told the
Sunday Observer in an interview that they are fully confident on
President Mahinda Rajapaksa's commitment towards safeguarding the
interests of the Muslim community and addressing their grievances and
problems. Guided by the development goals of the UPFA for the Eastern
province, the provincial administration has already implemented several
development-oriented mega projects for the province and many more such
projects are in the pipeline, he said. He explained the immediate
measures being initiated by his Ministry to promote the agricultural and
fisheries sectors, which are the mainstay of the local population, as
also the tourist industry which come under the purview of his Ministry.
Excerpts of the interview:
Question: Unlike the first PC elected to office in May 2008,
the second PC of which you are one of the Ministers was elected under
entirely different circumstances when democracy and peace were fully
restored in the Northern and Eastern provinces. Do you believe the
current atmosphere is more conducive to implementing development
projects and promoting the socio-economic welfare of the different
Answer: Although the Council last time was elected
democratically, it had some constrains. The then Chief Minister and
others came from a different set up. They were asked to run the PC in
democratic traditions which they did and the other parties also
contributed their share. They contributed towards development
activities. But the last PC was elected under a democratic atmosphere;
people exercised their free will in an environment of free and fair
polls. Almost all the parties which contested the polls got
representation. The advantage is that the TNA is the main opposition and
they are getting themselves involved in the PC administration. Under the
present PC administration, we are doing a lot of development-oriented
projects aimed at promoting the region as a whole while improving the
economic and livelihood standards of the local population, in terms of
President Mahinda Rajapaksa's Mahinda Chintana concepts and other
Minister of Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa is directly involved
in these projects and programs. The President has given us very clear
instructions to concentrate on far-reaching development activities for
the socio-economic welfare of the local population. The President and
the Government want the world to know that democratic governance is in
place in the once terrorism-ravaged region and much progress is being
made in relation to development after three decades of turbulence. All
Ministers of the PC are working incessantly towards developing the
province. As you know, the Eastern province has so much of resources and
so much of businesses which can contribute to the development of the
region. The Eastern province has lot of businesses opportunities. Well
developed and properly taken advantage of, these can contribute to the
During the three-decade-long conflict most of the arable lands were
not cultivated. Now these lands have been brought under cultivation.
This became possible because the salutary results of the Government's
development drive reached the people in a short span of time. Compared
to the past three decades the highest extent of land was cultivated last
time. The Government has been able to renovate and rehabilitate most of
the tanks that were damaged or neglected during the period of conflict.
Most of the road network that was damaged during the 30 year period has
also been rehabilitated or reconstructed. Whatever facilities and
incentives that the farmers needed have been provided by the government.
Many major development activities under the purview of my Ministry are
already under implementation. Development of agriculture, fisheries and
tourism are some of the vital areas that come under the purview of my
Ministry and we have launched several programs for their development
through the introduction of latest technology and other incentives.
Q: One of the vital sectors on which the government is
focusing upon is the tourist sector. The Eastern province is bestowed
with all resources needed for boosting the industry. What is being done
to boost tourism in the province?
A: With so many facilities, the peaceful and beautiful
environment and the availability of all resources, it is everybody's
desire that the tourism industry should be developed. One of the world's
best natural harbours is there and the golden beaches are there in
Pasikudah, Kuchchaveli, Nilaveli and other places. There are many other
tourist attractions. An array of wild life sanctuaries and bird
sanctuaries are also there. I would say that virtually everything that a
tourist looks for is available in the Eastern province. There are a
number of lakes and lagoons which are ideal for water sports. Boatyards
that can provide boats for water sports are also there in the province.
With almost all resources available, the hospitality and hotel
requirements can be further developed to meet the requirements of the
anticipated increase in the tourist arrivals. Even golf courses, boat
rides can be developed, not only for the foreign tourists or the local
tourists. There are many religious shrines and many historical places of
worship. But these have not been given enough publicity either among the
foreign tourists or the local tourists. There are many Sri Lankans who
still do not know the tourist attractions and the beautiful landscape of
the Eastern province. I think that this has to be highlighted. My main
focus will be to give enough publicity to this among the foreign
tourists as well as the local tourists and to work towards developing
all areas of tourist interest.
Very sadly, during the three decade-long conflict people of the other
parts of the country have not been able to visit the province. I want to
initiate all measures necessary, including transport facilities and
affordable accommodation facilities for them. This is one of the
programs in my agenda. In addition, there are so many other areas which
we want to develop to boost the tourist industry.
Nobody anticipated the conflict to end so soon and so abruptly.
Foreign tourists are now flocking in by their thousands and they mainly
think of visiting the Eastern province more than any other province. The
hotel sector has to be developed. Some hotels are already coming up and
projects for more hotels are in the pipeline. I am planning to impart
training to the local people in the hospitality industry so that they
would be directly benefited. At present, a majority of those employed in
the sector in the province are from other provinces. My Ministry is also
concentrating on developing the entertainment sector because the
tourists need entertainment. I am also thinking of inviting foreign
investment and foreign participation in this sector. Information centres
for tourists, both international and local, giving every detail on
places of tourist interest, will be set up by my ministry in many
central places and towns in the province. The centres will have all
facilities, including facilities for booking hotels, undertake visits to
tourist destinations and arranging transport.
Q: The central government has initiated several measures for
improving the fisheries industry. What specific measures are being
initiated by your Ministry towards promoting the fisheries sector in the
A: The fisheries industry is one more sector that remains
underdeveloped in the Eastern province. I want very much to develop the
fisheries sector. Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne has given me a free
hand to develop the fisheries industry with the promise that he will
extend all assistance. The fishermen of the eastern province have no
access to the modern fishing technologies. Introducing the modern
technology among them is one aspect of the major programs. We want to
expedite it so that the quantum of the harvests and the income of the
fishermen will substantially increase. The Ministry would also establish
fish processing centres with cool room facilities, marketing facilities
and facilities to transport them to places where the prospects of export
can be explored. At present the fishermen are getting very low harvests
and low prices. I am also seeking foreign investment for setting up a
massive processing centre. The catch will be processed then and there
and, consequently, the possibilities of marketing them locally or
exporting could be considered depending on the variety of the fish and
We are also developing prawn culture projects in a big way because
our region, with its maiden lands and maiden lagoons, is ideal for the
industry. Thousands of acres are being developed and thousands of acres
are available. All these are unpolluted. So whoever comes and invests,
they will be immensely benefited. My Ministry is fully involved in that
and will extend every facility and assistance to prospective investors.
Q: The Eastern province, known as the rice barn of Sri Lanka,
was repeatedly affected by floods in the recent years, affecting paddy
cultivation and production. How do you plan to address any similar
situation in the future?
A: My ministry is now in the process of identifying arable
lands that are cultivated only once a year, in the Maha season. After
this process is completed we want to introduce to the farmers a new
variety of paddy that will not need much water, as the traditional
variety, and will withstand changing weather patterns. I also want to
introduce cowpie, green peas, peanuts and some other highland crops
which have a ready market and cultivable at low cost. This is something
new that we want to introduce to the eastern farmers. This project will
be inaugurated on a grand scale on the 21st of this month in the Eastern
province. I am taking all my Ministry staff and agricultural experts to
Batticaloa on the 21st for introducing the program. We have identified
about 100 acres for the pilot project. This is the first time that we
are undertaking such a project. If it is successful we will be
initiating the entire farming community of the Eastern province to do
highland crop cultivation in addition to paddy cultivation. I have also
requested some outside investors to fund this project.
My Ministry is also concentrating on identifying uncultivated lands
which can be brought into cultivation. As far as I am aware, vast
extents of lands remain uncultivated and my focus will be to bring them
under cultivation. My Ministry would be introducing to the farmers the
many new technologies that will help them get higher yields while
facilitating cultivation two times in a year. Banana is one more crop
that we will request the farmers to cultivate because it has a very good
export market. We will be providing the farmers the necessary facilities
and assistance. Foreign investors, too, will be welcome and marketing
facilities, including for export, will be provided.
Q: After the successful implementation of all these projects,
do you think the PC will be in a position to generate its own funds
without depending on the central government?
A: The ultimate objective should be that. If the necessary
powers are vested with the PC, I belive this can be achieved before too
Q: Being a Minister representing the Muslim community who had
suffered much in the long drawn out conflict and lagging behind in
development aspects, will you seek assistance from the Islamic
countries, including the Middle East countries, for development
A: Irrespective of whether or not I am representing the Muslim
community, I would be seeking assistance from foreign countries for
developing the region as a whole for the benefit of all three
communities. I have good contacts not only in the Arab countries but
also in the Western and Asian countries.
Q: Certain political parties have repeatedly expressed the
view that the PC system is not necessary to this small nation, it is a
white elephant and should be done away with. Your comments on that?
A: The country has grown and the population has grown. My view
is that it will be very difficult for the parliament or the central
government to effectively manage the provinces. It will be difficult for
even a central government minister to address the issues of the
different provinces. It is essential to have a provincial level
political administration so that the development and monitoring part can
be effectively carried out by the provincial administration. Political
representation and administration on a provincial level is absolutely
necessary so that the people will have easy access to their elected
representatives and be able to place before them their needs in relation
to socio-economic development.
It has been found that the central government has not been able to
properly assess and address such needs. The PCs can play that role more
effectively for the socio-economic betterment of the region in
particular and the country as a whole.
Q: There have been media reports, speculating that the SLMC is
seriously thinking of quiting the Government on certain contentious
issues. What is the actual situation?
A: Neither the SLMC leadership nor its high command discussed
the question of leaving the Government because any problems that their
community encountered in the hands of political or religious hardliners
have been resolved by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The President has also assured that any repetitions of that kind will
not be permitted. We have no valid reason to leave the Government but
instead we only want to strengthen the hands of the President because we
have confidence in him. We strongly believe that he will definitely
address any grievances which the Muslim community may encounter.
I am happy to say that he interfered and resolved the problem caused
by the Bodu Bala Sena and did everything to minimise the damage it had
caused to the community. I must thank the President and the Government
for safeguarding the interests of the Muslim community. Therefore, we do
not have any reason to think of quitting the Government.
But what I can perceive is that some interested parties are, for
their own personal goals, instigating the SLMC to leave the government.
Some sections of the media too are giving undue publicity to such
speculations. But I am certain that this will never happen. We have full
confidence that the President will address all the problems and
grievances that the Muslim community may encounter.
Q: Polls for the Northern PC are round the corner. Will your
party come to any common understanding with the TNA before the polls?
A: Even in the last PC polls no official discussions
whatsoever took place between the SLMC and the TNA on forming an
election alliance. During the three decade long conflict the differences
between the two communities widened to a great extent. My view is that
building up mutual trust and goodwill between the two communities is
more important than forming any political alliance just for the sake of
Unless this is done, any talks with the TNA on common issues are not
likely to be successful. Mutual trust at the grass root level between
the two communities has to be built up before initiating any political
discussion on common issues.
Q: There have been accusations that lands of the Muslims have
been grabbed away forcibly. Your comments?
A: I can give you thousands of instances where the lands of
the Muslims of the province have been taken away by force, during the
LTTE terror period or forcibly bought over for a pittance. If the
government is taking over lands, the owners should be paid compensation.
This is a major problem that has to be sorted out expeditiously in order
to ensure that the such lands go to the rightful owners.
Q: The TNA policy is re-unification of the North and East as
one unit of devolution. What is the policy of the SLMC on the devolution
A: Each party can have its own policy. But the political
climate has very much changed as against what it was during the conflict
period. I think, therefore, that the thinking of the Tamil and Muslim
political parties should also change accordingly. So, putting up any
proposal without adapting to the changes in the political climate is not