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Sunday, 12 May 2013





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

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.

Naseer Ahamed

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 communities?

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 government programs.

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 national GDP.

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 province?

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 the quantity.

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 long.

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 purposes?

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 winning elections.

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 issue?

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 workable.


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