Text of the speech of Prof Rajiva Wijesinha,  MP on the Votes of the Ministry of Resettlement at the Committee Stage of the Budget Debate – 29 Nov 2012

Mr Speaker, the work of the Ministry of Resettlement is of crucial importance, and I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the subject. Sri Lanka has implemented perhaps the most successful programme of Resettlement in the world, and the manner in which we have developed infrastructural facilities for people who were deprived of all development for so long should be presented as a model for other countries in similar situations.

In this context I was saddened by the misleading statements of the member for Jaffna from Colombo who spoke before me, and was clearly more concerned about Colombo issues than Resettlement. I will not say that she misled the House, because I think she has misled herself, but if she visited areas such as Puthukudiyirippu as often as I have done, she would realize that what she had said is nonsense. The PTK schools have been very well equipped, and that at Kachilamadu will benefit from project funding in a way few schools have done. I could only wish that she would use some of her decentralized budget to improve actual education there. I have done this, and vocational training at higher levels will begin soon in a couple of schools in the Mullaitivu District, and I could only wish that Jaffna and Colombo representatives did even half as much for areas that had been so long deprived in the North.

But perhaps I should not blame her for her ignorance of the ground situation. That is a field in which government could have done more. Systematic presentation of what we did, with exposition also of the financial input of the Sri Lanka government, the creative involvement of our armed forces, the excellent coordination of the Governors and the Government Agents in the North and East, should have been highlighted. It is not too late, I hope, to make use of the reporting tool created by the United National Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance to record Sri Lankan inputs too. This should be done at Divisional Secretariat level, because that is the unit through which progress can be seen most clearly.

It is also the unit through which we can register clearly what more remains to be done. For this reason our records of the past should be accompanied by informed assessment of the gaps that need to be filled. That is why, Mr Speaker, we need this Ministry to continue with its work, though some have argued that, with Resettlement almost completed, it could be wound up. On the contrary, we must now build on our achievements, and ensure that those who are resettled, and also those who remain to be resettled, are fully empowered to contribute to their own development as well as the development of the country.

In this regard, there is much more that needs to be done with regard to human resources development, and I hope the new policy developed by the Ministry responsible for coordination in this field gives adequate coverage to the needs of the North and East. At meetings of Reconciliation Committee meetings at Divisional Secretariats in those areas, I am moved by the needs expressed by so many groups for much better educational facilities. We must recognize, Mr Speaker, that in the modern world we must give our youngsters better skills with regard to English and Maths. Unless we do more for the rural areas of the North and East, and indeed of the rest of this country, we will surely produce yet another generation of disaffected youngsters who express through violence their resentment at the opportunities of which they are deprived.

At the same time, we must also ensure practical training at appropriate levels in areas deprived of employment opportunities. I am worried by the lack of Vocational Training Institutes in many areas in the North and East, and also surprised at the unimaginative nature of the few courses on offer. Though the Ministry of Foreign Employment has I think understood the training needs in areas where value can be added to the labour market, the failure to develop appropriate courses that include the development of soft skills is a pity. I hope therefore that, as the Ministry of Resettlement transforms itself to deal with higher level needs than the basics it has supplied so successfully over the last few years, it will take on a forceful coordinating role in this regard too.

Another area in which it must do more is that of providing psycho-social support for the Resettled. This is an area in which neglect will redouble suffering, and I have expended much energy in recent months in drawing attention to the problem and in seeking the active involvement of the Ministry of Health in promoting the training that is needed. We need more counselors as well as community support services. In particular we must provide support for the many single women and women headed households in the area.

At meetings at Divisional Secretariats, Mr Speaker, the need for women to have protection against violence is highlighted again and again. Though I am sorry to say that some critics of government trivialize the problem by using it to attack our forces, statistic indicate that, far from the forces being at all responsible, it is domestic violence that is most prevalent. Alcoholism is rife in those areas, and indeed elsewhere in the country, and we must ensure guidance and counseling, and remedial measures where necessary.

This morning I attended a Forum against Gender Based Violence where such matters were discussed, and we should make use of the assistance Non-Governmental Organizations can provide in this regard. I am happy too that the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs has also engaged actively in prevention work, through highlighting the remedies available. Unfortunately the excellent guides that have been produced, in both Sinhala and Tamil, have not reached all police stations and social workers in the North and East, and I hope the Resettlement Ministry will assist with distribution and with training programmes to make use of them. Police Women and Children’s Desks have recently been upgraded, and there is widespread satisfaction now with the work of the police in these areas. I am also happy to note that, while continuing with their awareness programmes, the police have also registered the need for counseling, and initiated training for this through German assistance. But coordinated efforts are necessary, and this Ministry is ideally positioned to take the lead.

Another area of concentration with regard to psycho-social support should be the anguish of those deprived of their loved ones. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission made it clear that support for them should be given high priority, and I am sorry that the Action Plan did not lay enough stress on this aspect. I can understand that it felt it necessary to concentrate more on areas in which unfair criticisms might be made, but the need to defend ourselves against destabilization should not blind us to the real needs of the deprived. I hope therefore that the Ministry will realize that it must ensure action in this regard, if the relatively satisfactory physical arrangements it has put in place are not to be undermined by psychological problems. In this regard it could work through the Women and Children’s Units that the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs has set up in all Divisional Secretariats, and use the services of Social Service officers and Educational Counsellors and other workers in the field – but it must ensure proper training, in association with the Ministry of Health, and reporting mechanisms that limit people in need falling through the net.

Mr Speaker, the Ministry could also take the lead in ensuring supplementation with regard to services in which there are still inadequacies. I have noted previously how, while there is universal appreciation of new roads, and electricity connections, and hospitals and schools, transport still remains a problem. The President has, in his budget speech, taken note of such problems, and suggested alternative methods of providing services for those in need. But the experience of what happened last year, with regard to some excellent proposals in the budget speech, suggests that someone must take charge of implementation if good suggestions are not to be forgotten. In this case, the obvious candidate is this Ministry, given the importance of such services for resettled communities.

One other area in which, given the central role of farming in these areas, there should be greater coordination, is that of irrigation and water supply. I realize coordination in this regard may not be easy, given that there are a couple of Ministries involved at the Centre, while provinces too have a role to play in this regard. In Morawewa thus I was told that problems had to be addressed by the central government in one area, and by the provincial government in another. In Porativu I was told of problems with regard to drinking water, whereas the Ministry of Irrigation felt that existing facilities could not be developed to satisfy such needs.

Obviously it is the technical experts who must reach decisions on such matters, but to ensure coordination, as well as attention to the needs of the people involved, requires the intervention of a coordinating Ministry. I hope the Ministry of Resettlement will fulfil this role in the future, given that the emergency relief programmes are largely done.

At the same time, it must bear in mind the backlog of what are termed old IDPs. We know that many of them have made new lives for themselves, but there must be systematic recording of their fates, with provision for return if this is needed. For this purpose, we need much greater clarity with regard to laws and practices with regard to land. Though the Ministry has begun to move swiftly and effectively in this regard, there must be clear information with regard for instance to the applicability or otherwise of laws and customs with regard to prescription, and the Gazette Notice of 1989 which forbade reallocation of lands vacated because of conflict. And we must make sure that conflicting claims are dealt with expeditiously as well as fairly.

In this regard the LLRC Action Plan lays down helpful guidelines and, once the Lands Ministry produces a new generally agreed Circular, there is no reason why action should be delayed. We must after all move swiftly towards closure with regard to the problems caused by conflict, and clarity with regard to legal provisions is a vital aspect of this.

I have dealt at some length, Mr Speaker, with what remains to be done, but this should not take away from the signal achievement of this Ministry and this country. It is precisely because our good name in this regard should not be sullied that I have suggested even greater attention to the frosting, as it were, on the excellent cake that this Ministry has produced.

Daily News 7 December 2012http://www.dailynews.lk/2012/12/07/fea01.asp