The beauty and the curse of the term reconciliation lie in its ability to be interpreted widely by its various users. For some Sri Lankans such as myself, it means the maintaining of an environment without violent conflict or to ‘manage peace’. In this regard, equitable economic development into the peripheries and the role of business in such development is seen as increasingly important. Development efforts and investments in the post-war, especially North and East of Sri Lanka,shouldaddress the specific needs of the region in a sustainable manner and create regional ownership as opposed to being implemented in an ad hoc manner; only then will it result in good ‘management of peace’ within these areas.
The past 30 months have seen such numerous economic development interventions of varying scales in the post-war regions by actors ranging from Government, international organisations, NGOs, local private sector and foreign including Diaspora investors. Steady progress is being made but my experience in the region have brought to light that this process needs to be better facilitated and that there is a strong and urgent need for an updated, accessible and needs-driven information source to be established in order to facilitate responsible investments and development efforts. Information is power and the lack of it leads to misunderstanding and insecurity – past experience has shown us Sri Lankans how intense the repercussions can be.
An interesting local initiative in this regard is the Regional Enterprise Development Initiative (REDI) maintained by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce. REDIis a web-based information hub for business interaction and information sharing accessible in all three languages, Sinhala, Tamil and English. It allows business people, who represent SMEs in the regions, to share information about their products and regional business environments, as well as to connect and network with other business partners. On the flip side, it allows external business interest groupsthat are interested in investing and partnering in the regions, as well as supporting other business support initiatives access to necessary regional information and contacts. In this way, local investors and Urban based companies’ can also link up with regional SMEs for trade and investment. Initiatives such as REDIare only as effective as its users and a major challenge to such online initiatives is the lack of Internet access and usage in the regions and also the lack of advertisement of such initiatives to its stakeholders. Greater partnerships with regional Chambers of Commerce to overcome such difficulties is highly recommended.
Let me end by quoting Benjamin Franklin, ‘For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, change opinions, even on important subjects, which I once thought right but found to be otherwise’.
By Selyna. D. Peiris