Four meetings of Reconciliation Committees at Divisional Secretariat level were held last week in Vavuniya and Mullaitivu under the Chairmanship of the respective Assistant Government Agents / Divisional Secretaries, with the attendance of Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, Presidential Adviser on Reconciliation. In addition to Grama Niladharis and officials of Rural Development Societies, those attending included school principals, doctors and police personnel.
A number of small but significant problems were raised in the two Western Divisions of Mullaitivu District. The odd shape of the District, and the need for travel for many purposes to Mullaitivu town, which is at the very Eastern corner of the District, was brought up. Though some adjustments have been made, it was noted that converting the offices in Tunukai and Manthai East to those of Divisional Secretaries rather than Assistant Government Agents would reduce inconvenience by allowing authority for essential functions. It would also be useful if another Court could be established nearer the Centre of the District, since much time now is wasted in travel across country.
Transport in the two Divisions needs improvement, since it was reported that government buses do not run at all. Officials arrive at work late because private transport services are not dependable. It was suggested that the military could provide a couple of buses each day at working hours but this would need to be done through local requests since private bus operators should not feel there was unfair competition, even though clearly they were not providing the required services.
Another point raised at Tunukai was the fact that the only vocational training on offer was for computing. There, as well as in Manthai East and Maritimepattu, it was noted that training for current requirements should be introduced, and in particular skills development for the construction industry. Apart from masonry and carpentry, there was a crying need for plumbing, wiring, and engine repair. Unfortunately these areas are still comparatively neglected, which would mean that, in particular when the Indian Housing Project got off the ground, there would be need of importing labour from outside the District.
It was also suggested that much more training needs to be provided in processing and marketing, as well as in facilities to enable the area to reap the advantages of current developments in agriculture. A milk processing centre was seen as an urgent need, while it was also noted that some officials were slow in purchasing paddy, leading to suspicions of dishonesty. In this regard the initiative of Vavuniya District, to promote paddy purchasing through the Multi-Purpose Cooperative Societies, might be a model to follow, given the rent-seeking that a centralized system with inadequate accountability to smaller units can produce.
As in all previous meetings, shortages of teachers in essential subjects was mentioned. The failure of authorities to implement the President’s proposal of school based recruitment was noted, given the high incidence of transfers sought out of the District by those appointed from other Districts. In addition to requesting school based appointments, it was noted that the development of teacher training in English and Maths and Science for students from the District could help with ensuring a supply of teachers for the District.
The need to address these shortcomings was apparent, since otherwise the steady progress in infrastructural development, which was appreciated in general, will not be accompanied by the anticipated benefits for the people of these Northern areas that have historically been neglected.