The inability to pay back loans, unemployment and the political prisoner issue has gripped the North ahead of the New Year.
National Dialogue Minister Mano Ganesan, under who the subject of non-recurrence falls, told The Sunday Leader that the issues in the North could pose a threat to non-recurrence.
Among the issues, a serious ‘debt culture’ is beginning to take shape in the North with people borrowing money but unable to pay back.
Following the end of the war several banks rushed to the North, particularly to former LTTE controlled areas, and people took loans, some in large amounts.
Most of the people in those areas either pawned their jewelry to obtain loans when the LTTE controlled the area or managed with what they had. However, with several banks flowing to the area following the war, the people switched to obtain loans and are now unable to pay back.
Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian M. A. Sumanthiran said that the issue has resulted in a ‘debt culture’ gripping the North.
He said that it is a norm for banks to provide loans without evaluating the method in which an individual will pay back the loan and they are usually happy with a form of security. Sumanthiran said that in the North some families have kept the property given to them by the Indian Government as security to obtain a loan.
He said that the owners of the properly have, at times, looked to expand their homes and have mortgaged the property to obtain loans to complete the expansion work.
“They are unable to repay those loans. The house and property is mortgaged to the bank and is at serious risk at being taken over by the banks,” he said.
The TNA MP said that they were happy when the Indian government gave so many houses to the people in the North but the issue at hand is that even those recipients have been caught in the debt trap.
More than 39,500 out of a total of 50,000 houses have been completed under the Indian housing project in Sri Lanka.
One of the main reasons people in the North are unable to pay the loans is because most of them do not have jobs.
Sumanthiran said that if the youth continue to remain unemployed it opens the door for several other issues to arise, including various social issues.
The government, through its 2016 budget, has allocated Rs. 14 billion for the development of the North and East but Sumanthiran says the government must ensure those funds are not used to construct roadways.
He says the funds for the construction of roadways must come from the respective Ministries and the money allocated from the budget must be used for other urgent needs.
The Parliamentarian also noted the importance of a donor conference scheduled to be held next year for the North, which he says will help collect much needed financial aid for the war devastated areas.
TNA MP Sivasakthy Ananthan says both past and the current governments are not giving ear to the real issues faced by the people in the North. He says following the end of the war, there are over 85,000 female headed households in the North and East.
“They are being forced to feed their families in deplorable conditions,” the MP said. Ananthan says the budget for 2016 does not give solutions to assist them through self employment or other means. He said that even most of the former LTTE cadres, who have been released back into society after rehabilitation, have not been provided with jobs. “If this continues they will have hatred towards society. If that happens the South will need to take full responsibility,” he said.
Ananthan says the government must declare the North and East as needing urgent attention and more focus must be placed in those areas.
He says while the former government and the current administration are looking at the welfare needs of the soldiers who fought the war, similar attention is not being given to the families directly affected by the conflict.
TNA Parliamentarian Charles Nirmalananthan said that the new government has deceived the public in the North by failing to give solutions to their urgent needs.
He said that the Tamils in the North expected their cost of living to reduce but that was not to be even through the 2016 budget.
“We don’t see much difference now from the former government and this government. We expected a lot from this government after the January 8 election,” he said. Nirmalananthan also accused the authorities of underhand dealings when handing over houses to beneficiaries in the North.
He said that in some cases in the Indian housing project, State authorities nominated those close to them to receive the houses as opposed to those who really needed it.
Minister Mano Ganesan said that he agrees with the concerns raised by the Parliamentarians of the North and East and he too has his own concerns.
However he noted that the current government has been in power only for just over two months and so time needs to be given to address the concerns at hand. “The Tamils have faced a lot of hardships because of the war. I am not saying other communities did not suffer. But the Tamils faced a brunt of the effects of the war. So more attention needs to be given to them and I hope the government will give serious consideration to their issues and address them soon,” he said.
He said that the unemployment, housing and cultural issues are of concern for the people of the North and these need to be addressed sooner than later.
Ganesan recalled that the Sri Lankan government, as a co-sponsor to the Geneva resolution, has some commitments which it needs to meet.
As part of the commitment, the government needs to ensure non-recurrence and Ganesan says his Ministry will hold talks with all segments of society to gather their views and ideas as part of this process.
“I am having several discussions with the government on the related issues and I hope we will be able to address them soon,” he added. Another issue which is threatening to scuttle the stable environment in the North is the issue of political prisoners. TNA Parliamentarian Nirmalananthan said that the government had failed to keep its promises with regards to the release of the Tamil political prisoners.
A youth last week committed suicide in Kondavil, Jaffna over the failure by the authorities to release all Tamil political prisoners.
The youth had jumped in front of a train in Kondavil and committed suicide.
Reporters in Jaffna said that the youth had left a suicide note explaining the motives behind the suicide.
The victim was identified as 18-year-old Rajeshwaran Senthuran, a resident of Kopai and a student of Kokavil Hindu College.
Meanwhile students of the Jaffna University staged a demonstration drawing attention to the death of the student. The Jaffna University students held black flags during the peaceful demonstration.
The government is facing stiff opposition to moves to free the political prisoners, most of whom were arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act over suspected links with the LTTE by the former regime.However Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe noted that even the former regime had released several suspected LTTE cadres and yet they had adopted double standards when the current government was looking to free those arrested over minor offences under the PTA.
Documents in the possession of the Minister shows 140 LTTE suspects were freed on the clearance given by former Chief Justice Mohan Peiris when he was the Attorney General.
Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said that 20 suspects arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act have been identified for rehabilitation.
He said that the 20 suspects will have their cases processed immediately and they will either be imprisoned or offered rehabilitation.
The Minister said that the 20 suspects have been arrested for minor offences under the PTA and not serious crimes.
The government had recently approved the release of 39 suspects arrested under the PTA and most of them have left prison after meeting the strict bail conditions.
Rajapakshe however said that all those charged for serious offences under the PTA will not be released. (Courtesy The Sunday Leader)