The root of Sri Lanka’s two bloodiest insurgencies, one led by the People’s Liberation Front (or the JVP) and the other more prolonged and deadlier led by the LTTE, had much to do with regional disparities than language, race or religious differences.
The Business for Peace Alliance (BPA) is a consortium of regional business chambers which united to form linkages with each other and the country’s capital Colombo, which is in the Western Province contributing more than 50 percent to the country’s GDP.
However, the underlying purpose for the alliance was to promote peace among the regions. BPA is made up entirely of regional business chambers excluding Colombo.
"Language or religion had little to do with the country’s turbulent insurgencies we have experienced in the past. In the heart of it, it is the regional disparity that fueled much of the problems," Cholomondoly Gunaseela, Director BPA, said.
Gunaseela said during the five year period since the BPA was formed, member chambers from Jaffna right down to Hambantota have been able to forge meaningful relationships.
"It is true businesses are driven by profits and I would be lying if I said that businessmen are not. But when we realized that peace was necessary for the survival of any business, and since everything else depends on peace, we made it our goal to do what we can to build bridges though the BPA," Gunaseela said.
"We have everything in the regions. Natural resources are in plenty and human resources too. But the one problem we have is that the business community is not organized enough. Even if investors wanted to get involved in the regions they have no one to approach. The BPA hopes to change all that," he said.
Access to credit, better roads and telecommunication facilities are still required for the regions.
"These problems have been there for a long time. We have often complained about it. But then, there are things we can do. One of them is to create a peaceful environment and linkages amongst the regions," Gunaseela, who is also the Past Chairman of the Sabaragamuwa District Chamber of Commerce and Industries, said.
Gunaseela presented his views at press conference called by the BPA to announce its plans for an international symposium hoping to link investors directly with entrepreneurs of the regions.
Using resources of the region for development…
Vice Chairman of the BPA, K. C. Suwarnaraj said the government should make a conscious effort to engage the resources of each region when implementing development projects.
"In Vavuniya, we are experiencing a situation where construction contractors are out of work whilst contractors from outside the area are given government contracts. This must not be the case. We have the capabilities and expertise for some of the jobs and they should be given to us," said Suwarnaraj, who is also the Past Chairman of the Vavuniya District Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture.
Skilled manual labourers have kept away from their trade during the turbulent times.
"They preferred to stay closer to home and many masons I know sell firewood or engage in paddy cultivation. So we have the human resources than can be tapped," Suwarnaraj said.
This is one area the government could take note of in its efforts to develop the North and East: As far as possible go for the resources in the areas.