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At the Jaffna Summit
End of war does not mean the conflict has ended, says Deva Rodrigo

Past Chairman Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC), Deva Rodrigo said although the war has ended, it does not mean basic conflicts have been resolved.

Rodrigo, Founder Member of ‘Sri Lanka First’, moderating at the Panel II discussions at the Jaffna Summit last week, expanding on this theme said developing the region had to have simultaneous adjunct applications.

Priority standing is conflict dialogue; alleviation of suspicion should attain priority to be instrumental as a precursor to progress. Developing Regional Chambers, although of prior importance, the overriding influence of nullifying suspicion should be addressed.

Panel II at Jaffna last week also included Vice Chairman, Jaffna CCC, R. Jayasekeran, Chairman Uthayan and Sudaroli Publications, and a member of the Jaffna University, E. Saranapavan, Member of the Mannar District CCC, S. Nadarajah, First Vice Chairman BPA, and Past Chairman Vaviniya District CCC, K. C. Suwarneraj, Chairman, Trincomalee District CCC, P. Wickramanayagam, Director, Anuradhapura District CCC, A. R. Indrasena, Chairman /CEO Export Development Board, Anil Koswatte, and Partner Ernst & Young , Sri Lanka, Arjuna Herath.

Although a pervading sense of expectancy overrode discussions, there were gaping grey areas that had not had prior exposure. The press questioned efficacy of administrative restrictions that constantly plague entrepreneurs and the fact that most investors had to have prior security clearance before bottomline signatures were implemented.

Sum total of such negativity would undoubtedly turn away Biz people and any prospect of opening out Jaffna for business would be overshadowed by incessant unconstructive niggling.

Documentation alone that could include repetitive forms that eventually do not see the light of day after completion, would undoubtedly have restrictive influences. End result would be that they turn away. These questions were not effectively answered. There were at least two foreign investors present who said such exposure was relevant and that they had to go through trauma as discussed. And accentuated by the press.

The Export Development Board (EDB) was at the receiving end of critique. Although they said they had simplified most procedures and exporters could go about their businesses they too did not quite give effective answers to questions raised. The press said the EDB would need to put its house in order if their influences would eventually be beneficial to the Biz community in Jaffna. Or, for that matter, prospective entrepreneurs who are expected to invest in Jaffna.

Meanwhile, subjects that had popular exposure were tourism, fishing, agriculture and allied development of financial institutions. Jayasekeran said the relationship with other Chambers of Commerce formed an integral part of commercial development of Jaffna.

Arjuna Herath had some well developed slides with informative details on reality of what Jaffna was post-war history. Depressing facts were that the population of Jaffna is now just about 600,000 people. This did not include the entirety of the Jaffna peninsula.

In this instance — from population figures of about 2 million people. Present manpower strength was some 1.2 million people. Land area was 8884 sq kilometers…density was sparse, at around 141 persons per sq. kilometer. He said literacy was higher than the national average of 90%. Jaffna read out was 92.5 %. There were 900 schools, with 12,309 teachers.

University undergraduate population was 4,667, he said. These plus details would need intense consideration if the entire future was to be underscored by development.

As already reported in recent press reports, there were immediate concerns that would need official attention. The approach road to Jaffna was bad. The strong army presence in and approaching Jaffna is an intense disincentive and cast an eerie pall of gloom on the possibility of business development.

The wide open scars of war had to go fast. Infrastructure remained dislocated, but fragmented areas of picking –up-the-pieces were apparent. Strong credence that ‘Jaffnese’ had resilience to pick and move forward.

Foreign business people who discussed possibilities for investment said these were their concerns too. They did not opt to be quoted.

S. Nadarajah, reverting to other possibilities also raised an important question of language and integration. He posed a challenging question of Sinhalese learning Tamil and Tamilians learning Sinhalese.

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