Northern Province Governor Reginald Cooray has sought changes in the design of the contentious housing project in the Northern and Eastern Provinces that has proposed to build 65,000 houses in the conflict-hit region in four years.
In an interview at his official residence here, Mr. Cooray, who took over in mid-February, said: “Do not stop [the project]. Continue [the project] with various amendments.”
He refused to divulge details of his suggestion, but indicated that some of the facilities, proposed to be given to beneficiaries, “are not needed.” Asked whether he communicated his position to the Central government, he said: “In writing, I did it. My job is done.”
Pointing out that a number of facilities such as cooking gas cylinder, cooker, computer and television had been planned to be provided to the beneficiaries of the project, the Governor said: “If you are going to oppose the project, people will feel you are jealous of them. My feeling is that people will like it [the project]… For those poor people, they also enjoy that type of life, which is good.”
When referred to Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran’s complaint that elected representatives of the Northern Province were not taken into confidence while framing the scheme, Mr. Cooray concurred with him and added that “even the people” were not consulted. The issue of durability had to be addressed.
On the issue of cost, “out of the money [of SLR 2.1 million for each house], we can build two houses. That will be a very good answer to the resettlement campaign.”
Another 40,000 houses were required to be built in the North and the Governor would favour at least the number of houses to be increased to 90,000 under the present project.
Emphasising that resettlement had to be given top priority, Mr. Cooray, who earlier served as Chief Minister of the Western Province twice and Central Minister, said that as part of the creation of livelihood opportunities, utilisation of the resources such as lagoons and palmyrah should be done to the maximum. Conscious of the growing trend of disinclination among youth to work in the farm sector, the Governor said greater focus should be provided on technical education. On various challenges faced by the Northern Province, he said that while it was “very difficult” to find people to teach Sinhala in Jaffna, the same was the case with skilled workers such as those engaged in plumbing, masonry and carpentry as such workers had migrated out of the country.
As the province had been under the control of the Sri Lanka Army, Indian Army, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and many other militant groups in the last 30 years, staff in the provincial administration had “no practice” with civilian administration, he added.
“They have to learn again to work in a peaceful society.”