- Seasoned administrator P.S.M. Charles prioritises land, health and education as she settles into job.
- Three-member commission appointed to examine and report on land-related issues within two months.
- President approves immediate steps to fill vacancies in education and health sectors.
- Governor to focus on improving connectivity and fine-tuning tourism sector in NP.
- Wants diaspora members to come back and oversee situation in war-affected areas.
- Says diaspora must realise members of their community living here do not have the same comforts as they do in foreign lands.
Newly-appointed Northern Province Governor P.S.M. Charles has prioritised resolving the land issues faced by people in war-affected areas of the country while initiating several new programs to uplift the livelihoods of low-income and vulnerable segments of the population.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily FT, Charles spoke on her future plans for the Northern Province and sent out a message to the Tamil diaspora to come and see conditions in the North without making pronouncements from distant lands.
“I was appointed by the President to look after the needs of the people, look into their economic needs and ensure harmony and peace prevails in the province. I am committed to that,” she said.
Charles said land ownership was a major issue in the province and she had appointed a three-member commission, headed by a retired judge, to ensure that land-related grievances were addressed expeditiously. “People will be notified this week to forward their land-related grievances to the commission and following this, its members will visit the district and examine each of these cases. The commission has two months to report back,” said Charles, a Special Grade Officer of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS) and the first woman to be appointed Governor of the Northern Province.
She said that there were many landownership issues, including the unauthorised occupation of both private and State lands, forged documentation, misplaced deeds, etc. and these needed to be urgently resolved.
The Governor said two other areas that needed immediate attention were the education and health sectors.
“There are a lot of vacancies in rural schools and hospitals and some schools are functioning without a single teacher. We have discussed this with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and he has given us a directive to ensure that these vacancies are filled as soon as possible,” she said.
Another area that the new Governor has identified which she says is vital to the economic progress of the province is connectivity through faster and improved transport links within the five districts of the Northern Province as well as with the rest of the country.
“There must be swifter land, sea and air connectivity. We are a small country and connectivity is very important. Otherwise we cannot connect the North with other parts of the country. All business activities and trading happens in Colombo and better transportation between these areas is vital,” she said.
At present, bus and train travel between Colombo and Jaffna can take between seven and nine hours and with only a single line railway track, a limited number of trains can operate on the Northern Line. Now more and more people are exposed to technology in the Northern Province as well and what is important is for the economy of the North to be connected to the South which will open many new avenues for trade, marketing, etc.,” she said.
The Governor also said that the tourism industry in the Northern Province must be fine-tuned to attract more visitors.
“Today there are many different forms of tourisms. There is ecotourism, cultural tourism, etc. We need to fine-tune the tourism sector and market it,” she said.
She said connectivity would also be a key factor in developing the tourism sector.
”This sector cannot thrive in isolation. People in the industry too must be connected, be they travel agents, hoteliers, tourist guides or restaurant owners. There must also be activities that connect local arts and culture, festivals, etc. to attract tourists, both local and foreign,” Charles stated.
“While there are nice beaches and islands that are popular with people, there is a need to move from passive tourism to active tourism. These days, young travellers especially do not like to spend the day lying on the beach. They want to engage in different activities like yacht racing or kite surfing, etc. We have to encourage such activities in the region,” she added.
Among the plans under discussion is one to develop more air connectivity for tourists who come to the Jaffna international Airport (JIA) so they can visit areas such as Trincomalee or Dambulla which are popular tourist sites.
The Governor also urged the diaspora to return to the North and see for themselves the problems the people face in these areas.
“The diaspora went to other countries, but now they must look after their own community because they have to realise that they are comfortable but members of their own community living here do not have the same comforts. They have to think along that basis.”
Charles said that she was in Colombo for many years and could not see the problems of the Northern Province until she came to live there.
“Now that I am here, I can see that people are so vulnerable, they are unable to cope with present trends. They need lots of input from the outside. I cannot advise people when I am living in Colombo and without knowing the ground situation. Without coming here, I cannot criticise the officers or politicians. But now that I am here, I know the situation and I can fight on behalf of the people.”
She added that members of the diaspora were welcome at any time and there were no barriers preventing them from visiting the country.
News courtesy :http://www.ft.lk/