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Lamenting Economic Hardships

By Nirmala Kannangara in Tissamaharamaya and Hambantota  

Pictures by Lalith Perera

Distric Secretary Hambantota R.C. de Soyza, Dayawathie, Sugunawathie and Ramya

Villagers in Hambantota, Tissamaharama and Weerawila are lamenting economic hardships they are undergoing despite the government’s claims that they have sorted out most of these villagers’ problems.

They express concern that the benefits of impressive infrastructure projects such as the super highways, airport and harbour in Hambantota are yet to trickle down to them. While claiming that these were constructed ‘for the benefit of the politicians and the business community in the city’ they pointed out that if there was a real development, people in the district and the adjoining districts would have benefitted through employment opportunities etc.

“If there was a real development, these projects would have generated employments for the people in the area; instead the contractors brought labourers from other parts of the country. We hardly got employed in these projects,” people said.

Meanwhile the annual tax for wayside boutiques has been increased from Rs. 125 to 500 with effect from next month dragging the sellers from pillar to post. “We hardly get businesses, yet the government has increased the tax fourfold. How can we survive? There is one other option – that is to close down our boutiques,” way side boutique owners from Tissamaharama to Hambantota lamented.

They say that super highways, airport or the harbour do not fill their stomach and added they have reciprocated the President and the government on the war victory. “But we are still battling hard with the economic war” they said.

“True the government saved the country from terrorists. But have they reciprocated the people who tightened their belts during the war? We were asked to tighten the belts because of the war and we were not allowed to loosen it after the war victory. Not a single relief was given to us. Even our Samurdhi was cancelled saying we are ‘businessmen’. We can show that those who have good income and close to the Party are getting Samurdhi but the helpless,” Ramya said.

Ramya is from Tissamaharama who sells curd and treacle at her wayside stall. She also helps her husband in paddy cultivation. She added that she cannot spend time on selling at the boutique, so her young son and daughter help her out during school vacation. “Except the school holidays and Kataragama Esela festival, we hardly get any business. Yet we got the tax increment letter last Monday. If we cannot pay this tax within seven days our boutiques would be demolished.

Sugunawathie Mendis and Dayawathie had come to the Weerawila ‘sathipola’ (weekly fair) to sell vegetables and eggs. It was a small fair with not more than ten sellers and a handful of people coming to buy the koratu vegetables. Although Sugunawathie accused the government of unnecessary expenses on white elephant projects, Dayawathie and the rest of the sellers in the sathipola backed President Rajapaksa for the vast developments that has taken place in the district and for eradicating the 30-year war.

“I am lucky not to lose any family member to the bombs but I lament over other families who lost their beloved by terrorist attacks. Now we can go to any part of the country without any fear because the president saved our country. Although the high cost of living is unbearable we still bear it because the country enjoys peace and development,” Dayawathie said.

For Sugunawathie, the white elephant projects and the so called development in Hambantota does not benefit the common man in the area. “The airport was built for them to come and land easily. The roads were developed for them to ‘fly’ with the escort vehicles as if they have come from another universe. This is ridiculous. If there was a war we can understand why they are ‘flying’ on the roads but if there is peace then why do they still drive very fast on the roads. Most of the times we travel in push bicycle or walk wherever we want to go. If we need to go to the town we get into a bus. For people like us, road developments do not matter, they only for those who have luxury vehicles,” Sugunawathie added.

Although Sugunawathie claims common opposition candidate should win the upcoming election, she thinks president Rajapaksa may win.

Lasantha and his friends at a three wheel park in Tissamaharamaya said the country need a change since people is suffering as they do not have money to spend on their daily needs. “We are fed up with this system where only a handful is living a luxury life. Although once we were proud to say that we are from south, it is a shame to tell it now. What has the government done for the people here? Developing the road network, the airport and the harbour is not for us. It is for them.

“The government spends colossal amount of money to maintain this convention centre but it hardly generate money by holding any events. How long have we got to pay for these white elephant projects? They have made even the unborn debtors,” Lasantha added.

Bandu aiya and Jayadasa Senanayake are from Weligaththa. They accused the government of burdening the people from various taxes and added that although it is said that fertilizer subsidy is given, people have to bribe the officers to get first preference.

“I went to get the fertilizer for three days although I have submitted the relevant documents very earlier. Again I have to go tomorrow and if they are not ready I have to bribe them. It is cheaper to bribe than going in the tractor every day,” Bandu aiya said.

Jayadasa said he was a staunch SLFPer and added that he has changed his camp this time in support of the opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena. “They say this government is people’s friendly but they did nothing for the people in Weligaththa. We were not given licenses to the lands, nor for paddy fields. Most of the paddy lands have been given to people from Matara, Thihagoda, Gandara and Hambantota. Only a handful from Weligaththa got paddy lands. If the government can sideline us, why cannot we refuse them? Sajith Premadasa has helped us enormously. Being an opposition politician he is with the people and know what exactly people need,” Senanayake said.

Suresh is a fisherman from Matara living now in Hambantota. He said that fishermen in the Hambantota fishing harbour are concerned about the government. “I do not belong to any party but voted for the President because he saved the country from the LTTE. That is why we can go to sea for fishing. They spent huge amount of money to wage war. It’s more than five years after winning the war but still they have failed to give relief to the people. I am not an educated person but have listened radio debates and watch TV political programmes. As the opposition says they still allocate the same amount of money for the Defence Ministry. On what are they spending?” Suresh queried.

Suresh further accused the government of not giving relief to the fisher folk and queried whether only the government servants that help the country’s economy can live.

“Through the 2015 budget, motor cycles have been given for government servants in recognition of their service to the country. Even the fisher folk serve the country. So why have they forgotten us? Now the European Union has stopped buying our fish and there is no price for our catch. We are suffering as we do not get a good price for our fish and our families undergo hardships,” Suresh claimed.

Lal is a fisherman in the fisheries harbour who is an ardent Mahinda Rajapaksa supporter. According to Lal, no other leader has developed the country like President Rajapaksa and accused those who scold the President saying they are traitors. If the people have forgotten the service President has rendered to the country, they are traitors. Although people talk about economic hardships, we have to bear it as the President is developing the country. People can predict a victory for the opposition candidate, but we know for sure President Rajapaksa is going to win this election convincingly. He will get more than 65% votes this time for what he has done to the country and especially for the people in the south,” Lal said.

Anura and Karunasena from Ambalantota also predicted a convincing victory for Maithripala Sirisena.

“After three or four rains, the carpet gets damaged and become impassable once again. If you go interior you can see whether I am lying. We do not have any confidence about elections but most of the people in Ambalantota have decided,” Anura said.

Karunasena accused Deputy Minister Nishantha Muthuhettigama of thuggery.

“He has become Mervyn Silva replica and is a shame to the country. Take the entire cabinet ministers and deputy ministers. The way that they talk on stages is a disgrace to the country. Luckily they talk in Sinhalese, if they talk in English the entire world would know the status of our politicians. Why do we have to bear the cost of these blunders?” Karunasena asked.

Karunasena further accused the government of not deploying enough SLTB buses to interior towns, he queried as to how they find buses to take people for election meetings. “We have asked the politicians and even Ambalantota SLTB depot to operate enough buses in interior villages. None of our requests have been even considered. They claim that there are no buses as they have to ply the buses along the main roads. If it is so, how can they find buses to take people for election meetings? On such days, the depot manager forgets about the bus commuters on the main roads and allocates the buses for election work,” Karunasena added.

 

We’re releasing the remaining annual budgetary allocations for identified projects

- District Secretary Hambantota

Although there are allegations against the District Secretariat, R.C. de Soyza of releasing funds for many projects in Hambantota District after the presidential election was announced, he refuted them and added that the funds are released for the projects that were assigned at the beginning of this year.

“We have not released funds for any project initiated after presidential election was announced. If we did not use the funds this year, we cannot use them next year. These are the few days of this year. What is wrong using such money for the development projects in the district,” Soyza said.

However Soyza confirmed that relevant government officers are now distributing paddy seeds amongst the farmers and added that they distribute water tanks as well.

“These were planned at the beginning of the year. Due to numerous other works we could not attend to these. However we are now distributing these before the end of the year,” he added.

When asked why the government has allowed their stooges to clear the forest for businesses, the District Secretary said that he is not aware of it nor the respective Divisional Secretaries have not informed him about any such illegal encroaching.

“Certain government lands have been taken over by the Urban Development Authority (UDA) for development projects. Other forests belong to the Department of Wildlife Conservation, Department of Forest Conservation, Mahaweli Authority and the Divisional Secretariats. To my knowledge no illegal encroachments are reported on forest lands and politicians have not allowed to engage in such acts,” Soyza said.

 

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Local politicians threaten us if we remove cutouts

- Assistant Returning Officer, Election Secretariat Hambantota

Assistant Returning Officer K. Sumanadasa said that although they have the power to remove the illegal cutouts, hoardings and posters, they too are always under local politicians’ threats.

“The police protect us but they too are not allowed to carry fire arms. In case of an emergency we have to call the police emergency to disperse a crowd,” Assistant Returning Officer said.

UPFA local politician Kasun has once threatened the election officers because they have removed cutouts in Walasmulla. He has taken the names of the election officers together their identity cards and mobile numbers as well as postal addresses saying that he will look after them after the election.

“This is the situation here. Sometimes we too have to face such situations. That is why we are waiting for complaints to remove the cutouts. Once we received complaints we inform the police and both parties go together with some labourers to remove them. Although it is strictly prohibited to display more than one picture of the candidate at party offices, the ruling party violate this openly. Only the ruling party proponents are operating these party offices in this district and they should know to abide by the election regulations,” Sumanadasa said.

Sumanadasa also said he has sought the Election Commissioners directives to remove the cutouts that are all over Hambantota, Tangalle, Tissamaharama and other areas that do not carry the candidate’s picture but other politicians and wordings related to the election campaign.

“Although we have a right to remove such posters, I still informed the Election Commissioner’s office in Colombo to get his permission. We are planning to put road blocks from next week and arrest the vehicles that carry these cutouts and posters,” Assistant Returning Officer claimed.

 

1 Comment for “Lamenting Economic Hardships”

  1. Habour and Air port not in the place hambantota,most uneducated government did the work for their commission.goods and people must come from hambantota to colombo.the present government must face the judical commission,delt with laws,

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