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    Voters clamour for real change

    October 06, 2019

    While many see that their future political decision to be based on the policies and the mandate of the candidate, others will be willing to cast their votes in return for favours, personal reasons or work for the uplift of the community the Sunday Observer found out. ‘Real Change’ kept resonating throughout the North Western Province be it Puttalam or Kurunegala. Their votes need not be cast idly, say residents of the North Western Province, asserting that they are done with politics. The politicos, to them, would only offer old wine in a new bottle at the upcoming presidential elections. Therefore, they would weigh their past performance, those whom they surround themselves with and their policies/mandates rather than cowing down to their rhetoric the Sunday Observer, discovers.

    The rains that wreaked havoc across most parts of the island were kinder to people in the North Western Province last week. It drizzled from time to time, but not hard enough to alarm the farmers that their crops would get affected. Famed for the coconut they produce, many find their means through agriculture. Paddy, vegetables and pepper are among the other crops they grow. Dairy farming and fisheries are the trades they had been engaged in traditionally, while tourism had been introduced to the region recently.

    The province is plagued with its own distinctive issues such as the lack of vision by the authorities to promote tourism in the area; illegal sand mining in the Deduru Oya that has been there for over 20 years, the plight of the fishermen who rely on daily income and farmers on their harvest; the human elephant conflict, environmental issues related to industrialisation and so on. However, some are looking forward to the upcoming Presidential elections, while most assert they are done with politics.

    The North Western Province amounts to a total of 1,930,747 registered voters by 2018. During the 2015 Presidential election Mahinda Rajapaksa secured 556, 868 votes (53.46 per cent) and Maithripala Sirisena received 476, 602 votes (45.76 per cent) from Kurunegala district, while from Puttalam, Mahinda Rajapaksa had 197, 751 (48.97 per cent) and Maithripala Sirisena secured 202, 073 (50.04 per cent) of the total votes cast.

    In the 2010 Presidential Elections, Rajapaksa reigned in both the districts with 582, 784 (63.08 per cent) votes from Kurunegala and 201, 981 (58.70 per cent) from Puttalam, while his opponent Sarath Fonseka managed 35. 46 per cent and 39.59 per cent of votes from Kurunegala and Puttalam respectively.

    “It makes no difference who comes into power. They allow their henchmen to freely mine sand in the Deduru Oya. We have complained to the authorities and even scuffled with the miners to stop them from destroying it,” 46-year-old Chaminda Lal, a father of three and a farmer from Mola Eliya, Kuliyapitiya said.

    Illegal activity

    Even though the local farmers have tried in various occasions to stop the illegal activity, their efforts were fruitless. On Wednesday (25), the footpath towards the affected dam had tyre marks and cleared spots. A lorry had recently made its way there and they have taken sand Lal said.

    Due to sand mining, which has continued for the past 20 years, the water levels decrease the farmers complained. Now, the village wells have dried up. Residents are buying drinking water.

    “To make things worse the vegetation is badly affected too,” Lal who cultivates coconut, bananas and vegetables said. The yield is poor now, especially from the coconut trees. Lal has lost hope in elections.

    Several kilometres away, in Malsiripura in Kurunegala, 29-year-old Vajira Nuwan who is engaged as a tourist guide and lecturer is worried about the lack of vision from politicians elected to power from the district. Tourism, he said, is still underdeveloped in their area.

    Nuwan was to open his own tour operation in April but had to postpone plans when terrorist bombings the same month crippled the industry. Though tourism is gradually picking up in Kurunegala it will not reflect any differently in Kurunegala.

    “We have several tourist attractions in Kurunegala district like the Athugala Vihara that has the same archaeological value as Sigiriya, but the authorities responsible for tourism development (he named the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Board and Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau) have failed to promote them to visitors,” Nuwan said blaming ‘lack of vision’ as its root cause.

    He has studied the policies presented by the Presidential hopefuls and is inclined to the policies put forward by independent candidates and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna’s Anura Kumara Dissanayake.

    All this time, he said, people depended on the political party and not the candidate. Nuwan now sees a change in the approach, especially among his relatives and friends, who are looking for a person to make a ‘real change’ in the country.

    Anura Jayampathy, a member of the Moroththa Sahana Govi Sanvidhanaya of Gokarella is in agreement. Jayampathy says that the Sri Lankan vote based on promises needs to be transformed to policies instead. Though the public hear about development and the public debt they have to pay for years to come, when it comes to ground level, the life of the man at the grassroots is not uplifted, he says. “Someone is misusing the money.”

    A farmer for 15 years, he had laboured through many seasons for a good crop. However, farmers’ complaints presented to politicians and government authorities have fallen on deaf ears for decades. Lack of a proper market; a fixed price; or storage facilities for their produce had resulted in farmers being exploited by middlemen. Though promises were many, they are yet to see a storage facility or proper irrigation facilities in the area.

    The threat from elephants of the Kahalla, Pallekele Sanctuary cannot be ruled out. However, the issue is not only facing these problems “We have absolutely no alternative in the event of crop failure”he added.


    Speaking about the issues faced by the district, he says that transport and education need to be developed throughout the district.

    R.M. Subha-ethana, from Mola Eliya, confirms these needs. More than any other facility transport is needed she says. Living beside the main road that runs through her village, Subha-ethana knows that there are only three buses, (two private buses and one bus from the Sri Lanka Transport Board) plying the road. It makes it very hard for her to visit the clinic says the 67 year old who is being treated for diabetes for over the past 15 years. She has to travel over 30 kilometres to Kuliapitiya for her clinic using 2 buses.

    What would she want from the next leader of the island? Better facilities and housing as she still lives in a rented house. Would she vote for someone other than from the party she had been used to? “Not likely,” as her whole family had been voting for her chosen party and any candidate presented by that party.

    The Dayananda Balasuriya family who live across the road from Subha-ethana would do the same. They had seen some development in the agricultural sector in the past few years. “We got electricity, roads, bridges, irrigation canals and a drinking water project in the village,” said Balasuriya. He is an active member of village societies involved in the projects.

    A retired government servant and President of the Organisation to protect Deduru Oya, K. Manchanayake admires a leadership which introduces a certain closed economy policies. “We experienced a revolutionary period during 1970 to 1977. That government introduced key policies which fueled local production. But the open market economy turned everything upside down,” Mancahanayaka commented.

    He added, “Now look at agriculture. In the name of agriculture, we let people eat poison,”

    Manchanayake who lives in Thisogama, Kurunegala has determined to cast his vote for a candidate who would come up with strong policies for agriculture, fisheries and transport. He also urged the importance of appointing Ministers and Ministry Secretaries with subject knowledge. “In government jobs all workers are appointed after an interview. A similar procedure should be followed for Ministers and secretaries too” he said.

    W.P. Yasapala in Bingiriya, Kurunegala was disturbed by a battery factory in the vicinity of his house. The lead burnt at the factory has created a massive health issues in the area, including cancer and breathing difficulties.

    “We have been fighting against this pollution for years now. We did not even receive justice by the judiciary as there is a Provincial Environmental Authority which closely associates with this factory,” He complains.

    He and others in the area, including a retired Military person and Secretary of the ‘Wayamba Handa’ Environmental Organisation Sisira Kumara had tried their best at the Pradeshiya Sabha to fight against the factory which operates without registration. Back to back pleas to the political leadership in the area including Minister Gamini Jayawickrema Perera had not been useful.Indifference of politicos have compelled them to boycott elections in future.

    “When we go to government institutions to report our grievances, they try to avoid us. But when a businessman comes, there are always ready to serve them. I am sick of this kind of ill treatment now,” Kumara expressed his displeasure.

    Manjula Ranjith Fernando who served as the coordinating secretary to then Chief Minister of North Western Province, Gamini Jayawickrema Perera, now believes in the abolishing the provincial council system as it is a mere waste of public money, he says.

    “I think the next leader should hold a referendum about provincial councils. During the time of Chief Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara and present Chief Minister Dharmasiri Senanayake, only 17 per cent of the annual budget of the province had been spent on development” Fernando pointed out.

    Meanwhile, Lance Fernando (50), a fisherman in Kalpitiya said he is satisfied with the present government, because it brought the oil prices down for fishing boats by 50 percent. However, the next leader whoever he may be, need to focus on the well being of the fisher folk as well, he said. “We are not asking for handouts, we are only asking for a fixed price for fish and cool-room facilities. We don’t want free facilities either, we are ready to pay a reasonable price for the cool room facilities,” he said.

    Lacking cool room facilities and fixed prices they are compelled to turn their catch over to the ‘Mudalali’ who may sell it for a higher price but gives them a pittance at the end of the week. Fernando couldn’t go to sea for three days during the past week due to warnings issued by the Department of Meteorology. He accepts that it is their duty to warn the fisher community of the impending dangers in the sea. However, “Three days is not something we can afford. How can we stay home seeing our children suffering from hunger?” he questions.


    He has had enough of politics, politicos and their rhetoric flashed through television channels, “I would vote for the party which supports the fisheries community on the whole.” Under the leadership of then Fisheries Minister, the late Festus Perera, they were provided many facilities, he reminiscences. Policies were implemented and the fisheries channels were streamlined. The then Department of Fisheries had established outlets in Kalpitiya to purchase their catches of fish. “Now, there is nothing.” Fernando, would vote for the UNP candidate in gratitude to late Minister Perera and hopes his vote would be instrumental in ‘podi minihata yahapathak karanna’ (doing good for the common man).

    Forty-eight-year-old Sugath Emmanuel is a fisherman turned tourism provider. He owns a few cabanas in Kudawa beach in Kalpitiya. Embracing the boom of the tourism industry after war, he stepped into tourism by providing dolphin safaris. A voter since the very first Presidential election of the country, Emmanuel is disappointed over both main political parties.

    “I do not trust politics. When considering past governments and the ones yet to come, I honestly do not see a difference” he commented.

    As a person whose life is now linked to tourism, he clearly believes that the past government had a better plan about tourism development than the present government. “ The past government brought tourism to Kalpitiya. I know that they did not do it for our benefit. It was for their benefit. But it still, it was good for the local community,” Emmanuel said.

    Though not surprising , it was quite interesting to listen to his opinions on certain democratic reforms of the Yahapalana government. He welcomed the introduction of independent commissions, and the independent judiciary. “Those institutions are better compared to the previous governments ones. But it is not at a greater level as the Government tries to highlight,” he said..

    Once a fisherman, W.J. Camillus Perera is currently a member of the Kalpitiya Pradeshiya Sabha. He worked for the UNP for decades and then suddenly decided to run independently at the last local government polls in spite of the back to back invitation to politics from both the UNP and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna. Fed up with all main stream parties, he finally chose to contest independently and chose a ‘fish’ as his symbol and was elected to the Pradeshiya Sabha.

    “When Bandaranaike brought sangha, weda, guru, govi, kamkaru (Bhikkhu, doctors, teachers, peasants and labourers), and fishermen were missed. There are about two million fishermen around the entire coastal area of the country. If these people get together we can build massive pressure against the Government” Perera commented.

    Lack of sound intellectuals at national level politics has been a key reason for the decade long sufferings of the country which many would accept without an argument. Perera had a suggestion to revise this system.


    We should only allow independent people to run for local government polls. We should remove party politics in the Pradeshiya sabhas so people get the chance to cast their vote for the best intellectual of their village. Later that person can enter national politics and gain membership of a political party he desires” he explained.

    Kalpitiya is an area of friendly communities which belong to all ethnicities. Muslims and Catholics live in almost equal numbers and both live in harmony with each other. The Sunday Observer met Abdul Kadar Mohammed Niyas in Kurakkanhena, Kalpitiya while he was involved in a mangrove planting program. He is an onion and chillie farmer.

    “Our country can generate much income through agriculture. But no leader in the recent past had a proper plan to uplift agriculture” Niyas complains.

    He also has a negative opinion about the knowledge of many government officers who are assigned to instruct farmers. “When we compare the technology farmers in other countries are using, we are lagging decades behind. Agriculture officers in the field also have zero knowledge on agriculture. We need a visionary leader who can fix these errors in the entire system. We are just waiting till such a day dawns” Niyas said.

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