JAFFNA: While the Tamil Diaspora and indigenous Sri Lankan entrepreneurs appear to be indifferent to the dire economic needs of the war-battered, Tamil-majority Northern Province, the island’s non-Tamil minorities are setting up factories to provide much needed employment there.
MAS Holdings, Hirdaramanis, Timex-Fergasam, and Omega-Line have set up garment factories in four of the five districts of the province, providing employment to thousands. Sharad Amalean of MAS Holdings is a Gujarati, the Hirdaramanis are Sindhis, Timex-Fergasam belongs to A S Ashraf, and Omega-Line is owned by an Italian.
Omega-Line’s US$ 30 million plant in Vavuniya employs 1200. The Hirdaramanis employ 1000 in Vavuniya .In the war’s “ground zero” at Kilinochchi, MAS Holdings have set up two factories at a cost of US$ 18 million. Timex-Fergasam has two factories in Mannar employing 1000. MAS is setting up a training centre and a factory in Mullaitivu to accommodate 1000 youth.
But investors are avoiding Jaffna district. Explaining this, A R Jeyamanon, Regional Director of the Board of Investment, told Express: “It is difficult to get blue collar workers in Jaffna because Jaffna youth want only white collar jobs. The youth are content to live on remittances sent by their kin overseas.”
Asked why local entrepreneurs are not investing, R Jeyasekaran, chairman of the Jaffna Chamber of Commerce, said that bank lending rates are too high for local entrepreneurs.
“It is now 13 per cent to 15 per cent. But it should be between 9 per cent and 12 per cent. The overdraft interest rate is also high. Actually, because most entrepreneurs here are heavily disadvantaged because of the war, loans should be given at 3 per cent to 4 per cent,” Jeyasekaran said.
The vast Tamil Diaspora, which funded the LTTE generously, is also not investing. Explaining this, Jeyamanon said: “Firstly, the Diaspora is waiting for a permanent political settlement of the Tamil question. Secondly, the Diaspora neither has adequate investment capital nor an entrepreneurial mindset.”
But Camelia Nathaniel, an expert on the Diaspora, argued that it does not need much capital or entrepreneurial talent to set up a mango or crab processing factory. What is lacking is the will to invest, she said.