‘Enterprise Sri Lanka’ loan scheme rescues families from the debt trap | Sunday Observer

‘Enterprise Sri Lanka’ loan scheme rescues families from the debt trap

20 October, 2019
Children are left high and dry in the absence of the breadwinner. Here children taking a look at some of the paintings on families of missing persons are in deep thought over the tragedy that befell them. Pic: Sudam Gunasinghe
Children are left high and dry in the absence of the breadwinner. Here children taking a look at some of the paintings on families of missing persons are in deep thought over the tragedy that befell them. Pic: Sudam Gunasinghe

The government commenced writing-off a large number of micro-finance loans last year and offered many relief measures including interest free loans through the ‘Diri Savi’ loan scheme and an interim payment of Rs. 6,000 from January this year to families of missing persons who continue to suffer from the 30-year war even though a decade had lapsed since that dreadful episode came to an end, an official of the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) said at the National Advocacy event organised by the National Women’s Platform (NWP) in Colombo last week.

Families of missing persons from eight most affected districts across the country shared their sad tales at the meeting convened by the National Women’s Platform (NWP).

“We had no one to look up to help us trace our son who went missing in 2001 in Kilinochchi and since then the dreadful memories of the horrendous war still continues to haunt us leaving us in the lurch with no solace from anyone,” M. Kandasamy, a mother who lost her only son in Kilinochchi said.

S. Kanagesu of Jaffna said, “My husband has been missing since 2005 and since then I am left to fend for my three children who are still schooling needing the care and guidance of the father. I have to single handedly battle to put food on the table and shoes on the feet of my children who have fallen from the frying pan to the fire leading a hand to mouth existence.’’

It has been an extremely hard time for those who had lost someone in their family to cope up with education, security, healthcare and mentoring children. The disappearance of kith and kin and their beloved ones have been a never ending nightmare especially to women who are the most vulnerable sector be it conflicts or natural disasters.

“My husband was employed in the forces and was taking part in the operations in the North at the time he went missing in 2003 leaving behind a son whom I have been taking care of thanks to the support extended by my family members and the generous help of those in the village,” Pushpalatha Perera from Matara said fondling the two children from her second marriage.

The hopes of those who dreamt of a happy family seeing children growing up one day have been shattered and their lives devastated with the absence of a cog in the family wheel.

“There is no word to express my sadness. We had planned to bring up children and groom them to be useful citizenry. But all that has been only a pipe dream with the disappearance of my husband few months into our marriage,” said Shriani Fernando of Moneragala who lost her husband serving the forces in the North said.

Similar tales could be told till the cows come home but who could relieve the anxiety and fill the vacuum of the loss of someone part and parcel of life.

“All what we need is a patient hearing of our plight and then a helping hand to keep our families going.” The families of missing person are mainly from the low income segment of society whose livelihood had been either farming, fishing or handicraft that managed to keep their nose above water financially while still depending largely on funds offered by those lending at exorbitantly high interest rates pushing the hapless families into further debt. The government through the ‘Enterprise Sri Lanka’ loan scheme has come to the rescue of these families from the debt trap. A large portion of the outstanding loans have been either already written off or borne by the government.

Presenting livelihood issues of Jaffna and the Trincomalee districts, Kairali Selvarajah said many of the missing person’s families have lost their ancestral land which they had been either used for cultivation or running poultry or dairy farms.

“Many of the lands are still being held by the forces in the North and the East and as a result people are not able to makes ends meet. Preference is given to men in granting loans and salaries are high for men. This is gender discrimination which only burdens widows and families without the breadwinner,” she said. Over 2,826 persons are missing due to the war in the Jaffna and Trincomalee districts.

Bribes taken by state officials promising to find missing persons is a huge stress on the families of missing persons who have to pay around Rs. 25,000 to probation centres.

It was also noted that the missing person is excluded when granting relief through the Samurdhi and other loans schemes. Besides the age of beneficiary is also taken into consideration and those above 70 years are not eligible for such schemes.

The common concern of family members of missing persons in Matara, Ampara and Jaffna are the education, professional training of youth and low interest loans to support their occupations that will help keep the family fires burning.

Office on Missing Persons (OMP) Commissioner Nimalka Fernando said since last year’s world International Day on missing persons the government decided to grant Rs. 20,000 to every family of missing persons, assistance through the ‘Enterprise Sri Lanka’ program, 10 percent of all housing project of the government, scholarships for O/L and A/L students on merit basis and a quota in government jobs for families of missing persons.

The Office on Missing Persons (OMP) was set up on September 15, 2017 and operations commenced in February last year with the appointment of members to the commission.

“We have received around 19,000 letters since commissioning the office,” Fernando said.

As of March last year 13,294 completed applications (Feedback Data Sheet) have been submitted islandwide. A database has also been developed to maintain records of missing persons.

Humanity and Inclusion (HI) Country Manager Claire Martel said HI is committed to empowering women for an inclusive and sustainable Transitional Justice and reconciliation (TJR) process in Sri Lanka.

HI present in over 60 countries is an International non profit, nongovernmental organization carries out projects across eight districts over the country with the partnership of Search for Common Ground, Viluthu and Women Development Center (WDC). The project is funded by United Nations Peace Building Fund and US Department of state.

The project supports women in acquiring knowledge and skills and provides them the opportunity to collaborate across dividing lines to promote their rights, interests and identified common issues, through the platforms formed at district and national level.