|Sri Lanka: A Woman of Our Time: Ms. Sivageetha Prabhakaran|
|Friday, 16 May 2008|
Sivageetha Prabhakaran, alias Padmini, is a quiet, soft spoken person, polite yet firm, deeply confident, knowledgeable and diplomatic. She is the first female Mayor of the Batticaloa Municipal Council. She is 26 years of age. She was elected with a majority of the votes from the Local Government Elections held on 10th March 2008 representing the TMVP through the UPFA list. She only shares her last name in common with the LTTE Leader Piribaharan or as many spelt it ‘Prabhakaran.’ The contrast in their values are however significant. She lost her father to the LTTE and in turn she shares the suffering of a majority of the people in the East.
Professional in her approach, it is evident that she has wasted no time since taking office as she has planned every detail of the Municipal Council’s future, entirely in consultation with her fellow elected members. She firmly believes that development work in the East and in Sri Lanka as a whole cannot take place without the peoples’ participation. Thus she says
“When you say development it should not only be determined by officials and merely on paper. It should always be made with the ideas of the people. We the elected body, the officials and the people should work together to build a brighter future”.
She speaks with confidence about the plans of the Batticaloa Municipal Council which reflect a clear vision, focus and commitment towards uplifting the people of Batticaloa and land which were destroyed by the wrath of terrorism. Ms. Prabhakaran by her conduct illustrates the idiom ‘actions speak louder than words’. She places an emphasis on achieving a smooth implementation of the development work:
“The first session of the Municipal Council was held on 17th April 2008. In keeping with the Municipal Ordinance 26.1, we formed four Committees, in order to ease and speed up the work. Each Committee consists of six elected members. These committees cover the following areas of Finance, Workers’ Committee, Health and Librarian Services.”
Under her guidance a “90 Day” programme has been planned as the Municipal Council’s first task. This is in order to address the most urgent matters in the Municipal area. Currently the foundation required for this programme is being laid by the four Committees referred to above, as they are in the process of gathering data and information in consultation with the people of the area, in order to identify the urgent sectors that must be given attention as a priority. Ms. Prabhakaran has spoken proudly of what can be considered a striking feature of this initiative i.e. the Municipal Council aims to conduct this “90 day” programme, relying solely on its own financial resources and man power drawn exclusively from the Batticaloa District itself. This is proof of people in the East working towards their own development. Furthermore, she emphasized that the ‘90 day programme’ would be implemented only once all the preparation work and assessments have been complete, in order to ensure, maximum results through implementation.
North East Community Restoration Development (NECORD) has pledged a sum of 5 million rupees for the purpose of developing damaged roads in Batticaloa. Ms. Prabhakaran explained that this sum cannot be used to reconstruct all the roads, nor can it be used at random. Therefore a systematic approach has been adopted, based on reports which would be provided to enable the Council to identify the roads which require re-construction as a priority. Thus Ms. Prabhakaran presents an extremely methodical approach to the Council’s actions, avoiding inconsistencies at the very inception. She thus adopts a process of prioritizing all the development work that is required in the areas for which she is accountable.
She acknowledges and understands the importance of her responsibilities, mainly to the people of Batticaloa. Therefore she aims to prevent duplication of development work and thus prevent wastage of time, financial and human resources. While the Municipal Council has identified key development projects and have plans to begin work shortly, she acknowledges that not all can be done by the Council/Government itself. Thus she has already requested all UN Organizations to provide her with details of their mandate, in order to enable her to approach the most appropriate Organization with the relevant project proposal, thus saving valuable time and effort for all concerned parties.
“I was given an opportunity to meet most of the heads of the UN Organisations working in Sri Lanka. At that meeting I emphasized the needs of Batticaloa and requested them to provide us with details of their projects to match. It was a very useful meeting. I am thankful to the SCOPP for providing all the necessary support and guidance in meeting the right people and setting the right goals”.
She expressed her appreciation of the development projects done by the international community including the United Nations, in not only the East but whole of Sri Lanka. She is also optimistic that the international community will continue to help develop not only the Municipal area of Batticaloa, but the entire District by using the elected local body to help identify and prioritize future development activities hand in hand with all aid agencies.
“Aid agencies with the assistance of the international community have worked well in the Batticaloa District over the years. Now I hope they work in harmony with us all in the elected body, in order to focus their work resources to the most critical spheres”.
She is truly a person dedicated to serving her people. When one inquires about the wellbeing of the people of the East, Ms. Prabhakaran’s face lights up. She sincerely believes in them, understands that they have a critical role to play in developing their lives and therefore speaks passionately about them:
“The then leaders did not really feel the needs of the people. The people do not want a separate state (Eelam). They want their province which is rich in resources to be developed very well. Because of terrorism in the past, they could not do anything. However now, within a united Sri Lanka, as democracy now prevails, they want to meet their basic needs and the province developed. The people are also very happy with the election of the local body after 14 years, as their most basic issues will now be addressed.”She further expressed her views on the franchise used by the people after 14 years as a warrant to work for them.
“The people in Batticaloa gave us the power to serve them. Our victory in the local government election reveals how much trust the people have in the TMVP. We will not disappoint them. Our doors are always wide open and they can always share their thoughts with us”.
Women’s role in Building Peace and Developing Sri Lanka
In Sri Lankan politics as a whole, only a small number of women are involved at the Local, Provincial and Central levels. In the Batticaloa District, it is an even smaller number, compared to that of the other Districts. As a educated young woman, holding one of the key administrative positions in Sri Lanka, Ms Prabhakaran speaks of the important role women should play in uplifting our country from decades of devastation.
“Today the world is moving fast, we too should thus act accordingly. There are many talented women in a variety of fields, they should all come forward and shine. In the Eastern Province, due to the past war, the women in particular have endured much hardship. There are many widows among them. I hope that in the near future we can encourage these widows to come forward and rebuild their lives by helping them to engage in self employment.”
She reflects back on her father’s life with much love, admiration and respect. Being a woman, she says that she has no regrets about her decision to enter the unpredictable world of politics amidst grave threats to her life. She is driven by her love for her people and commitment towards making her father’s dream a reality.
“Everyone is happy and appreciate that I have come forward to carry out my father’s dream. His dream was to see the development of Batticaloa and thus he focused on development. The public say I must make his dreams come true. So I have the support and encouragement of the public and especially that of all my family members”.
The Eastern Province is renowned for its multi-ethnic dimension, thus making it a unique Province of Sri Lanka. It is this multi- ethnic dimension that is the cause of glory as well as devastation. However the most crucial element is ensuring a peaceful co-existence among all communities, within the East’s splendor and building a truly ‘Sri Lankan’ spirit. Ms. Prabhakaran explains with a sense of urgency that there is a need for
“a strong bridge of a relationship to be built among the communities. Whenever small problems arise within the community, the communal societies that play a key role in each community need to sit, talk and sort each issue out”.She explains that the TMVP adopted this approach in the past to resolve any issues that arose, and posed a threat to the communal harmony.
She also recommends immediate steps to be taken by the policy makers in this regard. They are; teaching English as the link language and also promoting English medium syllabuses in selected schools, teach Tamil or Sinhala as per the requirement as an official language, inter communal and interfaith dialogue.
Importance of Sri Lankan Diaspora
The Diaspora plays a critical role in Sri Lanka. Even from thousands of miles away, they contribute to an ongoing global dialogue on Sri Lanka’s situation, future plans and are available to compliment and even criticize when necessary. Ms. Prabhakaran says
“Although they are far away, Sri Lankan’s abroad contact us and share their ideas. They say they are prepared to help in development activities”.
She warmly welcomes communication with the Diaspora and considers their words to be an extremely valuable source of encouragement and appreciates their support. She explained that most often they refer to the need for “the people of the north to be able to breathe the air of freedom just as the people of the East do now”.
The Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulihal (TMVP)
The onetime General Secretary of the TMVP, a continuing tower of strength of the Party, she firmly places emphasis on the fact that the TMVP believe in democracy and furthermore their respect for the rights of all persons, in particular, that of all children. It is this principle that led to their decision to come forward with a strong commitment and dedication to serve their people and released all the under aged cadres and now work towards securing a better future for all people and children in the East.
“Today’s children are tomorrow’s leaders, hence for a bright future, first we should provide them with a good education. In addition to school education they must be provided with language (English) and IT education. It is with the children in mind, that the Council has a committee focused on ‘Librarian Services’ and would also host reading competitions among students as part of the 90 Day programmes”
She is also of the opinion that at present it is essential to provide special programmes in order to attract young adults who have missed their childhood and education for a number of reasons.
“It is our duty to take not only the Municipality but the entire province in to account and cater programmes to the 3000 young adults, who live here and who have lost their education. They need recovery programmes to get back to their livelihoods. I take this opportunity to make an appeal to the Government and the other policy makers to concentrate on this group of people if they want a stable peace in the East”.
This profile of Ms. Sivageetha Prabhakaran was prepared by the Policy Unit of SCOPP.
(Courtesy : SCOPP )
|Last Updated ( Sunday, 04 January 2009 )|
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