Primary Industries Minister Daya Gamage said he plans to introduce rubber and cocoa plantations in 250,000 hectares of land coming under the Forest Conservation Department in Ampara.
The minister said the land would still belong to the Forest Conservation Department after the cultivation. “Even though you say it is a forest, the trees in it had been felled during the time of the previous regime. Now it is like a desert, but despite that the Forest Conservation Department still retains it. I intend growing rubber and cocoa in it. This will be done jointly with the Environment Ministry. This will generate about 30,000-40,000 jobs” the minister stated.
Dwelling on a long list of activities carried out by his ministry, Gamage said a programme to support local entrepreneurs has been initiated with World Bank assistance. Transfer of technology and financial assistance are given under this programme to project proposals that generate job opportunities or that significantly benefit the country.
“Under this programme, if an entrepreneur has Rs 1 million in hand, he can opt for an investment worth of Rs 24 million. The Ministry gives a grant of Rs 5 million and another Rs 4 million will be facilitated as a bank loan under concessionary interest rates. When it is at the implementation stage, another loan of Rs 14 million will be facilitated” he explained. Gamage said the Government hopes to create 130,000- 150,000 jobs under this programme. He said so far 1,200 applications have been received . The minister also spoke of his ministry’s plans to increase the production of local spices, herbal plants, milk, honey and aquaculture.
The minister, replying to a question by a journalist on the colossal amounts of money spent on vehicles for ministers, said that he had neither bought new vehicles nor hold a duty free permit. “I use my private vehicle and helicopter for travelling” he said while also justifying his colleagues’ move to sell the duty free vehicle permits saying that, “given the colossal amount of money needed for election campaigns under the existing electoral system such moves are not unexpected”.
He went on to say that the real value of vehicles imported by the ministers is Rs 7.5 million though it is claimed as Rs 45 million, adding that the rest of the Rs 37.5 goes back to the Treasury as tax.