Mr. Appa (not his actual name) attended a meeting convened by the President’s office through the Ministry of Estate Housing, Infrastructure and Community Development in early 2001 along with over 4,000 other tea plantation workers. These workers had been selected beforehand to receive government “self help” assistance to build permanent houses in order to raise the living conditions of tea plantation workers, who are among the poorest people in Sri Lanka. At this meeting each of the workers received Bank Savings Account Pass Books recording that Rs. 30,000 (Sri Lankan rupees) had been individually deposited in their name at the local branch of a national Bank. These pass books also contained an endorsement stating the funds could only be withdrawn with the permission of the Ministry. Mr. Appa and the other workers were informed by Ministry officials at the meeting that this endorsement would only ensure the proper use the government assistance and that the full Rs. 30,000 would be readily available to them if they undertook to construct permanent housing.
In reliance on the availability of this government assistance, Mr. Appa began construction of a permanent house on a small plot of land granted to him by the tea estate, where he had previously constructed a temporary shed for his family. After purchasing the requisite supplies and laboring on the construction, Mr. Appa sought to withdraw Rs. 10,000 from his savings account at the Bank towards the end of 2004. A bank teller consulted with the branch manager and returned the withdrawal slip to Mr. Appa with the instruction that he should seek Ministry approval for the withdrawal. Immediately Mr. Appa wrote to the Ministry explaining that the bank had declined his withdrawal and pleading for the Ministry grant its approval. The Ministry replied by mail confirming that the financial assistance remained available and stating that the withdrawal of funds from the saving account would be permitted upon documentation of membership in a community construction cooperative, possession of a available plot of land, and the progress of construction. Mr. Appa responded with the requested documentation and again plead for approval of the withdrawal, noting with urgency that his family was without housing as his temporary shed had been damaged by a mudslide due to recent heavy rain. Inexplicably the Ministry wrote back in mid 2005 with one sentence “This scheme is not under implementation.” The Ministry offered no explanation.
To be continued next week…
Posted By Adam Nord (Sri Lanka)
Posted Jan 27th, 2008