to business in Jaffna
By Rajika Chelvaratnam
buying vegetables at a pola
JAFFNA - The
ruined shops and houses among endless rows of palmyrah trees that
line the road from Palaly airport to Jaffna town bear witness to
just how much peace is needed in this once prosperous area.
The first signs
of life can be seen near the famous Nallur kovil in Jaffna, which
is surrounded by some small-time business concerns. Some are in
the process of being rebuilt and the shopkeepers are reluctant to
answer the question of 'outsiders' from Colombo.
kovil is the shop of Rajah, called 'Rajah Fancy Stores'. Goods range
from imitation jewellery to toys and cosmetics. He managed to continue
with his business even during the war from which he suffered tremendously.
"I had to constantly close and reopen my shop every time there
was a crisis," he said. There was no stability.
Now he happily claims that there is no problem at all. The number
of customers has increased and he fervently hopes that the present
peaceful conditions would continue so that he could maintain his
livelihood without a hitch.
At the Bastian
Hotel in Jaffna, the receptionist was polite and welcoming. The
restaurant was clean and neat and looked as if it had received a
fresh coat of paint. The owner, M.S. Sounderanayagam, was wary of
speaking to strangers and offered brief answers. He started the
restaurant in 1997 and since then was forced to close it at least
twice. "Even now we don't get many customers, but there is
a slight increase after we opened the bar," he said, adding
that the income was not satisfactory yet. The hotel necessities
are bought from Jaffna itself.
A couple of
guests at the hotel turned out to be businessmen from Colombo. They
came to Jaffna to scout around and assess the prospects of doing
business. They wished to remain anonymous but said they were from
a Colombo-based electrical engineering company. "We have come
to Jaffna looking for future prospects," one said. "We
feel that soon there will be a lot of expansion and construction
work in Jaffna. Already we have some contacts here."
They were invited
by their local contacts and are trying to set up a joint venture.
They appeared to be "very hopeful" of their plans to open
up a business in the north after the initial exploratory period.
"We want to see what contribution we can make because Jaffna
is in a terrible state," one said. The arrival of businessmen
from Colombo is seen as a definite ray of hope to this war-torn
just outside Jaffna, business has been greatly affected by the war
and much of the town is in ruins. A pavement hawker selling his
wares on a mat - miniature radios, Walkmans and batteries - had
come from Jaffna to assess prospects for business amid the devastation.
Mohammed Roshan hopes that the current peace effort would bring
back his business to its former status.
itself was more lively, with rows of shops selling fabrics and groceries
and fruits and vegetables. One particular grocery store called 'Saravanaa'
was situated in an old building. The owner, who declined to be identified,
said he moved to Jaffna from Colombo after the 1983 ethnic riots.
His business was not much affected by the war, he said, adding that
he could not say the same for all the shops in the area.
with the period before the latest truce, he could see only a slight
improvement now. "The town lacked life during those days, but
I can't say that I was really affected," he said. "But
I can't say the same for other businessmen in this area. I can't
say that we were all able to earn equally high amounts. Only those
who brought down goods directly from Colombo were relatively successful."
He hopes that the peace process will result in the influx of more
people, which will naturally increase his income.
in the heart of Jaffna, as opposed to its outskirts, seemed to be
somewhat unaffected by the war as far as their incomes were concerned.
This was because most of the people in Jaffna town remained despite
the war. Tour operators in Jaffna are among those doing well with
the large numbers of people visiting the area. The driver of a mini
van said he charges around Rs. 3,000 for a tour around certain areas
in Jaffna have seen the good times again with demand soaring following
the reopening of the land route to the peninsula. One vendor selling
dew-fresh vegetables said that peace has made things extremely easy
for him. "Since there is an influx of people from all over
to Jaffna, it is very beneficial to us." He was one of those
displaced to the Wanni and had come back in 1997. Peace, he said,
has definitely brought many benefits but there is still not enough
tangible economic development. "But I am hopeful," he