The Daily Mirror spoke to Skills Development and Vocational Training Minister Chandima Weerakkody on Technical Education and the current political situation in the country.
Q As the new Minister of Skills Development and Vocational Training what’s the biggest challenge you face?
Sri Lanka doesn’t have a severe unemployment problem as such in real sense compared to our neighbouring countries. But we don’t have suitable persons for numerous jobs that demand various skills. If you go through the employment section of any Sunday newspaper, Sinhala or English, you will observe how many jobs are available in the public sector and particular in the private sector.
My biggest challenge as the Minister of Skills Development and Vocational Training is to prepare youth to grab those jobs and qualify themselves for any jobs in the market. They have to simply build a demand for themselves in the job market and not be in a position where there have to go after employers pleading for jobs.
The SLFP will never agree on amending the unitary character of the State.
The severity of unemployment is aptly displayed when you check the number of applications received for a vacancy advertised by a private or a State establishment. If we have an employable work force, that will be a great boost to the industry, economy and aid in addressing unemployment. Overall, it will be a tremendous contribution to the national economy and help increase the GDP.
- Biggest challenge is to prepare youth to qualify for jobs available
- Ministry to establish Youth Clubs with NVQ awareness to address the issue of school dropouts
- There will be a thorough performance review of the ‘Yahapalana Government’
- Clashes within Government & Cabinet highlights democracy at its best
- The two factions of the SLFP must unite soon
- Quality private education will prevent youth from seeking higher education abroad
- The right to decide on our energy sources and national assets must be with the people
- Private Public Partnership involving national assets must be shared on 51/49 ratio
- Democracy restored in every aspect
Q What is your strategy to make 1.5% primary school and 2% lower secondary school dropouts among our student population turn themselves into useful and productive citizens?
My Ministry expects to set up ‘Youth Clubs’ in schools in association with the Education Ministry to create awareness among students on NVQ and train them on various skills in the event they failed to pursue higher education.
With the resurgence of the construction industry through which several dozens of condominiums and hotel projects are being built, we need skilled labour. They must be youth with NVQ who can draw better salaries. A youth with an NVQ certificate will also be equipped with English or any other global language. Another project I have initiated is to open an ‘Ocean University’ on a ship to train youth on Oceanography, so that such a qualified person can be in big demand in the global job market.
If we have an employable work force, that will be a great boost to the industry, economy and aid in addressing unemployment. Overall, it will be a tremendous contribution to the national economy and also help increase the GDP.
Q The biggest headache for policy makers and educationists is to make a citizen who drops out after either GCE O’L or A/L who can contribute towards national development. How do you face this challenge as the Minister of Skills Development and Vocational Training?
The best solution to for the youth who have failed to pursue higher education at the University level is to obtain the National Vocational Qualification (NVQ). The course provides training, needed for various disciplines, that command a demand in the local and global market. We have already given NVQ training to 5,000 youth and they have already secured jobs oversea and in Sri Lanka.
The establishment of a ‘Skilled Task Force’ and a Nursing School to train nurses to fill overseas vacancies are other steps taken in this regard.
Q The two-year agreement signed between the UNP and the SLFP on which the ‘Yahapalana Government’ was formed expires in August this year. What will happen afterwards?
The two parties are discussing the issue with the intention of continuing governance until 2020. There will be a thorough review of the performance of the ‘Yahapalana Government’ during the past two years before we enter into any new agreement. Two high level committees have been appointed with the task of revisiting the agreement that led to the forming of this government.
Q Are you satisfied with the performance of the ‘Yahapalana Government’ which operated during the past two years?
Yes and no. Talking on the plus points of the ‘Yahapalana Government’ we have been able to restore democracy in every aspect of governance and public life, reestablish media freedom and the rule of law, introduce Constitutional Amendments to prune executive powers of the President, establish independent commissions and most importantly restore the dignity of Sri Lanka and earn the respect of the global community.
But we have failed in exposing major frauds and corruption. The cost of living is high. The living condition of the people hasn’t improved as expected.
True on face value. But I don’t think true SLFPers would distanced themselves from their party just because we have differences.
Q What is this controversy over the proposed Constitution?
Whatever said and done, the SLFP would never agree to amend the ‘unitary character of the state’, change the most important position given to Buddhism and dilute the rights of the people. The draft Constitution must be subject to an extensive public debate throughout the country before it’s presented in parliament. The SLFP wouldn’t agree to a Constitution that wouldn’t receive the full support and approval of the people. Our main concern is to protect the people’s rights. Most importantly our President and party leader Maithripala Sirisena would never agree to a clause in the draft Constitution which is detrimental to the national interests of Buddhism and the sovereignty of the country.
Q It’s a common occurrence that politicians and cabinet ministers representing the UNP and SLFP clash openly while debating on various issues. Your views please.
That highlights democracy at its best, both in our government and in the cabinet. All members of the ‘Yahapalana Government’ are free to express their views regarding any issue. Anyone can protest against the shortcomings of the government. It’s true that the policies, strategies and thinking of the two main parties are different and this has led to the cutting of the steady path the national government now treads on.
Q There’s no doubt that the split within the SLFP is advantageous to the UNP, given there is an election. How could the SLFP rectify this?
This view is true if you skim through the surface of the problem. But I don’t think a true SLFPer will distance him or herself from the party just because we have differences among ourselves. We must also admit the fact that we are on a sticky wicket as long as we remain divided. The two factions of the SLFP must unite soon. There will be no political power that will be able to challenge a united SLFP.
The two parties will discuss the issue with the intention of continuing governance until 2020.
Q The government has lost on the SAITM issue. Do you agree?
Not at all. I would like to talk about the bigger picture. Nearly 350,000 students get qualified every year to continue with higher education after their A/Ls. Only 26,000 are lucky enough to enroll for university education. What about the rest? That is why we need to promote private education. I am against SAITM because it has problems regarding standards connected to the clinical training of medical students. If we are to provide a better quality education through our private education institutions, we would be able to prevent our youth from going abroad for higher education and stop the draining of billions of rupees annually, monies that go to foreign universities.
We have failed in exposing major frauds and corruption and the cost of living is high. The living conditions of the people haven’t improved as expected.
In 2011, the government permitted SAITM to train MBBS students. In 2012, a loan worth Rs. 600 million was approved for SAITM. The GMOA didn’t oppose this. What is most important is that we must also protect the rights of the SAITM students and there must be a way to allow them to qualify as doctors.
Q Certain media reports revealed that you were handed this Ministry because you protested against the proposal to lease out the Trincomalee tank farm to an Indian company. How true is this?
I am totally against selling of our national assets. The right to decide on our energy sources and national assets must be with the people. My position is that a Private Public Partnership involving national assets must be shared on 51/49 ratio with the state having the majority share. I opposed the leasing of the Trincomalee tank farm in 2003 to Indians. As a result only 15 tanks were leased to them.
Q Are you satisfied with your new portfolio?
Yes, I am. I can fulfill a social responsibility both easily and happily with my current portfolio. With that, I can do my bit for the President Sirisena, the government and in particularly the young generation.
The severity of unemployment is aptly displayed when you check the number of applications received for a vacancy advertised by a private or a state establishment.