British firms ‘frustrated’ by funding dispute between government and Tamil Tigers in north and east of country

Political tensions between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers rebels are blocking British reconstruction aid in the north and east of the tsunami-devastated country.

The British Consultants and Construction Bureau has admitted to the “frustration” felt by members that have offered aid, and consultant Atkins has found that it has been unable to assist the Tamil-speaking areas in the north and east of the island.

The Tamil Tigers want funding aid to go directly to them so that they can administer it at a local level.

This is contested by the central government, against whom the rebel group has fought a bitter civil war since the 1980s.

Douglas Kerr, BCCB director for Africa and Asia Pacific, said: “It’s a very difficult environment anyway to get things done quickly, but there is probably an issue with funding. There seems to be a sense of frustration for people out there trying to get things done.”

Roger North, director of Atkins Sri Lanka, said: “We’ve offered assistance [in the north] but until funding is sorted out it’s difficult. The political situation between the government and the Tamil Tigers has not helped.”

There is the added problem that the Tigers are not separating the reconstruction needed as a result of the tsunami, and previous rebuilding required because of the civil war. North said that the Asian Development Bank is only giving aid for tsunami-related devastation.

Tamil areas were already in decline – there aren’t even the basic resources

Roger North, Atkins Sri Lanka

North added: “You have to divide the country into the south and the north and east. In the south it is purely logistical – to get resources mobilised. The Tamil-controlled areas were already in decline, even before the war started.

Now there aren’t even the basic resources or people skilled enough to build roads.”

In the south, Atkins has been able to assist and has three people in the region. The latest employee to fly over went last weekend, providing engineering assistance on water tanks for temporary relocation areas.

Many of these areas have seen their wells infected.

Atkins is also helping to provide programme management to the Task Force for Rebuilding the Nation, one of the three taskforces set up by Chandrika Kumaratunga, the president of Sri Lanka.

This involves managing the country’s construction capacity, and is part of a £840m rebuilding programme. This job was secured after a visit North made with the BCCB to the nation last month.