By Heshani Jayawickrama
Sri Lankan workers are an invaluable asset to South Korea and we highly appreciate the sweat they shed, and we always welcome them as brothers and sisters, remarked Ambassador of the Republic of Korea Choi Jong-Moon recently.
He made these remarks at a press conference held last Wednesday at Taj Samudra Hotel Colombo.
“Sri Lanka was allocated the largest quota in 2011 (in relative terms) for foreign employees to begin their working lives in Korea with more than 10,000 slots being made available,” he said.
Commenting on the various development cooperation programmes initiated in Sri Lanka by KOICA (Korean International Cooperation Agency), Ambassador Choi stressed on the special relationship Korea shares with Sri Lanka.
He further stated that at present, there were more than 25,000 Sri Lankan workers working in Korea through the EPS (Employee Permit System) where 15 countries were granted this special quota in 2011. Unfortunately only 6,000 slots were utilized out of the 10,000 that were available due to a variety of shortfalls such as talent mismatch and the deficiency at the compulsory Korean language proficiency test.
KOICA is a government agency in charge of implementing grants and technical cooperation programme of Korea’s Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) with a steadfast mission of making a better world by helping to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) to promote equitable and sustainable development in their partner countries. As an organization they focus on several key sectors including education, agriculture, public health and fishery development to name a few.
The Resident representative of the KOICA office in Sri Lanka Cho Sang Woo highlighted the importance of the Country Partnership Strategy (CPS) implemented by KOICA. He said, the first of the three pivotal segments was the economic and social Infrastructure programme where KOICA has been actively involved by engaging in several large-scale infrastructure projects such as the construction of the Mahanama Bridge in Matara and the establishment of integrated waste management system.
The second segment Woo pointed out was the technical and vocational education and training which elevates the standards of Sri Lanka’s available human resources through projects, such as the project for rehabilitation of 11 school classrooms and facilities in the Eastern Province and the upgrading of the Jaffna Technical College of Technology.
The third and last segment was, the good governance enhancing projects whereby government productivity, as well as transparency of public administration is sought out and encouraged. KOICA also offers a fund/grant scheme to Sri Lanka along with a ‘soft loan’ scheme through the economic development corporation fund amounting to US$ 78 million per year out of which US$ 13 million is provided as a KOICA grant whereas the remaining amount is provided as a loan.
However, according to Ambassador Choi, the amount may vary yearly and the loan is provided with a minimalistic interest rate of 0.1% per year with a payback period of 40 years.
Development of the Korean language
Ambassador Choi also stated that the continuous efforts by KOICA is a ‘reflection of the ever increasing relations between our two countries’ and that the Korean Language would be taught alongside other foreign languages from the year 2014 presumably making it easier for Sri Lankans to seek employment in Korea.
With more than 37,000 candidates sitting for the Korean language examination last year, it is regarded as a ‘passport’ for securing an employment opportunity in Korea for Sri Lankans. Several questions were raised during the press conference. It was also pointed out that the authorities were not providing proper guidance or regulated form of education. Ambassador Choi however, assured that the Korean Embassy is working on developing a standard Sinhala/Tamil-Korean text book in order to set a uniform standard to the tutoring that is taking place around the island.