Stating that his planning is not for his own betterment, but for the young generation of the country, President Ranil Wickremesinghe said if Sri Lanka is built through a solid national economic policy, it would be able to become a developed country by 2048, when the 100th Independence Anniversary will be celebrated.
“I am not like other politicians. I have a long-term vision and plan. I clearly know that I would not eat the fruit of the tree that I plant. But tomorrow, our future generations will enjoy the fruit,” he said.
Wickremesinghe said this while delivering the Government’s Policy Statement yesterday (3) at the inauguration of the Third Session of the Ninth Parliament.
The President again invited parties in Parliament to unite in the formation of an All-Party Government.
“After 1977, we failed to modernise and adjust with time. Without focusing on modernisation of the economy, we were engaged in competitive, short-sighted, and destructive narrow politics.
We have now minimised power cuts, we are in the process of bringing fertiliser required for cultivation. There is no shortage of gas, and soon everyone would be able to obtain it without queuing. Precautionary measures have been taken to avoid food shortages. Bringing essential drugs and medical equipment to the hospitals have been initiated. Schools have been reopened.”
The President thanked Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Indian people for their assistance provided to Sri Lanka at this critical juncture.
“Presently, the immediate requirement before us is fuel. While appreciating the international assistance in addressing the fuel shortage, we have to initiate a system for such importation from our own export income and foreign remittances,” he said.
Wickremesinghe said a framework which will be the basis for the country’s future journey will be presented through the Interim Budget.
Speaking about the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a
four-year programme, he said the discussions will be continued from this month. The finalisation of the debt restructuring plan has commenced in collaboration with Lazard and Clifford Chance, who are international financial and legal experts. We would submit this plan to the IMF, he added.
“Our economic legacy is based on foreign trade. From the ancient times, Sri Lanka was known worldwide as a major economic hub located on the Maritime Silk Road (MSR). Our ultimate goal is to re-establish that past legacy to create a strong and developed green economy.”
“As a result of the economic crisis we are facing today, the income disparity in society is widening. The middle class is shrinking. On the other hand, businesses and industries are facing serious challenges, exacerbated by the loss of employment.
The amount of remittances sent by migrant workers to Sri Lanka has dropped, for several reasons. This situation is gradually changing, and we are taking measures to encourage remittances to Sri Lanka through the banking system.
Tourists mostly come from the month of August. Necessary initiatives are being taken to attract more tourists to Sri Lanka,” he said.
Wickremesinghe said he is taking measures to establish a Social Justice Commission.
“Enormous loss was caused to our country due to opposing foreign investments. People are also aware of the losses caused to the country due to corruption and fraud,” the President said.
When we tried to develop the oil tank complex in Trincomalee together with India, it was stated that Sri Lanka would be a sell-out to India and this development project was halted. If at that time we were allowed to develop the oil tank complex, today people would not have to spend many days in queues for fuel.
Even when the ‘Suvasariya’ ambulance service was initiated, a similar objection was raised. Some doctors held media briefings stating that “if the patient comes to the hospital by the ‘Suvasariya’ ambulance service, deaths will occur.”
When Japan offered to establish the Light Rail Transit (LRT) and develop the Container Terminal in the port, it was opposed by giving a number of baseless reasons. Therefore, our country lost more than USD 3 billion in investments. Regrettably, the traditional friendship between Japan and Sri Lanka has been adversely affected.”
The Government is presently preparing a National Economic Policy for the next 25 years which lays the foundation for a social market economic system, securing development for the poor and underprivileged groups and encouraging small and medium entrepreneurs.
Our aim is to create a surplus in the primary budget by the year 2025. Our effort is to raise the economic growth rate to a stable stage, in order to establish a solid economic foundation by the year 2026. At present, public debt is 140 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Our plan is to bring this down to less than 100 per cent by the year 2032.
If we build the country and the economy through the national economic policy, we would be able to become a fully developed country by the year 2048, when we celebrate the 100th anniversary of independence.
The struggle that started all over Colombo expecting system change was later centralised in Galle Face. This was expanded to several major cities in the island. This struggle was conducted on a non-violent basis and creative manner. These activists did not commit any act of violence. Therefore, families joined the struggle to express their protests. Parents were not afraid to even bring children to the protest sties.
Protesters once digitally illuminated the walls of the Presidential Secretariat, without any harm. Although, later this non-violence was suppressed and violence emerged, with certain politicised groups that became stakeholders. By indulging in violence, the protests turned towards terrorism.
I do not allow violence and terrorism. However, I will protect non-violence and democracy. Peaceful struggle is a fundamental right. I accept those rights, he added.
Wickremesinghe rejected that he is engaged in a witch-hunt against the protesters. “That is not true. I have no grudge towards peaceful protesters. I will establish an office to protect the peaceful protesters and support them,” he said, and added that the law will be applied equally to the people who attacked the peaceful protesters on 9 May and those who are engaging in violence and terrorism under the guise of the struggle.
“I kindly request the people not to stay in unauthorised places anymore, and therefore, request the peaceful strugglers to vacate the unauthorised places and assist to maintain law and order,” he said.
“I consider that the creation of a new Constitution with new attitudes in order to provide space for youth is one of the main priority tasks.
At present, the President has the full right to appoint the members of the Election Commission, Public Service Commission, Police Commission, Judicial Service Commission, etc. I directly say that it is not a favourable condition for democracy. We should change that condition. Presently, it has inherited more power to the President than a previous king of Sri Lanka. It should be changed immediately.
As I mentioned earlier, measures are being taken to establish the Parliamentary Sectoral Oversight Committees immediately.”
Ever since I entered politics, I wanted to create a society with a Sri Lankan identity without these divisions, the President said, adding that although many criticised his attempts in the past to achieve that, he is happy to see that people, especially the youth have accepted that they want to continue his policies.
It is also essential to provide a political solution to the issues faced by the Tamil community for a long time. They are suffering with many social and economic issues due to the hardships of war. There are many land issues that need to be resolved. We have to think anew about the development tasks in the North, he said.
“Similarly, women, who are the majority of the population, still face issues of harassment, violence, and other discrimination and inadequacy. We have to take necessary measures to change this situation.”
I am taking measures to establish a People’s Assembly to decide which social and political reforms should be implemented, he said.
By Gagani Weerakoon and Methmalie Dissanayake