Over-Sri Lanka Economic Summit 2020: We accept the challenge of uplifting the economy - PM Mahinda Rajapaksa
The Government is ready to take up the challenge of strengthening the economy of Sri Lanka by applying fresh strategies, insisted Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday while joining the second day of the Sri Lanka Economic Summit 2020 that was held as a virtual event.
He emphasised that, public/private partnerships were essential to overcome these challenges and to strengthen the economy in the years to come.
The complete speech delivered by the Prime Minister is given below:
Sri Lanka is controlling the spread of COVID-19 better than most countries. At the same time, we need to systematically manage our economy and move forward. Many accept that it is possible. We were able to gain economic progress in many fields during the past few months.
The main challenge our country is facing now is the promise President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has given to the country, the goal to achieve a ‘people-centric’ economic revival. The severe economic recession caused by the epidemic is an obstacle to efforts to revive the economy. Meanwhile, despite some predictions that disruptions could occur, minimising them and strengthening the economy is another challenge ahead of us.
You are aware that the Government has adopted a fresh approach to achieve certain goals in this regard. To protect businesses, the Government advised Banks and Financial institutions to issue ‘loan waivers.’ By properly managing the external account of the Government and protecting the rupee, we minimised public debt pressure.
Meantime, we succeeded by providing direct financial assistance to more than five million families to help them face the epidemic. We were also able to provide relief when it comes to the cost of living. Tax and leasing concessions were given to small and medium scale businesses to keep them afloat. An extended period was given to pay for water, electricity bills and license fees, and so on.
By involving public servants in all these activities, this Government was able to increase their efficiency. Steps were taken to render a continuous service to private sector institutes by the Customs, Income Tax, Excise, Board of Investment, Electricity and other relevant institutions including institutions handling fuel, Ports, Airports, Banks etc even amidst many difficulties.
Basically, the Government was able to provide all services through the utmost dedication of the country’s health sector, the three armed forces, the police and the village administration to control the epidemic. The purpose of all these activities was to uplift the lives of the people and to help businesses to get back to normal. If we had failed to do so state-wide businesses would have been severely hampered; the entire economy would be in danger of collapsing. Through that, the Government would not be able to repay the debts it has taken. If that happened then the country would be in big trouble. By such a situation, there had been a tendency for millions of individuals to lose their jobs. People would have been left in a state of despair and helplessness.
Some must have eagerly waited until the country falls into such a mess. Yet, in the midst of all these issues, our Government has been able to stabilise the economy.
However, though we are satisfied with this situation, we are aware that we must make every effort to further strengthen the economy and the lives of the people. The main objective of this Summit is also that.
We appreciate that the holistic approaches taken by the Heads of Government and Heads of Private Institutions in planning and sharing information and strategies as a very valuable endeavour. One of the main benefits of such efforts over the past few months has been the inflow of export earnings and foreign employment to the country, even higher than before the epidemic hit. Due to timely import restrictions imposed by the Government, our external accounts have received some relief and the outsourcing has also increased through those beneficiaries.
However, foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows into the country have not yet reached a level where we can be happy. The private sector also needs to be more active in order to grow those investments. Thus, we generously invite you to work on raising the bar again.
On the first day of the Economic Summit, it seems to us that you discussed strategies to be launched locally and globally. You also discussed the role of the private sector in this regard. In-depth discussions were held on how our country could continue to utilise the resources available to further develop the country's economic process. You also studied about, how technology could be used to achieve an economic renaissance. Thus it is clear that you are making a great effort to put our country back on a path of rapid growth.
Moreover, after some of the sessions we attended today, the Government agencies continue to share ideas on how to be more efficient. As everyone undoubtedly acknowledges, Government agencies play a special role in this regard.
Today we are announcing that the government would be launching around 289 projects at a collective value of over Rs 5,000 billion to be implemented by Government Ministries and Departments. It is very important to complete them with the proposed budgets and on time. In addition, there are more than 400 Government-owned enterprises involved in various services and financial services today. About 1.8 million public servants are employed in the public sector. These physical and human resources are extremely important to us. Thus, we look forward to your continuous support and commitment in the future.
Further, we are pleased that the Chamber of Commerce pays special attention to agriculture as well. Food security in any country is the responsibility of the Government. It should also be a responsibility of the people and their commitment in this regard is essential.
One of the lessons we learned as a nation during the COVID-19 pandemic was, in the event of a traumatic event or a global threat, it is very important to produce the food the country needs here. We have seen how some Governments have acted with the mindset that it is possible to import any crop, product or service in the past. We think it is clear today how dangerous the damage to a country can be if such a policy is followed.
Tourism is one of the industries most affected by COVID-19. We know that the economy has been hit hard as tourists were not allowed to enter the country from the airport and ports. We also know that many lost their sources of income and were significantly hampered due to this.
Yet, the Government took steps to provide relief measures to the industry with loans and moratoriums for repayments. That way, we must be prepared to revitalise this industry in the future, while conserving the resources of the industry.
The challenges facing our Government in 2020 are enormous. These challenges are not just due to COVID-19. We are aware that the economic recession during the period between 2015 to 2019 also affected the progress of the country.
Yet, in the face of those challenges, we did not get discouraged. We did not waste time blaming the opposition. But we fulfilled our responsibilities by fulfilling the role that the people have given to us. Accordingly, as the first step towards achieving the ‘Vision of Prosperity’ plan of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, we presented the first budget of the new Government last month.
Through the Budget 2021, the economy is expected to grow by 5.5 per cent. It is also expected to bring the macro-economic factors to a positive level and to maintain the tax policy and so on. We put forward the necessary proposals to give a new impetus to the economy. We are sure that the board members of the Chamber of Commerce are also interested to help rejuvenate our economy. We are happy about the fact that the private sector has accepted the economic rehabilitation of the country as a liability for them as well. This is a very important trend. We would like to thank everyone in this regard on behalf of the Government.
The next few years are crucial for our country as we decide on our economic progress; it is a time for a strong upheaval. If we are to succeed in this we must all work together; challenges must be managed properly and we also need to implement fresh strategies. We sense that you are ready for this.
As a Government we are ready to accept those responsibilities and challenges. And we invite everybody to join us, to take the country towards an economic revival. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to all, including the Chairman of the Board, Dr. Hans Wijayasuriya.