President’s Stance Matches His Promise
By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando
Lieutenant Colonel Gotabaya Rajapaksa became the President of Sri Lanka on 16 November 2019. He was not a politician but an administrator. During his tenure, as the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development from 2005 to 2015, under the administration of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, he demonstrated his mettle. His decisions managed to finish the thirty-year terrorist war and helped to crumble the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that waged a guerrilla war for thirty years, fighting for an independent homeland for Tamils in Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka. The LTTE was a ruthless militant separatist group that introduced the suicide jacket to the world. As the Defence Secretary, he made the correct decisions at the appropriate time in eradicating the entire LTTE to smithereens. Apart from that, he demonstrated his disposition by converting Colombo City into the cleanest City in Asia and transforming public parks into walking paths for people to walk and exercise. When voters became fed up with politicians, up to their teeth, he became the President of Sri Lanka with a two-thirds majority.
In his election manifesto, he promised to make the country self-sufficient and develop it towards 'vistas of prosperity and splendour' (fulfil the people’s wishes or productive citizenry). However, within a few days of his taking oaths as the President, the Covid-19 pandemic surfaced worldwide, affecting the global economy, including Sri Lanka.
When the plague hit Sri Lanka, President's priority was to keep the citizens healthy and alive. Therefore, he concentrated on combating the pandemic effectively. The President liaised with world leaders and got down vaccines to combat spreading of the Coronavirus. It cost the Government millions of US Dollars. Presently health workers and over 60s get a booster injection. The Government paid Rs 5000 to affected families of the plague, and to those who depended on a daily wage when the country had to shut down for an extended period in the beginning and later intermittently. It cost the Government extensively, but none of the Opposition parties seem to understand this factor, or is it a horrendous political game played by them for political mileage?
There was another aspect in his election promises to make Sri Lanka free from poisonous food intake. He openly declared that he would stop importing toxic fertiliser and replace it with Carbonic manure. However, as Ven. Muruththetuwe Ananda Thera exposed in the 'Derana 360' programme, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was misinformed by his advice-givers about the ban of importing toxic fertiliser suddenly.
The consensus of every farmer and many erudite professionals is that farmers should have given a specific time for adaptation, say at least from next Kanne! It made farmers stage protests all over the country, and in some areas, farmers invited the President to come and see for himself. This has caused the Government as unwarranted head-ache! The respected monk did not want to expose the names of the President's advisers on TV, but said he is prepared to name those who ill-advised him if the President makes a personal request to the Venerable Thera to do so. Nevertheless, none of the farmers in the south is making a fuss about switching over to carbonic fertiliser. Still, only a section from Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa districts are staging protests! An accusing finger directs at the Minister for the inadequacy in the importation of fertiliser, and the officials who oversee manure distribution.
Meanwhile, consumer prices have skyrocketed mainly due to the increase in global price index following the Covid-19 pandemic. Rubbing salt to the wound, the inclement weather in Sri Lanka made the situation worse! Consequently, economies all over the world are suffering. That has affected the President too in wanting to do what he had planned. The cardinal point is that the ordinary man and woman in the street or village cannot understand this fact. The TV Media does not help either in this global crisis. What would one expect when a TV anchor-man holds a microphone to an ordinary man in the street and wants to know his views about the escalating consumer prices? Naturally, he will criticise the Government! The Opposition parties turn a blind eye to the soaring worldwide prices and join the bandwagon and pretend it is the Government's fault! Either they are naive or purposely do this for their political advantage and damage the Government's reputation. It is also fair by the people when they criticise because folks in the street grumble of the daily increase in commodity prices and their lives turn into chaos! It is a vicious cycle. But to understand this factor, one needs to be intelligent!
Sri Lanka Opposition parties do not want to understand this fact on purpose. They want to politicise everything. Usually, the Opposition in the other countries supports the respective Governments in a crisis, especially when the country is in a catastrophic situation. In England, for example, the Opposition criticises when the Government takes a wrong path, but, in a crisis, they harmonise with the Government of the day and refrain from stooping to such low levels of joining with the protesters like in Sri Lanka, especially in a pandemic situation. It became evident during World War II and during Margaret Thatcher's Premiership when she decided to go to war with Falklands Islands. Still, the Opposition Labour Party at the time did cordially cooperate with the Conservatives on a national issue! However much the Opposition criticises in the House of Commons, they ultimately harmonise with the current Government on a national difficulty.
Contrary to such level-headed behaviour, what we see in Sri Lanka today is rather pathetic. The Opposition leader joins the protesters and marches on the streets, bellowing slogans against the Government! Apart from that, the Opposition leader promised to import toxic fertiliser in an SJB government! One wonders whether he has any coherent sense when he publicly utters such statements when thousands of farmers suffer from Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD).
In 2001 UNESCO declared 10 November as The World Science Day for Peace and Development. Sri Lanka noticed this day with a function at Temple Trees. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, at the celebration, announced that “the Opposition should support what is suitable for the country's future". He further said, "The country opened up again after a long shutdown. All activities are functioning but warned that there is a risk of Covid-19 spreading again due to demonstrations and protests." It is up to the citizens to follow all the health guidelines of the Department of Health and the instructions given by specialist doctors. Unless the public listen to the health advice, the country will need to lockdown again! In two years’, time, the President’s period will end, but during this breathing space, his sincere hope is to show an enormous responsibility to protect the citizens against
COVID-19. He declared that "the Opposition must understand this situation. Due to mismanagement and blotches during their five years in power, citizens elected me as the new President of Sri Lanka. But the behaviour of the Opposition is deplorable. Today, the Opposition behaves as if they were not in power for the past five years! This state of affairs must change for the betterment of the country."
Impact of Science and Technology
The President stressed the importance of science and technology as vital in every field of work. In the absence of technical know-how, he said that future generations would face challenges. Therefore, his emphasis was establishing an urgent educational system for the future generation with advanced technology. Technology and innovation stimulated in Sri Lanka due to the Government implementing programmes directed at technology-based culture. It was in line with the 'vistas of prosperity and splendour policy (Sawbhagye Dekma) of the President’. Consequently, Sri Lanka that was in the 101st place in 2020 of the Global Innovation Index has advanced to 95th place in 2021.
At the World Science Day for Peace and Development programme the National Engineering Research and Development Centre demonstrated its Oxygen Concentrator Machine to the audience.The Minister Namal Rajapaksa announced about the Government’s intention to set up one thousand five hundred innovative laboratories in schools islandwide. Signifying this enterprise, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa offered cheques and necessary school equipment to nine schools in several provinces.
Minister Namal Rajapaksa added that it would enhance the Grama Seva schemes to convert into electronic methods. He also suggested to introduce digital identity cards but the consensus is against this move as many consider that people's privacy is lost. For instance, in the UK, when a person gets out of his front door, officials can monitor his movements via CCTV cameras. Although it sounds like a good scheme, it also has its drawbacks in digitising ID cards as it contains all private information about the person.