Colombo, January 3 (newsin.asia): Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said here on Friday, that Sri Lanka will never allow other countries to take its “economically significant geographic regions or physical resources.”
Gotabaya was delivering his first-ever address to parliament after winning the Presidential election on November 16.
The President’s remark quoted above is extremely significant in the context of world and regional powers wanting parts of Sri Lanka’s strategic assets in order to advance their strategic, political and economic interests.
“Our country’s unique position has resulted in considerable attention being given towards Sri Lanka in global geopolitics in recent times. We follow a neutral foreign policy. We must strive to maintain friendly relations with every country. However, we can never give up our independence. We must establish an honorable governance that will allow this country to maintain its sovereignty, security, national pride, and deal with all nations on equal terms, without demonstrating weakness in our diplomatic or trading relationships,” the President said and added: “ We will never allow other countries to take our economically significant geographic regions or physical resources.”
The President further said: “It is my aspiration to ensure that the Sri Lankan people will become a proud people with a global standing. We can overcome all the obstacles in our path to reaching that goal if we unite as a nation.”
No To Federalism
On the issue of changing the constitution to bring about ethnic reconciliation, the President ruled out bringing in a Federal system in place of the present Unitary system. Tamils have been clamoring for a federal structure since 1948.
“In accordance with our Constitution, I pledge that during my term of office, I will always defend the unitary status of our country, and protect and nurture the Buddha Sasana whilst safeguarding the right of all citizens to practice a religion of their choice,” Gotabaya asserted.
Minority Communal Politics
The President asked the MPs and the people of Sri Lanka to respect the will of the majority community, without naming it. He decried the politics of manipulation which he hinted is being practiced by the parties of the minority Tamils and Muslims.
“The people who elected me to office desired a profound change in the political culture of this country. They rejected political agendas founded on race. The majority of the people proved that it is no longer possible for anyone to manipulate and control the politics of this country by playing the role of king maker,” he said in a veiled reference to the politics of the small parties representing the minority Tamils and Muslims.
“I invite the politicians concerned to understand this reality. I call upon all to join together in the national undertaking to develop this country, and to reject the politics based on petty agendas that have sown division in our society in the past,” he said.
“We must always respect the aspirations of the majority of the people. It is only then that the sovereignty of the people will be safeguarded” the President added.
On constitutional changes he envisages, Gotabaya said: “The success of a democracy rests upon the Constitution. The 1978 Constitution, which has since been amended on 19 occasions, has given rise to many problems at the present time because of its inherent ambiguities and confusions. “
“In order to safeguard the security, sovereignty, stability and integrity of our country, it is essential that changes be made to the existing constitution.”
“Whilst preserving the positive characteristics of the proportional representation system, electoral reforms are needed to ensure the stability of the Parliament and to ensure the direct representation of the people.”
“Even though elections can be won through numbers, an unstable Parliament that cannot take clear decisions and remains constantly under the influence of extremism is not one that suits the country. We can solve this problem through constitutional reforms that will establish a strong executive, legislature and an independent judiciary that can ensure the sovereignty of the people.”
Priority For National Security
National Security occupies the “foremost place,” in his agenda, the President said, and added: “ We have already taken steps to strengthen the national security apparatus. Talented officers have been given appropriate responsibilities again. We have taken steps to ensure proper coordination between the Armed Forces and the Police, who are collectively responsible for maintaining national security. The network of national intelligence agencies has been reorganized and strengthened.”
“We will take all necessary steps to make our motherland a safe country free of terrorism, extremism, underworld activities, theft and robbery, extortionists, the drug menace, disruptors of public order, and the abuse of women and children.”
In his statement entitled: “ Visions of Prosperity and Splendor” Gotabaya said: “We must ensure that the benefits of development reach every group of people. We must employ modern methodologies and indicators to gauge whether the needs of the people are truly being met, and whether they are happy. It is no longer necessary to wait for elections to find out how people feel about the work programme of the Government.”
“ Eliminating poverty is a priority of our Government. We must understand the causes of poverty and find solutions to eliminate such causes. We will be able to alleviate poverty by finding practical approaches to issues such as the lack of proper education or skills, the lack of land for cultivation, or the lack of capital for self-employment.”
“We have made plans to find employment opportunities for 100,000 young men and women from low income families within the next month. My government is prepared to present practical solutions to resolve unemployment, with the public sector and the private sector working together.”
“ The Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour” manifesto aims to ensure economic stability for all citizens, provide equal opportunities to all who seek to improve themselves, to establish a clean and efficient state sector that is committed to public service, and to protect and empower local entrepreneurs.”
Wanting Sri Lanka to be a technology oriented country, the President said: “Today, most countries have employed technology as a means of enhancing the efficiency of the state sector. Through this, it will also be possible to provide equal opportunities for all. As such, we will pay special attention to increasing the use of technology in government institutions.”
“During the period from 2005 to 2014, the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa planned to develop Sri Lanka into the commercial hub of South Asia. The Mattala Airport was built adjacent to the Hambantota Port with the aim of establishing an industrial city in the south. The decision to develop the Colombo Port City was taken with the aim of making Sri Lanka a hub for finance and commerce in Asia. We must carry forward these projects that were designed according to achieve long term objectives.”
“If we work according to a proper plan, we will be able to encourage international businesses to locate themselves in Sri Lanka and supply goods and services to regional neighbors. To encourage such investors, we must be prepared to swiftly provide all the facilities they require within Sri Lanka.”
“ For economic development to occur, it is important that we accelerate improvements to the road network, including the expressways, so that travel from any one part of the country to another in a few hours becomes possible. The development of the train service is an integral part of this programe. We can also help alleviate the grave problem of heavy road congestion through an efficient and comfortable train service,” the President said.
“Urbanisation brings both good and bad results to a country. We need a restructuring program to ensure that the benefits of development reach every region of the country. This will help us reduce congestion, pollution and the cost of living. People dispersed throughout Sri Lanka should have access to facilities for education and healthcare, and opportunities for employment, within their own area. The development of the roads and rail network together with the provision of high-speed internet and telecommunication facilities throughout the country is essential for this.”
Stressing the need for cheap and clean energy Gotabaya said: “The cost of electricity is an important factor in economic development. It particularly affects the attracting of investors to the industry sector. We need short-term and long-term solutions to generate power at a reasonable price. In looking at long term solutions, our principle is to pay special attention to the use of eco-friendly renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and hydro-power.”
The President mentioned other sectors which need development. “Although our country is rich in gem and mineral resources, relevant value-added industries have not yet developed to international standards. Each year, the country is deprived of significant foreign exchange earnings.”
“Through the export of these natural resurces without value addition. We should establish a world class marketplace in which gems from not only Sri Lanka but even from African nations can be sold after value addition.”
“While we should provide new technological facilities for conducting oceanic and geological surveys, we must provide special incentives to encourage investments in industries that will provide value addition to Sri Lanka’s mineral resources.”
“When planning for the future, more attention than at present must be given to the agriculture, plantation and fisheries sectors. As a country that possesses a large oceanic economic zone in temperate waters, we can develop these industries much further. We need to increase earnings from agricultural produce such as spices, fruits, vegetables, grains, meat and fish, for which there is export potential.”
“One third of the country’s population is engaged in agriculture, plantation industries and the fisheries sector. We must raise their standard of living. There is a need for new technology-based approaches that can develop these industries beyond traditional farming methods.”
“Encouraging the production of food free of pesticides and chemicals, by increasing the use of organic fertilizer for agriculture is part of our policy. We must prepare plans to encourage Sri Lanka’s entire agriculture sector to shift to using only organic fertilizer within the next decade. Increasing domestic production of organic fertilizer should be included in these plans.”
“The problems that had been caused to growers of export-oriented crops through the allowing of unlimited re-exports were addressed by the new Government soon after its assumption of office. Instructions have already been issued to completely stop the re-export of agricultural products.”
More attention has to be paid to the ocean economy, the President said. “We will introduce a systematic program to improve the fisheries sector through the introduction of new technologies and equipment. Existing harbors will be improved and new harbours developed to cater to the requirements of multi day vessels that engage in deep water fishing. Introducing new technologies to further develop the inland fisheries sector is also part of our plan.”
Protecting the natural environment for our future generations is one of our fundamental responsibilities, Gotabaya said. “We will pay special attention to environmental protection in the formulation and implementation of government policies.”
“Our most valuable resource as a nation is our future generation. As such, we have identified the development of our human capital as one of the primary responsibilities of the government.”
On educational development, the President said: “We have to pay special attention to ensuring that our future generation will become productive citizens by nurturing them with the required knowledge, skills and abilities. The opportunities young people have to pursue higher education and technical education should be broadened. The infrastructure facilities needed for this must be developed within a short time frame. The number of students entering tertiary education can be increased through more effective utilization of the capacities of state universities and other higher educational institutions.”
“Some of the courses taught in universities today are not in consonance with market requirements. In the near future, we intend to introduce short-term courses to equip our university students to meet the needs of the modern job market, which they can opt to attend whilst pursuing their current courses of study. Universities and other higher education institutions should be given more freedom in the enrollment of students and in the restructuring of their syllabi to meet the needs of the marketplace.”
“Institutions in the country that currently teach diploma level programes must be gradually enhanced to the level of degree awarding institutions. As a preliminary step, we look forward to upgrading teacher training schools and nursing schools to degree awarding level. The shortage of trained graduate teachers continues to be a problem in the education sector. Further, by upgrading the existing 3-year diploma programme in Nursing into a 4-year degree, and by improving the English knowledge of nurses, we will create opportunities for them to even seek work abroad by providing services that meet international quality standards.”
“Colleges which provide technical and industrial training need to be strengthened to cater to more students who have studied up to the Ordinary Level examinations but not progressed beyond the Advanced Level examinations. The funding and facilities provided to these institutions need to be increased. This will not only enable us to create a workforce that has received vocational training in line with global standards, but also enable such trained personnel to seek high wage employment in the fast-evolving marketplace both here and abroad.”
Need To Teach English
Many young people are currently deprived of employment opportunities due to their lack of proficiency in English, the President said. “We will introduce a special programme to improve the facilities provided for English education in all schools, and to recruit the required teaching staff.”
“We intend to entrust our foreign Missions with special responsibilities to seek new employment opportunities for our youth. We can enhance Sri Lanka’s image in the global job market and earn more foreign income by sending trained and qualified workers in all fields to work abroad, instead of untrained workers.”
“The education sector can be a significant foreign exchange earner. A large number of Sri Lankan students presently study at higher educational institutes in Asia. Instead of sending our students abroad for higher education at a high cost, we should introduce a programme to attract foreign students to Sri Lanka. We must prepare short term and long term programes to improve the global ranking of our universities.”
With a population of over 5 billion, Asia is undergoing an economic boom and the center of gravity of the global economy is moving towards it, the President noted and then said: “The fastest growing middle class with high purchasing power is in this region. That is why we must encourage our local entrepreneurs to seek new markets in Asia.”
“The 21st Century is known as the Knowledge-centric Century.
New technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, biotechnology, robotics, 3D printing, and the Internet of Things, amongst others, are continually changing the world. Most developing nations have grasped this reality. They are spending substantially to attract technology centric investments.”
“We must pay attention to this in the formulation of our investment policies. We must understand what type of investments we need to spur future economic development. We must provide special incentives and concessions to encourage investors who are capable of introducing new technologies to the country.”
“It is also very important to direct our youth to learn these new technologies and undertake research relevant to them. We must assist our education system to speedily prepare to facilitate this change without delay. We must also take steps to promote English education as well as Information Technology usage amongst our youth.”
Tourism To Be Boosted
“It is important to understand that we have market opportunities beyond technology heavy sectors. One sector we can very swiftly develop is the tourism industry. This sector, which earned 4.4 billion USD in 2018, has space to grow to one that can earn revenue in excess of 10 billion US dollars within the next few years. We will introduce a systematic programme to achieve this,” the President said.
Qualified Persons To Be Employed
On toning up the quality of Sri Lanka’s administration, President Gotabaya said: “We will appoint persons with subject knowledge and suitable qualifications to discharge their responsibilities to govern state institutions efficiently and profitably. After the formation of the new Government, we established a committee to evaluate and recommend suitable persons for the governance of state institutions.”