By Sugeeswara Senadhira/Daily News
Colombo, July 23: For steady progress and economic development of a country the two most important requirements are peace and political stability. Any uncertainty on the duration of a government adversely affects its policy implementation process as Sri Lanka witnessed many times during its post-independence history of seven decades, especially during the last ‘Yahapalana’ government.
Hence, the people of the country can heave a sigh of relief over Monday’s announcement by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa that he intends to contest and win the next Presidential Election. Speaking to media heads and publishers he said that in addition to the remaining three years of his tenure he has got another five years to implement his policies, clearly underlining his fullest confidence in winning the next Presidential Election in 2024.
Whatever the system of government – Monarchy, Executive Presidency, Prime Minister-headed Westminster system or a single-party regime – developing countries made rapid economic progress under strong rulers who had ensured stability of the government. Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam and Malaysia are such examples in Asia.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is yet to complete the second year of his government. Two years is not at all a long period in history. For a nation, it is only a fraction of time. However, for the new government, with long term plans for five years, the first two-year period was important. In that short span of time, the government commenced implementation of long-term development programs and significant achievements were made, despite the overwhelming economic challenges and unprecedented health problems that surfaced.
The government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa succeeded in laying a solid foundation for the implementation of policies as envisaged in his Election Manifesto ‘Saubhagyaye Dekma’ or ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendor’.
The President’s biggest victory is his ability to give the people a sense of security and peace. The massive campaign to curb crime and drug smuggling and the steps taken to strengthen the law and order machinery have given people a sense of assurance and a feeling of security. There is confidence in the abilities of the police, ably assisted by the Security Forces, to maintain law and order. The people now feel that they could engage in their day-to-day activities without any fear. This was achieved in the first year in office.
Then came the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. Against this massive challenge the health sector is cooperating fully with the Security Forces and Police and has succeeded in containing the first two waves of the pandemic in a remarkable manner.
Despite the alarming magnitude of the third wave, the government succeeded in bringing it to a manageable level by its most-ambitious accelerated vaccination exercise. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, with his methodical approach to problem-solving, deployed the Armed Forces to assist the health sector, thus ably supplementing the stretched health staff with disciplined soldiers to take over quarantine work as well as the planned vaccination program.
However, the spread was rapid in the third wave and the infected patients taking treatment in hospitals currently are a little over 20,000 and the number of deaths has crossed 3,800. Despite this alarming situation, the country can take pride in its robust public health service. Though the numbers were high and the virus stretched the health sector beyond its limits, this sector bravely batted on to get the situation under control. Initially a section of the people criticized the deployment of the Armed Forces. However, over the months, they acknowledged the positive role played by the Tri- Forces and the police.
Addressing the Buddhist Advisory Council last Friday, the President expressed confidence that all vaccines received since the arrival of the first batch of AstraZeneca vaccines on January 28, and the district-level vaccination programs implemented across the country will pave the way to completing the administration of two doses for persons who are over the age of 30 before the end of August.
It is also expected to complete the vaccination drive in Kandy District before the Dalada Perahera. The President pointed out that the World Health Organization (WHO) has commended the vaccination process in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has become one of the leading countries in South Asia in vaccination. The Maha Sangha commended the President and the government for their efforts to control COVID-19 from the outset.
One of the most significant steps taken by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was to uplift the poorest of the poor families in the country by recruiting 100,000 unemployed youth from poor families in the most under-developed regions in the country. The selected youth were assigned to public sector offices to fill existing vacancies of unskilled workers. Thus 100,000 poorest of the poor families were assured of a monthly income, uplifting them to a higher step on the social ladder. At the same time, the unskilled youths were given an opportunity to learn skills so they would be equipped with capabilities for upward mobility.
Simultaneously, under the graduate employment scheme, more than 60,000 unemployed graduates were given employment. The recruited graduates are being provided with skills training for public sector employment.
In the Education sector alone several new programs were launched in the last year. They include upgrading 1,000 schools to National Level Schools, ensuring university admission for every student who qualifies at the GCE A/L Examination and a program to provide vocational training coupled with proficiency in the English language and Information Technology to those who do not qualify to pursue higher education.
Furthermore, nursing and teacher training diploma courses have been upgraded to degree level by elevating those institutes as fully-fledged universities.
The decision taken by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to cut down unduly high salaries of some heads of institutions was highly appreciated by the people. One such example was the reduction of the salary of the Telecom Chairman from Rs. 2 million to Rs. 200,000. The government also gave instructions to follow the procurement procedures in a transparent manner and to halt unnecessary expenses for festivals at State Institutions.
The President displayed his strength to take decisions in the long-term interests of the country and the people, though some decisions brought an element of short-term unpopularity. His decision to ban chemical fertilizers came in for heavy criticism from some quarters. Despite that, he vowed not to change the decision taken in the interest of the health of the future generations. When he explained to the farmers’ representatives the measures to be taken by the government to promote the use of organic fertilizers, many district farmers’ representatives of 1.1 million farmers across the island, urged the President not to reverse the steps taken to use organic fertilizer.
The farmers’ representatives highlighted that it was their absolute duty and responsibility to return to the traditional farming methods and provide the people with a non-toxic healthy diet. They added that the citizenry will be grateful to the President for his decision to nourish a healthy next generation for Sri Lanka. The farmers’ representatives assured President Rajapaksa that all the farmers in the country would support the President in overcoming the challenge of going for agriculture based on organic fertilizer, as a team, for the benefit of all people in Sri Lanka, just like the country once faced the challenge of concluding the war against terrorism.
The President pointed out that this was not a sudden decision and this initiative was launched to fulfill a promise made in his ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’ policy statement, as the Presidential candidate. The previous governments on a number of occasions have tried to convert to organic agriculture. However, the President said that the reasons for their failure would be studied and the new program will be implemented rectifying those errors. Some people try to point this out as a reverse journey. But the President emphasized that the use of organic fertilizers, which is a new trend in the entire world, would take the country on a new path of agrarian economy.
President Rajapaksa selected the meeting with media heads for the important announcement of his intention to stand for a second term, perhaps because of his belief that as the Fourth Estate, the media has the responsibility of disseminating accurate and balanced information of the development policies and activities of the government which has embarked on a new journey towards prosperity.