By Skandha Gunasekara
- Out-of-the-box thinking to meet economic challenges
- Local economy and exports to be strengthened
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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa delivered his policy speech at the inaugural session of the ninth Parliament in Colombo yesterday (20) PHOTO LALITH PERERA[/caption]
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday (20), making the Government's policy speech in Parliament, took the opportunity to announce key constitutional and electoral reforms.
Addressing the inaugural session of the ninth Parliament of Sri Lanka, the President started off by pledging to uphold the unitary status of the country and strengthen the Budhha Sasana.
“In accordance with the supreme Constitution of our country, I have pledged to protect the unitary status of the country and to protect and nurture the Buddha Sasana during my tenure. Accordingly, I have set up an advisory council comprising leading Buddhist monks to seek advice on governance. I have also established a Presidential Task Force to protect places of archaeological importance and to preserve our Buddhist heritage.
“While ensuring priority for Buddhism, it is now clear to the people that freedom of any citizen to practise the religion of his or her choice is better secured.”
He then stressed the need for parliamentarians to dutifully serve the people as public representatives, adding: “We will be sensitive to fulfilling the needs of the people, keeping in mind that all these positions are responsibilities and not privileges.”
He also said that the current Government would not evict those who had ancestral farmlands. He said that there are people who do not possess proper deeds for the lands on which they have lived for many years. He noted that the Government would provide them with legitimate deeds utilising a swift and due process, also assuring that without a proper alternative, the Government would not evict people from their ancestral homes or farmlands.
The President then said the new Government would focus on increasing pharmaceutical drug production while simultaneously reducing imports.
“Instead of spending large amounts of foreign exchange to import medicine, we have already commenced operations to manufacture medicines locally. We will also eradicate corruption that occurs in the importation of medicine. This is why we formed a separate state ministry to manufacture, supply, and regulate medicine.”
He once again emphasised the need for parliamentarians, ministers, and other government officials to reduce waste and corruption within the public services sector, adding that every appointee to the Government should contribute productively to the country.
“Therefore, no unnecessary and arbitrary enrolment will be allowed to any ministry or institution. Both ministries and state ministries will work in co-operation with the respective private sector establishments in the industry to generate job opportunities. In addition, we will take necessary steps to promote self-employment and entrepreneurship in each industry as well. Our duty and responsibility is not to distribute job opportunities but to generate them.”
President Rajapaksa said that “out-of-the-box” thinking was required for Sri Lanka to meet its economic challenges – overcoming both local and global challenges and revive the economy. He said that this time, the ministries have been formed with this thought in mind, as well as the basic aims of strengthening the local economy and increasing export income.
He said that traditional exports were fairing badly in the global market and needed revitalisation to bring in more substantial foreign exchange to the country.
“Currently, the income from the tea, coconut, and rubber industries is not at a satisfactory level. We will commence operations to develop tea plantations and at the same time, the Government will assist the small and medium-scale tea estate owners as well. We will reclaim the global brand name we held for Ceylon tea. We promote the production of export crops such as pepper and cinnamon.”
He also noted the importance of renewable energy to meet Sri Lanka’s current energy needs and that a separate ministry had been appointed in this regard, emphasising that the cost of electricity is an important factor that impacts the economic development process of the country.
President Rajapaksa then said that the Government would eradicate oil palm cultivation to boost local agriculture and that steps would also be taken to put a stop to all illegal fishing by foreign fishermen.
“One-third of country’s population depends on agriculture, plantation, and fisheries as their livelihood. As such, we will eradicate oil palm cultivation. We are targeting a massive progress in the fisheries sector. We should halt the importation of fish into our country as our motherland is surrounded by the ocean. We will introduce a comprehensive programme to provide new technology and equipment needed to enhance the fisheries sector. We will bring a halt to the plundering of our oceans by unlawful foreign fishing vessels.”
One recurring feature in the President’s policy statement was cautioning and advising his own ministers and officials to curb corruption and waste within the public services sector.
“People are of the view that they are not getting the expected service from the public service in an efficient manner. Therefore, I request all the ministers and state ministers to take steps to provide fast and efficient service to the public via ministries, departments, and institutions that come under their purview. During my recent visits to several state institutions, I observed that some institutional procedures of those institutions do not add any value to the Government or to the public, but only waste the time of the public. You should identify new methods to provide efficient, speedy, and convenient service to the public instead of continuing with prevailing traditional methods. You need to re-engineer the processes for greater productivity and customer satisfaction.”
He went so far as to warn that he would not hesitate to take action against any government official found to have been corrupt.
“In the National Policy Framework ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’, we promised the people that we would eradicate waste and corruption. This is a core responsibility of all of us. We will take steps to completely eradicate waste and corruption in all the ministries and institutions. In the future, I will not hesitate to enforce the law against those who are involved in fraud and corrupt actions, irrespective of the status of any such perpetrators.”
The President then called on his government parliamentarians to take steps to continuously meet with their constituents and to provide solutions to their problems.
“In the current political culture, most of the people’s representatives, after they get elected, neglect the prime duty of going to the people. When I travelled around the country in the recent past, this was confirmed by the people who voiced their grievance on this matter. Henceforth, ministers, state ministers, as well as members of Parliament will fulfil this expectation of the people by visiting them often to understand their issues and find solutions to their issues.”
Finally, the President said the new Government’s first course of action would be to bring in the 20th Amendment to make changes to the 19th Amendment.
“The basis of the success of a democratic state is its Constitution. Our Constitution, which has been amended 19 times from its inception in 1978, has many ambiguities and uncertainties, presently resulting in confusion. As the people have given us the mandate, we wanted for a constitutional amendment. Our first task will be to remove the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. After that, all of us will get together to formulate a new constitution suitable for the country. In this, the priority will be given to the concept of one country, one law for all the people. An unstable Parliament that cannot take firm decisions and succumbs to extremist influences very often is not suitable for a country.”
Asserting that a new constitution would also be introduced, President Rajapaksa said that electoral reforms were also part of their plans.
“While introducing a new constitution, it is essential to make changes to the current electoral system. While retaining the salutary aspects of the pr
oportional representation system, these changes will be made to ensure stability of the Parliament and people’s direct representation.”