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Righteous society, prosperous nation goals of new govt. – Prez

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa leaving parliament after delivering his policy speech. The President is accompanied by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena and the First lady Ioma Rajapaksa.

 

  • 19-A will be abolished, new Constitution framed

  • MPs and ministers will have to visit people

  • Unitary status of country will be retained

  • Underworld will be neutralised

  • Priority accorded to developing education

  • Electoral system to be changed

  • Land promised for the landless

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday said that the historic mandate received by SLPP had proved that people were impressed with the way the party had governed the country during the past nine months despite various obstacles.

Delivering his Policy Statement to commence the first session of the ninth parliament President Rajapaksa said: “I love my country. I am proud of my country. I have a vision for my country. Our ardent desire is to build a prosperous nation with a productive citizen, contented family and a righteous society. What we have done so far as well as the plans we propose to implement in future will be aimed to achieve this objective.”

In his 20-minute policy statement the President said that the nation had arrived at an important turning point in history.

“The people have given the current government a massive mandate. We have been given the responsibility to take the country towards prosperity while safeguarding the people and protecting the sovereignty of the country without succumbing to any force. The present generation must fulfill that responsibility for the sake of the future generations.”

“This is the motherland of all of us. Hence, the time has come for all of us to join hands for the sake of the country irrespective of race, religion or party differences.”

Full text of the policy statement: 

The election held on August 5th marked a turning point in the history of Parliamentary Elections in Sri Lanka.

We asked the people to give us a two-thirds majority to form a stable government.

First of all, I would like to thank and extend my gratitude to all the patriotic Sri Lankans for giving Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna and its allied parties a historic and resounding two-thirds majority for the first time in the history in an election held under the Proportional Representation System.  

Universal suffrage is a democratic right that we must all respect and uphold. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all Sri Lankan voters who exercised their voting right in this election.

During the presidential election held last November, over 6.9 million people gave me a decisive mandate, placing a very high confidence in me. So far through my actions, I have proved that I will uphold the promise that I will not violate the trust they placed on me.

The period between the Presidential Election and the Parliamentary Election has been very challenging for us. What we inherited was an economy that had collapsed. Since we did not have a majority in Parliament we were compelled to function with a minority government. In addition, we had to face the COVID-19 pandemic that disabled the entire world during that period. At a time when even the most powerful countries in the world were left helpless in the wake of COVID–19 catastrophe, we were able to successfully face the challenge. Even foreign nations praised our efforts to prevent the spreading of the pandemic.

The historic mandate received by Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna has proven that people are impressed with the way we have governed the country during the past 9 months despite various obstacles.

People appreciate the change taking place in the political culture of this country.

As representatives of the people, we always respect the aspirations of the majority. It is only then that the sovereignty of the people can be safeguarded.

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 archeological 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.

The government has paid special attention to the protection of national heritage, culture and our identity as well as the protection and promotion of performing arts and folk arts.

When we took over the government, the confidence of the people in the security of the country had been severely dented due to the Easter Sunday attacks that occurred in 2019. Establishing firmly that the prime policy of our government is national security, we have restructured the security apparatus and intelligence services, eliminating the fears of the people thereby restoring the security of the country. We have re-created an environment where any citizen can live freely without any fear for the safety of themselves and their families.

As I have pledged, the launch of the methodical mechanism to protect the people against social evils such as the activities of the underworld and the drug menace that have been a hindrance to the day-to-day lives of the people has also increased the confidence of the public.

Accordingly, a virtuous and law-abiding society is emerging as we promised.

We are working towards a significant transformation of the political culture of this country.

After I assumed office as the President, changing the existing system, a methodical procedure was introduced to appoint heads of government institutions whereby qualifications of prospective appointees were examined through a panel of experts. A well-experienced team of professionals, entrepreneurs and academics was appointed instead of relatives, acquaintances and followers. This policy will continue in the future as well.

We also took measures to build a production economy. Paddy farmers were given a higher guaranteed price for their products. We took steps to protect local farmers by halting importation of exportable produce for re-export as well as banning importation of crops that could have been grown locally. Farmers were provided with required fertilizer free of charge. People were encouraged to re-cultivate abandoned lands throughout the country. Through all these, we provided a new lease of life to the agricultural sector in this country.

After we assumed office, we provided tax concessions targeting local entrepreneurs. Interest rates were brought down to encourage businesses. Competitive imports were restricted in order to protect local entrepreneurs and industrialists.  

It is clear that people enthusiastically supported us in this election due to the trust we have been able to build in them in this manner. We will continue to serve the people in a manner that affirms this trust.

It is equally important to precisely interpret the mandate given by the people. We respect the trust that the people have placed in me and the Prime Minister and the newly elected people’s representatives. We have a clear understanding of the expectations with which the people gave such a powerful mandate to the government. We will leave no room for such expectations to be dashed for any reason.

It should always be remembered that the prime responsibility of a people’s representative is to serve the public. We will be sensitive to fulfilling the needs of the people, keeping in mind that all these positions are responsibilities and not privileges.

I travelled all over the country to support every candidate who represented our group in this election. Instead of holding political rallies, I went to the people during these visits and listened to their grievances directly.  

A large majority of issues presented by the general public were not personal, but they were common issues.

Even after 72 years of freedom, simple issues have not been resolved.

There are people who do not possess proper deeds for the lands on which they have lived for many years. We will provide them with legitimate deeds utilizing a swift and due process. I assure you that without a proper alternative we will not evict people from their ancestral homes or farmlands.

Human-Elephant conflict has become a major issue to the people. A group of experts has already been appointed to craft a feasible solution for this issue. A separate state ministry was established solely for this purpose because we are aware that this issue needs a sustainable solution.

An incredible percentage of people across the country suffer from a shortage of drinking water. We will take necessary steps to address these humane issues. As a national policy, we will enact procedures to provide drinking water to every part of the country.

Parents request for their children’s education suitable schools. The shortage of national schools was evident in every area. Most schools have significantly inadequate facilities. The shortage of teachers, laboratories, libraries and sports facilities was frequently mentioned. Although we request students to follow science and technical subjects in order to successfully contribute to the economy, their schools do not even have basic facilities to teach those subject streams.

Funds expended by the government for children to pursue their ambitions and to hone their skills are an investment for the future. We will accord priority to resolve these issues through the ministries which had been assigned with new responsibilities.

Both resources and facilities in rural hospitals are inadequate. There is a considerable shortage of doctors, nurses and other staff in these hospitals. Patients in some areas have to travel long distances to seek treatment. We will eliminate these discrepancies in the delivery of free healthcare facilities for people.

Both Ayurvedic and indigenous medicinal systems will be preserved and promoted.

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 which occurs in the importation of medicine. This is why we formed a separate state ministry to manufacture, supply and regulate medicine.

A large percentage of citizens of this country, earn their livelihood through self-employment. Also, a large number of people depend on agriculture. Their sole requests are for adequate water and fertilizer during their cultivation seasons. We should address these issues. Therefore we will implement a broad set of activities to rehabilitate the tanks and to develop the irrigation system across the country.

Another major social issue faced by the youth is unemployment. Both short term and long term solutions have been discussed to address this issue.

We have already commenced a programme to provide employment for 100,000 persons representing the most underprivileged families in the country. Simultaneously, we have set plans in motion to provide job opportunities to 50,000 graduates and train them to render their services efficiently.  

When offering government job opportunities, we will accord priority to poorest of the households. Further, we will have to ensure equal distribution of job opportunities for every province.

Every appointee to the government should contribute productively to the country. Therefore, no unnecessary and arbitrary enrollment will be allowed to any ministry or institution.

Both ministries and state ministries will work in cooperation 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.

In order to overcome both local and global challenges and revive the economy, we will have to adopt new ways of thinking. Out of the box thinking is required in order to meet the economic challenges. This time, the ministries have been formed with this thought in mind.

We have ascertained the requirement for a people-centric economy for our economic revival. When forming ministries, special attention was given in assigning their subjects and tasks to cover fields such as agriculture, plantations, fisheries, traditional industries and promotion of self-employed job opportunities which affect most of the people in the country.

Our basic aims are to strengthen the local economy and to increase export income.

Currently the income from 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. Due to the shutting down of tea factories, tea estate owners have encountered a number of difficulties. We will restart these factories and eliminate existing irregularities simultaneously encouraging the export of high quality tea products. We will reclaim the global brand name we held for Ceylon Tea.

We will also encourage planting of new coconut saplings. In order to enact a reasonable price for rubber, local rubber industrialists will be encouraged to utilize local rubber. Plantation of palm oil trees will be stopped completely.  

We promote the production of export crops such as pepper and cinnamon. We will provide opportunities to generate substantial foreign exchange by providing a stable price to the farmers through value addition to agricultural products and exporting them.

In assigning responsibilities to ministries, special attention was paid to the development of urban as well as rural infrastructure facilities and to find solutions to the issue of housing for the people.

We have taken measures to identify several sectors that can directly contribute to the development of the country and to appoint State Ministers responsible for these tasks and to assign them the relevant subjects and activities.

As human resource development has been identified as a priority, the subject of education has been brought under one Ministry and four State Ministers were appointed for different responsibilities therein. Separate State Ministries for Pre-School, Education Reforms, Skills Development as well as Dhamma School and Bhikku Education have been set up due to their importance.

In achieving our future objectives, special attention needs to be paid to technical education. We will pay special attention in education reforms in respect of Grade 6 to Grade 13.

We will increase the capacity of Universities enabling all students who pass the Advanced Level Examination to pursue university education.  Further, we will take measures to improve the Open University network and Distance Learning methods. The curriculum will be revised to ensure that these degree subjects would directly contribute to the growth of the economy.

The cost of electricity is an important factor that impacts the economic development process of the country. Therefore, a separate State Ministry has been set up to promote renewable energy sources.

Focus of relevant ministries will be directed to assist entrepreneurs to use modern technology for value addition, to encourage innovation and to explore new market opportunities in a creative manner.

Although our country is rich in natural resources, the value adding industries are not yet on par with international standards. Measures are afoot to earn a large sum of foreign exchange by adding value to the export of natural resources such as gems and minerals.

Methodical development of our traditional industries such as Batik, local apparel, brass, cane, pottery, furniture, gem and jewellery will pave the way for the country to promote self-employment, to generate new employment opportunities as well as to build businesses and earn a large amount of foreign exchange.

One third of country’s population depends on agriculture, plantation and fisheries as their livelihood. We should raise the living standards of these people. The development of these industries requires a new approach based on technology that goes beyond traditional methods. This is why ministries directly targeting several sectors related to agriculture, plantation and fisheries have been set up to focus attention on this matter.   

We will take measures to introduce high quality packaging as well as proper transport facilities to deliver the best quality produce, minimizing wastage while taking steps to produce high quality seeds locally with the aim of providing such seeds to the farming community. We will take necessary measures to develop dairy and poultry industries.       

We will also target to increase the production of organic fertilizer locally with the aim of producing toxin free foods and in the next decade to ensure total organic farming in Sri Lanka.

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. All the fishery harbours will be modernized to provide facilities for multi-day fishing boats that fish in deep seas. Similarly, we will take steps to build new harbours as per any necessity.  

We will bring a halt to the plundering of our oceans by unlawful foreign fishing vessels.

It is part of our strategy to introduce new technology to develop the inland fresh water fisheries industry.

The scopes and responsibilities of each Ministry and State Ministry have been demarcated very clearly. Through this initiative it is expected that the relevant Ministers will implement policies for related fields as well as to take steps to monitor the functions, activities and efficiency of State Ministries. The State Ministers are able to fulfill their respective duties and responsibilities without any hindrance as the monetary provisions required to implement development projects and financial responsibility are directly placed with them.

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. We should find new technological solutions in this regard.

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 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.

Constantly I will review the progress of the achievement of the goals of the government that are implemented through Ministries and the public sector. If I find any Ministry failing to achieve its set targets, I will not hesitate to effect necessary changes to implement policies of the government.

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 round 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 fulfill this expectation of the people by visiting them often to understand their issues and find solutions to their issues.

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. While introducing a new constitution, it is essential to make changes to the current electoral system. While retaining the salutary aspects of the proportional representation system, these changes will be made to ensure stability of the Parliament and people’s direct representation.

I love my country. I am proud of my country. I have a vision for my country. Our ardent desire is to build a prosperous nation with a productive citizen, contented family and a righteous society. What we have done so far as well as the plans we propose to implement in future will be aimed to achieve this objective.

We have arrived at an important landmark in history. The people have given the current government a massive mandate. We have been given the responsibility to take the country towards prosperity while safeguarding the people and protecting the sovereignty of the country without succumbing to any force. The present generation must fulfill that responsibility for the sake of the future generations.

This is the Motherland of all of us. Hence, the time has come for all of us to join hands for the sake of the country irrespective of race, religion or party differences.

I extend my hand of friendship to everyone to join me in building the prosperous nation we promised to our people.

May the Noble Triple Gem bless you all!

 

 

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Hemasiri begins to unload against Sirisena

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Former President Maithripala Sirisena, on April 24, 2019, had told former IGP Pujith Jayasundara that if the latter took the blame for the Easter Sunday bombings he would be given his pension and posted to any country of his choice as an ambassador, former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando yesterday told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) investigating the Easter Sunday attacks.

Fernando said that Jayasundara had come to him for advice on the matter soon after Sirisena had made the offer. Fernando refused to advise him, given the sensitive nature of the proposal. “I told him that he should talk to his family members,” Fernando said.

Sirisena had also told Jayasundara that the Commission he appointed to investigate the attacks, headed by Supreme Court Judge Vijith Malalgoda, would clear the former IGP. Jayasundara only had to accept the responsibility and resign, Fernando said.

The witness also said that around 25 and 30 decisions taken by him as the Defence Secretary had not been implemented due to President Maithripala Sirisena’s interference.

“On one occasion, former IGP Jayasundara and I prepared the documents needed to transfer some police officers. The following day, Sirisena called me, scolded and asked me to cancel the list. He said he was the Defence Minister and that IGP and I had no authority to do such things. Although I tried to explain that there was no political motive behind our attempts, he was not ready to accept it.”

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Now, UK concerned about detention of lawyer allegedly involved in Easter Sunday carnage

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Dinesh G. says matter before SC

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Many an eyebrow has been raised over the UK condemning the arrest of 2019 Easter Sunday attack suspect, lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah, at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council.

The Cabinet on Wednesday (16) discussed the British government criticism of Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from the 30/1 accountability resolution and current human rights situation in Sri Lanka et al.

Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena briefed the cabinet of ministers of strong criticism directed by the UK at the onset of the ongoing UNHRC sessions.

The UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights, Rita French, in a statement delivered on behalf of Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Montenegro and the UK alleged that civil society and human rights groups in Sri Lanka experienced an increasingly difficult operating environment.

A British statement quoted Ambassador French as having said: “Instances of intimidation, harassment and surveillance continue, including threats to families of disappeared persons. Individuals are detained indefinitely without appearance before court, such as lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah.”

Declaring Sri Lanka’s dynamic and diverse civil society lies at the heart of its vibrant democracy, the Core Group expressed its strong solidarity with Sri Lanka’s civil society, and human rights defenders while requesting the government to take all steps necessary to allow them to operate freely.

Cabinet spokesman and Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella Thursday (17) told post-cabinet media briefing of Sri Lanka’s response to Core Group’s latest criticism. The Core Group also made reference to the proposed now controversial 20th Amendment to the Constitution as well as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa government quitting the Geneva process.

The UK statement further quoted Ambassador French as having said: “”It (Sri Lanka Government) has suggested that a new domestic process will take the Geneva agenda forward. While we appreciate this continued commitment, previous such processes have, regrettably, proved insufficient to tackle impunity and deliver real reconciliation. This Council will want to pay particular attention to how the new approach, will differ from these previous attempts and put the victims of conflict at its heart. The future of the Independent Commissions including the Office for Missing Persons and Office for Reparations will be particularly important.”

Responding to several questions regarding attacks on Sri Lanka over human rights and accountability issues at the post-cabinet media briefing, Minister Rambukwella pointed out that Lord Naseby had quite efficiently countered the very basis of the 30/1 accountability resolution. The minister recalled how Lord Naseby in Oct 2017 in the House of Lords set the record straight. Kandy District lawmaker pointed out that Ambassador French’s statement was nothing but an extension of accusations propagated on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. The Media Minister was flanked by co-cabinet spokesperson Minister Dr. Ramesh Pathirana and Director General of Information Department Nalaka Kaluwewa.

Minister Rambukwella said that Sri Lanka wouldn’t succumb to international pressure.

Responding to The Island queries regarding the Core Group’s criticism, Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said that Geneva statement had been conveniently silent on why lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah was taken in by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

The police took him into custody under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in April this year over his alleged involvement in the Easter attacks nearly a year before.

Noting that Hizbullah had moved the Supreme Court against his arrest, Minister Gunawardena pointed out that British nationals were among about 40 foreigners killed in near simultaneous suicide attacks in Colombo, Batticaloa and Katuwapitiya. Nearly 270 killed and over 400 wounded in Easter Sunday attacks.

Minister Gunawardena said that those who had been critical of certain aspects of the ongoing investigation into Easter attacks should go through the submissions made by the Attorney General‘ s

Department in respect of Hizbullah arrest before the court. The minister said that the AG compared the suspect with the late Anton Balasingham, UK based theoretician of the LTTE.

Responding to another query, the Minister said that the government would certainly inquire into UK claim that civil society and human rights groups were operating in an increasingly difficult environment.

Perhaps, they should reveal specific incidents in case the civil society and human rights groups brought them to the attention of UK the High Commission or other members of the Core Group.

Minister Gunawardena said that civil society groups worked overtime against the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) during 2019 presidential and 2020 general elections. Their high profile projects went awry, the minister said, adding that the SLPP did nothing other than to rout the political opposition at two national elections.

The Foreign Minister alleged that various interested parties were making a desperate effort to sustain anti-Sri Lanka campaign though the then government restored peace over a decade ago. Colombo based embassies couldn’t be unaware of the ground situation, Minister Gunawardena said that incident-free presidential and parliamentary polls highlighted the peaceful environment. There was absolutely no basis for accusations that civil society and human rights groups faced threats whatsoever, the MEP leader said.

Minister Gunawardena acknowledged that the government would have to set the record straight as regards war crimes accusations reiterated by some lawmakers from the North at the inauguration of the 9th parliament.

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SJB General Secretary condemns 20A

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By Saman Indrajith

SJB General Secretary MP Ranjith Maddumabandara yesterday said that the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution had started with all signs of dictatorial regime and any one who cherished democratic values should abhor it.

Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s Office in Colombo, MP Madduma Bandara said that only a very few members of the Cabinet of Ministers had seen the content of the draft bill of the proposed amendment. “Not even the Prime Minister has seen it.

Many ministers do not know what it was about. But they have been forced to pass it. Those are signs of a dictatorship being created. If this is the way the Prime Minister and the ministers of the cabinet are being treated before the 20th Amendment becoming law, we can imagine the way it will be once the amendment becomes the law,” he said.

“The MPs who vote for this bill will do so to prune down their powers themselves. Parliament has the supreme power over public finances. But as per the new laws proposed by the draft bill the parliament will lose those powers and they will be vested with the executive presidency. This bill is an attempt the undermine the powers of the legislature. So the MPs will lose their power. We hope that those in the government ranks will have clear understanding of the repercussions of this bill,” he said.

Kegalle District SJB MP Sujith Sanjaya Perera said: “The SLPP government was formed on a promise of bringing down the cost of living and provide relief to the people. They promised to produce the food needed for the country within this land. Now there is a shortage of fertilizer. Farmers complain of the collapse of their cultivations because of lack of fertilizers. Planters too complain of the fertilizer shortage. Nearly 50 per cent of tea industry has faced the problem. There would be food scarcity very soon. Farmers have no means to work for the next Maha season.”

Gampaha District SJB Member Harshana Rajakaruna displaying a coconut at the press conference said: A coconut is now priced at 100 rupees. A kilo of sugar is 150 rupees, a kilo of rice is sold at Rs 120 and the potato price has increased to 180 rupees a kilo. The cost of living is skyrocketing. Where is the relief package promised to people. That was promised at the presidential election campaign. It is nowhere to be seen.

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