Policy Statement delivered by President Maithripala Sirisena
Honorable Speaker, honorable Members of Parliament,
It is my great pleasure to offer you the congratulations of the people of Sri Lanka and welcome you to the new parliament. You are the democratically elected representatives of the people and you have been elected in the most peaceful election held in the history of our country.
As a person with experience in politics for more than five decades, including 26 years as a Member of Parliament, I take this opportunity extend my thanks to the brotherly people in this country, those who voted for and against me at the Presidential Election on January 08, which I won as the Common Candidate of the opposition.
Honorable Members of Parliament,
By my address today, another tradition of the parliament democracy is being fulfilled. This key note address, which is known as the Throne Speech according to British tradition and as Inaugural Speech according to American democracy is the presentation of the official policy statement of the new government to the parliament.
As I see, you, the representatives of the people who implement laws for the people have to face more challenges that any previous Parliament. Millions of Sri Lankans are now using new technological equipments which enable to connect with the whole world on their palms. Before the end of the tenure of this parliament, our children and grandchildren will start going to preschool with an ipad, just as we brought the slate to the school. I like to tell you that the people have elected you as lawmakers in an era of transformation like this. Accordingly, all of us have the challenge to prepare this country for that new era to be dawned and to fulfill the ambitions of that new generation with future in mind, while protecting the shared values of our culture which binds us as the Sri Lanka nation.
I have something to emphasize about the national security of our country. In accordance with the Constitution of Sri Lanka, I have the complete responsibility about national security and territorial integrity of the country as the Supreme Commander of the Armed forces as well as the Minister of Defence. I will fulfill that responsibility to my best ability and request your fullest cooperation and commitment which is not second to anything in that regard.
It is my belief that the new parliament that commences today will mark an important landmark in the history of Sri Lankan politics. After gaining independence, we had experience only of coalition governments that were formed by a major party with the support of small parties. But we have seen in various countries, faced with national challenges, the main political parties come together with consensus to form alliance governments, casting aside their political differences. As soon as Apartheid was ended in South Africa, the main political parties of that country established a consensual government to eradicate the racist divisions and to achieve a rapid development for the country. I strongly believe that, the best time for Sri Lanka to enter a government of consensus was the very moment that the country entered a post-war era. That could have helped us face national and international challenges collectively.
However, having ruled the country during the three decades of continuous conflict, the two main political parties seem to lack experience as to how to govern the peaceful Sri Lanka upholding a democratic framework. Therefore, they failed to form a consociational government with the participation of the two main parties in the post war Sri Lanka, that could usher politics of consensus instead of politic of conflict.
The most important task of this consociaional government based on the concept of national government, formed with the unity of the two main parties of the country is to achieve a high level of human development, leading to reconciliation among all communities and take the country towards speedy socioeconomic simultaneously, so that local and international challenges in the new world of 2020 could be successfully overcome.
While we were in a war for three decades, many other Asian countries with similar history as ours as well as those with a weaker socio-economic conditions than ours have achieved rapid development. Therefore, we should not forget that a huge development gap has been created between those countries and Sri Lanka. I understood, although delayed, the importance of building a consensual government with the unity of two main political parties as the key strategy to overcome the challenge of minimizing this gap in development. In order to fulfil this need without any delay, I took steps to establish a national consensual government in accordance with what I have clearly stated in policy statement, “Maithri Palanayak (A Compassionate Government)” for the Presidential election, 2015. This Parliament is setting up a government of consensus for two years to fulfil that national requirement. I trust that it will be a start of a new developed political culture of this country.
My manifesto for the last Presidential Election, approved by the majority of people in Sri Lanka will form the foundation of the agenda for the new consociation government. Further, the manifestos of political parties represented in this parliament, namely, the “Panchavida Kriyavaliya” (Five-fold Plan) by United National Front for Good Governance, “Anagathayata Sahathikayak’ (Certificate Guaranteed for the Future) by United People’s Freedom Alliance and the “Harda Sakshiye Sammuthiya” (Agreement of Consciousness) by Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, and the election manifesto of Tamil National Alliance, have been subjected to a comparative study in terms of the principles of good governance presented in my manifesto; ‘A Compassionate Maithri Governance – A Stable Country’. Accordingly, I will take action to establish policies of the new consociation government by incorporating the policies of other parties into the vision for the future outlined in my manifesto.
It is the constitution that any country or nation considers as the foundation of its self-identity. That is why we consider our constitution as the most supreme document of our nation. We have put three different constitutions in to practice during past 60 years since independence. Yet, it is unfortunate that we have not been able to come to a consensus on one constitution that could be acceptable to everybody as the foundation of the Sri Lankan nation. From the day 1978 constitution was adopted, there came complains about the Executive Presidency and the Electoral System which were considered as its foundation of that constitution. I have paid special attention to this issue in the manifesto; Maithree Palanayak (A Compassionate Governance). Passing of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of 1978 was a fulfilment of one of my key promises. It is the responsibility of this Parliament, where you are now seated, to take the final decision over the existence or the nature of the Executive Presidency.
My other key promise during the election was to eliminate the harmful features of the proportional representation and the preferential vote system which earned displeasure and hatred of most of the people for the last three decades, and to establish a new electoral system acceptable to everybody. You are aware that the foundation has been laid even by now through the proposals I presented during the last phase of the previous Parliament through the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. Accordingly, the historic task of formulating the most suitable electoral system in which all political parties and civil society agree, and passing it, are the responsibilities of this Parliament of which you all are members.
This Parliament also has the responsibility to take political decisions that we should have taken earlier, for reconciliation, coexistence and development to raise Sri Lanka as a proud nation.
You are stakeholders in the task to build the modern Sri Lankan nation, that will be strengthened by the reconciliation among Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and Burgher, Malay and the Adivasi communities as well as the coexistence among all the religions including, Buddhissm, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. In achieving them all, I am, as President, dedicated to give the leadership, guidance and cooperation in that regard without any delay. I emphasize this Parliament has upon it, the responsibility to raise Sri Lanka as a great democratic nation forging ahead.
The greatest wealth of our country is our human resource. I believe that the unparalleled development of it is the key to the development of our country. As the modern world is achieving great technological successes, a country can grow beyond middle-income level, only through developing its skilled workforce. Hence, my government gives its top priority to skills development and empowering the Sri Lankan workforce to be fit for any requirement of the local and international market.
I should remind you that the 21st Century is the century of Asia. It is our fortune that we are geographically situated in a position which helps us to get benefits of the economic opportunities generated in a context where Asia is emerging as the hub of the world economy. Our key responsibility is to make future economic policies, plans and strategies in a way to take maximum benefits from this great opportunity endowed upon us by the nature.
There are several important sectors and issues that lacked due attention during the process of making our economic plans in the past. Informal economy based on small scale enterprises is one of those important but neglected sectors. When we consider the share of the national economy from the informal economy, we state should pay more attention to it and provide assistance to this sector. Further, as step to help the rural economy, the government will promote basic principles micro credit and financial management among small-scale entrepreneurs and farmers whose income is unstable.
Elimination of corruption and protection of state property was a main aspiration articulated in the mandate that the majority of Sri Lankans gave to my manifesto: ‘Maithri Governance’ led by the principles of good governance. Therefore, the commitment to eradicate corruption and fraud remains a key principle of my government. I will not hesitate to take action to take those who are charged with abuse of state property before the Judiciary, whatever their status or affiliations may be. I am committed to further strengthen the existing institutional structures to eradicate corruption.
As you are aware, ours is a middle income country today. Our aim should be to launch the initial economic strategies successfully and rapidly to increase that income to a considerable level within the period of this Parliament.
However, we cannot consider Sri Lanka as an economically developed country, if benefits of all development are enjoyed by a small number of members of the rich society, leaving the majority of the people to suffer from poverty. Therefore, it is necessary to take steps to minimize the income disparity, thereby further broadening the middle class.
Similarly, it is the responsibility of my government to ensure that the development is spread equally to all parts of the country. Especially, the fruits of development must reach the conflict-affected areas in the North and East, so-called border areas of those provinces that suffered due to the conflict and under developed areas in other parts of the country. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure all areas of the country are equally developed.
Many developed countries, in their pursuit of economic growth, have caused significant environmental damages which have adversely affected the humankind. However, now they have identified the disadvantages associated with their industrial development path and are now in taking a turn towards such concepts as ‘knowledge-based economy’, ‘innovative economy’, ‘green economy’ and ‘sustainable economy’. It must be emphasized that in the journey ahead, when we take the country towards successfully achieving of human development goals and socio-economic development, we should not do any form of harm to our green canopy, rain forests or to flora and fauna which make Sri Lanka one of the most beautiful countries in the world. I believe when we move forward on that path, we must follow the Buddhist economic principles what Lord Buddha preached as “Santutthi paraman dhanan” (Happiness is the supreme wealth) in a nutshell. The world is now aware that we cannot achieve a sustainable development by going against the environment. The Buddhist Philosophy which enriched our country for the past 2500 years, demonstrates how we can achieve happiness and prosperity by following the Middle Path while preserving the environment. I consider the Buddhist economic principles that we have with us is a great wealth for us when we step into the modern world. Don’t we have to hand over this country to the future generation as a country in which people can obtain maximum satisfaction with minimum necessary consumption levels and as a country where its people are prosperous, contended, and reconciled and not as a country that consumes most goods and services in the world?
Today, we are living in a globalized new world. In that context, every country in the world is important to us. There are many things we can learn from them and they can learn from us. As a result of that, openness and friendship with all will remain as the foundation of our foreign policy. I have also previously mentioned that we have entered into the Century of Asia. Accordingly, I will state that my Government will pay more attention towards an Asia-centric middle-path foreign policy.
I believe that during the past few years, the word ‘Geneva’ took up a lot of space in our discourse on foreign policy. From the moment I took office as the president on January 08, the perspective of the international community towards us has changed in a very positive manner. The faith placed on us by the international community and their cooperation and consensus is very important, when we face the complex situations successfully. I am very happy to state that during the past seven months, my government was able to change the then existed situation towards our country in a positive way while restoring the good name and reputation of the country.
It is lamentable that our country, which was called the “Granary of the East” in the old days, is now used to import food that could be produced in our country. My government’s agricultural policy is not go to the market for things you can get from the home garden, to go to far away places for things that can be supplied from the region, or to get from abroad if you can grow in the country. Instead, I have already begun to implement a National Food Policy that puts home garden – village – country at the centre of agricultural production. The main objective of the “Api Wawamu-Rata Nagamu” Program, which I implemented as the Minister of Agriculture is to promote the local food production, was based on the same principle.
I recall with honour, the Agricultural vision of Hon. D. S. Senanayake, who understood, six long decades ago, that agricultural development is the foundation for the country’s sustainable development in the future and went on to establish large scale new human settlements for agriculture.
The main objective of my Government is to produce healthy food locally by promoting agricultural products to fulfil the nutrition needs of the people in the country, with priority given to rice production. Accordingly, my Government will work to provide drinking water and agricultural water supply by implementing multi-purpose development projects such as Moragahakanda-Kalu Ganga. I will also take steps to introduce modern technology into the agricultural and livestock sectors. I have taken steps to implement a national program to prevent kidney disease faced by the farmers.
I will take steps to minimize the protein deficiency prevailing in the country by developing the inland and sea fishing industry. As we are living in an Island, we should not delay our plans to utilize our marine resources. We should not limit our sea area, which is eight times the size of the country’s land, only for the fishing industry. Therefore, my government will take speedy actions to put the marine science in to the practice in large scale for the development of our country.
As all of you aware, within this modern world order, a government cannot fulfil every aspiration of the people. We need to strengthen our public sector, private sector, as well as civil society in order to accomplish the needs of the people. When empowering the private sector, it is necessary to provide more facilities to local industries. My Government will provide required reliefs, facilities and incentives to boost the private sector in order to attract local and international investments. Apart from this, the Government has paid its attention to offer benefits and privileges to the employees in the private sector.
I will take special actions to further enhance the services such as free health service, free education and public transport that serve the people in large scale. These services get more state contribution as they are beneficial to the people. My Government has paid special attention to introduce necessary reforms to state sector in order to improve the efficiency and the quality of its service. The Government will take steps to establish Advisory Committees in state institutions, to take steps to reduce the salary anomalies, to introduce meritocratic system when recruiting persons for employment and for promotions. The government will take action to make an attitudinal change in state sector as well the general public’s attitude towards the public sector and its employees. To realize the above mentioned goals, my Government must establish a new national policy which will not change from Minister to Minister, Government to Government or President to President.
Although, we have spoken many things regarding the youth, the youth uprising during the past years in our country proves that, as a nation, we have done very little for them. Due to these violent uprisings, the country lost thousands of valuable young lives. Little has been done to implement recommendations of the Youth Unrest commission of Report of 1990. Taking those recommendations into account, my Government will formulate a suitable policy for the present day requirement. Under this, I must emphasize that my government will not allow any form of political interferences when providing jobs or in any other situation where state mediation is required.
We must pay more attention to the vulnerable groups such as women, children, elderly and the handicapped persons in the society. Women who are more than half of the population in Sri Lanka make a considerable contribution to the national economy and for the sustenance of the wellbeing of our society. The priority will be given towards the wellbeing of women in all development strategies in my Government.
Our children are the future of the nation. My Government’s main intention is to build a better future for the children and to ensure their security.
There are many physically challenged persons living with us. I will take immediate steps to pay the proposed monthly allowance to disabled people while preserving their dignity and will take possible steps to ease tough regulations now existed regarding the monthly allowance.
We see limitless opportunities for a Sri Lankan child to triumph in this modern world and one’s race, religion, region, social status or economic potential should not be an obstacle in pursuing their goals. However, that does not mean that if a person has an identity, it should be devalued. Regrettably, even today there are reminisces of the age of feudalism which prevents us from resurging as a modern nation. In many situations, I have seen some people face inconveniences when their family names announced loudly in public places. I believe using family names in an inconvenient way to people is an obstacle to build the modern Sri Lankan identity. Because of that, if there is a necessity to include the family name in public places and public documents, the relevant authorities must take permission of the holder of the name. My government will make necessary provisions if someone does not interested to show their complete family name, to use only the initials of the surname. According to this, there is no hindrance to the right to use the family name publicly. Specially, I consider this action as taking a step forward of the social-democratic philosophy of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike who gave leadership to the social revolution in 1956.
New challenges and new social problems will emerge inevitably within the world in keeping with its changes day to day. We must be ready to face these challenges with a new vision, while maintaining our good values.
Already Sri Lanka is a country with a high level of drug consumption. I must emphasize that if we fail to protect our children from this drug menace, none of our future objectives will be successful. Drug use is not only a health issue any more, but it is also a social problem of our country. I have already initiated a new Island-wide program of action to prevent the drug use.
Scholars and intellectuals of the country have pointed out a long time ago, that a new political culture should be introduced in our country. I must recall that I came into power on January 08 in keeping with that pledge. I am committed to create a new political culture with political leaders with good values, good personality, a good image as well as discipline. These are the qualities an exemplary political leader must have.
Now that we have laid the foundation for the new political culture in our country which the general public and local scholars and intellectuals, as well as those who are abroad anticipated. I request Sri Lankan intellectuals dispersed around the country and abroad to use your expertise and skills to develop the motherland in this consensual political environment. My Government will establish a special bureau under my directive to coordinate the expatriate Sri Lankans who wish to return to the motherland and we will offer a red carpet welcome to them. I would like remind them that now it is time for us to work in unity for the betterment of the country, casting side political differences.
Finally, I must emphasize on one issue. Since we gained independence, this country has been ruled by the two major political parties. From that a one party ruled this country for 35 years. The other main political party ruled this country for 32 years. I would kindly request all of you to give me your assistances in my determined effort to build consensus among political parties instead of blaming each other for their particular doings during their respective regimes and increasing political rivalry.
From now on, keeping with this consensual politics as the foundation between the two main political parties, I request from all the political parties represented in the Parliament and all the people’s representatives in Parliament, to pay their attention to find the ways and means as to how we could use this consensus among all political groups and the present emerging good political culture for the betterment and progress of our country.
May Tripple Gems Bless You!