Central theme of development
The address by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to the Oxford Union on an
invitation of the Oxford Union and the Sri Lankan Society of Oxford
University on last week.
I wish to speak to you on a subject of much interest to my country at
the present time.
That is the empowerment of the rural economy, a central theme of my
development strategy for Sri Lanka.
Our development strategy towards empowering the rural economy of our
country, where majority of our people live, has now become relevant to
the global economy itself in the context of the emerging world food
crisis and environmental challenges to our own survival.
We have an additional burden. We are threatened by the challenge of
terrorism and the need to protect the rights of our fellow beings.
Sri Lanka where I was born and bred is a country where our culture is
firmly rooted in rural tradition. The Sri Lankan culture has been
essentially conditioned by the great religion of Buddhism, but later
influenced by Hinduism, Islam and Christianity.
The concepts of loving kindness, compassion and tolerance are at the
heart of our psychological make up. They nourish and sustain us through
the uncertainties of life. Our traditional greeting ‘Ayubowan’ means -
May you live long.
It is not surprising then that in a world where rulers constructed
massive castles and grand palaces to demonstrate their power and wealth,
our kings constructed huge reservoirs - tanks, as we call them to
provide water to sustain food production and ensure sustainable
livelihood to the people.
The great legacy left behind by our ancient rulers, and which is in
use even today scattered across three vast provinces of my island home,
is the massive irrigation network.
This unique hydraulic civilisation which sustained an essentially
prosperous rural society, was based on a philosophy which has much to
offer the modern world.
Buddhism taught us that we have no absolute ownership of the forests,
the rivers, the oceans and the atmosphere that sustain life; that every
generation holds the environment in trust, so that its abuse is
prevented; and that our duty was to hand down the environment. to future
generations without harm.
Even today, over 77 per cent of our people still live in rural areas
because of a wide range of attractions in our rural home base. I myself
hail from the deep south, from an agrarian village with a beautiful
I am extremely proud of that fact. The attraction in our villages is
not only the economic resources and greenery, but also the traditional
culture, arts, religion and bio-diversity which are incentives to keep
our people away from migrating into urban townships.
The horrors of poverty and suffering that have engulfed many booming
Asian cities have not affected Sri Lanka.
Strengthened by the caring attitude inherited from our ancient
rulers, we were able to adapt to modern democracy with great ease. It
was in 1931, while still under the British, that Sri Lanka was granted
universal franchise. You will recall that Britain achieved this status
only in 1926.
Since then we have continued to develop and strengthen democratic
institutions in Sri Lanka. Political pluralism has always been
fundamental to our democracy. We have parties of different political
views represented in our parliament. This diversity uniquely enriches
Sri Lanka’s political canvass.
The Government, although elected by a Sinhala Buddhist majority,
represents a coalition of Sinhala, Tamil, and Muslim communities and all
the religious groups in the country.
You will be hard pressed to find a similarly representative
government in any of the other democracies of the world. I am proud of
our vibrant parliamentary system, the strong judicial establishment, and
the independent press.
Not a day passes without an attack on me, I must say totally without
foundation, from some parts of the media. We have not hesitated to adopt
global standards, collaborate with international organisations such as
the UN, ILO and the Commonwealth, and participate in efforts to
consolidate institutions designed to protect the rights of our fellow
Sri Lanka has contributed with vigour and creativity to the
development of the principles incorporated in international conventions,
through their work in international organisations and through the
International Court of Justice.
We have always played our part in global efforts to establish higher
standards, and to make our earth a better place for all, because we
fundamentally feel that this is the correct thing to do.
This is a reflection of our cultural traditions. Sri Lanka’s
conformity to global environmental standards has been commended time and
Women in Sri Lanka enjoy equal opportunities with men. Over 60 per
cent of our medical practitioners are women. Over 80 per cent of our
teachers are women.
The nursing profession is dominated by women. The legal profession
too is increasingly dominated by women. Women have also entered sections
of the work force previously monopolized by men such as, academia,
engineering, computing, quantity surveying and architecture.
I recall with great delight that Sri Lanka produced world’s first
elected woman Prime Minister in 1960. Her husband, Mr. S.W.R.D.
Bandaranaike, whose portrait hangs over there, was also a prime minister
of Sri Lanka.
For decades we have invested in education and health. My country
enjoys one of the highest literacy standards in the world, while still
being categorised as a middle income developing country. 97 per cent of
our children are enroled at school.
Our infant mortality rate and maternal mortality rate at child birth,
is on par with that of many developed countries. The country provides
free healthcare to all. Education is free and universal from childhood
to university. During the primary and secondary school life of every
child the government provides free text books and uniforms.
One of my long-lasting joys is the sight of thousands of children in
crispy white uniforms heading for school each morning.
This is probably a sight that one cannot witness in many other places
of the world. Children are precious to us. I believe they are our
future. We have ensured a massive investment in our children.
My government firmly believes that no child must be deprived of his
or her childhood. We have created a separate ministry to look after the
welfare of our children. We do not employ any children in our labour
force, and no one below the age of eighteen is recruited to our Armed
Forces - unlike the LTTE, which engages thousands in its baby brigades.
These children are robbed of their childhood, and brutality is
ingrained into their character, making them life-long misfits for
Sri Lanka has achieved a very high standard in the United Nations
Human Development Index, and we have already, to a large extent,
achieved the Millennium Development Goals. It was only last month that a
UN Report commended Sri Lanka for being well on its way to eliminating
We have a very low rate of HIV/AIDS infection. I point these things
out to you only because of the intense campaign that is being conducted
internationally, to describe my country as one that does not care about
our fellow human beings and human needs. Facts demonstrate that this is
far from the truth.
There are no signs of obvious starvation in any part of the country.
In fact for over 25 years, since the beginning of the LTTE’s violent
challenge to our very existence, to our sovereignty, the government has
been sending food, medicine and educational material to the two
districts dominated by the LTTE.
Every single teacher, nurse, doctor, hospital and government official
in the LTTE controlled areas is appointed and paid by the Government.
Very few countries grappling with terrorism have been so accommodating.
This itself illustrates the caring nature of our society.
These noteworthy achievements have been possible because of a
holistic view of human development to which we have always been firmly
committed. We believe that development becomes meaningful to the vast
mass of the people only when its fruits are capable of being enjoyed by
all segments of the people.
That is why we have constantly tried not only to achieve growth and
expansion of our national wealth but to ensure that the resources
generated by our efforts are distributed among the people, especially,
in the rural hinterland, on an equitable basis.
Our development model as presented in my election manifesto, the
Mahinda Chinthana, signifies the empowerment of the rural economy.
The centre piece of this new strategy will be the development of
modern infrastructure throughout the country to provide a basis for
development of Agriculture, Industry, Construction, Tourism, SMEs and
transport services that will bring about new opportunities to our people
in the rural economy.
Our strategy has enhanced the public investments over 6 percent of
GDP to support ‘Randora’ - meaning Golden Gate - our infrastructure
development initiative — to develop new ports, power generation and
distribution networks, and integrated townships to the link rural
economy to the global economy and create new space for growth.
We have integrated strategies to promote insurance, shipping,
aviation, trade, logistic industries and petroleum explorations, and
above all, skills and knowledge to position Sri Lanka as an emerging
economic hub in South Asia.
Empowering people at grassroots level is equally important in this
whole development process. ‘Gama Neguma’, meaning revival of the
village, is an initiative to empower communities, adopting bottom up
programmes originating from communities and reflecting their needs.
A series of rural development initiatives have been implemented,
permitting the community to prioritise their needs and objectives. These
initiatives are monitored by community leaders to ensure that a larger
volume of resources are productively used for the betterment of the
The main thrust of this programme is to retain people in rural
environments, rather than encouraging them to move into urban areas;
which has been the pattern in many developing economies.
Why should people move into urban areas and live in slums or
sub-standard housing, when they can live in very healthy environments in
villages, and enjoy clean air, water and pure and good food. It is my
belief that rural people are much healthier than those who live in urban
Our approach to development takes into consideration the dangers of
destroying the green environment. Every project that is implemented
under Gama Naguma recognises the value of green belts and the
preservation of the forest cover.
The environmental protection programmes that are implemented
throughout the island make a serious attempt to ensure that rivers are
kept clean, waterways are not dirtied and trees are not destroyed. The
bed rock of our development is maintaining and preserving the
Consolidating our achievements in human resource development, we are
now working towards a knowledge economy based on productivity, skills,
knowledge and technology.
Therefore, education and health is being undertaken at grass roots
level through multi-faceted government programmes. In particular, I am
very keen to ensure that our children are able to become global citizens
through the use of Information Technology.
In a novel programme called ‘Nenasala’, a network of 500 rural tele-centers
has already been established. I have set a target to increase this upto
1,000 by next year.
Three years ago, Sri Lanka’s IT literacy stood at a little over 5 per
cent. Today I feel accomplished that we have been able to enhance this
to 20 per cent. Which means that more and more people will be able to
enter the lucrative IT job market. All this is being done to enhance the
employability of rural youth.
The essence of our rural empowerment programme is to ensure that
rural infrastructure development takes place at a rapid rate.
So far neglected rural roads are being paved today with concrete to
make them last the monsoon rains that are common in our part of the
world. Rural electricity programmes, community water supply schemes,
minor irrigation projects, housing and market facilities are included in
our rural infrastructure development drive.
In essence our strategy is to level the playing field between the
‘urban, organised minority’ and the ‘rural, unorganized majority’, in
the national development process.
I am encouraged that our development strategy - Mahinda Chinthana -
Vision Towards a New Sri Lanka, sustained a near 7 per cent economic
growth during the last three years, and reached US dollars 1,600 per
capita income in 2007. Except in one district, people below the poverty
line have declined drastically in 2007.
Unfortunately we are being challenged by “the most brutal terrorist
group in the world” as the LTTE has been described by the FBI. Suicide
killings using even women and children have become their hallmark.
It is this terror group that invented the deadly suicide vest for the
suicide killer. Having pioneered the suicide vest, they have freely
given this technology to other terror groups in the world. This has now
become a global menace.
There have been hundreds of innocent, civilians returning home after
work, children going to school and young mothers going to their weekly
clinics, being maimed or killed by indiscriminately exploded bombs in
crowded centres or being targeted by brain-washed suicide bombers.
You need to see the carnage caused by shattered limbs and burning
human flesh, to understand the sheer brutality that motivates this group
They killed Rajiv Gandhi, the former Prime Minister of India, and
Ranasinghe Premadasa, the former President of Sri Lanka.
Most recently, a senior Minister of my government, a Tamil speaking
Catholic, was brutally murdered by a suicide killer, along with a former
Olympic athlete among many others participating in a sporting event.
They also killed our former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, a
scholar of distinction, and legal luminary, who once occupied this seat
as the President of the Oxford Union with distinction.
It has become incumbent upon us to confront this group to the extent
of our ability, deploying all the resources of the State, to protect the
people of Sri Lanka and their democratic way of life. I must add that
what I am doing is in no way different to what other democracies have
done before, and continue to do, in the face of terrorism.
Brutal terror outfit
However, I must state that the LTTE is the most brutal terror outfit
the world has ever seen, and defeating them requires global support.
What Sri Lanka is doing, in my opinion, is fighting this terror
outfit single handed to ensure that democracy and respect for human life
prevail in the world. If we fail in our war against the LTTE, the world
will fail in its fight against terrorism, and democracy will be the
This is the plain truth. Our development thrust unfortunately has had
its own obstacles, the main being the brutal terrorist threat that makes
us, a developing country, to take a heavy toll.
It is time that the world, raising its united voice, expressed its
utter revulsion of the barbaric practice of suicide bombings. It must be
made absolutely clear that this form of political expression, if it
could be described as such, is utterly unacceptable in the civilised
There is a considerable challenge to the Security Forces of my
country, whose goal is simply to protect the innocents and their simple
way of life.
We need to understand that our Security Forces do not go out of their
way to harass innocents, or to discriminate against a minority. They
take great personal risks constantly. The fear psychosis created by the
LTTE terror, may cause some lapses in judgment, but by and large,
independent observers have always commended the efficiency, politeness
and courtesy of the men in uniform.
We must remember that there are no methods or solutions which are
universally applicable to situations of this nature. It is the principal
duty of a government to assure the public of security of life and limb.
It is the terrorist group that decides when to strike: They decide
the time, the place and the opportunity. They are in no way constrained
by the values and procedures which rightly control the responses of
These realities must be taken into account as the basis of a fair and
objective assessment of Sri Lanka’s situation.Although many have said
that the LTTE is invincible, we have freed our Eastern Province of their
terror. Within one year we have restored democracy there after nearly
Only last week we conducted free and fair elections to the first ever
Eastern Provincial Council, contested by several political parties.As
our forces seek to defeat and disarm the LTTE, we are firm in our
resolve to have a negotiated solution to the crisis in Sri Lanka.
I do not believe in a military solution. We have attempted talks with
the LTTE on several occasions - thrice since my election as the
President - but they have not reciprocated.
They have always left the talks with lame excuses. We are still ready
to talk, once we are certain of their genuine intent for a political
solution... and their readiness to give up arms.
As young leaders, you will take on increasing responsibilities in
later life. Destiny will place you in circumstances where you will be
called upon to lead and defend your countries.
As someone who has been nurtured and strengthened by an ethical and
caring culture, I wish to leave with you with some thoughts.
You and I are privileged to be what we are today, but, there are
millions of our fellow beings who are not that fortunate, and who need
our guidance, leadership and caring.
Leadership to these masses of people will have to be given by you.
Your leadership must be one that reflects your cultural and religious
values, sense of integrity, dedication to the cause of eliminating human
suffering, and a sense of generosity.
In conclusion, let me say that our chosen path to development of my
country, especially the rural areas, continues to be a challenge for all
of us, particularly with threats that are both internal and external.
The protection and advancement of human rights continues to be a
challenge for all of us, not only in Sri Lanka but globally.
I only seek to encourage you to think of Sri Lanka as a country that
has achieved considerable success in caring for its people, in the face
of a most brutal challenge thrown at us by terrorists. We will continue
to comply with the highest standards in keeping with values and
traditions we hold to be sacrosanct.
May the Noble Triple Gem Bless you all!