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Sunday, 14 November 2010





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Government Gazette

Five years of monumental achievements

President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the 15 SAARC Summit in Colombo

When President Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed office five years ago, the country faced many challenges which seemed insurmountable. The popular notion was that the country would have to live with those problems and indeed, that was the approach of several previous Governments. Terrorism was the biggest threat faced by the country, but it was by no means the only one.

Today, LTTE terrorism has been defeated, restoring peace to the Motherland. This is a unique achievement as no other country has so far been able to contain terrorism in recent memory. The LTTE, the terror group that the Sri Lankan Security Forces defeated in May 2009, was described by the FBI as the deadliest terror group in the world. In fact, many powerful countries which have far more human and defence resources are still battling terrorism on their lands and in far away locales. Thus Sri Lanka has provided a lesson to the whole world on effectively battling terrorism. Sri Lanka has become a leading voice against global terrorism. The President has taken the stand that terrorism anywhere is a challenge to legitimate States everywhere.

This has been proven by the global scope of terrorist groups such as the LTTE and al-Qaeda. Sri Lanka has always advocated global cooperation and intelligence sharing against the activities of terrorist groups. Many foreign Governments helped Sri Lanka’s quest to contain terrorism by cutting off LTTE funding sources and arresting their key operatives.

Vast developments have been made in the IT sector

Today, there is peace on our land after 30 long years as a result of the global and local campaign against terrorism. Many of the security measures that were in place during the 30 years of conflict have already been relaxed and the remaining measures are likely to be relaxed gradually. The establishment of peace throughout the country after decades of conflict is an unprecedented achievement.

The North and the East, the hotbeds of LTTE terrorism, are finally free. The residents of these areas no longer have to fear LTTE conscription of their children, not to mention the other difficulties they faced under LTTE tyranny.

The scourge of terrorism is finally over, but the country has to face the great challenge of nation building and reconciliation. This is the prime task that Sri Lankans will have to engage in the next several years. There is a saying that peace is not merely the absence of war.

Many conditions have to be fulfilled for lasting peace to become a reality, but the main factor is that the people should feel peace in their hearts, regardless of any communal, religious or political divisions.

No divisions

In fact, ‘divisions’ is the one word that should not be in the vocabulary of Sri Lankans in the post-conflict era. It is finally time to think as ‘Sri Lankans’ instead of dividing ourselves as ‘Sinhala’, ‘Tamil’ ‘Muslim’ or ‘Burgher’. Laying the groundwork for lasting peace and reconciliation should thus be a priority for all. It is not a task that the Government alone can accomplish.

To the credit of the Government, it has appointed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) which has already made some valuable recommendations for forging national unity. The LLRC will now work for six more months to give Sri Lankans more time and opportunities to present their views before it, as so many eminent Lankans have done so far. All political parties, civil society groups and intellectuals must support endeavours such as the LLRC to achieve national harmony and reconciliation. A home-grown solution that satisfies the aspirations of all communities in the country should be the aim. Solutions thrust on Sri Lanka from outside are unlikely to satisfy such criteria.

Breaking down the language barrier is important in the process of reconciliation. Again, this is a process that should start with schoolchildren and Government servants. If the two major communities know each other’s language, mutual co-existence and amity will automatically follow. All those required to work in the North must essentially have a good knowledge of Tamil. The President has set an example to others by speaking in Tamil whenever possible, even at the UN General Assembly. Although the term ‘language issue’ is popular in the media, language should not be an issue at all in the future if all can speak the three main languages.

The teaching and learning of English is vital for the same reason. The Government’s ‘English As a Life Skill’ program is thus significant, as it imparts English knowledge in a uniquely Sri Lankan setting. All Sri Lankans must extend a hand of friendship and solidarity to their brethren in the North who are now being resettled in their original villages after the completion of de-mining. The Government accelerated the resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and all indications are that the term IDP will no longer be in use by next year. It is the beginning of a swift process of ensuring normality in all areas of the North.

Major challenge

The other major challenge before the country is development, both economic and social. Peace should spur development, as conflict is often a hindrance to progress. The next decade should herald in an unprecedented development drive in all areas including the North and the East. These two areas have to be virtually rebuilt from scratch, which is the aim of ‘Uthuru Wasanthaya’ (Northern Spring) and ‘Negenahira Navodaya’ (Eastern Resurgence) programs, which are now in full swing.

The building of physical as well as mental bridges between the North and the South is also vital. The re-opening of the A-9 road and the reconstruction of the Northern railway are two vital steps in this regard.

Many commentators and the President himself have referred to an ‘economic war’ as the next biggest challenge. Sri Lanka’s economy was resilient enough to withstand the global economic meltdown that started in the richest countries of the West. Our economy must be further strengthened to meet any future challenge(s). The economy is on track for faster growth.

The Colombo Stock Exchange is renowned as the second best performing bourse in the world. The sovereign bonds issued by Sri Lanka have been oversubscribed while lending agencies have repeatedly reposed their confidence in Sri Lanka. Our diverse exports are finding new markets across the globe.

The Government has also given many business enterprises a truly Sri Lankan identity by taking over their ownership and management from foreign entities. It has proved that privatisation is not a panacea for all ills, having stopped privatisation altogether. SriLankan Airlines is now flying high as a totally State-managed airline, while the recent acquisition of Shell Gas operations in Sri Lanka will certainly benefit consumers who had to face a virtual gas monopoly and high prices. The country’s second airline, Mihin Lanka, has diversified its operations during a short period, flying to several new destinations as well. Moreover, several development projects are completely overseen by Sri Lankan engineers and consultants, thus saving foreign exchange.

Even amidst the conflict, Sri Lanka has witnessed the commencement of several mega development projects. The importance of these projects has increased with the peace dividend.

The Magampura International Port and the Mattala International Airport, undoubtedly the biggest development projects in recent memory, will literally change Sri Lanka’s transport landscape. Magampura, opening next week, is likely to attract a large number of ships which now bypass Sri Lanka en route to Europe or Australia. The brand new Mattala Airport, the country’s second international airport, too is likely to be in demand by all airlines now serving Colombo.

The development of domestic airports will be especially beneficial to tourism. Sri Lankans will be able to reap the benefits of these mega projects within the next five years, as both are slated to come fully online in 2012.

Other development projects, including expressways, power projects and telecom projects are no less impressive. The ideal scenario would be developing all provinces on an equitable basis. Right now, the Western Province leads other provinces in terms of development. We should strive to reduce or eliminate this disparity.

The expressways now being built, including the Southern, Colombo Airport and Kandy expressways, will make Sri Lanka ‘smaller’ in terms of the time taken for travel.

New transport projects will also achieve the same objective. New electricity projects such as Upper Kotmale and Norochcholai will make our lives brighter.

Sri Lankans already own 17 million mobile and fixed phone lines - it is a matter of time before practically everyone has a phone and even Broadband Internet access. The Government’s e-Government initiatives will make this goal a reality soon.

Health, education

New healthcare facilities including fully-equipped hospitals will be a boon for all citizens including those in the North and the East.

Sri Lanka already has an excellent free healthcare system and further development in this sector will be a boon for all.

There will be new vistas in education. New educational facilities are coming up in the North and the East. Rural schools all over the island are being upgraded. The ultimate goal should be making all schools more or less equal to the elite schools in Colombo. That will also minimise the Grade One admissions scramble for the best schools in Colombo.

Our health and education indices are among the world’s best, almost on par with those of the developed world. But we should not rest on our laurels. We should strive to improve on these statistics and meet the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals by the stipulated year - 2015.

The country’s lifeblood is agriculture. Nearly 70 per cent of the population depends directly or indirectly on agriculture. The Government’s successful ‘Api Wawamu - Rata Nagamu’ (Let us cultivate to develop the nation) program has laid a solid foundation for developing agriculture. The campaign to promote the consumption of rice and rice-based products has also been successful. The re-integration of the North and the East to the country’s agricultural landscape will help the growth of this sector.

Like reconciliation, development too is a process that should see the active participation of all Sri Lankans, regardless of whether they are here or abroad. The three Armed Forces have shown the way by diverting their energies to the development process in peacetime. Expatriate Sri Lankans, including the Tamil Diaspora, have a major role in rebuilding the nation. They can invest in local projects and/or lend their professional expertise gained abroad. While the Tamil Diaspora must be welcome to invest anywhere in Sri Lanka, their interests would be best served if they invest in the North and the East, which are coming to the fore after the vexed conflict.

The next few years should see an influx of investors, both of Sri Lankan and non-Sri Lankan origin, to the country.

Int’l community

Sri Lanka is a vibrant member of the international community. As a member of SAARC and several other regional and world bodies, Sri Lanka is playing a dynamic role. Sri Lanka has re-discovered many friends in the East and strengthened its ties with traditional friends. The coming years should see new horizons in Sri Lanka’s foreign relations.

People-to-people contact is another vital aspect in this regard. The real beauty of Sri Lanka lies in its people. With the dawn of peace, travellers around the world are keen to visit Sri Lanka. Most countries have taken off their travel advisories which warned their citizens not to visit Sri Lanka, which is now poised to attract an unprecedented number of visitors under the Visit Sri Lanka - the Wonder of Asia campaign in 2011.

Development per se will be in vain if the people are morally bankrupt. This is why the Government has launched several initiatives to arrest this trend. The Mathata Thitha (Full Stop to drugs and alcohol) program has already succeeded in bringing down the use of narcotics and also narcotics offences. Deterrent action is being taken against drug lords. Such programs would help reduce crime and help maintain law and order.

In fact, moulding a morally upright future generation is a post-conflict challenge that confronts all Sri Lankans. There is a generation of youth, especially from the Northern and Eastern regions, who have known nothing but strife. If the present generation strives hard, the future generations will inherit a more prosperous nation. All should get together at this juncture to rebuild the nation, regardless of political or other differences. Only such a united approach will enable Sri Lanka to move forward to become a front-ranking nation in Asia and a leading voice on the international stage for emerging economies.

The time has come to believe in the potential of Mother Lanka to reach greater heights in the world arena. The last five years have seen monumental changes and achievements, some of which have astounded the wider world. The coming years will no doubt prove to be filled with more landmark achievements that will elevate Sri Lanka to unprecedented heights. It is the duty of all Sri Lankans to rally round the Government to achieve these noble aims.

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