Five years of monumental achievements
President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the 15 SAARC Summit in
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
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
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.
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
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.
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 -
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.
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
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
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.