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Sunday, 10 April 2011

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Maximising peace dividends

Almost two years have elapsed since Sri Lanka won its deadly battle against terror. On May 19, Sri Lanka will be celebrating its second anniversary after LTTE terror was eradicated and the nation united under the Lion flag.

Despite countries in the West having the most sophisticated military establishments in the world none of their Armies has been able to match the Herculean tasks of Sri Lanka's Security Forces which vanquished the Tiger leadership and liberated over half a million people from the grip of terrorism.

Thanks to the valiant efforts of the Security Forces and the inspiring political leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who backed them wholeheartedly, Sri Lanka is now enjoying the dividends of peace. The country's humanitarian initiatives enabled the Government, not only to eradicate terrorism, but also divert the resources spent earlier on defence for social welfare and development.

Public expenditure on rural centric initiatives, farmers, children and other related expenditure on the provision of water, sanitation and clean environment are more productive and beneficial for the welfare of the citizenry.

As the President quite rightly pointed out at last week's Ministerial Summit of the South Asian Conference on Sanitation, it is now opportune for all countries to divert their defence expenditure on development. These staggering sums of monies that most countries spend on conflicts and wars must be diverted to development, research and technology to reduce the level of poverty and suffering.

Sri Lanka has not only ended an excruciating and costly battle against terrorism, but also reduced its defence expenditure by over five percent of its GDP prior to 2005 to around three percent in 2010. This is the requisite level to provide national security and sustain peace in the country.

Sri Lanka has a steadfast commitment to provide universal access to water and good sanitation by 2020 and is confident of achieving it, as the country has already achieved the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in a key area - the lowest maternal mortality rate in South and South East Asia. Sri Lanka is on track to achieve the MDGs in universal primary education, gender parity in primary education and maternal and child health. The country is also on course to achieve the MDG target for declining poverty by 2015.

At a time the world is plagued by numerous disasters, both natural and man-made, it is incumbent on us to be ready to face any eventuality. Sri Lanka can take justifiable pride in having met the challenges in two exceedingly difficult situations in recent times - the tsunami devastation on Boxing Day in 2004 and the rehabilitation and resettlement of over 500,000 people, following the liberation of the North and the East.

These crisis situations which posed difficult and complex issues were handled adroitly by a sense of commitment, innovation and, moreover, a humanitarian approach to the problem. It was purely due to the country's readiness to address such challenges that Sri Lanka was able to debunk many canards.

Simultaneously, Sri Lanka's friendly countries played a pivotal role during the tsunami catastrophe and the deadly battle against terror. In this context we remember with gratitude the assistance proffered to Sri Lanka by its regional neighbours, and friends in other parts of the globe.

Sri Lanka, under its policy framework envisioned in the Mahinda Chinthana safeguards the country's unity and territorial integrity while taking the nation forward to face future challenges.

Sri Lanka is fortified by its rich history and cultural and religious traditions that have played a key role in nation building. Sri Lanka's abundance of natural resources and its conducive environment for agriculture would be a distinct advantage to meet any future world food crisis.

Thanks to the untiring efforts of the President and the Government's focus on infrastructure development countrywide, migration to urban areas from rural settings has been on the decline. What is significant is that despite waging a relentless battle against the most ruthless terror outfit in the world, Sri Lanka went ahead with its development drive with some mega infrastructure upgrading projects.

The Government found the wherewithal that was urgently needed to fund the battle against terrorism and launch mega development projects. That was precisely how Sri Lanka rose from the ashes of terror and marched forward as a nation with one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Sri Lanka is far ahead when compared to countries which had faced similar situations. The development projects improved the quality of life of people far and wide.

The President has also pointed out that economic growth alone would not suffice. It must produce widespread benefits to the masses while improving the basic needs of the society. Access to water, sanitation, shelter, electricity, health and education is key, to open the doors for a better life.

The aim of the Government is to maximise the dividends of peace. The prime target of the Government is to usher in a better tomorrow for the masses, encompassing those who had been rescued from the jaws of LTTE terror.

The masses are acutely aware of the President's intention and continue to repose faith in the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA). Despite wily moves by the Opposition, the people across the length and breadth of the country have extended their utmost support to the UPFA at successive elections.

The Opposition by no means could thwart the Government's wave of success. In the event the Opposition continues to indulge in base politics and looks for short cuts to regain power they would only alienate themselves further. The Opposition even at this late stage should refrain from bringing the country into disrepute in the eyes of the International Community.

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