(Excerpts from Speech made in Parliament by Economic Development minister Basil Rajapaksa while winding up the Budget debate on behalf of the Govt)
“This is Sri Lanka’s 68th budget. The United National Party(UNP) has presented 34 budgets. With this budget, the coalition governments led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party too have presented 34 budgets. This is the first time the number of budgets presented by both sides have become equal. The Mahinda Rajapaksa Government will have to present many more budgets in the future.
When the President presented his first budget, the country’s economy had collapsed. All the main infrastructures had been destroyed. There were no suitable investments. The situation had completely deteriorated.
On top of it, the tsunami of 2004 caused further destruction and displaced a large number of people. When President Rajapaksa took over the country on November 17, 2005 in response to the wishes of the people, the island’s Northern and Eastern Provinces had been recognised as LTTE territory according to the Ceasefire Agreement which Velupillai Prabhakaran and Ranil Wickremesinghe, then Prime Minister and now Opposition Leader, had signed.
When the President assumed duties, it was over two years since peace talks had stopped. By that time, 3,423 ceasefire violations had been reported. The LTTE had recruited 1,788 child soldiers. Despite concessions given to the LTTE, it had killed 93 military personnel.
President Rajapaksa came to power when the Tigers were continuing their terrorist acts non-stop. Prabhakaran, delivering his ‘Heroes Day’ speech, said: “Mahinda Rajapaksa is a novice. Hence, we are giving him time till January 1 to resume peace talks. If talks are not resumed, we will be compelled to return to war.”
Power to people
Despite that assurance, the LTTE – several days later – killed seven Armed Forces members by exploding a claymore mine at Kondavil. The President had stated in the Mahinda Chinthana that his aim was to reach a peaceful political settlement that would give maximum power to the people. Although others did not state in their election manifestos that they would sign peace agreements with the LTTE, the President told the people, “while the above measures are being taken, I will start direct talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and I intend to meet their leader for that purpose.”
Since the President wanted to resolve the issue peacefully, he invited the LTTE through the Peace Secretariat for peace talks.
Having invited thus, Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, representing the Government, had talks with the LTTE on this matter in Norway. In fact, the Government at that time expected to arrive at a peaceful settlement and therefore signed an agreement on February 22 and 23, 2006 to reach some agreement. What happened instead was on that very day, the LTTE started to attack relentlessly.
They closed the Mavil Aru sluice and violated the human rights of 15,000 families by depriving them of drinking water. At that time, water was being supplied from Mavil Aru to all three communities – Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims.
The situation compelled the President to dispatch troops to open the sluice to restore the rights of the affected people. Even while taking this action, the President tried his best to reach a peaceful settlement. This is why we sent our team to Norway on October 28-29, 2006, hoping to achieve that objective.
While this humanitarian operation was continuing, there was an attempt in Parliament in 2007 to defeat our Government. The objective of this was to topple our Government through the budget, stop the humanitarian operation and cooperate with the LTTE indirectly.
But because of the assistance some UNP Parliamentarians gave us at the time, we were able to crush that attempt and continuing the battle against the LTTE until it was defeated.
We were able to protect, as far as possible, the people who came to Government-controlled territory and settle them in the right places.
In fact, resettlement started in early 2006. Among the first who were displaced were about 45,000 Muslims in Mutur. They were resettled within a short period of 40 days. From then onwards, we were able to continue the resettlement process in areas like Kebithigollewa and Serunuwara to resettle displaced Sinhala people.
Resettlement of people
During that period, we resettled hundreds and thousands of people in the East. We resettled them only after repairing roads, cleaning drinking water wells, repairing schools, main hospitals, agrarian service offices, divisional secretariats, establishing banks and supplying electricity wherever possible.
Resettlement was rapid and by now we have resettled 151,445 families (500,757 individuals) in the North. The success of this resettlement program is today accepted by the entire international community.
We have invested a large amount of money to develop agriculture in the North. We made it possible to cultivate 183,299 acres during the Maha season alone during 2011-2012. Prior to that, only 22,339 acres were cultivated in the entire North. The rest had become fallowed.
Around 90 percent of the country’s requirements of undu was imported. But by the next season, farmers were able to make Sri Lanka self-sufficient in undu. In addition, we were able to provide them fertiliser, barbed wire and expenses for preparing the land to cultivate mung, cowpea, peanuts, sorghum, ginger, chillies, kurakkan and red onions. We invested Rs. 1,047 million for fruit cultivation. We also took steps to improve palmyra cultivation. Most of the palmyra trees in 65,149 acres in the North were destroyed. We provided seedlings to revive the palmyra industry.
Four hundred and ninety four small scale irrigation channels, tanks and reservoirs have been built in Northern districts. Of these, 391 are in Kilinochchi, 372 in Mannar, 167 in Mullaitivu and 642 in Vavuniya.
Also 34 projects to prevent the seepage of saltwater, four lagoons and a drainage system have been modernised. A large number of tanks (62 tank reservoirs) belonging to the Provincial Council were modernised in 2012 to supply water for cultivation during the Yala season. This made it possible to cultivate 103,331 acres.
In this connection, a total of Rs. 4,524 million was spent on irrigation channels in each district of the North. Of this amount, Rs. 2,800 million was spent under the Conflict-Affected Northern Region Emergency Project, Rs. 1,386 million under the Emergency Northern Recovery Project, Rs. 368 million under the Re-awakening Project, Rs. 153 million under NECORD and Rs. 536 million under the PEACE Project.
Divi Neguma program
Fisheries production in the North shows a record increase. Today it has passed the 1983 target. I can proudly state that fishermen of the North are today producing 11 percent of Sri Lanka’s fisheries products. In 2005, only four percent was produced by them. We have invested Rs.11,730 million on the industry and Rs. 360 million more on the freshwater fisheries industry. Accordingly, the freshwater fisheries industry in the North improved by 157 percent.
We also handed over to farmers 296,930 heads of cattle which have gone astray in the wilds. Nestle and Milco companies obtain 40 percent of their milk from the North. We also gave farmers 20,909 buffaloes with the help of the Armed Forces. We have provided relief to around 800,000 people in the North and the East under the Divi Neguma program.
It is necessary to mention the loans given to farmers in the North during the various seasons without considering the non-payment of loans given earlier. During the 2008-2009 Maha season, Rs. 219 million was given to 4,300 farmers. During the 2009 Yala season, Rs.127 million was given to 2,077 farmers. In the 2009-2010 Maha season, Rs. 419 million was given to 60,986 farmers. During the 2010 Yala season, Rs. 275 million was given to 3,734 farmers. In the 2010-2011 Maha season, Rs. 1,424 was given to 16,811 farmers. Also during the Maha season, Rs. 1,286 million was given to 10,691 farmers and in the 2011-2012 Maha season, Rs. 3,207 million was given to 25,719 farmers.
These loans were given through our banks. They were given only for paddy cultivation. Through banks in the North, Rs. 10,798 million was given to 101,342 people in these areas.
We have spent US$ 76,467 million during 2009-2011 for repairing destroyed bridges and road development in the North. It means an expenditure of Rs. 76 billion. All road construction has been completed by now. The repaired bridges include the Sangupiti, Aarukku and Mannar bridges.
Also construction in Kankesanturai-Palai, Omanthai and Medawachchiya-Madu roads have been done with loans obtained for the purpose. The stretch of 43Km on the Medawachchiya-Madu Road has now been opened for traffic. The 90Km-long Omanthai-Kilinochchi Road too is open. Construction work on the 56 Km Palai-Kankesanturai road is now under way and is due to be opened soon. Work on the 63 Km Madu-Talaimannar Road will also be completed before long. A loan of US$ 850 million has been obtained for the purpose.
Building the 850 metre-long runway of the Palaly Airport has been completed. It is the first stage of the Palaly Airport Development project for which investments have already been made. Work on the second and third stage is now in progress. Also, construction work on the Kankesanturai harbour has begun. The vessels sunk by the LTTE there have now been removed, making it possible for ships to enter the harbour. Broadcasting services have resumed following the reconstruction of the Kokavil transmission tower which the terrorists destroyed.
The Economic Development Ministry invested a massive amount in the North during 2009-2011. The amount spent on resettlement and houses Rs. 7,075 million, on irrigation channels is Rs. 2,750 million, on major irrigation channels – Rs. 5,247 million, on social infrastructure, education and health – Rs. 2,611 million, livelihood programs – Rs. 686 million, poverty alleviation – Rs. 15,270 million and on skills development – Rs. 323 million. During this period, Rs. 33,962 million was spent on building Divisional Secretariat and other Government institutions.
The Sri Lanka Army repaired 277.5 Km of road. The Army also cleared 53.93 stretch of land for rebuilding the railway track. They also repaired 3,241 permanent houses and built 4,690 temporary houses. The Army also built 4,641 new houses and provided schoolchildren with sports goods. The troops are engaged in a number welfare activities in the North such as cleaning wells that supply water for cultivation and cleaning 67 hospitals. The Sri Lanka Navy and Air Force too performed a number of services for the people.
During the past 30 years, all democratic and people’s institutions in the North had been destroyed. Not only people’s representatives, but also the cooperative movement had been destroyed. Farmers’ organisations had been destroyed. School development associations were destroyed. There was no freedom to activate any public organisation. The MPs who travel to the North today had no way of going there at the time. People in the North know it. Cameron, who is scared to travel to Northern Ireland, can travel without fear to the North of Sri Lanka.
Democracy is not only elections. We wanted to rebuild public organisations and restore stability. We held the Eastern Provincial Council elections in 2011. We know that the Tamil National Alliance(TNA) won many seats in that election. After liberating the country in 2009, we held two Local Government elections. We won those elections. If we held the Northern Provincial Council election at the same time, we could have won it. We were able to hold elections on March 17 and July 23, 2011. The efforts taken to give people of the North not only development, but also peace and democracy should be appreciated.
It is only we who can solve our issues. This is our country’s problem. It is a national problem. Foreigners have no feelings for us. I know that if they wanted, they could have intervened in our crisis. But they had no interest to do so. Some countries wanted us to kill Prabhakaran for their own purposes – not in the people’s interest. Now they are shedding crocodile tears.
I appeal to the Tamil people and the TNA, let us, being citizens of this country, solve the problem on our own. We treat all people of this country equally. Hence, let us consider this our problem which we have to solve on our own.” courtesy: Sunday Observer