Prepping for polls, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday said the Government’s policies since 2015 had focused on all-round multidimensional development and economic growth that targeted public, household, company and macroeconomic advancement to deliver holistic growth.
Launching the ‘UNP Achievements Report’, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe gave a detailed recap of the policy measures taken by the Government since it came to power nearly three years ago and insisted it had many other measures in the pipeline to improve investment, infrastructure, social welfare and the cost of living.
The report contained many points outlined in the Government’s V2025 policy document as well as platitudes to the UNP focusing on the Government’s international achievements and local development goals. “We can talk because we have achieved. Firstly, the UNP achieved a new record in Sri Lanka, which was to speak with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and create a national Government. This has never happened before and is one of the key achievements of this administration. It is truly a victory, especially after the excesses of the previous regime,” he said. Wickremesinghe pointed out that the UNP had made a significant contribution to consolidating democratic rights, minimising corruption within the legal system and fostering development. On economic growth in 2017 the Prime Minister acknowledged that growth had dipped below expectations but pointed out that despite natural disasters the economy had managed to post growth above 4% because it had shifted away from the non-agrarian sectors as drivers of growth.
He noted that if the economy had continued to depend disproportionately on agriculture then growth could have been as low as 2%. “We want to pay off the debt quickly and create room for rapid growth through private enterprise. We are sorting out many of the impediments to investment and allowing local companies to become more competitive. Rains will likely result in a pickup for agriculture but the sector needs time for transformation. We have also rejuvenated large-scale development projects such as the Port City and Hambantota Harbour.”
He also slammed large-scale infrastructure projects that were initiated by the previous Government that only increased debt without resulting in economic growth and stressed that the UNP would not exacerbate the country’s already hefty debt burden by continuing down the same path. He insisted that the economic imperative was to create tradable goods for export.
“Removing President Mahinda Rajapaksa was a joint effort and the UNP had the strength to work with diverse stakeholders and this included President Sirisena and his party. Rajapaksa destroyed this country; the independence of the Judiciary was suspended, Parliament was little more than a puppet, media freedom was nonexistent and the economy was in tatters. Facing these problems and turning them around was the chief challenge before this Government.
“We were dynamic in tackling these issues. One of the main things that we wanted to achieve was to provide a prosperous future for this country. This was truly a transformative era, which is why I am one of the most derided people by the media. Everyone else is good; the person who created this transformative era is bad. This first transformation can be seen in the media. But just because there is criticism no one gets spirited away in white vans; we simply respond and move on. The transformation can be seen here.”
Wickremesinghe also elaborated on debt and its impact on the overall economy but insisted that the Government would work to complete repayments and continue to focus on the purchasing power of households and other grassroots entities.
“We have faced the challenge of debt squarely. The reason why former president Rajapaksa called for early elections is because he knew that he would not be able to deal with the economic fallout of the high levels of debt repayments. We took over knowing the seriousness of the problem but we resolved to address it. We were not just concerned about the macro economy we were also focused on the household economy. This is why we increased public salaries by Rs. 10,000, reduced oil prices and many other essential prices.”
He also recalled that the Government received support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to stabilise the economy, create a flexible exchange rate and draw up a timeline for reforms. Building 200,000 houses and measures to develop schools, hospitals and improve social security frameworks were also highlighted by the Prime Minister.
“We have directly and indirectly created 400,000 jobs. Some would say this is enough but I believe that we need to create more jobs with higher salaries. We have expanded the tourism industry, we regained GSP+ and that has improved our fisheries exports. But we need to improve our exports and investment even more.
“We were able to achieve this because of the UNP and the national Government. Crime is lower now, the standard of life is better now. People can think of the future because there is a party that thinks about the future and works hard to achieve what is best for the country. The previous regime broke the country but we have unified it and brought people of different backgrounds together.”