Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) presidential aspirant and former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday gave a detailed outline of his blueprint to develop Sri Lanka and pledged to focus on building partnerships with the private sector, appointing technocrats to carry out national policies and strengthening local industries.
Speaking at the Viyathmaga Annual Convention 2019 at Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo under the title ‘Actioning the Blueprint’, Rajapaksa addressed a packed audience of industry captains and top private sector professionals giving details on how he would tackle international relations, education, national security, attract investment and ensure governance.
“We need to marry the virtues of democratic inclusiveness with the effectiveness of technocratic management. Democratic feedback is crucial for governments to ensure that they are on the right track. To strengthen democracy, politicians must be supported by technocrats. In a country with a well-functioning democracy, people are provided with the opportunity to express their opinion of their Government through timely elections,” he said.
“After assuming power, the politicians must be mindful in administrative matters. They must get the support of clever administrators who are well versed in their subject area. Failure occurs every time partnership is neglected.”
Rajapaksa said that he believes investment and development can be fast-tracked if a credible and firm decision-making machinery is established within a transparent governance framework. “The country has already seen the benefits of such a framework in many flagship investments in tourism, ports and transportation, urban housing development, waste management, and city beautification during the 2010-2014 period.
We can repeat that speed and effectiveness by picking the right team to deliver the promises of a new Government. I am positive that the private sector will also be determined to contribute its best to help achieving our common objectives.”
He singled out the tourism industry, pointing out it could be easily developed to earn $ 10 billion annually. To achieve this target, Sri Lanka would need to attract seven million tourists. Rajapaksa called for doubling the hotel accommodation capacity as well as build hotels meeting with the highest standards.
“We would also have to increase the skilled and unskilled workforce to meet the sectors needed to service the tourism industry such as new shopping complexes, domestic flights and other transport facilities. We would also have to identify new services to provide an innovative experience to our tourists.” He also said the construction industry is another key growth sector that has huge potential.
“When planning for our future, an industry that is of vital importance is our agriculture. One-third of our people live on agricultural based sectors. We have to uplift the standard of living of this sector. Right now, we earn $ 2.6 billion from our agricultural exports, out of which $ 1 billion is earned by our tea. When we have a vast array of spices, fruits, vegetables, pulses, fish and many more delectables we should be able to earn much more from our food industry. Even our tea sector, according to the experts in the tea industry, can be developed further to earn an export income of over $ 5 billion.”
He also backed more research, use of modern technology and technological solutions such as drip irrigation, vertical agriculture, and organic food production, all of which can generate higher incomes. Instead of using high levels of fertiliser and pesticides, Rajapaksa advocated encouraging farmers to engage in organic farming for better revenue. He says it is time for the Government and the private sector to work hand-in-hand to transform the agriculture industry.
“The first step should be to reach self-sufficiency in product categories where we can minimise or avoid imports of food products. The next step is to turn our farmers into agricultural entrepreneurs, and encourage them to enter global markets and find niche markets where they can thrive. ASEAN exports of meat, fruit, tea and other agricultural goods to the Gulf States has doubled in less than a decade, contributing to their $ 130 billion in annual trade. This is an opportunity for us to explore.
“It is not only in agriculture but we need to focus on value addition in all economic spheres. Instead of exporting raw materials, we need to now promote branded products and goods. We already have success stories like Dilmah Tea in this regard. As the Government, we will need to support by giving direction, appropriate and facilitating marketing.”
Rajapaksa also touted Sri Lanka’s democratic credentials and said that legal changes would have to be made after reviewing the Constitution.
“Sri Lanka is a democratic country. We were the first country in the Asian continent to obtain universal suffrage. It is through universal suffrage we gain our sovereignty. To protect the sovereignty of the citizens, rule of law becomes vital. Therefore, we have before us the responsibilities such as reviewing the constitution, revamping laws that have got obsolete with time and changing the election laws to meet the needs of today. There can only be one law in a country and that law must be equal to all.
“We need the support of domestic and foreign investors to accelerate the nation’s economic development. For this, we need to demonstrate that we have an independent judiciary and an efficient legal system. We should also have properly functioning dispute resolution mechanisms such as arbitration. The role of professionals, civil servants and technocrats in managing foreign relations, national security, law and order, state enterprises and Government services will be explicitly recognised and strengthened.”
Rajapaksa insisted that to achieve this goal, attracting professionals to the public sector, and rebuilding confidence and trust in public servants and institutions, must be given priority.
“Government officials who discharge their duties in good faith and with utmost integrity should be given necessary protection through an improved legal framework. It is paramount to ensure that such a legal framework would prevent officials from being subject to politically motivated witch hunting.
“Even in developed countries, clever administrators do not emerge at the same rate as lawmakers. They too spend much time arguing about law, instead of implementing policies. It is thus the responsibility of the politician to understand the need of the people and to include it in to national policies. Those policies must be enacted by the technocrats, who are actually officers with a comprehensive knowledge on the subject and are tasked with the responsibility of administrating that that sector.”