BY PRANAVESH SIVAKUMAR
Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna’s (SLPP) Presidential aspirant, kicking off his first campaign for his maiden bid for the top job, used the stage to outline, an array of development activities, and agriculture was given the spotlight.
“Anuradhapura is a centre point of irrigation and agriculture of the country. We had a local culture centering the concept of ‘village, temple and tanks’. One third of the population of the country still relies on agriculture. The advisors to the Government are failing to comprehend this basic fact. Consequently, they’re treated in a second- class manner,” he said, at the Salgado grounds.
Rajapaksa claimed, that it was during the Mahinda Rajapaksa era, that the farmers were given a special place. The fertilizer subsidy, low interest rate, agricultural loans and a certified price for paddy, were provided during his rule. Sri Lanka became self-sufficient in rice and maize. However, the agriculture sector has collapsed today,
“The current government had not recognised that two-thirds of the population was engaged in agriculture. The government fertiliser subsidy scheme for paddy farmers had been halted. I pledge to revive the subsidy scheme if elected, reaching food security goals was of paramount for this nation.” Gotabaya gave a glimpse of the goals for Anuradhapura.
The former defence secretary urged the SLPP supporters gathered to do their duty by voting him in to power, and, thereafter, he will get down to business by creating a safe and secure Sri Lanka.
“War heroes have been looked down upon, as ‘mere military men.’ We changed this and labeled them as ‘war heroes’. We era dicated terrorism. Do your duty by voting me on Nov 16. I will build a safe country.”
Rajapaksa representing the SLPP was boosted by the support of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), hours before the campaign took off in the North Central Province. SLPP’s hopeful, in his address, duly thanked the SLFP for their eleventh-hour endorsement. The 70-year-old Rajapaksa also vowed to wipe out the debts owed by many farmers, under the Govijana loan scheme.
However, he did not specify, where the source of funding would come from for the clearance of debt. The presidential hopeful pledged to swiftly address the lack of fresh drinking water and the corresponding kidney disease that is plaguing several districts in the North Central and Eastern provinces.
Rajapaksa assured, that under his government, he would expedite the payment of stalled government disaster assistance payments for drought, flooding or other natural disasters.
He also pledged that if appointed, his administration would establish a higher control price for paddy and would work towards removing middle men, who prey on paddy farmers by establishing national grain silos and a warehouse to store surplus produce. Rajapaksa said, these changes would be prioritised to meet national food security.
Touching on national security, Rajapakse came down hard on the ruling Government for undermining the country’s defence and security apparatus. He claimed that many war heroes were held in custody under bogus charges and pledged to have them released from custody the day after he was elected. Rajapaksa also promised to award a pension to members of the Civil Security Department (the Home Guard and the Civil Security Force) who had completed 22 years of service, as it is a standard practice with members of the Armed Forces.
Commenting on the human-elephant conflict, Rajapaksa said that natural elephant corridors should be protected while a permanent solutions based on scientific evidence and expert opinion are to be put in place to solve the issue. He pointed out that if elected, the government, under his leadership would initiate an insurance scheme to protect the villages that are under threat from elephant attacks. Rajapaksa was faithful to the SLPP’s strategies and said that it would bring economic growth, but did not go on to divulge all details of these strategies. He called on Sri Lankans; both here at home and expatriates to support him to build a disciplined and law-abiding society that future generation could be proud of. SLFP Parliamentarian Duminda Dissanayaka, called on the minority ethnic groups to support Rajapaksa’s candidacy and also urged SLFP party members to come en-masse to form a Government, in the near future.
On the same stage, Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa pledged to continue development projects that commenced prior to 2015. He said that special development projects would be launched targeting the North Central Province.
“Clean drinking water is one of the pressing-problems, in the North Central Province. We will introduce special development programs to distribute clean drinking water for every household in the area. People in the North Central Province will benefit from the Moragahakanda project and that will address their issue of inadequate water for farming,” he said.
“This is a bankrupt Government. They are only capable of selling public assets. sell assets.. The time has come to stop this and protect public assets.” The Government came under fire from the former President for engaging in a political witch-hunt to deprive Gotabaya Rajapaksa from contesting the Presidential Election. He argued that, the Government had made every attempt to thwart him from contesting. “The only intention of this Government was to take political revenge. They have been exploring all avenues to prevent him from contesting. Ultimately, they tried to say Gotabaya Rajapaksa is a non-citizen of Sri Lanka, but the court ruling has proven that they are wrong.” Mahinda lashed out, at the Government for doing nothing over the last four-years, but for taking only political revenge from their ( government’s ) opponents.
“They should be sent home packing”, Mahinda lambasted.
He also hammered, at the United National Party (UNP) over the infamous bond scam, and for being the culprits. He said that those accountable cannot shy away from the damage caused.
“UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa cannot run away from the responsibilities of the Central Bank bond scam. That responsibility rests on the shoulders of all of them ,” the SLPP leader concluded