By Nisthar Cassim
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday drove home the point that it was largely socioeconomics and security and less politics that would ensure true national unity in the country, which he said would rebound next year leading to inclusive prosperity.
Speaking for the first time to media editors since assuming office, President Rajapaksa made a host of emphatic pronouncements as part of his strong belief as to how Sri Lanka could be led to become an economically stronger and more peaceful and united nation.
Reiterating that he had assumed the office of President of all communities in Sri Lanka despite the majority of the country’s Tamils and Muslims not voting him into office, Rajapaksa however noted that devolution of power or federalism was not the solution to the true grievances of minorities, especially those in the North and East, but inclusive development.
“What are their basic needs? They need a good livelihood, income, they need jobs, good education and health, etc. These make a dignified living and this is the aspiration of all the people, including those poor in the South. Therefore, inclusive growth and sustainable development are critical. We are focused on creating an enabling environment to achieve that goal,” emphasised Rajapaksa.
He claimed that all past regimes and politicians had fooled the people by promising that a political solution or greater devolution would put an end to their grievances.
“The majority will always oppose such a move, hence it is not practical. Yet politicians kept promising, to fool the people,” opined Rajapaksa. He said that during a meeting of Bishops from the North and East, their appeals were to step up vocational training as well as to set up factories so people could enhance their incomes while more jobs would be available to the region’s youth.
The President also appealed to Tamils and Muslims to work with him with trust to usher in development. He urged them to look to the example of Minister Douglas Devananda being assigned a national subject such as Fisheries as opposed to a specific regional interest such as Palmyrah.
“While fisheries play a big part in the North and East, I assigned the important Fisheries subject to a Tamil Minister because I want all to understand the holistic role all communities can play in the development of the country,” President added.
Rajapaksa also emphasised that security was key for national unity and not vice versa.
“When there is terrorism you can’t live in unity,” he argued, adding that the new Government had made the right changes to strengthen national security.
“I have the fullest confidence in the new Defence Secretary, the Heads of the Armed Forces and the Intelligence,” Rajapaksa added.
During his meeting with the editors, the President revealed that he was also optimistic that the economy would rebound from 2020 onwards.
“I am very confident that the economy will turn around,” he said, adding that the mega stimulus package offered would help, along with other policies announced by the Government. He urged the foreign and local private sector to make use of the incentives as well as for businesses to pass on the benefits of tax cuts to consumers.
“I am committed to create the enabling environment for more investments by local and foreign companies. We will create new opportunities for foreign investment and business for local entrepreneurs,” promised Rajapaksa.
He also dismissed the scepticism expressed by those who viewed the stimulus package as “political” and believed it would be rolled back after victory at the upcoming General Election.
“A lack of consistency is one complaint against the previous regime and I can assure that our incentives will continue and policies will be consistent during my tenure,” Rajapaksa assured.
He acknowledged that the biggest challenge in 2020 would be the implementation of the progressive policies announced in his manifesto but he expressed confidence in the results.
However, he stressed that the full support of the Cabinet, Ministers, Government MPs, public and private sectors as well as the public was critical.
“We need everyone’s contribution to win the economic challenge as they did to win the war,” Rajapaksa emphasised.
“Every Government MP and civil servant must read the policy statement of mine which shows the way forward for the country. It is a work of over four years via Viyathmaga as well as the SLPP, with inputs from a host of professionals,” Rajapaksa said.
The President also stated that the image as well as the attitude and mindset of the public sector must change for the better with improved efficiency as it carried a huge responsibility given its size of 1.5 million and the fact that it was funded by the public it was supposed to serve.