(Views expressed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa addressing the gathering at the 16th “Discussion with the Village” programme held at the Derangala Maha Vidyalaya premises in the Kiriwelkele North Grama Niladhari Division 3, of Pitabeddara Divisional Secretariat Division in the Matara District on 2021-03-27)
We are conducting the “Discussion with the Village” programme at the district level. This is the 16th in the series. For this programme, we select the poorest village in the district. The other villages I went so far were more remote and difficult areas than this village. There were many long-standing unresolved problems. Those villages even don’t have proper road networks and there were no infrastructure development.
I know you also have various issues. We hope to find solutions for your existing problems giving considerations to your own suggestions. The Secretaries of the respective Ministries are participating with me on this occasion. You have an opportunity now to submit your grievances directly to the officials and find solutions.
Even after coming to power, we go among the people to witness ourselves the difficulties suffered by fellow citizens first hand and to listen to them in order to relieve them of their burdens with a correct understanding. All of you are aware that everything is done through government officials in our country. People’s day to day life depends on their decisions. My primary objective is to transform public servants into responsible officers, who clearly understand the problems of the people and take steps to solve them speedily.
Our departments often work separately, but there is a need to maintain a good understanding between these agencies. The Wildlife Department works separately, the Forest Department works separately, the Ministry of Environment works separately and the Ministry of Agriculture works separately. If a person goes with a problem in agriculture, the relevant authorities say the issue is beyond their subject area and this is a problem which comes under wildlife, or forest conservation. There are various problems like this. The responsibility of these issues cannot be given to the people. The government should solve them.
Now there are large number of small scale tea estates in this area. We, as a government, need to consider the measures that we can take to increase their income and make their lives easier. Developing infrastructure facilities, construction of roads and to ensure good price for tea, are among the steps that we can take as a government. We, as public representatives and government officials are bound to perform those duties.
We have initiated this programme to fulfill that responsibility, apart from that this is not a political show. We need to go among the people, talk to the people and find solutions to their problems. Most of the time when we are in the Opposition we go among the people, but not after gaining power. But we changed that. We know that people are suffering from a wide variety of issues. We need to address these as much as we can.
When I am on my way here I saw a poster with the word ‘dozer’ on it. You can’t do anything without a dozer, even to build this road we had to bring a dozer. These kind of falsehoods are being spread among the public. We know that when President Mahinda Rajapaksa carried out a massive development programme after eliminating terrorism from this country while ensuring national security various deceitful propaganda campaigns were launched. Some were deceived by these propaganda campaigns and defeated the then government. What happened next was a major policy collapse, in addition to an economic collapse and deferred development. Our national security completely collapsed. At that time the necessary strategy was used to end the war and ensure national security with great dedication. That’s why we were able to create the necessary environment so that stability prevailed. Even in the event of a minor incident, we acted immediately and ended it on the spot. We had a methodology. That system was completely ruined.
Everywhere in the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into the Easter Sunday attacks, it is stated that this incident occurred yet again as a result of the then government not giving priority to the national security. Basically the national security of the country had collapsed. War heroes were imprisoned, prosecuted and harassed using baseless allegations. Furthermore, the then governing going to the international stage completely destroyed the sovereignty of our country. We lost our freedom by co-sponsoring the Geneva resolutions. Our culture, religion, our heritage linked with the religion has been destroyed. The monks were imprisoned. There is no way to conduct a Perahera as a result of taking away the elephants in the temples. By doing these kinds of activities the culture was destroyed.
You are aware that when we go among the people during the last elections period, everywhere the public requested us to save this country. We are making that change through policy decisions today. We have ensured the national security, re-deployed those officers, re-strengthened the intelligence services and appointed talented officers to those positions.
We also withdrew from co-sponsorship of Geneva Resolution. We can face those challenges. We are a sovereign nation. We can do our work. We face them fearlessly. That is what is needed. There is no need for us to propagate so-called neo-liberalism of other countries or to get caught in the big power rivalry striving to establish their influence across the Indian Ocean. We are not ready to bring back separatism in the name of devolution of power and betray our sovereignty to fulfill their political needs. The people of this country gave power to us to bring these basic things back on track. As this initiative continues, various forces will rise against us.
Now they talk about environment. We did a great deal of work for the benefit of the environment under the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Palm oil (Katu Pol) cultivation was carried out in this area. People made a firm demand to us to ban Palm Oil cultivation. We banned the cultivation of Palm oil to protect the environment.
Our goal is to generate 70% of our energy requirement by 2030 using renewable sources. 800 solar power systems are nowin operation. Opportunities set up 7,000 projects across the country have been given to a number of small-time entrepreneurs. Planting a tree just for show is useless, this is what truly matters to conserve the environment.
Then the reducing the use of chemical fertilizers. We have formulated a program to reduce the use of organic fertilizer by 25% every coming year through the Ministry of Agriculture. How much environmental pollution has been caused by the use of chemical fertilizers? How many groundwater sources have been polluted by them? We need to change them. Only then will the environment be protected.
When we do these, various foreign forces try to intervene. These are the campaigns of the oil mafia against us. What they say is not what we do. They propagate falsehoods among people. How many fake news campaigns are being circulated on social media today?
I was watching a program on a foreign channel yesterday about fake news. It states how much false information is spread via social media and how people are politically misguided by them. It demonstrates how to identify what is true and what is fake. There are special websites to identify them. Fake news has become a serious issue in the world today.
They spread falsehoods about the environment to deceive the people. People should be aware of this. Do not let the same mistake that defeated President Mahinda Rajapaksa happen again. We are rectifying the mistakes created by the previous government. I have already said this before, none of the problems I have to resolve are created during my time in office.
There has been great controversy with regard to the MCC compact in the past. The previous government had signed that agreement with the US and even set up an office here. When we came into power, we discussed about it with the US, appointed a separate committee, looked into the matter and discussed it with the Secretary of State of the US upon his arrival in Sri Lanka. We withdrew from the MCC compact with mutual understanding.
The Eastern Container Terminal Agreement was also signed by the former government with India. It is not easy to withdraw from an agreement with another country on a whim. But we discussed the matter and made amendments to the agreements which would benefit Sri Lanka as well.
Then the 20th Amendment. Why did we have to bring in the 20th Amendment? It was to rectify the blunders that were made by the 19th amendment. It made the country ungovernable. The powers bestowed on the head of state to run the country ensuring national security were removed. If the 19th amendment was in effect I would not have been able to retain the Ministry of Defense.
As the head of state, I am responsible for national security. However, if the 19th amendment was in effect, the army and the police would not be under my purview. That way everything was headed to disaster. We were lucky to get off this far, if it went beyond that point we would not be able to run a country.
Easter Sunday attack happened during the last government. The PCoI into the attack was appointed by them. But now they are protesting against our government. The MCC compact, the Eastern Container Terminal Agreement, Easter Sunday attacks, all these were the results of the wrong priorities of the former government. We are trying to resolve them. Now we have to shoulder them.
We have to find solutions to address the issues while implementing the policies for the welfare of the citizens at the same time. People have to realize these.
People of this country wanted a political change. We came to power to fulfill the expectations of the people. Members of the previous government today speak as if they were never in power. It’s been only 7 months since they left their offices, and it’s only been a year and four months since I assumed office. The prominent figures of that government act as if they were not part of the former government. They are responsible for all this. The cabinet should be held responsible. The President alone cannot be held responsible. They had stripped away the powers of the President and armed themselves with those powers. They should be responsible for this. But if they direct absurd allegations and try to take a different political line, they have to be answered. Normally I do not like to talk about falsehoods like this but I have to.
We are talking about government policies and programs. I advised not to place billboards. When you build a road, when you do something, you place a portrait first. I asked them not to do that. Ministers now inform me that when we don’t advertise, people do not know what we do for them.
In particular, our economic policy is based on agriculture. About 75% of our people live in rural areas. We have formulated our basic policies to uplift their living standards. That is why we provide fertilizers at a concessionary rate. A guaranteed price of Rs. 50 is given for their paddy. Imported grains such as Mung beans and cowpea can be grown locally. Turmeric, ginger, Tamarind and Garcinia were imported. We banned it completely and made arrangements to divert that income to the farming community in this country. The government is actively involved in ensuring higher prices for tea, coconut and rubber to develop a green economy, to develop the rural economy. Our primary objective is to eradicate poverty. That is why we have come up with a program to provide employment to 100,000 impoverished families.
Food security is very important in the world today. If we are not prepared for it, we will be in deep trouble. If we are not self-sufficient in food, a number of issues could arise in the future. We are building our economy to face them. Considerable tax concessions were given to the local industrialists. To develop our industries, to develop our enterprises, huge tax concessions were given to all sorts of businessmen. We are investing enormously on education. We employed 60,000 graduates recently. The jobs of these graduates are not directly related to the economy. It’s not their fault. We need to change our education system. We are already working on that. We are in the process of developing a technology-oriented education policy to make a technology-savvy future generation.
When I go to the villages they ask for jobs. But when I speak to various businessmen and industrialists in the city and those in the construction industry, they say that their projects are delayed because they don’t have people with the know-how to continue their work. There are not enough masons, carpenters, plumbers, electricians. Those businessmen want to recruit people for a good salary. But when you go to the village there are so many unemployed people. The job vacancies in the market and the skills people have do not synchronize together. Vocational Training Institutes were established during the tenure of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. We also need to strengthen the technology sector, increase secondary and tertiary education and generate a future-proof young generation suitable for the next century.
We are in the process of making those changes. We are making those fundamental changes to move forward as a country. These are what the people expected from us.
President’s Media Division