Amidst continuous protest against him, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday admitted that his Government had erred by banning the use of chemical fertiliser and should have sought assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“I believe that we should have gone for a program with the International Monetary Fund earlier. Also, I think the decision not to provide chemical fertilisers to farmers was an error. We have taken steps to revive that practice. Today, people are under immense pressure due to this economic crisis. I deeply regret this situation,” the President said while addressing the new Cabinet members.
The President said the country is facing one of the most difficult and challenging economic, political and socially decisive times in the history of Sri Lanka and said he expects the newly appointed ministers to commit themselves to building an honest, efficient and clean administration.
“A ministerial post is not a privilege. It is a great responsibility,” he said. The President said at present, many state-owned enterprises are in dire financial crisis and urged the ministers to transform the institutions under their purview into corruption free and efficient institutions.
“We know that when they get these ministerial posts, they are preparing to get jobs in the ministries and institutions they get. I urge you not to do such acts under these circumstances. What ministries really need to do is create jobs. Present crisis is a good opportunity to make the system change that the people have demanded,” he said.
Rajapaksa said in the past two and a half years, the country has faced many challenges including the COVID-19 pandemic, the debt burden and some mistakes on their part which need to be rectified to win the trust of the people.
He said the anger of the people who have to spend time in queues to get essential items at a high price is justified.
“Whatever shortcomings that occurred in the past, it is my responsibility as the people-elected President to manage the present challenges and difficulties. I promise the people who have elected me, I will not abdicate that responsibility in the midst of any difficulty or challenge,” he said.
He said the Government’s priority is to find solutions to the economic crisis, adding that no other problem can be solved without solving it. “I have already taken several important decisions necessary to revive the country’s economy. As its first and most important step I have appointed a new Minister of Finance, a new Governor of the Central Bank with extensive experiences and a new Secretary to the Treasury. I have also appointed three economists with international experiences and who have high recognition in the field of economic management to advise the Government and myself on economic management. Also, a team of public and private sector experts has been appointed to assist the Government,” he said.
Together with this group, the President said, a number of important decisions were made in the last few days to re-establish the country’s economy.
“We must always tell the truth to the people. There is no point in hiding the reality from the people. I kindly request you to inquire intelligently about the information you receive and to understand the facts. We can only find solutions if we understand the problem. For that, we need the support and consent of all of you,” he said.
The President said the country is facing a severe foreign exchange deficit and a debt crisis and the limited foreign exchange has to be used to buy essentials for the people and for other urgent foreign exchange needs.
“We have already informed the creditors of our difficulty in repaying short-term foreign loans and a debt restructuring programme has commenced. My newly appointed Economic Management Team has already begun discussions with our friendly countries, and international institutions such as the IMF, World Bank and the Asian Development Bank,” he disclosed, adding that the Minister of Finance and the relevant officials have already gone to the United States to take those discussions forward.
He said the country has received credit facilities from India for the importation of fuel, pharmaceuticals and other essential commodities. In addition, the World Bank has offered to support the import of gas, fertiliser, milk powder and pharmaceuticals.
“Although the country is still receiving the fuel and gas required for the people, it has not been properly distributed in recent days. Due to this reason, we are now working to minimise the inconvenience caused to the people. Another major reason for the shortage of fuel in the market is accumulation of large stocks of fuel by the people who fear that there will be a shortage in the future. Due to this the demand for fuel in the country has increased significantly,” he said.
He said a number of racketeers who are taking advantage of the hardships faced by the people have also emerged and the Government is intervening to manage this situation. “I urge these people to avoid such attempts in a difficult situation like this. We have already taken the necessary decisions to manage the fuel and gas shortage issues in the coming weeks. We are implementing these decisions.”
He also said the Government hopes to obtain the required fuel quantities and limit power cuts to at least two hours in the future.
”While we are looking for solutions to short-term issues, we must also work to prevent this situation from recurring. No matter how difficult they may be, we have to make some decisions that have been delayed for decades due to political reasons. We have a responsibility to steer the economy in the right direction at least now and build a country that fulfils the aspirations of our future generations,” he said.
The President said the country needs the support of international organisations such as the IMF as well as friendly countries to overcome the serious challenge that the country is facing. And that such support can only be obtained if there is political stability in the country.
He invited all political parties to unite for the betterment of the country and accept his invitation and work with the Government.
“I decided to appoint a limited number of Ministers to govern the country and to get the assistance of the international community during these difficult times. Many senior members of the ruling party have voluntarily resigned from the Cabinet, paving way for a young and educated team to be appointed as the new Cabinet,” he said.
The President noted that the security and freedom of all citizens depend on a democratic system of governance that functions in accordance with the Constitution. “I do not believe that there is anything wrong when the young people, the most active part of the society, express their pressure in their own way. The youths who are to take reins of the future of the country have complete freedom to express their views, organise protests and agitate today.”
He also paid tribute to the police, the Armed Forces and all security forces personnel who are performing their duty in a disciplined manner when the protesters carry out their protests creatively.
“You are aware that I have granted freedom to conduct protests and demonstrations in the last two and a half years. I didn’t even take any measure to disperse the protesters who arrived near my office. I believe that the majority of these protesters are young people who truly love their country. I also see them coming forward on behalf of the country as a positive sign for the future. I believe that most people who love the country, regardless of race, religion or political affiliation, want to rectify the mistakes of the current governing system to build the country, instead of destabilising the country. Therefore, I urge these young people not to allow opportunists to move your democratic protests towards a violent path,” he said.
The President also said he has have never stolen the funds of the people of this country and that his hands are always clean; then and today. “I contested for the presidency because of the requests and invitations made by many people and not because I needed power. I have served this country for 20 years as an officer in the Armed Forces. I have served successfully. Also, as the Secretary of Defence, I have successfully served this country. I have also served with dedication as the Secretary to the Ministry of Urban Development. As the President elected by the people, I have always acted within the Constitution and the framework of democracy. The legislative power of the country lies with the Parliament. Therefore, there is an opportunity to discuss in Parliament the views expressed by various political parties on the upcoming changes in the Constitution and to approve the necessary amendments. I am ready to extend my full support to Parliament at any time in this regard. Accordingly, I pledge to respect the supreme Constitution of the country and to make necessary changes in the future and to salvage the country from this crisis,” he added.