“The law will be applied equally to the people who attacked the peaceful protesters on 9th May and those who are engaging in violence and terrorism under the guise of the struggle. I will ensure that there is no political intervention in this process,”-President Ranil Wickremesinghe in his Policy Speech


Sandun Jayawardana

Two weeks after being elected to office by Parliament, President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Wednesday (3) delivered a wide-ranging policy statement to the legislature where he outlined a series of political and economic reforms. He also renewed his appeal for parties in Parliament to come together to form an all-party government to resolve the prevailing crisis and establish stability.

President Wickremesinghe’s first statement of government policy was largely well received by both the government and opposition. While outlining immediate solutions, Mr Wickremesinghe also focused on the long term, speaking of his aim to create a surplus in the primary budget by 2025 and a solid economic foundation for the country by 2026.

He revealed that the government was preparing a “National Economic Policy” for the next 25 years. While there might be calls for him to step down, the speech made it crystal clear that this is a President who intends to settle in for the long haul.

Due to the prevailing economic crisis, it was a scaled down ceremonial opening, mostly devoid of the pomp and pageantry usually seen on such occasions. There was no presidential motorcade flanked by motorcycle outriders or mounted escorts. There was also no gun salute traditionally accorded to the head of state.

The President was accorded a guard of honour by the tri forces. It has been customary to hoist both the national flag and the presidential flag during a ceremonial opening of Parliament. Only the national flag was hoisted on this occasion however, since Mr Wickremesinghe had decided that unlike his predecessors, he would not have his own flag. Since there was no presidential emblem, Parliament officials had fixed the state emblem on top of the chair he was seated in when delivering his policy statement.

Having been Prime Minister on six occasions, Mr Wickremesinghe has been thrust into the presidency under unique circumstances. Parliament has elected him to serve out the rest of the term given to former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. While he may not have been elected by the mandate of the people, the President noted in his speech that representatives of Parliament were elected by people belonging to various ethnic groups. “Today, I am addressing you as the President of every Sri Lankan citizen,” he added.

He stressed that he took over a country that was in disaster and that the citizens expect their representatives in Parliament to work together at this juncture to build the country. He again requested all parties representing Parliament to unit in the formation of an all-party government. “An all-party government is not a government that acts on the sole opinion of one party. It is a government that comprises the views of all parties within a common policy framework, and implemented after decisions are made,” he added.

The government has also made progress in some areas such as minimising power cuts and bringing down fertiliser needed for cultivations, eliminating the gas shortage and taking safety measures to avoid food shortages. With Indian High Commissioner Gopal Bagley watching from the gallery along with other diplomats, Mr Wickremesinghe made special mention of the assistance extended by India for the government’s efforts to revitalise the economy. “The government of India under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has given us a breath of life,” he said, extending the gratitude of the Sri Lankan people and his own to Mr Modi, his government and the Indian people.

Outlining the planning framework that he said will be the basis for the country’s future, the President said negotiations on securing a four-year programme from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are currently ongoing and the expectation is to conclude a staff level agreement “expeditiously and successfully.”

He also made clear that the government will have to make policy decisions on getting rid of loss making state enterprises. The President urged all parties to let go of “traditional thinking” in striving to build the nation and listed a number of instances in recent history where he said opposition to foreign investment over baseless claims resulted in the country losing billions of dollars.

The National Economic Policy being drafted for the next 25 years lays the foundation for a social market economic system, securing development for the poor and underprivileged groups and encouraging small and medium entrepreneurs, he further claimed.
“If we build the country, the nation and the economy through the national economic policy, we would be able to become a fully developed country by the year 2048, when we celebrate the 100th anniversary of independence.”

President Wickremesinghe also addressed the movement known as the “Aragalaya” (Struggle) that drove Gotabaya Rajapaksa from power and paved the way for him to become President. He dismissed claims that he and his government are now hunting activists involved in the struggle.

“The law will be applied equally to the people who attacked the peaceful protesters on 9th May and those who are engaging in violence and terrorism under the guise of the struggle. I will ensure that there is no political intervention in this process,” he asserted.

Regarding political reforms, the President detailed the expeditious passage of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, reestablishing Parliamentary Sectoral Oversight Committees and the setting up of a National Assembly consisting of political party leaders as his top priorities. Measures will also be taken to establish a People’s Assembly to decide which social and political reforms should be implemented. He invited youth engaged in activism and youth who are not to also provide their views to this assembly.

Parliament will hold a three-day debate on the President’s policy statement on August 9, 10 and 12.

Courtesy:Sunday Times