(Text of Speech made by President Ranil Wickremesinghe at the 76th anniversary celebrations of the United National Party (UNP held at the Sugathadasa Indoor stadium on September 6th 2022).
“We have gathered today for the party’s anniversary celebrations, for the first time, after the Covid-19 pandemic. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to all of you. Not just for being here, today, but for having faith in the UNP, even during the difficult period. Therefore, I extend my gratitude to you all. Today we commemorate our past leaders D.S. Senanayake, Dudley Senanayake, Sir John Kotelawala, J.R. Jayewardene, R. Premadasa and D.B. Wijetunga who built this country. We have learnt from them and I am here as a result of what I have learnt from them.
I address you today as the 4th State Leader from this party. I am facing a different situation to what other UNP leaders had to face. I have no UNP government. I have no UNP parliament team. Today, we have to all come together in governing this country and with the support of several other parties, including the SLPP. Why? Because today we have to face a grave crisis. I don’t think the country had to face such a crisis in its history. The economy has collapsed and we have to find solutions. I have come in the middle of this crisis.
Today, unlike other UNP leaders, I am unable to make appointments. The people are pressurized and some can’t even afford three meals. They are unemployed. I can only give you sweat, effort and criticism. But, I boldly declare that with our sweat and effort, we will resurrect this country.Last year, we celebrated our anniversary, through zoom technology. That day, I made a special statement to those who participated. I told them that today the youth of this country despises politics. The government is hoodwinking the people and the Opposition is limited to only criticism.
The people expect a policy, based on politics. They expect modern politics, but none of us acknowledge it. Eventually, their frustrations grew and, in April, they commenced demonstrations. That was a peaceful struggle. They displayed their talents. They expressed their views on what their demands were. We all appreciated their struggle, whether we agreed with them or not. The youth of this country demanded a change, without taking up arms. But, continuing such peaceful struggles is not easy and the frontline groups started turning violent from within the struggle. Eventually, the youth left the struggle and the violent protesters took charge.
Between the 09th and 13th of July they stopped the state governance and attempted to take over Parliament. When they did not succeed, the struggle faded. Due to the bad side of the struggle, even the good that came about was forgotten. Yet, despite the end of the struggle, the aspirations of the youth are not lost. These will be taken forward. As a government, we have submitted the 22nd Amendment to Parliament, for approval. It won’t stop there. I think the Constitution must be amended further. We need to remove the special presidential commissions. We have to remove the laws that violate the Constitution. There are several other factors that need to be done to strengthen the Constitution. The Constitution needs to be amended to rectify these factors, too.
We have initiated oversight committees with the inclusion of government and opposition members. They hold posts in the various sub-committees, as well. We must entrust them with responsibilities in order to take it further. The party leaders are in discussion, regarding this matter, with the Speaker. Further, monetary control by Parliament was strengthened. We intend to appoint three additional committees, apart from the existing committees, such as COPE and COPA, with the aim of overseeing revenue for the government, inspect bank accounts and restructure state enterprises.
Parliament will also get a budget office.
But, the most important factor is the National Council. The National Council is a board comprising party leaders to agree on various matters. The Prime Minister informed me to try and complete this process, within this week. I am waiting to see these being done by Parliament.
We also hope to introduce a new law to replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Similarly, we also intend to establish a Truth Commission. We also intend to introduce a Bill to enable equality between men and women. Another law would be introduced to grant government housing ,and a law to grant land deeds. Another law is expected to be introduced to address climate change and also a youth Parliament. Are these oppressions?
All these are done to strengthen the country. The most important proposal, however, is the public councils concept, introduced by our former Speaker, Karu Jayasuriya, which we have accepted. This will allow for the establishment of public councils (Jana Sabha) in every Grama Seva Division, similar to the Gramodaya concept, introduced by President Ranasinghe Premadasa. This will enable public opinion to be obtained through the 14,000 Grama Niladhari Divisions, without political bias, on various matters, including the law, Constitution and how best to develop their villages. This is a huge task carried out entirely on a voluntary basis. I assured the assistance of the government for this project and even have a law passed if required.
We must engage in the country’s main matters with the assistance of the people, without political bias. We have told them to present their questions, collectively, and we will provide the solutions.
That is the biggest change. There are many other proposals. Similarly, we must think of the economy. We are facing a difficult time without fuel, fertiliser, etc. We can provide fuel, fertiliser and seeds in at least limited quantities, in order to carry on the country’s economy. Things don’t stop there.
We have sought the assistance of the IMF. Then we need to obtain relief from our creditors and amidst all that we must ensure food security and for that we have commenced food security programmes in all 14,000 Grama Niladhari Divisions. The food that is produced in these villages, must be shared with everyone. There is a difficulty in producing food in the Western Province and we have urged the other districts to provide the required food for the Western Province.
This time we will provide you the fertiliser, fuel and seeds and I urge you to please provide us the biggest harvest this Yala season. Let’s all work together and eat rice together. The Agriculture Minister will coordinate these efforts.We must also earn foreign exchange and the best way to do that is by promoting tourism. We have entrusted that task to Minister Harin Fernando. Let’s all come together and accomplish this task and get more tourists.
Currently the production of this country is only 8.5% of the GDP. So how can we do anything? By 2024 we hope to increase this to around 15%, but that, too, is not enough. If we are to allocate the required allocations for health and education, etc., we need to increase it to at least around 19%. Therefore, today we must not only stabilize our economy because we can’t keep begging. Do we like to always beg? Irrespective of what race we belong to, we don’t like to be in debt. Our ancestors have taught us to always repay our debts, no matter how difficult. Let’s all get together and repay these debts. Let’s build a country free from debt. We need to work in houses in the Middle East to earn money.
But let’s find other alternatives. Let’s get rich. Why can’t this country become rich? We have the resources. Let’s build a strong economy. We can’t allow anyone to obstruct us, let’s forge ahead. If Japan could capture the world market, why can’t we? If Korea could and Singapore which does not even have water, why can’t we. Let’s build a prosperous, wealthy, nation within the next 25 years. Let’s start it next year and take it ahead. I may not be around to see its end, but I want to build a good future for the youth of this country.
If our target is 25 years, then let us ironclad our policy framework and not allow anyone to change it each time a new group is elected. We will implement this 25-year plan, in five-year blocks. If we are to achieve this talk, we must unite. D.S. Senanayake’s aim was to unite everyone. He said irrespective of whether we are Sinhala, Muslim, Tamil, Burgher, or any race, we should all be able to say we are Sri Lankans. I like to add to that by saying no matter whether we are UNP, SLFP, SJB, SLPP, EPDP, JVP, Tamil Congress TNA or any party, let’s unite and build this country as we are children of one mother.
I urge you all to unite for the sake of the country. Let’s start this journey together.The first struggle is over, let’s start our second struggle from here. Let’s unite and forge ahead fearlessly and build a glorious Sri Lanka.”