‘Wrongdoers will be punished irrespective of their social status’
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday (18) pledged to eliminate waste and corruption in the state administration. Measures should be taken to completely eliminate waste and corruption in all the ministries and government institutions and the wrongdoers engaged in such malpractices must be brought before the law irrespective of their social status, the President assured in his address to the nation telecast last night
The following is the text of the speech delivered to mark completion of his first year in Office: “A year ago, more than 6.9 million voters in this country elected me as your new President.
It is no secret that the majority who voted for me then were Sinhalese. They rallied because they had legitimate fears that the Sinhala race, our religion, national resources and the heritage would be threatened with destruction in the face of various local and foreign forces and ideologies that support separatism, extremism and terrorism.
The main appeal made by the people to me was to, “Protect the Country”.
During this short period of time we have taken steps to ensure the security of the country as requested by the people. The public should not have apprehensions on this issue any longer.
An administration that protects the rights of all citizens regardless of racial or religious differences will be established during my tenure. I have always acted in accordance with the pledge I made in front of Ruwalweli Maha Seya to protect the unity of the country and to safeguard and nurture the Buddha Sasana as per the Constitution, the supreme law of this country.
I meet with an advisory council comprising leading Buddhist monks of Three Chapters every month to seek their advice on matters pertaining to governance.
Prior to my assumption of office, many lives have been lost in this country to the activities of religious extremists. The underworld had become powerful and a wave of killings had begun throughout the country. Sri Lanka had become a haven for international drug traffickers. The country was becoming insecure due to the weakening of the intelligence and security forces. Historic sacred sites of archeological value were being encroached by extremists.
After I came into power, I appointed suitable officials in charge of security apparatus of the country and gave them the required authority to carry out their responsibilities without any compromise. The intelligence services that had collapsed in the past were restructured and revitalized.
Accordingly, we have managed to control the possibility of a resurgence of extremism in any form. A very effective and robust programme has been implemented to control the drug menace. There is no room anymore to engage in drug trafficking or operate the underworld from inside of prison cells as in the past. People of this country no longer have reasons to live in fear of underworld gangs, extortionists and racketeers.
We will strive to further strengthen this initiative in the future.
I have now set up a special Task Force to protect sites of archeological value and to preserve our Buddhist and national heritage.
All what we have done so far in line with “Saubhagyaye Dekma” (Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour) Policy Statement formulated by the people for the people, which was endorsed by the majority of this country in both Presidential and Parliamentary Elections.
The era of betraying war heroes, selling national assets, willingness to accept any deal for short-term gains, allowing foreign forces to interfere in the internal affairs of the country have now come to an end. We have once again shown the world our position as a proud, sovereign country, ready to maintain friendly relations will all the nations, non-aligned, non-partisan in conflicts between powerful nations. This is the reason today why we receive due respect from regional powers as well as global powers.
In a very short period of time we have been able to bring about many attitudinal changes in the traditional political culture of this country. We initiated this trend with the Presidential Election itself. At that time we introduced to the country an exemplary election campaign based on principles and free from plastic, polythene and posters, free from insults and slander. The subsequent Parliamentary Election too can be termed as one of the most exemplary election campaigns in recent history. Most candidates abstained from displaying posters, banners and cutouts. Violation of election laws were kept to a minimum. Violence, harassments and election fraud were not even heard of. With this transformation, the people have deprived many former politicians of their Parliamentary seats irrespective of their status. As a result, the newly elected Members of Parliament have the opportunity to regain the respect of the people who once said no to all 225 members.
Even after assumption of office, I acted on the principle that the Presidency is not a privilege but a responsibility. Accordingly, I have taken steps to completely eliminate unnecessary expenses, waste and vain glorifications.
During the time gone by, we have not influenced the judiciary or the police in any manner. Appointments and promotions were all made on merit without any political bias. We totally rejected the practice of abusing the law to suppress political opponents. We showed by example, not by word, how we truly uphold the rule of law.
We appointed a committee comprising professionals to select right candidates for senior government positions. No other government has followed such a policy before. Furthermore it blocked the opportunity of unsuitable persons being appointed as heads of state entities due to political patronage.
When I assumed duties as the President, the economic growth rate of the country which experienced an immense decline during the last five years had plummeted as low as 2.1%.
The unemployment rate which had fallen to 4.3% in 2014 had risen again to 4.8% by 2019.
The sharp fall in the value of Rupee against the USD had destabilized the currency and left the economy in a state of great uncertainty.
The tourism industry was on the verge of collapse. Annual income from foreign employment was declining.
The country’s debt portfolio had skyrocketed. Then government had imposed a heavy tax burden on the people. Due to high interest rates, local entrepreneurs faced great difficulties.
We quickly took a number of steps to control this situation.
The burden of tax was reduced and relief was given to the people. The direct tax, especially on wages, was reduced and the withholding tax on interest was removed.
Measures were taken to provide a number of tax concessions aiming local entrepreneurs. Tax systems were simplified and the competitive imports unhealthy for local products were restricted.
Loans were provided to people and businesses in need through massive reduction of interest rates.
We managed to maintain the foreign exchanges rate, which had been falling steadily for several years, stable.
We were able to control the rapidly increasing foreign borrowings. We also paid off all foreign debt installments that were due to be paid without damaging the image of our country internationally.
We took action to settle large sums of arrears that had not been paid to local suppliers by the previous government. Rs. 24 billion for fertilizer, Rs. 32 billion for medicines, Rs. 119 billion for construction, Rs. 20 billion for elders’ allowance and Rs. 47 billion for those who provided services to various ministries were paid. The release of money in this way to the society helped to reactivate the economic process of the country that remains paralyzed.
As per the Saubhagyaye Dekma Policy Statement, we have done a great deal in a short period of time to revive the agricultural sector in which the majority of the rural population of our country are involved.
The guaranteed purchase price of paddy was increased from Rs. 32 to Rs. 50.
The fertilizer subsidy was made free.
Re-export of crops such as pepper was halted to protect the local agricultural producers and the importation of some agro products was stopped completely.
Import duties were managed so as to encourage the production of paddy, maize, cereals, potatoes and onions.
Importation of Ethanol was completely banned.
We were able to create a new impetus in the field of agriculture by re-cultivating abandoned paddy lands all over the country, attracting youth to cultivation and encouraging people for home gardening.
No matter how harsh the difficulties were, we did not let our exports to collapse. At present our total export earnings are at a higher level than in previous years.
Finding a sustainable solution to the issue of poverty among our rural masses is a priority in our economic policy. Accordingly, we have identified several areas that need immediate attention.
The programme to provide 100,000 jobs targeting poorest of the poor in our country was launched. Through each of these employment opportunities, a foundation was laid for a better future for extremely poor families. So far, 35,000 jobs have been given to the most suitable candidates. The rest will be given jobs soon.
If a large number of graduates who received their education at the expense of the public money are unemployed for a long time, it is certainly a fault in the education system. While rectifying this error in the future through university education reforms, we have provided employment to 60,000 graduates and provided them with the required training to serve the country productively.
Provision of 20,000 acres of freehold land to each of the landless families as yet another step to eradicate poverty among the rural population is currently underway.
Under our initiative to provide drinking water to every family, the required groundwork to supply water to 429,000 families islandwide has been completed.
Three 10,000 km road development projects have commenced under the 100,000Km Roads Development Programme.
Work on around 5,000 bridges is nearing completion under the scheme for construction of 10,000 Bridges.
During this year alone, construction of more than 20,000 houses for urban low-income families and middle-income families has begun.
14,000 rural houses are being constructed under the ‘One House for One Village Programme’.
The programme to build 4,000 houses for plantation workers too has commenced.
1,000 schools across the country are being upgraded to the national level.
The number of students enrolled to universities has already increased by 10,000. No other year has seen such an increase in the number of students receiving admission to universities in a year since Independence. Plans are underway to increase the capacity of universities each year in the same manner.
We did all this not under normal circumstances but in the midst of many formidable challenges.
Since the day I assumed duties as the President until the dissolution of Parliament, I had to work with a minority government. As the Opposition had the majority in Parliament it was not possible to pass any Bill or a Budget proposal.
The COVID pandemic began to spread across the globe less than a month after the Presidential Election. When Wuhan in China was closed down in January 2020, a quick decision was taken to bring back 33 Sri Lankan students, quarantine them properly and send them to their homes, setting an example to the rest of the world.
By the time the first COVID patient was reported in Sri Lanka, we had established a Task Force to control a possible COVID wave that could occur in the future. This enabled us to control the first wave of Corona very quickly. Sri Lanka’s success in controlling Corona was recognized even by the World Health Organization.
Nevertheless, we should never forget the fact that we had to lock down the country for nearly two months to protect our citizens from the Corona virus.
During this period the government took measures to minimize the economic impact on the lives of the people. Mechanisms were devised to make essential food available to the people. An allowance of Rs. 5,000 each was given to 5.9 million families twice. Tax relief was provided to reduce the prices of essential food items during the difficult period.
The government has so far spent over Rs. 70,000 million on identifying Corona infected, quarantine close associates, PCR testing and welfare activities.
I was elected in November last year. The Parliamentary Election was held nine months later in August this year. People gave us a two third majority in the Parliamentary Election because they approved the way we functioned during this period.
The best yardstick of the success or failure of mine is the public opinion and not the organized propaganda spread by political opponents on social media platforms.
Currently, the world is experiencing a second wave of Corona. It has been identified that a new strain of rapidly transmitting COVID virus is the cause for this surge. Although it poses a new challenge for every country in the world, we can take the advantage of the experiences of the past. These experiences will particularly be helpful in increasing testing capacity, identifying the infected as well as their close associates, adopting proper quarantine methods and segregating vulnerable areas and maintaining normal life in other areas.
Similar to last time, we act according to a plan. While successfully containing the spread of the disease, our healthcare sector has been able to maintain a mortality rate of less that 0.05% of those diagnosed with the disease and referred for treatment.
If all of us adhere to health guidelines and fulfill our respective duties as responsible citizens we can control this new situation in the future in the same manner we handle the first wave of coronavirus.
I have taken steps to appoint Ministers and State Ministers clearly identifying many fields that can directly contribute for the development of the country. The scopes and responsibilities of each Ministry and State Ministry have been demarcated very clearly. The State Ministers are able to fulfill their respective duties and responsibilities without any hindrance as the monetary provisions required to implement development projects and financial responsibility are directly placed with them.
When assigning subjects to Ministries, special attention was paid to several sectors related to agriculture, plantation, fisheries industry, traditional industries and promoting self-employment opportunities as these sectors affect the majority of the people in the country.
In the National Policy Framework, ‘Suabhagyaye Dekma’, we promised the people to realize the objectives described under the concept, ‘A Productive Citizen and a Happy Family’. As special attention should be focused on housing issues faced by the people belonging to different layers of the society, three separate Ministries were established.
Furthermore, special attention was paid to develop urban as well as rural infrastructure facilities with the aim of enhancing the living standard of the people.
The Government plans to produce many high-quality medicines to meet the country’s requirement of pharmaceuticals locally, instead of importing these medicines spending a huge amount of foreign exchange. We will take steps to eliminate various corrupt practices occurring in the medicine importation process. A separate State Ministry of Pharmaceutical Production, Supply and Regulation was established with this objective.
As mentioned in the National Policy Framework “Saubhagyaye Dekma”’ the development of education and skills is vital in building a productive citizen. For this purpose, we have taken all the state institutions relating to the education and skills development under the purview of a single ministry.
We have established a separate State Ministry and two Task Forces to implement the educational reforms to meet the demands of the modern world.
As I have pledged, steps have been taken to upgrade the Gampaha Wickramarachchi Ayurveda Institute to the level of a fully-fledged university with the aim of developing the indigenous medicine in the country.
There are plans afoot to build CITY UNIVERSITIES centering the cities in ten selected districts which do not have higher education institutes.
By now, plans have been completed to take all the Nurses Teaching Schools under the purview of one university with the aim of providing the opportunity for the nurses to upgrade their qualifications to a Bachelor’s Degree level instead of Nursing Diploma. With the Implementation of this initiative, doors will be open for them to enter foreign job market.
Furthermore, plans are underway to provide higher educational opportunities for our talented sports men and women as well as to pave the way to create a sports economy and to establish a National Sports University with the aim of opening its branches in several areas of the country.
For the first time in history we will take steps to make it mandatory for the university students to learn the subjects of English language and Information Technology and they will also be presented with internationally recognized certificates once they successfully complete these subjects.
As I have pledged, the government has taken steps to develop the Open University system and the expand access to distance education in order to facilitate all the students who passed the G.C.E. (A/L) Examination to receive university level education in addition to the increase of the universities’ intake capacity. We have planned to enroll 10,000 new students in the next year for the Bachelor of Technology degree programme in Open Universities and from their first year itself to provide them education while they are employed.
We have given the relevant instructions to the University authorities to ensure that the subjects the students learn at the universities could directly contribute for social and economic development. Special attention has been given to encourage technological education and innovations.
If you want to truly serve the people it is necessary to continuously listen to them. Because of that I go to the grass roots to address people’s grievances. In the recent months, I have travelled in the rural areas of Sri Lanka to see the difficulties suffered by fellow citizens and get firsthand experience. As a result of this I had the opportunity to take necessary decisions and actions with a correct understanding of the issues common to every district as well as issues unique to a particular area. I have always advised the Ministers, State Ministers and MPs to go among the people to give swift solutions to their grievances at the village level while understanding their genuine problems.
An efficient government service is a requisite vital for the forward march of the country. I request all the public servants to take steps to swiftly provide solutions for the reasonable issues of the public instead of hiding behind rules and regulations. Occasionally I visit public departments and institutions to observe whether these institutions are functioning in an appropriate manner. I hope to continue this initiative in the future as well. Ministers, State Ministers as well as high ranking officials of the government should always scrutinize the functions of their respective institutions.
We have pledged the people to eliminate waste and corruption in the state administration. Measures should be taken to completely eliminate the waste and corruption in all the ministries and government institutions and the wrongdoers engaged in such malpractices must be brought before the law irrespective of their social status.
The success of a democratic state is determined by the Constitution of that country. Even though we were able to eliminate the problematic situation created by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution by passing the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, a few controversial aspects still remained. We have already appointed a Committee to seek public opinion to draft a new Constitution.
The success of a democratic state is determined by the Constitution of that country. Even though we were able to eliminate the problematic situation created by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution by passing the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, a few controversial aspects still remain. We have already appointed a Committee to seek public opinion to draft a new Constitution.
The People of this country have given me and our government a huge mandate to make our country prosperous while changing the traditional political culture. We are, at all times committed to fulfill those aspirations.
My hope is to establish a government which gives priority for talent or skill over relationships, give more attention for the common needs than individual desires, motivate investments instead of obtaining loans, honour actions than words and value the true public service than deceitfully exhibitionism. The political authority as well as the public servants should take responsibilities in this regard.
Not only Sri Lanka but also the whole world has reached an important milestone in history. There are many challenges ahead of us. All Sri Lankans who love their Motherland must work together to take the country forward in a systematic manner while acting according to a definite policy frame to overcome these challenges.
We were able to defeat the LTTE terrorism, which was a major threat for our country, as a result of a collective effort. At that time the majority of our country committed to achieve one goal. We faced the challenges with team spirit and in disciplinary manner. We should be able to conquer the economic challenges that the country is facing in the future in the same manner we won the war when most were of the opinion that we would not be able to win it. We should understand that all of us have a common responsibility in this regard. In this context, not only the politicians and officials but also the public have the responsibility to actively contribute in increasing the production capacity of the country, to improve service efficiency and eliminate corruption.
I am a person who has constantly faced challenges and overcame them. I am not a person scared of empty threats. I don’t have the habit of simply running away from problems. Instead, I resolve those issues.
I do not want to please anyone only for the purpose of securing votes. As I have pledged, my determination is to build a prosperous nation. I will not hesitate to take whatever action is necessary according to my conscience to achieve this target.
I love my country. I am proud of my country. I have a vision for my country. This is the Motherland of all of us. Hence, the time has come for all of us to join hands as productive citizens with the team spirit and fulfilling responsibilities in a disciplined manner in building the prosperous nation we promised to our people.
May the Noble Triple Gem bless you all!
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AG not bound by its recommendations, yet to receive report
PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks:
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC is not bound by recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, or presidential directives in that regard, according to authoritative sources.
They said that the AG couldn’t under any circumstances initiate legal proceedings until he had received the full PCoI report.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the PCoI report on Feb 1. The President’s Office delivered a set of PCoI reports to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Feb 23, a day after the report was presented to the cabinet of ministers. The Island raised the matter with relevant authorities in the wake of a section of the media reporting the PCoI recommending punitive measures against former President Maithripala Sirisena, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, IGP Pujitha Jayasundera, Chief of State Intelligence Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, Chief of National Intelligence retired DIG Sisira Mendis and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Rishad Bathiudeen et al over the Easter Sunday carnage.
Sources pointed out that due to the inordinate delay in sharing the PCoI report with the AG, the department hadn’t been able to take preliminary measures required to initiate the proceedings. Sources said that a team of officers would take at least six weeks or more to examine the report before tangible measures could be taken.
With the AG scheduled to retire on May 24, 2021, even if the AG Department received the P CoI it would be quite a tough task to initiate proceedings ahead of retirement, sources said. However, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in last October, both the AG and the IGP could receive extensions beyond 60 at the President’s discretion.
Dappula de Livera received an Acting appointment as the AG a week after the Easter Sunday carnage whereas his predecessor Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, was elevated to Chief Justice.
Responding to another query, sources said that the Attorney General two weeks ago requested Secretary to the President for a copy of the P CoI. However, the AG was yet to receive one, sources said. In spite of the AG not receiving a P CoI copy, the AG had instructed the IGP to obtain a copy of the report when he requested the police to complete investigations into the Easter Sunday carnage. The AG issued specific instructions after having examined police files pertaining to the investigations.
The IGP, too, hadn’t received a copy so far though some sections of the report were in the public domain.
Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage displayed at a live political programme on Derana a copy of the P CoI report he received at the cabinet meeting earlier in the day.
Sources said that the Attorney General’s Department couldn’t decide on a course of action in respect of the Easter carnage on the basis of a section of the report. In terms of the Commission of Inquiry Act (Section 24), the AG enjoyed significant powers/authority in respect of investigations; sources said adding that the Department urgently required both the P CoI report and police investigations report. The Attorney General’s Department has raised the delay in receiving a P CoI report amidst the Catholic Church attacking the government over the same issue.
Sources said that ministerial committee appointed to study the P CoI report couldn’t decide on how to proceed with the recommendations and the matter was entirely in the hands of the AG. Sources pointed out that the delay on the part of the government to release the report had received the attention of sections of the international media, including the New York Times. Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera having met Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at the Bishop’s House on Dec 8, 2020 said that the AG would get a copy of the P CoI report once the President received it. Minister Weerasekera said that the CID had handed over the relevant files after having completed investigations into eight blasts. Referring to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) report on the Easter Sunday carnage, the former Navy Chief of Staff said that all such documents would have to be brought to one place and considered before initiating legal proceedings. Acknowledging that there could be delays, lawmaker Weerasekera said that on the instructions of the Attorney General a 12-member team of lawyers was working on the case. The minister vowed to expose the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attacks. Investigations continued while some of those wanted were overseas, the minister said.
The minister acknowledged that the Attorney General couldn’t proceed without the P CoI report. Minister Weerasekera reiterated that once the President received the P CoI report, it would be sent to the Attorney General. The minister said that there were documents two to three feet high that needed scrutiny. The minister assured comprehensive investigation. The minister said that investigations pertaining to eight blasts had been completed and the reports handed over to the AG. However, the Attorney General had found shortcomings in those investigations.
JVP picks holes in PCoI report
By Saman Indrajith
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday bombings had failed to identify the mastermind of , the JVP said yesterday.
Addressing the media at the party headquarters in Pelawatte, JVP Propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath said that the PCoI report had levelled accusations against former President Maithripala Sirisena, former IGP and head of intelligence for their dereliction of duty, shirking of responsibilities and not taking action to prevent the attacks and negligence. There were reference to the causes of the terror attacks and actions to be taken to avoid such attacks and the influence of extremist organisations. “However, there is no mention of the mastermind of the attacks, the handlers of the attackers and those whose interests the carnage served. It is also not mentioned whether there has been any foreign or local organisation behind those attacks. As per the PCoI report the attack took place as a result of culmination of extremism.
“According to the PCoI the extremist activities were a result of the prevailing political situation then. The entire nation was waiting to see who was responsible and who masterminded those attacks. The PCoI has failed to identify the true culprits responsible for the terror attacks. The report says that the leader of the suicide cadres killed himself in the attacks and it was a puzzle. That means those who are actually responsible for the attacks are still at large. The report does not provide exact details of the sources of the attacks. The PCoI had sittings for one year and five months. It summoned various persons and got their statements but it has failed to shed any light on the terror attacks. Everybody knows that the top leaders of the government and heads of security and intelligence establishments failed in their duties. Ranil Wickremesinghe was the second in command and he too is bound by the responsibility but the PCoI report fails to identify him as one of the persons against whom legal action should be instituted. The PCoI has treated Wickremesinghe and former President Maithripala Sirisena differently. We are not telling that this report is a total failure but we cannot accept this as a complete report. The PCoI handed over its report to the President on Feb 1. After 23 days it was sent to Parliament. Now, a copy of the report is there in the parliamentary library for the perusal of MPs.”
Herath said that the PCoI did not have powers to take punitive action. “It only has powers to name those responsible and recommend action to be taken against those named.
TNA MP faults govt. for delay in answering questions, gets under Johnston’s skin
By Saman Indrajith
It did not matter whether the MPs were wearing pressed clothes or had travelled long distances when their questions were answered, Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando told Parliament yesterday.
The Minister said so in response to a complaint by Batticaloa District TNA MP Shanikyan Rasamanikkam, who expressed his dismay for government taking time to answer a question raised by him.
MP Rasamanikkam has raised a question whether the Minister of Health is aware that the Dikkodai ospital, located in the Batticaloa district is not used for public purposes and the patients who visit the hospital for receiving services, face inconveniences, owing to that. On behalf of the Minister of Health, the Chief Government Whip and Minister asked for additional two weeks time.
MP Rasamanikkam: I come to parliament from Batticaloa, which is 422 km away. To attend Parliament we take great care including pressing our clothes. After taking so much trouble to come there braving the pandemic threat we do not get answers. There is a Health Minister and Acting Health Minister and neither of them is here. I saw Minister Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle in the House this morning. She too has gone out. I travel more than 800 km. We could attend to many other problems. It is because the government does not give answers we are conducting protest marches, but when we do so we are hauled up before courts.
Chief Government Whip Minister Johnston Fernando: Every MP comes here wearing pressed clothes. But that has nothing to do with questions and answers here. I have been requested by the subject minister to ask for two weeks’ time. The MPs have a right to ask questions and in the same way the ministers have the right to ask for time. On the other hand, whether you cover 400 km to reach parliament does not matter. The majority of MPs travel 200 to 250 kilometers to come to Parliament. It is for that purpose they contest elections and get elected. Once elected the distance is not an issue you have to come to Parliament. The government has answered all your questions. This is the first time the Minister has asked for additional time. It is unfair for you to level charges. A more responsible conduct is expected of you as an upcoming political leader.