Democracy & Human Rights | Speeches

Achievements and Shortcomings since Independence

Independence Day Celebration

Colombo, Sri Lanka

February 2, 2002

Venerable members of the Maha Sanga,
Reverend Sirs,
Fellow Citizens

This day, our fifty fourth anniversary of independence, affords us yet another appropriate opportunity to reflect on our many achievements, analyze our failures, assess the challenges that lie ahead of us and commit ourselves with renewed energy and determination to provide for all our peoples the quality of life they deserve, the security and protection they need, institutions of governance that will serve them well, a just and fair society, a worthy home in this our blessed island, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga said yesterday in an Address to the Nation.

Whatever race, religion or social group we may belong to, let us all pledge in one voice - that we will draw strength from the richness of our diversity, in order to build a united and strong nation. With the great Indian poet Tagore I shall say, "Into that heaven of freedom let my country awake", President Kumaratunga said.

The President said:” For over a decade before independence, and throughout the entirety of our post independence history our citizens have regularly exercised their cherished right to vote at a variety of elections, from rural to national, at periods preordained by the law. The voter turn out at our elections is one of the highest in the world. Recent experience has revealed certain structural flaws in our electoral system, which, as we all agree urgently require redress. But these flaws have not diminished the vigour of our democratic traditions and the ardour of our people to participate fully in the democratic process. The strength of that process is best illustrated by the fact that our voters have regularly unseated incumbent governments.

"In the early years of independence our leaders wisely decided to invest considerable thought, effort and financial capital into the formulation and implementation of social welfare schemes and the development of our human resources including, in particular, mass education and health services. As the years went by the impact of those early decisions has been widely and continuously felt throughout our society. We have a rate of literacy, which is one of the highest in the world. Our levels of nutrition, birth control, infant mortality, general health care and longevity are commendable. But in these areas we must resist complacency. Our impressive achievements, widely applauded by the world should not blind us to present deficiencies and the pressing needs of the future.

"Our hospital infrastructure is woefully inadequate to serve the people, especially the poor; here is a desperate need to rationalize and modernize the management of health services.

"In the intensely competitive world of today literacy in the sense of the ability to read, write and speak a language is insufficient to secure employment, when computer literacy, entrepreneurial, technical and managerial skills are the demands of the day. Indisputably, the true wealth of a nation lies not in its material resources, but in the intelligence of its young, in their skills, their enthusiasm, their determination to succeed, their constant desire to improve themselves. In drawing up our national priorities we should never forget that our young people are a high priority. Certainly, we must find them employment; but more, we must equip them to find employment.

"We face other social problems, issues dealing with women and children, workers and farmers social problems such as alcoholism, drug abuse, crime and violence. And let us never forget that the alleviation of poverty, the scourge of the developing world, should remain always our highest priority.

"As another year of independence dawns we are faced with three especially important issues - two of them have been with us for a long time, one is new and unique. The ongoing-armed conflict in Sri Lanka remains unresolved. My previous Governments made strenuous efforts to maintain a dialogue with the LTTE with the help, for the first time in the history of the conflict, of another sovereign Government. There were some successes and some setbacks. But work on the peace process continued unabated since I came to office in 1994. A signal achievement of that period was the tabling of a draft Constitution, proposing substantial devolution of power. A historic consensus between the government and the opposition eluded us just when success was within our grasp. My new Government has moved quickly to re-engage the LTTE in dialogue while implementing humanitarian measures in the Wanni, for which my previous Government had concluded the preparations. I am informed that the government will pursue the peace process with sincerity and commitment to bring the conflict to a satisfactory conclusion. However, we are aware that the road ahead is arduous. Many difficult questions remain to be addressed. All necessary steps will have to be taken to ensure the security of our people and the integrity of the State until a permanent peace is established.

"The second important issue is the question of law and order. Over the years in our society there has been a cumulative increase of violence in various forms - during and after elections and in the execution of organized crime, through the indiscriminate and pervasive use of dangerous weapons, which have proliferated to an unacceptable level. My new Government should address this grave problem with a high sense of urgency. We must not allow violence to become our way of life. Our best efforts to improve the lives of our people through economic and social development will come to naught, if escalating violence robs our people of their vitality. If the state is seen to be indifferent to or unable to discharge its responsibility for the protection and security of its citizens and their property which is their basic right, their lives will be permanently dominated by fear, with all the distressing and debilitating consequences this would have for our country. We cannot allow that to happen again.

"I must also say a few words about the unusual constitutional and political situation that has arisen after the last parliamentary general election. The people have decreed, as they are entitled to do under the present Constitution, that the governance of the country be shared, between the President and the Cabinet of Ministers who are "charged with the direction and control of the Government". Today for the first time under the 1978 Constitution the President is the leader of one of the two major political parties in the country and the Prime Minister whose party was elected to form the Government is the leader of the other. Thus, by the will of the people, the era of cohabitation has now begun.

"The President on one hand, and the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Ministers on the other, have a responsibility to put in place new systems of cohabitational governance. The President is the Head of State, the Head of the Executive, the Head of Government and the Head of the Cabinet and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, in whom vast powers are vested by the Constitution.

"The President of the Republic is the upper guardian and the protector of the rights of the people. I have made arrangements to assign some of the vast array of powers assigned to the President by the Constitution, to the Prime Minister and the various authorities of government, where I deemed it necessary for smooth governance. The Prime Minister and the Cabinet are on their part, bound by the Constitution to act in accordance with its spirit and abide by its legal stipulations. The long years of practise of confrontational politics makes it perhaps difficult for some to accept the new attitudes required for the formulation of new systems of cohabitational governance. I wish to stress here that the responsibility for ensuring that the existing negative political culture ends, lies with the leadership of the two main political parties.

My pledge to the people of Sri Lanka today is that I will continue to uphold the dignity of the office I am privileged to occupy and at all times exercise the powers, functions and responsibilities vested in me by the Constitution to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the State as well as the inalienable rights of the people of Sri Lanka.