"The enterprise of re-kindling the flickering flames of democracy"
55th Anniversary of Sri Lankan Independence
Colombo, Sri Lanka
February 4, 2003
Ven. Maha Sangha,
Members of the Clergy,
Hon. Prime Minister / Hon. Members of Parliament,
Today, on the 55th Anniversary of the Independence of Sri Lanka, as we celebrate the re-emergence of our Nation as an Independent, Sovereign State after many centuries of colonial rule, permit me to take this opportunity to wish every Sri Lankan good fortune, good health, lasting happiness and prosperity. I wish for all of us, the courage, honesty and wisdom to seek the solutions required for the issues that have dogged our Nation for several decades, to achieve freedom from poverty, freedom for every individual to live with equal opportunity, self-respect and dignity.
Let us bow our heads in homage, in memory of all those who have so bravely sacrificed or devoted their lives for our Independence, for safeguarding the sovereignty and unity of our State and the safety and well-being of our peoples. Let us never forget that they have given their lives, so that we may live. I wish also to remember on this occasion, the tens of thousands of children and youths who were sacrificed on the altar of misplaced ideals. I hope that the hatred and violence caused by years of humiliation and injustice, gives way to understanding, respect for other's freedoms, brotherhood and Peace.
The day of National Independence is always a propitious moment to reflect upon a Nation's successes and achievements, as well as its failures. We have come a long way since that day in February 1948. We also have a long way more to go, if we are to achieve the dreams of the fathers and mothers of our Independence.
When my Government first took office in 1994, 8 ½ years ago, I remember speaking of a certain dream we had for our Nation. The realisation of this dream required finding solutions, formulating action plans, and effectively implementing them with regard to several major challenges.
* The first task was to re-establish democracy and restore respect for the human rights of every individual, irrespective of his race, religion and political beliefs.
* Secondly, we had to rebuild and revitalize a weak economy.
* We had to also formulate new systems to ensure good governance, with a view to counteract corruption, inefficiency, weak performance, as well as to revitalize and motivate the public sector.
I believe we achieved much of the targets we set ourselves in these areas. Yet much more needs to be done. We must now ensure that we halt the slippages of our achievements.
* The most difficult of the challenges we inherited was the problem of armed conflict and peace. I don't need to emphasize that we had to start almost from zero, in our task of preparing the country for peace, through a negotiated political settlement, and to move it away from the belief that war was the only solution to the ethnic question. An immense amount of work was undertaken to prepare the stage for Peace. We were not daunted by the sheer immensity of the task before us. The facility with which the present Government was able to move along the path of peace, is the best witness to our positive achievements in this sphere, during eight difficult and painful years.
As President and leader of this Nation, my most sincere wish is that those presently entrusted with the reins of Government will have the vision, the courage and the commitment to continue with honesty along the path cleared by us, to achieve peace and prosperity for Sri Lanka, while consolidating on the successes and correcting past mistakes.
The new Government has selected Peace as its major platform. While congratulating the Prime Minister and his team for the positive results achieved, I recommend a deep study of the causes for the setbacks and failures encountered in the past one year. A transparent and democratic approach to the peace process must be adopted. All the stakeholders in Government and Parliament, as much as all our peoples, must be kept informed of the policy framework the Government wishes to employ to achieve Peace. In short, the vision and the action plan must even now be clearly formulated and presented to the country.
We must strive to reach beyond the reams of nice words and colourful photographs, to the depths of the causes of the ethnic problem that has devastated our nation for several decades. The core issues must be dealt with seriously if we are to achieve lasting peace and not let ourselves be lulled into an illusory peace.
On behalf of my first Government, I proposed to the country our Vision of Development in 1994, as well as in the "Vision 21" and later in the "Vision 2010" programmes. I am of the view that the "Vision 2010" programme is relevant and valid today and would be an effective solution to the many issues faced by us presently. This programme encompasses all aspects of development. The accent is placed on distributing the fruits of development to the rural areas, to the vast majority of our peoples. It also deals with the problem of unemployment and poverty reduction, while prioritizing the modernisation of education and the health services, whilst urgently developing economic infrastructure, such as the modernisation of our roads network, the Ports and Airports services and Telecommunications, the development of Information Technology, not forgetting the modern urban development of our fast growing cities.
This programme is based upon the strengthening of democratic institutions through the empowerment of people, as well as the restructuring of the electoral processes, the political structures and the structures of government. The effective implementation of this programme needs to be undertaken urgently.
In the present context, all this pre-supposes an effective and constructive co-habitation between the partners of Government. This would require maturity in all those called upon to co-habit, as well as a Vision for governance that could rise above the muddied waters of hatred, bickering and petty personal interests that lead to corruption and inefficiency. We require, at this most historic moment, leaders of rare nobility and ability - nobility of heart and mind, as well as the ability to reach up from the muddied waters - to the stars that beckon us.
As President and leader of this great Nation, I wish once again, to state that I shall not for one moment forget the immense responsibilities bestowed upon me by my peoples, by every one of them, individually and collectively.
I shall exercise every authority given me constitutionally, expend all the strength I possess, to guarantee and safeguard the sovereignty and unity of the State of Sri Lanka and the security of all its peoples, as much as the right of every one of them to live with equal opportunity, self-respect and dignity.
I re-dedicate myself on this occasion to undertake the enterprise of re-kindling the flickering flames of democracy and the guarantee of human rights, in our motherland. I have no doubt that in this enterprise, I will receive the fullest support of the Members of the Government, as well as all the peoples' representatives of all political parties in Parliament, Provincial Councils and all other elected bodies, as well as that of the Judiciary, the Police, the Armed Forces, the Public Service and the private sector.
On this historic occasion, after 55 years of Independence, destiny has once again placed before us a magnificent opportunity to turn away from our failures and mistakes and to move along the path of reconciliation and reconstruction of a strong and united Nation-State with a multi-faceted, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and politically pluralist society, advancing with strength along the path of freedom and democracy and lasting economic prosperity.
Do we the leaders possess the greatness of heart and the genius required of us to seize this opportunity in a constructive manner? Let us not leave history to decide our future for us. I truly believe that we Sri Lankans possess the greatness and the courage to do what is required of us.
Let us together guide our Nation to liberation from the oppression of violence, suspicion and hatred and towards the haven of freedom, prosperity and peace we have so long dreamt of.