Address Celebrating 8 years as President
Colombo, Sri Lanka
November 12, 2002
Eight years ago on this day I had the privilege of assuming duties as President of Sri Lanka. The people of my country gave me a massive mandate – one of the largest majorities obtained by an elected President, anywhere in the world. I knew then and have not forgotten yet, that this victory was not mine alone. I believe it was the triumph of democracy, freedom and the desire of all my peoples for a good and decent government that would ensure the return of humane values, honesty and integrity and efficiency in our society.
My government and I were fully aware that what was demanded of us was the herculean task of rebuilding our society. We had to undertake the task of effecting vast, radical changes in the political, administrative and social structures of our society. We promised you, the people, that we would be undaunted in the task of achieving our goals.
I presented a vision for governance and economic development to the country, within a month of assuming office in 1994.
This vision consisted of an enlightened government, caring for all its peoples, giving leadership to a modern, rational and efficient, truly free market economy with a human face, where the engine of growth was free enterprise and the private sector, with substantial participation of the State in the essential services, in order to ensure fair and cheap distribution of the benefits of these services to the people.
A truly free market - that would ensure a level playing field for all players in the economy, irrespective of their political leanings. We also envisioned an efficient and rational government. To this end we introduced for the first time, modern systems of planning and review of implementation, as well as streamlining procurement procedures, in order to minimise corruption.
The human face consisted of caring for all sectors of the population, especially the disadvantaged ones. The inter-phase between underdevelopment and development has to be cushioned with assistance to the poorer sections of the population. But, this assistance must be and was designed to increase production and productivity.
My vision of growth for the country was intrinsically tied to my vision of life. I believe that the latter without the former could not have been possible. My education and above all, my parents, provided me with the spiritual and moral values that have given me the courage and commitment to carry on in the face of immense personal tragedy and political adversity, insult, lies and abuse. Those values consisted of:
* a total commitment in the service of the Nation;
* honesty, integrity and hard work in all I do; and
* loyalty and caring for friends, all my associates and my people.
These values have been my religion. They are an intrinsic part of my being. They have enriched me more than anything or anyone else has been able to, in my life’s journey.
Our vision for Sri Lanka can be crystallised into several major goals. They are as follows:
01. The re-democratisation and re-humanisation of Sri Lanka
Not only was the practice of State terror against democratic opponents and citizens immediately brought to a halt in 1994, but new laws were brought in, to prevent the occurrence of such a state of affairs in the future. Investigations were initiated very legally and victims compensated. At no point was the law or the Police misused to terrorise innocent opponents with trumped up charges. The judiciary was free, once again, to execute their duties properly. All media controls were lifted, direct and insidious.
02. The Economy
We were burdened with rehabilitating an economy that was suffering from a serious malaise.
* Inflation, budgetary deficits, bank interest rates and unemployment were extremely high.
* Salaries and national savings were low and buying power unsatisfactory.
* The levels of rural infrastructure development were low. Agricultural development was stagnant.
* A large number of badly privatised, State owned industries, as well as the privatised plantations were running at huge losses, badly managed and had become liabilities.
We took immediate action to reduce budgetary deficits, even with massive increases in military expenditure.
* Inflation and unemployment were halved.
* Bank interest rates were hugely reduced, while keeping the economic growth rate at an average annual rate of 5½%, from 1994 until the first half of 2001.
* We achieved great success in re-structuring the privatised enterprises and plantations in a more efficient, transparent and honest manner.
* Public sector salaries were doubled, in some cases trebled. Pensions were increased.
* The “Agrahara Health Insurance Scheme” for public servants was initiated.
Our focus was on an accelerated development of rural infrastructure, together with radical structural changes and development of the social infrastructure sector i.e. Education and Health. We implemented an extensive programme of rural infrastructure development, which completed about six times the amount of projects done in the decade before 1994.
* Power supply was increased from 32% - 55%,
* Telecommunications supply was increased by four times,
* The supply of potable water to the lower income groups was also greatly increased.
* Urban development plans were formulated for the first time since independence and implemented in a large number of cities,
* A modern and efficient education policy was formulated and was being implemented,
* Reforms in the public health sector were commenced,
* For the first time, infrastructure development of the plantation areas was undertaken by the State. Schools, hospitals, roads run by plantation companies and were in poor condition, were taken over and developed by the State, under a vast infrastructure development programme for the plantation sector, which also included the provision of housing units with potable water to the plantation employees.
* In the war torn areas of the North and East, infrastructure development was commenced from 1996 onwards. By end 2000, my Government successfully negotiated the “Triple R programme” for the North & East, obtaining large sums of money from the donor community and international agencies.
1. Agricultural Sector
We formulated, with the participation of all relevant sectors, a new agricultural policy, the main features of which were:
* Strengthening the rural agricultural sector by modernising and developing productivity and introducing new marketing techniques in order to increase farmer incomes,
* Encouraging local and foreign investors to develop large agricultural production units for the foreign market. This resulted in a growth in the agricultural sector after 1994,
* Modernising the plantation sector and increasing its productivity.
2. Industrial Sector
For this sector, our policy was one of promoting local enterprises in the small and medium industrial sector, while encouraging the inflow of foreign capital and technology into the larger industries. We had to take account of the fact that the threshold of industrial development was low in Sri Lanka.
This policy resulted in a significant growth in the industrial sector in the six-year period after 1994. We placed a special focus on the development of the small industrial and handicrafts sector, badly neglected until then.
We also had a vision of developing Sri Lanka as a major financial and services hub of Asia. To this end, for the first time in our history, we brought the private sector into the development of the Colombo Port and the National Airlines, on very favourable terms to the Government. Also, private sector participation was obtained for infrastructure development in the power and telecommunications sectors through Build, Own, Operate and Transfer or Build Operate and Transfer projects or part privatisation of minority shares of State owned enterprises, in these sectors. Ad-hoc decisions in privatising, was done away with and a statutory body to manage and handle privatisation. I can proudly announce that every single privatisation exercise undertaken between 1994-2001 was done in the most transparent manner, with the objective of increasing efficiency and profitability. These objectives were successfully achieved.
3. Good Governance
Our economy required governance and public administration to change and adapt to keep abreast of the rapid socio-economic changes. It was essential that we bring about changes in administrative structures to make it a more value adding partner and a less onerous regulator of business and people’s lives. The benefits of rapid advances in information technology needed to be fully harnessed to increase the productivity and efficiency of the administrative sector. The State and the public sector have not kept pace with the private sector in computerization. The digital divide had to be rapidly bridged with the implementation of e-governance. I am happy to state, that we commenced this process and that progress has been made.
However, at the core of good governance, is the efficiency and the productivity of the public service. Our public service attracts the brightest and the best of our higher education system and we had to tap their vast potential in the development of our country. We needed to implement a process of State Sector Reforms. This consisted of remunerating our public servants better, implementing performance based rewards and ensuring efficiency through streamlining systems and procedures.
4. War & Peace
The one problem that has bedevilled our Nation’s forward march, I need hardly say, is the ethnic problem. My vision for the resolution of this problem has been stated clearly and in great detail for the last two decades. My first Government was the first in the post independence era, to present a clear policy to resolve the ethnic problem. At a time when peace was not even a part of the political vocabulary, we embarked on an extensive programme for peace, in the villages and towns all over the island.
We have to recognize that the steady erosion of democracy since the late nineteen seventies and the onset of authoritarianism by the Government, contributed significantly to the ethnic violence since 1983. Accordingly strengthening democratic freedoms was an important aspect of resolving the ethnic problem.
Honestly facing up to our failures in nation building was also an essential aspect of ethnic reconciliation in our deeply divided society. Towards this end, I appointed the Presidential Truth Commission to investigate and report on the ethnic violence of the past several decades. The clear failure of the Sri Lankan State to protect its Tamil citizens in July 1983 is the watershed event in ethnic relations and a true national tragedy of epic proportions. It is a failure, which I deeply regret.
5. My Vision for the Future
In the year 2000, I announced our new vision for the 21st Century in a document entitled “Vision 21”. The implementation of the vision was to commence in the year 2001. The economic downturn caused by several unexpected national disasters and the global economic recession, followed by the change of government, brought a halt to the implementation of these programmes.
I take this opportunity at the commencement of my ninth year of Presidency, to present to the Nation, my vision for the government and development of Sri Lanka in the next decades.
i. The main feature of this vision is the Redemocratisation and Rehumanisation of Sri Lanka. It consists of the implementation of a social- democratic, political and economic programme. We continue to be bound by the Social Pact we entered into in 1994, with our People.
This would require, at the level of government, the strengthening of the administrative structures and ensuring the ability to function freely and without partiality. For this, undue political harassment and influence would have to be removed. The judiciary and legislature and the law enforcing authorities such as the Police, would need to be freed of the fear of political victimisation, undue influence and the possibility of corruption.
If the Independent Commissions are to be constituted with persons known to be partial to one political group as against another, I do not believe that these Commissions would achieve their objectives.
With the experience of a decade of intense involvement with governance in the country, I believe very sincerely that the body politic in this country must be fully cleansed. We have to ensure that the people’s representatives possess at least the basic qualities of honesty and commitment to the national interest. In a country where as recently as one decade ago, some political leaders were known to order assassinations and all types of physical harassment of their democratic opponents, we must ensure that people suspected with regard to violations of human rights and democratic norms, should be kept out of the highest bodies of the legislature and the administration. Similarly, those suspected of corruption and those with a record of bad governance should also be kept away. History has proved that mere statements of goodwill will not suffice.
In order to ensure that the composition and functioning of the legislative and governing bodies at every level of government, is in a manner designed to achieve the objectives stated earlier on, we must evolve new procedures, systems, structures and institutions.
For this purpose, in order to have a broad exchange of views among political, community and opinion leaders, I propose to set up a National Committee for Good Governance having wide powers, and chaired by the Prime Minister.
This Committee should be composed of Multi-party representatives and include senior members of the public service and the private sector as well as representatives from Non-Governmental Organisations.
I also propose that the policies we put into operation since 1994, to ensure good governance through achieving high standards of efficiency in the public service, while minimising corruption, must be further strengthened. The administrative structures have to be reviewed in a wide perspective. New systems and procedures must be evolved and implemented.
ii. Secondly, as regards the economy and development, as I stated earlier on, our commitment is to a social democratic programme that envisages a market economy with a human face. In backdrop of a market economy, there are several measures to be taken urgently for the sustainable development of the Sri Lankan economy.
* Strengthen the economic fundamentals, reduce budgetary deficits and inflation and thereby bank interest rates.
* Attain an annual average growth rate of at least 6% by end 2003, increasing to 8% three years later.
* Create 50,000 jobs by end 2003, increasing up to 100,000 per annum in the following three years.
* 50% of the recommended increase in State sector salaries, recommended by the Salaries Commission should be granted by mid 2003 and the other 50% in 2004.
* The strengthening of the agricultural sector by the development and promotion of the small-scale farming sector. Low interest loans could be granted for this purpose, targeting specific identified activities such as the introduction of modern technology, better management and marketing.
* Medium and small industries and the handicrafts sector, as well as small businesses, should be urgently encouraged. This sector too could be improved by granting credit on easy terms.
* Samurdhi benefits should direct beneficiaries towards production in the small agricultural, industrial and services sectors.
The policy of developing small farmer agricultural sector as well as small and medium industrial sectors is to economically empower the people.
As I have stated on a previous occasion, Globalisation has failed to keep its much-vaunted promises of instant development and poverty alleviation. Our own experiences, as well as a correct understanding of our needs and capabilities must temper the globalisation recipe given by the International Agencies.
Our policy on privatisation has been very clear from the outset. Some of the essential services such as the Ports, Airlines, Telecommunications and Power could benefit with private sector participation in shareholding and management. The main State owned Banks, Insurance Corporation and public transport should remain with the State, while the management of these enterprises must undergo radical restructuring in order to render them efficient, productive and profitable. The restructuring of the two major State Banks, commenced by me a few years ago, has progressed satisfactorily. The Government could undertake a similar restructuring of other institutions as well.
I propose to present to the country a new, economic development plan incorporating the above concepts. This would take forward more efficiently and in an accelerated manner our economic plan implemented since 1994, briefly setback in 2001 due to unforeseen national and international disasters.
iii. Constitutional Reforms
We know that the root cause of many problems of governance in Sri Lanka stems from the new systems created by the 1978 Constitution. The electoral system introduced by this Constitution led to weak governments. Parties elected to Parliament with large mandates end up with flimsy majorities in Parliament, which prevent governments from effectively and strongly implementing their mandate, in the long-term interests of the country. For instance, the People’s Alliance elected to Government in 1994, winning over 80% of the electorates in the country, with a President elected with nearly 63% of the popular vote, ended up with a Parliamentary majority of only one, due to the bizarre, electoral system introduced by the present Constitution. I have always opposed the concept of the Executive Presidency, especially as envisaged by our Constitution. The excessive powers accorded to the President could prove to be extremely dangerous, even fatal, to democracy and freedom, if a person with authoritarian leanings accedes to the post of President.
I therefore strongly propose once again, the abolition of the Executive Presidency, together with democratisation and rationalisation of our Electoral System. The new electoral system must protect the interests of minority Communities while reflecting properly, the mandate given by the people. I propose a system which would be a mix of “the first past the post” model and the PR system. Details of such a system have already been drawn up and are under discussion in a Committee of Parliament. The new system should be operative from the next general elections.
The rights of the minorities should be further guaranteed. Wide devolution of political and administrative powers to the regions must be included, on the basis of the Constitutional Drafts of 1997 and 2000, tabled in Parliament by my Government.
The Independent Commissions proposed by the 17th Amendment should be fully and properly implemented immediately.
An additional Independent Commission against Political Victimisation should be set up to prevent harassment and intimidation of political opponents and for recommending punishment for wrongdoers and payment of compensation for the victims of violence in the past and the future.
I also propose the creation of another Commission with authority to guarantee media freedom, as well as to prevent the abuse of the media by the Government in power, with the intent of intimidating and harassing political opponents.
iv. Ethnic Reconciliation and Sustainable Peace
I am very glad that the new Government of the UNP has taken action to carry forward through a negotiated settlement, the Peace Process commenced by me eight years ago. Measures adopted in the last one year to reduce tension between the antagonists, seem to progress satisfactorily. I am happy to note that the Government has taken serious note of my insistence on the necessity to engage in a dialogue with the LTTE on the core issues and that this has resulted in the setting up of a committee to commence discussions on these matters. The fact that the LTTE does not appear to insist anymore, on the creation of an Interim Council, is also a good development. On this issue, I strongly endorse the views of the People’s Alliance and the main opposition parties, that the setting up of an Interim Council should be only considered after settlement of the core issues have been negotiated and the LTTE has agreed to lay down arms and enter the democratic political mainstream.
The issues that continue to cause concern at present, are the issues of human rights. This must be placed high on the agenda of Talks between the Government and the LTTE. It must include the problems of child conscription, extortion, the guarantee of the rights of the Muslim and Sinhala people of the North and East and the guarantee of political plurality.
Consideration must also be given to suitable action to compensate victims of human rights violations, whoever may have been the perpetrators of the atrocities. A Presidential Commission of Inquiry has dealt with the victims of the 1983 massacres but we have to now focus our attention on subsequent incidents of violence.
I reiterate that a clear vision and action plan must be formulated with the purpose of bringing military conflict to an end and finding a durable solution to the causes of the conflict.
With this objective in mind I propose that a National Commission for Ethnic Reconciliation and Sustainable Peace be immediately set up. This Committee should comprise of representatives of government, all political parties represented in Parliament, the major Non-Governmental Organisations and the LTTE.
The main objectives of the Committee would be:
* Identifying the core issues of the conflict,
* Recommending negotiated solutions to these. Here the Draft Constitutions of 1997 and 2000 could form the basis of discussions.
* Recommendations to ensure the safety and security of the Muslim and Sinhala communities in the North and East, as well as the Tamil civilians.
I believe that the successful implementation of these proposals would pave the way to resolving Sri Lanka’s most urgent problems.
v. To achieve this objective, the major democratic political forces must agree on a common plan of action and participate actively in its implementation. I proposed a similar idea when I addressed the Nation a few weeks ago.
I now propose to set up a Committee for “An Alliance for National Peace and Reconciliation”. I shall invite representatives from all political parties and groups represented in Parliament and outside it, as well as senior religious leaders and leaders of society. This Committee would have the responsibility of formulating policies and ensuring the implementation of the five tasks enumerated.
Finally, permit me once again, to take this opportunity to suggest that we put the problems of the past behind us. The petty political bickering, which has been the bane of our political culture, must be put aside. We have to rebuild our Nation, so that all its peoples could live with dignity and equal opportunity, where human values and the national interest reign above the forces of terror and the selfish pursuit of personal power and monetary greed.
I propose to you, my people, and to all their leaders, that we join hands in this noble, collective enterprise of re-humanising and re-democratising our Nation.