Rebuilding a Democratic State
Sri Lanka Development Forum
December 18-19, 2000
I would first like to say that I am truly happy to be here with all of you together with my Ministers and my delegation of senior officials. Since I last participated in the Aid Group meeting held in Paris six years ago, this is the first time I have had the occasion to meet collectively with all our friends of the donor countries and institutions. Similarly, as in 1995 this is the first Aid Group meeting held since the installation of a new government in Sri Lanka. It is also the first meeting in the new millennium. Today, also has a very special significance for me, it is the day one year ago I nearly got bombed out of existence. It is therefore my first birthday in the second term of my life. I would also like to say the same is true for my Deputy Minister Prof. Pieris who was also present on that fateful day and was injured. I take this opportunity to first express my gratitude and that of my government and the people of Sri Lanka to the governments of every one of our donors as well as the World Bank, the IMF, the ADB and the other institutions of the UN that have given us their unstinted and generous support. This has helped us immensely in the successful realisation of our dreams and vision of development for Sri Lanka. During a very dark period in my country’s history the interest and concern you have shown in little Sri Lanka has helped us to see big and to do great things for our nation; we still have much more to do. When we took over reigns of government 6 1/2 years ago we assumed the responsibility of performing several major tasks. They were first re-building democracy and democratic institutions in a nation where the conscious operation of a reign of state terror had debilitated the parliamentary process, the process of democratic elections, the administrative system, the public services, the judiciary, media freedom and the fundamental rights of the persons. I can honestly say that this goal has been achieved to a great extent. Existing institutions were strengthened, new laws, institutions, procedures were brought in. More than all this, I believe that the essential pre-requisite for democratic governance is the will and commitment of the government in power to guarantee the proper functioning of democracy and democratic institutions. My governments have demonstrated this in full measure. Yet here, I must mention that six years may not have been sufficient to repair all the damage of two decades. Shortcomings do persist. But they are clearly the exception and action has been taken against the culpable after proper inquiry. It shall be so in the future too. Today, the fundamental rights of individuals have been restored even those of the terrorists, disappearances, extra judiciary executions are a thing of the past. Media freedom is guaranteed. The public services and the judiciary have been restored their full independent rights and so on. The second task that we undertook was re-building the dangerously weakened economy. Here I must mention that in the post independent era our country has made considerable social and economic progress. We have achieved one of the highest levels of human development in the Third World. Income distribution has improved, and poverty and unemployment levels have decreased sharply since the mid ’80s. There has also been a dramatic improvement in the quality of life. The economy which was precariously dependent on primary production, has been considerably diversified in order to achieve our vision for economic development, first formulated for six years and now, for ten years. We then transformed it into annual action plans with quantity and time targets, and we began a system of regular progress reviews of implementation of these action plans. For the first time the budget was formulated in accordance with these development plans of the major development ministries. The main objective of our vision was to improve the living standards of all the people, to increase employment opportunities, to increase the incomes of all, and thereby reduce poverty. We called it capitalism with a human face. To this end we have endeavoured to strengthen the economic fundamentals, the economic base if you wish. We have done much in this sense. I will talk about it later. We also prioritised the essential areas of economic development, e.g., the urgent development of economic and social infrastructure, restructuring the public service to render it efficient and cost effective, this is still being done, poverty alleviation, we have special programmes for this, and to develop and strengthen the private sector as the major engine of economic growth in the country. I am encouraged by the performance of the economy during the last six years. It has steadfastly maintained an average growth of over 5% despite an ongoing long standing armed conflict which persists in one part of the country. Exports have grown robustly led by manufacturing and agriculture. Inflation has been contained at a historical low of 6% while unemployment has been reduced also to an all time low in Sri Lanka of 7%. The balance of payments has remained healthy until this year, and I will come back to that later. National savings has increased from about 16 to 24%. Per capita income has increased in six years from around US$.600 to nearly US$.900. The priority we give to the development of economic infrastructure has reaped results in many areas, rural electricity has increased from 32 to about 53% in six years, the number of telephones supplied have increased by 4 1/2 times in six years, that is not counting the mobile phones. There has been an accompanying fair reduction in poverty levels. We have brought in the active participation of the private sector in major infrastructure sectors, in telecom, the national airlines, the Colombo port, and power, to some extent. The first express roadways, three of them, are beginning construction this year and next year with funding from your agencies. Foreign direct investment (FDI) has slowly increased through the past six years; tourism has increased hugely; fiscal reforms have been undertaken. We have introduced with much pain and trouble the goods and services tax. The taxes and duties structures have been rationalised and are in the process of being further rationalised, transparency and the elimination of corruption has been a priority in our programme. We have taken many measures in order to ensure this but we have much more to do in the future and that is one of four subjects that we will be discussing in the next two days at this meeting. All this has also meant that consumption has increased hugely in the country not only amongst the rich of the population but amongst all. Food and beverages, services utilised by the poor people have seen a massive increase in consumption, that is just an example of some of the results of the development. I could therefore say that delivery of services and benefits and development of the economy that we have undertaken have clearly improved. But we are not satisfied. We would like to say that more needs to be done to distribute the full benefits of development to the people. For this purpose we have to render the public service and the instruments of delivery which is made through the public service much more efficient. This programme has also been undertaken many years ago but I must say that it has not been sufficiently successful and that we have much more to do in that field. One little proof that perhaps the majority of the people are satisfied with the delivery of benefits is that even with constant harassment caused as a consequence of the ongoing war situation we have had victory at all elections that we have held since 1994, which are seven rounds in number. The sudden escalation of the armed conflict and the recent shock caused by the increased oil prices has caused a temporary set back in our plans for reduction of the budget deficit to around 4% of GDP by 2005. Thus we may have to contend with a deficit of around 8% of GDP this year. Of course we shall endeavour to stay within our medium-term targets, the balance of payments too which remained healthy until last year has shown a sharp weakening this year arising again from security related imports and the increase in oil prices. We have used a part of our accumulated foreign reserves to meet this situation, and in order to protect and regain reserves we have considerably tightened monetary policy and allowed the rupee exchange to float within a band that has been widened from 2% up to 8%. We fully realise the possible consequences of this situation for our economy. We are in the process of adopting measures to pre-empt the stabilisation of the economy in order to maintain the conditions for further growth of the economy. As for the future, my government has re-stated our medium term strategy in a document titled ‘Vision for the 21st Century’ which we issued on the fifth anniversary of our government last year. We planned to more than double our income by the year 2010 by maintaining an economic growth rate of 8% per year and to realise a substantial further reduction in poverty. We expect to raise the level of annual savings to about 35% by 2010 and reduce inflation to around 3 to 4%. We expect to provide electricity, drinking water and housing for most of our people during this period. Agriculture and Industry will continue to spearhead the economic growth. The export agriculture sector which is registering impressive output growth each year is expected to expand steadily with increasing domestic value added. The export oriented garment and textile sector has reached such levels of efficiency that it is confident of expanding and holding on to markets even after the demise of the Multi-Fibre Agreement. The promising signs of development which we now see in the lessened Information Technology Industry makes us confident that it will become the vanguard of the Sri Lankan economic development within the next five years.
In order to achieve our vision for the future, I believe that it is essential to initiate the new second wave of reforms following on the first wave which was initiated in 1994 and has produced handsome results fast. The new reforms will be aimed at removing the structural rigidities of the economy that are inhibiting rapid and diversified economic growth. The clear mandate given us by the people for a second term of office gives us the strength to proceed without delay. The reforms include improvements in the functioning of the financial system, public service, the labour market, the pension and superannuation systems, the policy environment for commercialisation of small farmer agriculture, the essential infrastructure for poverty reduction, and further private sector development. We will be moving rapidly in raising the efficiency of the financial sector, and bringing it up to international standards so that the country could emerge as an efficient international financial sector. This would entail streamlining the two state-owned banks, the promotion of private sector participation and greater competition, the development of money and capital markets, and the introduction of measures to entrust the central bank primarily with the functions of price and system stability. The public service has grown enormously to meet the needs of the old controlled economy, considerable efficiencies can be achieved by closing down redundant activities and departments, reducing excess staff through voluntary retirement, and opting productivity and performance based production systems for the public service and intensifying training in management techniques. The rigidities of the labour market clearly discourage the resurrection of new employment. Therefore labour mobility will have to be encouraged and dispute settlements expedited.
I also consider it timely that we critically review the indiscriminate protectionist policies applied to agriculture which seem to be creating a great deal of inefficiencies. Agriculture in Sri Lanka needs multi-faceted reforms aimed at correcting market distortions, improving productivity and promoting competitiveness. Future public investments will target social and economic infra structure development coupled with, wherever possible, private sector participation, as a component of an effective and sustainable pro-poor growth strategy. The basic components include electricity, water, quality education and health, agricultural growth centres, new highways linking poor regions to dynamic markets. The Government has produced in consultation with donors and civil society a comprehensive framework of poverty reduction which will be taken up for discussion. The framework, a far reaching initiative, requires your full support, for successful implementation. I would like to say a word about our education policy here, which we have given priority to right from the outset. We have drawn up a new education policy as I mentioned earlier which is being implemented fairly successfully in the last two to three years. Although we have reached high levels of literacy, we need to undertake a revolutionary transformation of our education system as we have not paid sufficient attention to the growing needs of the new economy and the needs of a globalized world. For example, in the fields of science, mathematics, language, and information technology, we have a lot to do in education. We have prepared a comprehensive plan for the complete revamping of our education system as I mentioned, whereby a large number of teachers will be trained and facilities provided to impart this new knowledge and skills that are required. Major reforms are also envisaged in our universities in the tertiary education systems which are to be discussed at this forum. These are complex and long overdue reforms with considerable political sensibility and I am satisfied with the progress so far.
Here, I would also like to say something about governance. Good governance was another one, that would be the third one in our tasks, that we undertook when we first came into power six years ago. We identified certain areas of governance. First was the initial point I mentioned; re-establishing democracy and democratic institutions. I have talked about that, ensuring the proper functioning of economic delivery systems in order to eliminate corruption as much as possible, and to encourage and promote transparency in the processes of governance. We have taken many measures in this field, for example, for the first time, since independence, we drew up and we have published a detailed document on procurement which is being constantly reviewed and amended. We have set up institutions, units, to ensure the proper functioning of tender procedures. But I must admit much more has to be done. I would like to say here that six years, as I mentioned a little while ago, has proved, to be insufficient to sweep away all the cobwebs and the dust of many decades. But I must assure you that good governance has top priority on the agenda of my government. It has had in the beginning and it shall have in the second term of our government also. Governance is a subject which is going to be discussed here today and tomorrow and we hope, with the support and assistance from our friends around the table, who may have had more experience than us in the operations of certain systems and procedures and institutions for good governance, especially in the sphere of transparency, that we would be able to in a very short time in the second term, achieve more success than we have had up to now.
The fourth task, the fourth and last one that I will talk about for the moment, that we had to undertake was the most difficult for us. It was ending the armed conflict and regaining and restoring peace in the country. We adopted a three pronged strategy, if I may say, for tackling this problem. One was attempting to negotiate a political settlement with the main protagonists, the LTTE. Two, the politico-constitutional aspect of the solution. Political, because I believe that no solution will be possible unless the government in power is honestly and sincerely and strongly committed to implementing whatever laws that may be there and may be brought in in the future. That political commitment is required to also have the courage to tell the country at all times what has to be done, what needs to be done, even if some people may not like to hear it, and it requires clear thinking to guarantee the safety of person and property of the minority communities even when the Government and the Institutions of State are under immense pressure due to terrorist activity or manipulations of some groups of the Opposition. I believe we have been able to be successful in this. I will talk about that later.
Constitutional, because, we believe, that quite apart from negotiations with the LTTE, which we do not at any point believe, is the only solution to the problem, the rights of the entire Tamil and other minority communities have to be guaranteed. Therefore, we have endeavoured right from the outset of our Government coming to power in 1994, to formulate, present to the country and bring to Parliament a new Constitution guaranteeing a wide and extensive devolution of power to the regions and to the minorities, as well as the guarantee of equal opportunity and rights to the minorities.
The third prong of our strategy for ending the armed conflict and achieving peace is an urgent development of the war-stricken areas of the north and east. If I am to mention briefly some details of these three things, the first one, negotiations. From the outset, within nine days of arriving in power in August 1994, I invited the leader of the LTTE for talks in writing. They showed that they accepted it, there were talks and negotiations for eight months, a cease-fire for about four and a half months, we gave everything that the LTTE asked for except military advantages, they gave absolutely nothing, not one iota on anything, and they broke the talks, violated the agreements and commenced hostilities again in April 1995. The war has continued since then. But we have consistently had a position and we have clearly stated that the doors are open for negotiation. The Government at its highest levels, has been in touch with the LTTE to try to bring it to the negotiating table and in the last two years, with the help of the Norwegian Government, we have tried very hard, I would say the Norwegians have tried even harder than us because they have done the going-between, to bring the LTTE to the negotiating table and to halt their politics of terror and violence. There was absolutely no positive response and it is while the Norwegian Government was in the process of trying to bring the LTTE to the negotiating table that they tried to kill the Head of State and killed many others in the process. And finally, one year later, nearly, they have responded to the Norwegian request for the leader of the LTTE to meet the Norwegian delegation, and one and a half months ago, the leader of the LTTE did meet the Norwegian delegation in the jungles of the North, and there I would say that there is a little ray of opportunity opening for the first time, but we still do not know whether the LTTE has withdrawn its condition which they presented to us right through, since the first talks broke down, or since they were kicked in the teeth by the LTTE, which is the one condition that the Sri Lankan armies should completely withdraw from the entire northern province before they agree to talk about talks. That was the unchanging, only condition which the LTTE put to us which is a very big condition. The Government has consistently offered, even after the LTTE betrayed the trust that we placed with them, the agreement that we had to talk, and they violated every single major condition, of that agreement when we began talks with them, six years ago. The Government has constantly had a position of talks without any conditions, and that still stands. We are not willing to agree to a condition of withdrawing the armed forces of the sovereign state of Sri Lanka from one part of its country, especially when, I would say, 80% of the people living in the north, the Tamil people, who the LTTE is supposed to liberate, are consistently and repeatedly requesting the Government not to withdraw the forces and leave them to the mercies of the LTTE. They do not want to be liberated by the LTTE. This is not what I am saying, this is what all foreign delegations, journalists who have had the occasion to go to Jaffna have been told by the ordinary citizens of Jaffna. I have not heard, I would like to make this clear, of any sovereign Government agreeing to such a condition anywhere in the world. Even at the moment, in some parts of the world, peace negotiations have broken down simply because the terrorist organisations have refused to give up arms or simply because the amount of arms that are being given up have not been satisfactory to the Government. Those terrorist organisations have not requested those relevant Governments to remove their armies from those areas before they sit down to talks. This is an impossible condition and if that condition still prevails, our position is constant, we have not changed our positions, we have consistently said we are ready to talk unconditionally, but we will not accept that one condition of the LTTE. And we hope that that condition will not be put forward again this time.
As for the second prong of our strategy for peace, the politico-constitutional one, I don’t think I need to go into much detail because I am sure all of you around this table know what we have done or at least some of it. Constitutionally, as I said, we drew up a new constitution, with the widest possible consultation with every political group in the country, every political party. With the people of the country, we started a movement called the « Sudu Nelum », the movement of the White Lotus, which symbolises in South Asia, peace and purity and all that is good, which went right into the hearts of the villages of the Sinhala majority, speaking to the people of the necessity of ensuring and guaranteeing the rights of the minorities living in the country, we had discussions, workshops, seminars, even street theatre groups that went from village to village giving this message. And I am confident that we have, with all this, started special programmes of peace education for the schools. There is a special unit of peace education in the Ministry of Education, we have talked to the Buddhist priests who seem to be, in the eyes of a lot of people abroad, the big obstacle which I don’t believe it is, because the majority of the Buddhist monks do support us, the minority is very vociferous, and I do believe, very honestly, that if you have a referendum tomorrow, we can get the agreement of the majority of the Sri Lakan people, that is, the Sihala majority and all the minorities, to say yes to devolution and to the new Constitutional arrangements that my Government has proposed as a political solution to the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka. Of course, in all democracies you have minorities, minority opinions. That shows the vibrancy of the functioning of democracy in our country. We have small groups of minorities that shout, that walk around on streets with placards and do all kinds of things. We do not make them disappear in the middle of the night and burn them up on tyres as did happen some time ago before we came into power. But I would like you to please note that that is a minority and they seem strong only because my Government has given them complete freedom to protest as they wish. They are operating at the fringes of society and the majority of the population will support us. Not only have all the opinion surveys we have done shown that this would be so, I believe that the best demonstration of this support we have of the people is the fact that my Government has won seven rounds of elections since it came into power in August 1994 : two presidential elections, one parliamentary election, one local government election where we won 80% of the local government bodies - we won power in 80% - and three rounds of provincial council elections, which means that the Government now has power in all seven provinces where the elections were held. In the two provinces of the north and east, we have not been able to hold elections because of the armed conflict. That, to me, is the best proof of the fact that the country, in its majority, supports us and the politics we have adopted to solve the ethnic problem. And also one other little thing I would like to mention to you, because a lot of misinformation and disinformation, is circulated around, not least of all by Tamil Net of the LTTE, a very efficient and effective propaganda machine. Just before the last parliamentary elections were held two months ago, a couple of small pro-Sinhala chauvinist parties were formed and registered. Unfortunately that is democracy for you. They contested the elections, but they did not succeed in getting one seat in Parliament. And between them they got less than 1% of the total vote of the country. I think it was less than 0.5% of the total vote for all three parties, one of which was already existing.
As for the constitutional process, you know what we have done. We invited, and we had the agreement of all the Tamil representative parties, and the Muslim representative party. Right from the beginning, we invited the major Opposition Party, the United National Party, for discussions. From 1995, they refused. They finally came into the Parliamentary Select Committee process of discussion. Discussions went on for almost three years and they did not come to any agreement on the Constitution. This year, once again, after winning a clear mandate which I asked the people for at the last Presidential Election, I only asked for one mandate, unlike the previous elections, which was to bring in the Constitution, even if we do not have 2/3ds majority in parliament which id required in the Constitution. The people gave me a clear mandate, I could have brought it in, or tried, only the Supreme Court would have made the final decision then whether it was correct or not, but we thought it would be better if once again we would try to bring in the desidents and having reached agreement on an amended text of the original Constitution, between twelve out of the fourteen parties in the last Parliament, the thirteenth one we invited, which was the united National Party, to come for talks with us on the Constitutional draft once again, they agreed this time, we discussed for five months, every single clause, word, sentence of the Constitution, and we finished it. Apparently after the agreement there was a lot of give and take, we accepted a lot of the amendments proposed by them, and they said that they would support us when it came to Parliament. I went to Parliament with this draft. I presented it in Parliament, on the 3rd of August once all the work was done by Professor Pieris and his team, as Constitutional Affairs Minister, and I got hooted and abused in the filthiest terms that any woman probably would have been abused in any Parliament in the world, for two long hours. I stood my ground for those two hours, how I still do not know, and presented the Constitution, the draft, made my speech for two hours, and today, it is on the table in Parliament, but for 10 votes, that we needed from the united National Party, it is still not LAW. They refused to give us these ten votes to make it 2/3ds. I am insisting and reiterating this point, because I know in discussions with some of you that I have had, that there is a concern, a sincere concern that maybe we do not have the support of the people to do this. I just want you to know that if in Sri Lanka, we did not have this bizarre, unique electoral system which does not pertain anywhere in the world, where each voter has four votes, where one does not vote for one Member of Parliament, but votes for three people, and casts four votes, and it is counted in a most bizarre manner, presented in a more bizarre manner, and if the systems that pertain in all your countries where the voter elects one member of Parliament or Congress or Assemblée Nationale or whatever existed in my country, my Government had won 80% of the electorates and therefore 80% of the Members of Parliament in the last Parliament, but we had only one vote more in Parliament under this system. We did not have 80%. We didn’t have 8/10s of the vote, we had only one vote more the way it is counted and presented, though we had won 80% of the electorates. In the present Parliament, we have won 2/3ds and more, we have won around 70% of the electorates. But still, we have only three Members of Parliament more. And this Constitution was brought in, without the people’s approval, it was foisted upon the people by the last Government that brought it in, amended 16 times within 9 years, and this is what we are burdened with. And this one Constitution is today standing fairly and squarely in the way of what I believe would be the best possible solution of the Tamil people’s problem in our country. If this Constitution is implemented, if the United National Party can become responsible enough to give us the 2/3ds and then join in the implementation of that process with the Government, I believe that whatever Mr. Prabakhran says and does will become secondary in this whole scenario. The Tamil people of Sri Lanka, who live in Sri Lanka, and most of them now in your countries, the majority of Sri Lankan Tamils live abroad, after the pogrom that was carried out against them in 1983 by the last Government, which actually caused the war, do not want violence. They do not believe in the war, they did some time ago, but they don’t anymore, and they only want, as they tell us, the Government to guarantee, constitutionally and politically in action, their safety, the safety of their personal property, which was seriously restricted in 1983, and that they could have equal opportunity. If we can assure them this through the Constitution and through the political implementation of the Constitution, I believe that the problem of the war would begin to be solved, whether the LTTE agrees to negotiations or not. This is the major part of our strategy even now, where we are still hoping to persuade the so-called democratic parties in Parliament, to engage in this process even at this late stage with us in a positive manner and lay aside their rhetoric. But we will not stop to persuade the LTTE through our Norwegian friends and everybody else to come to the negotiating table because that is also required finally.
The third aspect which I mentioned, the development of the north-east, we undertook, soon after we came into government. While we were discussing with the LTTE for the eight months, we drew up an extensive programme of development of the war-torn areas of the north. First we thought we will first do the north, the plan was estimated to cost 39 billion Rupees, 6 years ago. It was the reconstruction of highways, roads, electricity, telecommunications, the reconstruction of the schools and making the education system function properly, hospitals, those were the major things, and irrigation. I sent this plan of development to the LTTE through our delegation that went shuttling up and down at that time. They looked at it, they told us we think it’s good but we have some amendments to suggest, we said please do, we waited for three or four months for them to suggest their amendments, they didn’t. Then I wrote to them, we kept asking them, I wrote to them somewhere in February 1995, to the leader, to the leader of the LTTE and I exchanged letters, forty odd letters. They have published them, but they have very astutely kept out the ones that are disadvantageous to them, for example, this particular letter is not there. In several letters, I consistently asked them give us their opinion, indicating that we wanted to come and start work, and finally in February he wrote back to me when I wrote saying we have the team ready of engineers and others who are coming there, who are willing to come there with all the stuff by ship to start work. He said « fly a kite with your development », in other words of course, in more diplomatic terms, he didn’t want it. We have consistently continued to endeavour to develop the north. At that time the LTTE was in total control of the north. Since then, that was February 1995, in December 1995, the Government forces took over about 75% of the land area and about 75% of the Tamil people living in the Northern Province. And once the Government forces were there and it was under our authority, we have now started various development projects, with your assistance especially in Jaffna, and in the other areas also, in the north. We are going too slow for our liking, because the LTTE tries to kill people who go there, they tried to kill one of my Ministers who was in charge of the development programme, through their infiltrators they used a suicide bomber, and they killed about 25 people in the process, these were senior officials of government who went there to implement the process. With all the LTTE harassment, we have done some development work, and the Ambassadors of these countries and the institutions have gone and seen for themselves what has happened, but it is not enough. If not for the LTTE harassment, we can do much much more. We cannot take experts from Colombo, they are too frightened to go now. We have invited even Tamil experts who are abroad to come, hoping that the LTTE would not kill them, but they say no, we will also get killed, they don’t want to come. So there are problems like that but I want to assure you that this is top priority on our agenda and I am delighted that it has become top priority at this aid group meeting with the triple R as you call it, and which was being discussed before I disturbed you. And we will give our total commitment, I personally, and my Government, to the successful implementation of that programme because we believe the low priority given to development in the north and east, in the areas where a concentration of the Tamil and Muslim people live, and lived in our country, was one of the causes, though not a major one of the ethnic conflict. Successive Sri Lankan Governments have not developed those areas as much as they have developed the others. And this was definitely a problem which bothered the Tamil and Muslim people of those areas. So, we believe that as the war has drained 2 to 3% of our GDP annually, constantly it was draining 2 to 3% and now it is draining 6% of GDP, which is intolerably high for any developing country or for any country for that matter. The war, and ending the war, and re-establishing peace is our first and most major priority. It has been, all these six years, it will be, in the next two years, and I believe we can find a solution because six long years of consistent application to the problem and to these three prongs of our strategy for peace, have created certain conditions that are more advantageous today than they were six years ago. And we have more hope now of reaching a solution to the problem than we had some time ago.
I think I have taken too much of your time and Madam Chairman, you have been too kind and not bothered to disturb me. I thank you all for the attentive attention that you gave me and once again, I would like to thank you for the very generous and consistent support all of you, your countries and institutions have given Sri Lanka and my Government in the past six years in our efforts to achieve a more equitable, more efficient economic development for our country. Finally I would like to thank the World Bank for making all the arrangements, so efficiently as usual, for this meeting, and giving me and all of us, the opportunity of meeting with all of you and exchanging views and dialoguing with the objective of drawing up programmes and projects that would be useful for the development of the country.