Peace | Speeches

Deciphering the Root Cause of Discord

Address to the Nation

Colombo, Sri Lanka

October 24, 2002

I address you today at a moment when our country faces many challenges. On one hand we hear bells ringing out for Peace. We have reason once again to hope for a final settlement to the ethnic problem of Sri Lanka, which has dogged the life of every Sri Lankan for nearly two decades. Many positive measures are being implemented with success, with the objective of relaxing the tensions, which existed between the antagonists. The Government is doing the maximum possible to implement its part of the Ceasefire Agreement signed by the Prime Minister and the LTTE leaders.

But at the same time there is much turmoil in the country. The freedom that has been granted under the Ceasefire Agreement to one group has given rise to the suppression of the rights of the other groups. Seven major incidents of violence, which have occurred in the last two months in the Eastern Province, have caused serious problems to the Muslim people and in some instances to the Sinhala community living in the East. Security Forces Camps have been attacked in the North and East. The civilian population, including the Tamils, is facing continued problems of extortion, kidnap, punishments meted out by an unlawful judicial system and recruitment by coercion into an illegal Police Force and an equally unlawful military force of the LTTE.

Judging by the statements made by those in charge of the Peace Process, much more needs to be done before reaching the point of addressing the root causes of the problem. Learning from the experience of five previous attempts to reach a negotiated settlement with the LTTE to end the war, it would not be wrong for me to say that the absence of war is not Peace. It has proved to be only a period of respite for the continuation of war. On this occasion, I sincerely hope, more than anyone else, that it would be truly different from the previous occasions. I wish to repeat once again that if this is to be so, much work needs to be done by all concerned. A clear Vision and a Policy Framework to end the war and bring a durable solution to the causes of the conflict needs to be enunciated even now. The Government owes this to the people of the country, who have a right to know what solutions are being proposed for the resolution of the country’s most devastating problem.

The only obstacle to Peace, as all discerning people see it, is the lack of an agreed agenda to discuss the core issues of the conflict, as well as the serious violations of the Ceasefire Agreement by one of the signatories to it. Violations such as continuing to bring in arms, the continuation of recruitment of children and adults and training them militarily, the continuing of extortion, of kidnap and other forms of human rights violations. We must learn to look truth in the face however unsavoury it may be. We must accept what is right and wrong and who has done wrong. Then and only then, could we put behind us all the rancour and bitterness and proceed with success along the noble path of Peace.

As for the economy, I have clearly enunciated my vision for the economic development of Sri Lanka, on many occasions during the last decade. We called it “A Free Market Economy with a Human Face”. On one hand our vision consists of streamlining and regulating the Free Market Economic framework, in such a manner, that all the entrepreneurs - big and small, could be given equal opportunities, rather than reserving all the privileges for the cronies. This is essential for a developing economy not only because it is just, but also because it brings in a maximum number of players into the developmental process, thus rendering it dynamic and more productive by enlarging the production base. My vision does not at any moment forget the large majority of our people of all communities who need support to evolve out of poverty, therefore the requirement for a safety net of subsidies. But subsidies designed to push the unemployed and under-employed poor towards productive, income earning activities. The subsidies must continue. Even more so, when the economic policy consists of giving massive subsidies to the rich through tax reduction, the possibility of tax evasion, monetary incentives for investment, cheap access to land, etc. But the subsidy system must be restructured towards production and increasing productivity.

There are many views expressed on privatisation today. As I expect to speak in greater detail on these matters in the near future, I shall not go into details here. Suffice it to say, our programme of restructuring enterprises does not include the sale of enterprises that form the pivotal points of the economy such as banks, the power sector, the port and the airport. Moreover, the sale of a crucial sector such as power, in a country with political and military upheavals, is considered extremely risky for national security.

We have to give serious consideration to the evidence that globalisation has failed to keep its much vaunted promises of instant development and poverty alleviation. The globalisation recipes given us by the international agencies, must be tempered by our own experiences, as well as a correct understanding of our needs and capabilities.

Our vision of development for Sri Lanka should be one that would build an independent and strong economy and not one that would be only producing backward linkages for the economies of the rich countries.

If you agree with me, you would also realise that we still have much to achieve, if we are to find lasting solutions to the major problems that our nation faces today.

What do we have to do for this? It is obvious that the entire nation must agree on one comprehensive plan of action for Peace, as well as for economic development and then agree to implement it, together. The two major democratic political forces in this country have not been able to agree on anything for 54 years of Independence. The first serious attempt at an alliance was when I invited the UNP, in August 1995 to work with us on the issue of Peace. The second such attempt was in the year 2000 when I invited the UNP again, notwithstanding a bitter Presidential Election Campaign concluded two months previously. The third attempt was when the PA Government invited the UNP to form a Government of reconciliation, one year ago. It is regrettable that these attempts did not succeed.

Subsequently, in December 2001 the people of this country took matters into their hands and decided that the two main democratic parties should work together when they elected the UNP into a Government led by an Executive President of the PA, twice elected with massive popular mandates. What has occurred in the ensuing 11 months since this occasion is history now.

I, for one, was fully aware of the historic and rare opportunity given us by you, the people, to put all rancour behind and work together. To achieve that I have done much, much more than the maximum possible in every sphere; the constitutional, administrative and human spheres despite much provocation and attempts to tarnish my image and question my integrity.

It is useful to caution you at this point, that the abuse of governmental powers to intimidate and subjugate democratic opponents leads to the risk of moving towards one-party authoritarian rule. The strategy of perpetrating terror by certain organs of the State against democratic political opponents is certainly not the best method for positive and constructive cohabitation, let alone participating in a National government.

I am fully aware of the thinking and heartbeat of my people. They would have liked to have heard the sweet sounds of reconciliation and solidarity in the national interest. Yet, all they could hear were threats on the President and insidious attempts to thinker with and chip away at the Constitution threatening the very existence of democracy in this country.

The Supreme Court has quashed the recent attempt at subverting the franchise of the people by the so-called 19th Amendment. I do not consider this a personal victory. It is a victory for democracy. It is a victory also for all Sri Lankans who have massively voted for democracy right through the history of independent Sri Lanka. On this issue I have always stated and shall reiterate once again, today, that all those who believe that the Executive Presidential powers are too extensive should join me to work towards abolishing the Executive Presidency altogether. I invite the Leader of the UNP and his party to join me in my enterprise for the abolition of the Executive Presidency, which must be accompanied by the much-needed reforms of our electoral system in order that we democratise it further.

I remember, I spoke to you, of a certain dream in 1994, when I asked you for a mandate to rebuild our nation in which all its peoples could live with dignity and equal opportunity, where once again the goodness of man and the collective interest of the country would reign above the forces of terror and the soul destroying, selfish pursuit of personal power and monetary greed. I state in all humility, that we successfully, put in place the structures required to realise this dream and implemented part of it. To complete this great enterprise, I need the support of each one of you individually and collectively. I, therefore, take this opportunity to propose to you that you join hands with me, leaving aside all political and other differences, in order that we first, formulate a clear programme for Peace acceptable to all our peoples, the Sinhalese, Muslims, Malays, Burghers, the Tamils and their representatives including the LTTE, as well as a dynamic and workable economic Development Plan designed to benefit all sections of our Nation.

It is now time to put the past behind us. The petty political bickering, which has been the bane of our political culture, must now be confined to the pages of history. As your Head of State and President, it is my responsibility to bring together all communities and all conflicting political parties, at least the major ones in order that we urgently continue the implementation of the vision, which we began implementing eight years ago.

Let us join hands to realise that dream of re-humanising Sri Lanka.