President tells US, Sri Lanka focusing on competitive export markets to reach prosperity –

Monday Sep 12, 2022
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President Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday said that Sri Lanka is focusing on an export oriented, very competitive market economy as the country has the opportunity of supplying South Asia, Southeast and east Asia.

“Our focus is on competitiveness and export markets. That’s what we are working on looking at the industry for technology and modernising agriculture. If you look at the region by 2050 from Saudi to Indonesia there will be an addition of 500 million mouths to feed at a high-income level,” Wickremesinghe said during the meeting with the USAID Administrator Samantha Power who is currently in Sri Lanka on a two-day official visit.

President Wickremesinghe said that the wheels have been set in motion to make Sri Lanka a prosperous nation by 2048 as we reach the centenary of our independence.

He noted that Sri Lanka has an aging population and automation and semi automation is one way out for Sri Lanka. He also noted that a 25-year program has been planned from 2023, adding that Sri Lanka will need the assistance of USAID for its 25-year program to go ahead.

He also noted that as far as democracy is concerned, the 22nd Amendment is before parliament.

“We are waiting for the parliament to pass it. In administrations, we have brought out the first cabinet manual in Sri Lanka. Hence, that will have to go before the cabinet and we’ll establish procedures for the whole of the cabinet. The oversight committees are back again and we’ll be looking forward to support from the USA.”

The President also said that increased economic committees from Public Finance, committee on Public Accounts, committee on Public Enterprise to include the Ways and Means Committee, committee on Banking and Finance because the banking sector is relatively weak and the Committee on State Enterprise Restructuring, they will start a parliamentary budget office and for the first time, legislative research service in Parliament.

“We are also bringing in the new anti-terrorist legislation. I’m going to call the parliament to say once and for all that they must agree on electoral reform. This has been going on. The parties are arguing among themselves. I give them six months. If they don’t, I’ll have a referendum and ask the country which system they want. The political parties can’t be putting this off forever. They have to bite the bullet at some stage. So, if they are not willing, I have not told them yet. They’ll go for a referendum on the major reforms,” he said. The President also said that former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and Victor Ivan have come up with the concept of People’s Councils at grassroots level. “We are giving them support, whatever finance they require. And officials at the grassroots level have been asked to promote the concepts. So, it will be done not by us. And that’s a request, even with the Galle Face Green that the people at Village level must be allowed to express their views. So, there will be 14,000 people’s councils in the 14,000 basic units.”

He also added that discussions have been held with the Tamil community regarding the PTA detentions. “We’ve agreed on a formula that will set off against the judgment, the period in detention, since they have all had more than ten years, no judgment will be more than ten years. It will be out. Except for the few who had bombed the temple of the tooth and the assassination one or two other Parliamentarians.”

The President noted that he intends to bring in some of the associate degrees here, which can be an employment-oriented degree within two years rather than go for the bachelor’s degrees for fall.

“So, help in having your associated degrees that are in community colleges would certainly be welcomed by Sri Lanka.”

President Wickremesinghe also noted that there’s much that can be done towards agricultural modernisation of the ongoing projects.

He thanked Power for the $ 40 million for the farmers, which will certainly be a big help as the country is about to launch a food security and nutrition initiative which will go down to the 14,000 basic administrative units in the country. “And we are making use of all the officials, plus the private sector and others to push to ensure that we are self-sufficient in rice and many other food stuff. We have a good Maha season cultivation, that’s the main season. Then the economy stabilises and if you go to the next smaller season, also in 2023, that will certainly help us in a big way.” He also highlighted the novel concept of including youth representation in committees, where the ideas of the youth will receive due focus. “In addition to the members of Parliament, there will be five youth representatives, people under 35 who will be there. They have the right to ask questions through the chairman and they cannot contribute to the main report. But we are giving them addendum so they can say whatever they want on the report.

“Thereafter it will be in print. This is the first time it’s happening in the world and we have to select the five members. We have what’s called a youth parliament that will legislate for that and bring it under the law.”

The President also highlighted the anti-corruption laws which have to be brought in, which were just approved, and the women’s caucus has been requested to prepare the Women’s Equality and Empowerment Bill. “That’s the first one, I think. The first one for the region. A private member bill has come to decriminalise homosexuality. And I said the government will not oppose it. We are for it, but you have to get the support of individual members. It’s a matter of their private conscience,” he added.

The President also touched on the topic of the Easter Sunday terror attack investigations and said that the Scotland yard has been asked to come in, review the reports and come to a final conclusion on this whole issue to determine if there was a hidden hand behind the bombing.

He also mentioned land issues and how much land can be released. The missing persons, he said, would also be accelerated.

Reconstruction plans will also be reviewed and accelerated, the President said, adding that the Northern Plan development plan is also on the cards. “With renewable energy, the north will become a big economic centre followed by the Trincomalee development scheme. So, with renewable energy and Trincomalee development we have a big opportunity there.”

The President also said that he intends on bringing in the new anti-terrorist legislation. He also said that he plans to call the parliament to say once and for all that they must agree on electoral reform.

Power said she conveys on behalf of President Biden that they stand with Sri Lanka.

“We certainly are here to come together with you and to help take advantage of this rare window of opportunity. Also, for you to be able to make the kinds of changes that have been proposed for so long.”

She also highlighted Sri Lanka’s vibrant private sector and said measures should be taken to unleash the potential of the private sector. “You have such an incredible private sector, such entrepreneurship. But the Government, over so many years, has largely stood in the way of unlocking that potential instead of fuelling it.

“Mangala used to say, as you know, the government has no business running business. And you know what was done in the telecom sector? If that could be done in other sectors in an expeditious and transparent way, to unlock the potential of your people, it would be incredible.”

She said that the political reform agenda and the economic agenda go hand in hand which they have already seen in the United States in trying to engage the business community to look at Sri Lanka now and to see the opportunities that exist here.

Power assured $ 60 million in new assistance. “But compared to the challenges you face, that is very, very small and very modest. But we want to use our convening power to be as catalytic as best we can, at the international financial institutions, with the private sector, with other countries that themselves are looking at Sri Lanka and thinking where to go.”

US Ambassador Julie Chung, USAID Deputy Chief of Staff Sonali Korde, USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Bureau of Asia Änjali Kaur, USAID Sri Lanka Mission Director Gabriel Grau,  US Embassy Political Officer Anamika Chakravorty, State Minister of Foreign Affairs Tharaka Balasooriya, President’s Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayake, President Secretary Saman Ekanayake, Foreign Ministry Secretary Anuni Wijewardhana, Finance Ministry Secretary Mahinda Siriwardhana and Advisor Dr. R.H.S. Samarathunga participated in the meeting.

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