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Sajith outlines policy objectives in online Q&A

In a live Q&A session streamed on Twitter and Facebook this afternoon, United National Party (UNP) presidential hopeful Sajith Premadasa outlined his policy objectives for a future government under his leadership in areas of governance, economics, education and national security.

Responding to a question on economic management, Premadasa said the country is facing what he called a middle income trap.

“As a country, we’re faced with several challenges. On the one hand we have the poverty trap; then we have the middle income trap. We have been classified as a middle income country, which in itself is a trap – in the sense that we’re not prosperous enough to provide a good living standard for all; nor are we considered a low income country which would make us eligible for foreign grants and support,” he said.

Premadasa said Sri Lanka needs to use “modern methodologies” to extricate itself from the “economic debacle” it has found itself over the past two decades.

“The middle class is faced with a middle income trap. The poor are facing a poverty trap,” he said.

Overcoming these traps would require out-of-the-box thinking, the UNP Deputy Leader said, adding that a future United National Front (UNF) government would have an “absolutely meritocratic” approach to governance, with capable, intelligent individuals brought into the system.

“We will have people with the fullest capability. Intelligent people with visionary thinking who have performed and excelled in their respective fields will be made the frontrunners of the governmental structure. As public policy decision makers, we will ensure that the targets are achieved, that the programmes are monitored and the relevant feedback takes place so that any required adjustments are made,” he said.

Referring to a “new look UNF”, Premadasa said new thinking will be injected into a UNP-led government while utilising expertise of party seniors.

“‘New look’ does not mean there will be a turnover of people. We will ensure that those who have contributed to successes are fully utilised in garnering the requisite energies to guide this country. But you will have lots of new thinking, capable and intelligent people will be part and parcel of policy making. We will ensure that the services provided by the government conform to the highest standards of excellence. This is what the people are crying for. As servants of the people, we’re dedicated to achieving such tasks,” he said.

Premadasa also advocated a direct relationship between the public and policymakers, where the former is provided with a constructive opportunity to become participants and stakeholders in decision making.

“I believe first hand unrehearsed interaction with the people is of vital importance to have an authentic people’s dialogue where they are able to have a very frank exchange of views, opinions, conclusions, deductions and accusations, all of which I welcome as part of a new paradigm and a new process that will guide this country towards peace and prosperity,” he said.

“This is vital for policy makers and decision makers to fathom and ascertain the heartbeat of the common man and woman,” he added.

In response to a question about his allegedly overlooking urban housing development over the rural sector, Premadasa said urban housing is a complex issue.

“I would add the word affordable housing. First we have to segment the housing needs market, according to their income patterns. We have to ascertain the requisite numbers in order to have a proper understanding about the demands. We have to have separate policy programmes with adequate government funding to ensure that affordable housing is provided to these various communities and people who belong to different income segments. Urban housing is an issue that has to be looked at in a comprehensive, integrated manner,” he said.

“I’m capable enough to solve the urban housing need as I have shown my performance in the rural arena,” he added.

Addressing another criticism often levelled at him as Minister of Housing, Premadasa said vertical development is on the pipeline for the rural sector.

“The second third and fourth phases of the progamme which will be mandated with constructing 17,500 model villages will see vertical development. What you’d call Gammudawa Mahal Nivasa, which will consist of flats in the model villages where the ancestral family may occupy the ground floor and the first and second floor will be made available to the sub family units of that family. Each plot of land will consist of a housing opportunity for three families,” he said.

“Considering the scarcity of land resources, we have to manage with the limited availability of land. We have to ensure that all environmental concerns are taken into consideration when we embark on this path breaking, revolutionary development programme,” he added.

With regard to cost of living, the presidential aspirant said he hopes to implement a production-related remuneration programme corresponding to an employee’s production capacity.

This, he said, seeks to add value to the economy while increasing salaries so that people may meet rising cost of living and taking into account demand-pull inflation.

Asked if he is mature enough to lead the country at this stage, at 52 years of age, Premadasa said maturity can only be measured by a leader’s ability and output.

“I believe the capability of the political leadership to translate and transform declarations into actions, that’s what is needed for this country.There are many theories and prognosis mentioned as God-given solutions to problems faced by Sri Lanka. In seminar after seminar, speech after speech, the so called experienced leaders have made pronouncements, declarations and various utterances, but most of them have failed in their efforts to translate and transform declarations into actions.

“There is a huge discrepancy that exists between declaratory policy and action policy. This is one of the basic problems that I have identified in the governance system, structure and hierarchy of our country. I want to assure you that I possess the requisite remedial measures to cure that illness and certainly I’m a man of action, and I will ensure that whatever national objectives and targets pronounced, they shall be achieved during a specified period,” he said.

With regard to education, Premadasa said secondary education can be future-proofed through emphasis on science, mathematics, English and ICT, but did not elaborate on plans for developing tertiary education in the country.

On the question of national security, Premadasa said he is for a multi-pronged approach to national security that includes but is not limited to beefing up the military.

“People seem to think that national security should be limited to military protection. This I think is a serious flaw. National security has many facets. Military security is certainly essential, but there is also economic security, political and social security to consider,” he said.

Military security, said Premadasa, requires a modernised security force, equipped with new technology and intelligence gathering capabilities in order to face new threats. For this, the forces must be given new equipment and weapons, he added.

However, other concerns must be addressed too.

“If you look at economic security, we’re now in a debt trap. The richest 20% takes 55% of the national income. The poorest 20% gets only 4%. There is a wealth gap,” he said.

The unitary character of the country, he went on to say, should be felt in the heart of hearts of all communities, echoing a sentiment he had expressed in a previous Q&A session, held in Colombo to a primarily English-speaking audience.

“We need to instill a feeling of brotherhood and reconciliation and unity among all peoples. Some people are destroying religious places as a sign of identity. This is a threat to national security. This creates feelings of resentment. When temples, mosques, kovlis are destroyed, it is a threat to the unitary character of the country” he said.

“There are new threats emerging in the world, such as lone wolf attacks in Europe. Our intelligence units must be strengthened. Terrorism recruitment must be stopped. The best way to do this is to build reconciliation and unity between communities. Devolution of power can be done to the maximum within a unitary country. This is a good way to take the national security agenda forward. I urge you to not look at not through a narrow lens,” he added.

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