ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe in an address to the nation on the 75th independence day, calling for an end of divisive politics, minority discrimination and politics of deceit.
He promised maximum devolution within a unitary state.
After independence the country was divided on race, religion and region, he said.
“We were divided to a point of developing suspicion and animosity against each other,” he said.
“Various groups exploited this division to gain power and created further rifts among the people. Instead of rejecting such groups, we accorded power to these very same groups.”
“In politics, lies were spread instead of the truth. Politicians who spoke the truth were rejected by the people.
“Those who pointed out the real situation of the country and sought related remedies were hardly given a place. Yet, those who satisfied people with their lies gained greater acceptance.
The full statement is reproduced below:
Most Venerable Maha Sangha and the clergy, my fellow citizens, all Sri Lankans abroad, dear children,
Today, I will not be delivering a traditional Independence Day statement. I am not going to dwell on the freedom we gained. While honouring those who were dedicated and worked hard for the country’s freedom, including the late Mr. D.S. Senanayake, I will focus on regaining the freedom that we have lost today.
Around 75 years ago, the esteemed ‘London Times’ newspaper carried an editorial stating that “It is our desire to see Sri Lanka become a Switzerland in the East, very soon.”
They had not expressed a similar vision for any other country in the East.
However, what has happened to us today?
Today, we are facing an unprecedented economic crisis, hitherto never experienced.
Why have we to face such a situation? Who is responsible for such?
Let’s be truthful. All of us are more or less responsible for this situation. None of us can point fingers and blame each other.
We made mistakes from the beginning. Efforts were made to rectify those mistakes, though it was not possible to correct them completely.
The policy followed by the late Mr. D.S. Senanayake in securing the country’s freedom was to unite all Sri Lankans. He believed that everyone, be it Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim or Burgher, should forge ahead as Sri Lankans.
However, after independence we divided in terms of race, religion and region. We were divided to a point of developing suspicion and animosity against each other. Various groups exploited this division to gain power and created further rifts among the people. Instead of rejecting such groups, we accorded power to these very same groups.
In politics, lies were spread instead of the truth. Politicians who spoke the truth were rejected by the people. Those who pointed out the real situation of the country and sought related remedies were hardly given a place. Yet, those who satisfied people with their lies gained greater acceptance.
We got trapped in a consensual political culture. Our characteristic was to be depended on borrowed resources and we borrowed even more.
We adopted the notion that, “The government is a spring of resources”. Many were of the view that the duty of the rulers was to distribute the various resources obtained from that spring, among the people. Accordingly, job opportunities were provided and various goods and equipment were also distributed. Cash was also made available.
In most instances, we did not vote on behalf of the country. Instead we voted for a candidate in order to receive a job, to gain admission to a school for our children and to have a tender passed etc. We worked for political candidates expecting personal favours in return.
Most of us contested not for the country, but for personal power, for greater perks and to earn a little more.
We were trapped in promises and endured slogans which finally resulted in the gradual collapse of the country’s economy. We borrowed increasingly to fulfil election pledges and proved the slogans shouted at the protests were correct.
We borrowed more for consumption rather than for investment. However, according to the Buddhist Philosophy one should take loans for investment purposes and not consumption. While we are talking of Buddhism, our action is not in keeping with the Buddha’s teachings.
Lee Kuan Yew, who visited Sri Lanka to study and formulate a strategy to rebuild Singapore, said after many years, that . “This situation has arisen in Sri Lanka due to unnecessarily prioritising politics. If Sri Lanka was followed as a role model, even Singapore by today would have perished.
In fact, we have reached the point of destruction. There are those who want to keep perpetuating this wound forever, though I don’t wish. Let’s seek to heal this wound though it’s difficult and painful. If we endure the suffering and pain for a short period of time, we can get the wound healed completely.
We have no way out of this crisis with short cuts as that some political parties are pointing out.
We have only one way to get rid of this situation, if we want to overcome this crisis and achieve real economic and social freedom. Remember, if we miss this path due to misplaced political agendas, we would neither have a future nor a country.
On several occasions, I pointed out the seriousness and danger of the looming economic crisis we are facing today. I have already said that the first six months of this year will be extremely difficult. We have to face this difficult situation in our stride, although unwillingly, for the sake of the country.
Although a large number of people in this country got out of poverty with the free education and expanded the middle class, today the country has turned into a land where it is impossible to fulfil their aspirations. I see the youth who should be working hard in different fields in this country are creating long queues to obtain passports. We need to change this situation too.
To achieve this end we should modernize the economy and open it to the world. The corrupt political factionalism that deceives the people making them dependants and poor for ever should also be changed. This is the “system change” that the youth of this country have been demanding for over a long period of time.
My government therefore has embarked on new path of reform to fulfil the needs of the youth. Even though those decisions that have to be taken for it are painful, it has to be done in order to overcome.
We have to move away from narrow politics in order to be rid of this crisis situation. We must face this challenge together as children of one mother and make our fullest contribution to strengthen the path towards the successful development of this country. We must all move forward as Sri Lankan nationals leaving aside all differences.
Hence the basis and foundation for a strong new economy has already been formulated. We are successfully completing the difficult stage required to get support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). We expect to get their consent without delay.
We cannot be satisfied just by strengthening the economy. The entire system needs to be changed. All areas of this political system, the legislature, parliament, Executive, state machinery, etc. should be modified to suit the modern era. The nation, and we should benefit from this change. More space should be created in the new system, for representation and opinions of young people and women in particular.
For this system modification, we are proposing a number of orders to the Parliament.
Additionally, immediate action needs to be taken in relation to the unique issues that the people in the North and East face. A cabinet subcommittee for this purpose has already been established.
All political parties are informed of its decisions and their implementation dates. Thereby those tasks are carried forward. We have given priority to activities such as release of land and prisoners.
Furthermore, measures are being taken for the maximum division of power in a unitary state. However, we’ll never consent to the division of this nation.
I’m not attempting to treat the superficial condition with painkillers. But to treat the root cause of the malaise. It is challenging and difficult, but it’s our only option.
I know that many of the decisions I have been compelled to take since assuming the presidency have been unpopular.
However, because of those decisions, today no citizen of this country will die of dehydration in oil queues. You won’t starve without gas. Not curse without fertilizer.
Therefore, regardless of the obstacles the anarchist political forces seek to create, I will continue this new reform program with the majority of people who love this country.
We can become a developed country by 2048 if we work and move forward in a united and planned manner envisioning peace and reconciliation. There is the potential to become a developed country which is not begging from any other nation in the world. True freedom can be achieved and it is possible.
It is our collective responsibility to build a new country in which our children can compete with the rest of the world. Therefore, I urge all parties to come together to overcome this difficult period.
Let’s unite! Let’s join hands!
With joined hands let’s embark on a united journey over the next 25 years, as we have planned. Let’s further nurture those plans in accordance with the views of all parties. Let’s get stronger. Let’s make them more systematic and streamlined.
Not only should all of us who live in Sri Lanka join this effort. But the Sri Lankans living in the different countries around the world should also shoulder this journey. Everyone should be united. Everyone should contribute to the achievement of these goals as much as possible.
Let us devote ourselves, unite as children of one mother. Let us make our country one of the most developed in the world by 2048, when we will celebrate 100 years of independence.
Thank you all.