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Monday, August 8, 2022

President Ranil addresses parliament, reiterates importance of all-party govt

President Ranil Wickremesinghe today (Aug 03) reiterated the importance of establishing an all-party government to resolve the ongoing political crisis and bring stability to the country. 

Delivering the government’s policy statement following the ceremonial opening of the third session of the Ninth Parliament this morning, the Head of State once again invited all Members of Parliament to join the establishment of an all-party government.

Stating that he took over a country that was already in disaster, President Wickremesinghe said he decided to accept this critical challenge, for the sake of the country and its people.

“Today we are facing an unprecedented situation that our country had never faced in recent history. We are in great danger,” he remarked, adding that the country could extricate and be secured from that danger, “only if we all face this challenge together as one.”

The President pointed out that it is vital that the Members of Parliament, as well as the entire populace, contribute with their own strength towards the effort of nation-building.

‘All-party govt important to resolve crisis’

“The expectation of all the citizens of the country at this juncture is for all their representatives in the Parliament to work together in order to build the country. If we come together, we will be able to invigorate the nation. If we divide, it will not only harm the people’s representatives but the entire nation.”

Accordingly, the President once again requested all political parties in the parliament to unite in the formation of an all-party government. He said he has already initiated talks with political parties in this endeavour.

He explained that an all-party government is not a government that acts on the sole opinion of one party. “It is a government that comprises the views of all parties within a common policy framework and implemented after decisions are made. I wish to reiterate to this House, the importance of an All-Party Government in order to resolve this crisis and establish stability in an expeditious manner.”

President Wickremesinghe also vowed to defend the right of everyone to maintain their cultural practices, follow their religious beliefs and use their language. “I am also constitutionally bound to give Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring all other religions in the country their rights.”

‘Long-term solutions needed to overcome crisis’

Speaking on the collapse of the country’s economy, President Wickremesinghe said that although a new economic regime was introduced in 1977, Sri Lanka failed to modernize and adjust with time. “Without focusing on modernization of the economy, we were engaged in competitive, short-sighted and destructive, narrow politics.”

Unfavourable international economic factors brought about by the Ukraine war and the collapse of the world’s major economies due to the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated and complicated Sri Lanka’s crisis, he explained further.

President Wickremesinghe added that the government has now initiated the process of revitalization, with minimized power cut duration, procurement of fertilizers for cultivation, easing queues for LP gas, safety measures to avoid food shortage, procurement of essential medicinal drugs and equipment for hospitals and reopening of schools.

The Head of State also took notice of assistance provided by India in Sri Lanka’s efforts for economic revitalization. “The Government of India under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has given us a breath of life. On behalf of my people and that of my own, I convey our gratitude to Prime Minister Modi, the Government and the people of India.”

With regard to riding out the fuel crisis, President Wickremesinghe stressed that it is high time that Sri Lanka initiates a system for importation from its own export earnings and foreign remittances. He said that Sri Lanka has to limit selected imports in order to balance the payments for fuel. “On the other hand, fuel supply has to be restricted. These hardships would need to be borne until the end of this year.”

President Wickremesinghe emphasized that Sri Lanka needs to move towards long-term solutions to overcome these difficulties and that a strong foundation needs to be laid to make sure that this kind of economic crisis does not re-emerge in the country.

“Economic stability should be established and transformed into a competitive export economy. In this context, we are now preparing the necessary reports, plans, rules and regulations, laws and programmes. I now seek to explain the planning framework which will be the basis for the country’s future journey. Within this framework, detailed information about the programmes we are implementing will be presented through the Interim Budget and the 2023 Budget to be presented to the Parliament.

As a preliminary step to this end, the government has initiated negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a four-year program and these discussions will continue from this month, the President said further. He is hopeful that these staff-level negotiations will conclude expeditiously and successfully.

The finalization of the debt restructuring plan has commenced in collaboration with Lazard and Clifford Chance, who are international financial and legal experts, he added. “We would submit this plan to the International Monetary Fund in the near future, and negotiate with the countries who provided loan assistance. Subsequently, negotiations with private creditors would also begin to arrive at a consensus.”

‘Need to strengthen export economy’

He said the government is also looking at formulating necessary policies, rules and regulations, and programmes, to strengthen the export economy. Our ultimate goal is to re-establish Sri Lanka’s past legacy as a major economic hub to create a strong and developed green economy, the President pointed out. “We need to create a strong economy that can address climate change.”

The President opined that before the end of the 21st century, the Indo-Pacific Region will be the most powerful economic domain in the world. In this context, the strategic geographical location of Sri Lanka is of extreme importance, and the island nation should make the best use of this favourable position. Accordingly, Sri Lanka’s future corporate laws and policies should be formulated to allow the country to reap maximum benefit from the Indian Ocean-centric new economic power, he commented further.

President Wickremesinghe revealed that in order to strengthen the country’s journey towards a developmental economy, the government is preparing a National Economic Policy for the next 25 years. “It lays the foundation for a social market economic system, securing development for the poor and underprivileged groups and encouraging small and medium entrepreneurs.”

The government aims to create a surplus in the primary budget by the year 2025, the Head of State stated further, mentioning the efforts to raise the economic growth rate to a stable stage, in order to establish a solid economic foundation by the year 2026. “Currently, public debt is 140 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Our plan is to bring this down to less than 100% by the year 2032.”

President Wickremesinghe is hopeful that rebuilding Sri Lanka through a national economic policy would allow the country to become fully developed by the year 2048 when it marks the 100th anniversary of independence.

He also mentioned that he is working to establish a National Assembly consisting of political party leaders. “For the next steps, we will be able to arrange a programme with a common minimum programme with the consent of all, through the National Assembly.”

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