Today, Sri Lanka remains under an islandwide curfew as the nation battles the spread of the deadly COVID-19 outbreak which has entered our country.
From the day, the first patient was detected in January, who was a Chinese national on holiday in Sri Lanka, the government acted swiftly in containing a spread. The Health Ministry, within hours after she was detected, traced down all those who she had associated with while being in the country and put them all under quarantine. Fortunately the virus was contained back then, as even those she had closely associated with such as her husband tested negative.
The Chinese national was successfully treated at the National Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH), in the outskirts of Colombo and within 3 weeks she made a full recovery. The work done by our team of medics was remarkable as they worked around the clock to ensure that the patient undergoes a quick recovery so she can return back home to China, safely to her family.
Back then, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa started immediate work as the virus spread rapidly from country to country. A Presidential Task Force to fight the COVID-19 was launched with the participation of all stake holders including doctors, military and medical experts. The task force met on a daily basis, to brief the President and Prime Minister on what steps could be taken if the COVID-19 hits us. Medical teams were closely monitoring the outbreak globally while teams also remained in touch with the World Health Organization.
Today, two months later, Sri Lanka is facing the COVID-19 threat again, with 80 patients confirmed to be infected with the virus as of March 22. A majority of those who have tested positive are those who have returned back to the country from Italy, and many who unfortunately did not undergo the required quarantine procedures and traveled back to their homes, posing a risk to their family members and their neighborhoods.
Despite whatever the reasons, now is not the time for a blame game. As responsible citizens, we all have to now ensure that we listen to the necessary authorities and implement the required preventive measures set out by the Health Ministry and the World Health Organization such as social distancing, remaining indoors, washing hands etc.
Today, as authorities are trying their utmost to keep each and every one of us safe from the virus, another positive initiative I would like to highlight is how many corporates are coming forward, understanding their social responsibilities, by voluntarily helping the government by giving their luxurious hotel premises as quarantine centers as well as making financial and urgent medical donations.
As I write this article, as of now Citrus group has come forward by giving its Citrus Hotel premises in Waskaduwa, Hemas has come forward by giving its Club Hotel Dolphin, the John Kellls Grouo has come forward by giving its Trinco Blu by Cinnamon in Trincomalee, all as quarantine centers whilst the Hidramani Group is working with JAAF and medical professionals to develop protective clothing for healthcare workers who are on the frontlines fighting against the COVID-19. Several businessmen have also come forward, pledging donations including business tycoon Dhammika Perera who has pledged Rs.70 million worth of urgent health care facilities including ventilators and other urgently needed ICU equipment. In addition to these leading corporates, we are seeing several small and medium business owners also coming forward to assist in this time of need by offering vegetables, fruits, facilities, masks, gloves and numerous other things and services which are the needs of the hour for several healthcare workers and forces.
To all these people, we in the government have only one word – THANKYOU. We greatly appreciate the assistance rendered by all at this time of need and this proves beyond doubt that Sri Lankans can and will remain united especially in the time of crisis. Without each others help, we will not be able to fight this successfully within a short span of time.
As I write this, Sri Lanka’s military personnel are also putting up another quarantine facility, adjoining the IDH, have finished equipping the Welikanda Base Hospital and also the Mulleriyawa Hospital which will be used to treat further patients.
Our medical teams, are working round the clock to treat all those detected while our military and PHIs and police are working tirelessly to keep all citizens safe by doing house to house checks and ensuring the over 15,000 who are presently under quarantine have all the necessary facilities they require.
The ongoing curfew may cause us all inconvenience but the authorities are working round the clock to ensure YOUR safety.
Sri Lanka, is an island which has been through much, defeated a 30 year war, hit by terror blasts last year, but we have always bounced back stronger. While we pray that the world recovers from this deadly virus, Sri Lanka can and will beat this virus. As a united nation, lets do our part to ensure we follow the required guidelines of the Health Ministry and WHO because the sooner we get rid of COVID-19, the sooner we will begin to flourish again.
On Tuesday 4th, Sri Lanka marked a historical day. This nation celebrated its 72nd Independence Day anniversary from British colonial rule, defining us as a nation of freedom, rich culture, diversity and a country which is home to many religions.
Since 1948, Sri Lankan citizens have put in their heart and soul to move forward. However this beautiful country, which is blessed with an advantageous geographical location in the Indian Ocean and its rich soil, is yet to reach a satisfactory status, when compared to other countries in the region. This is because of weak governance, since 1948, by governments, mostly led by the UNP, who tried to govern through a colonial type ruling. These governments failed us in some way, leading to three major youth uprisings, two in the south and the other in the north, which transformed into Asia’s oldest civil war.
Sri Lanka sacrificed thousands of young soldiers in its 30 year battle against the ruthless LTTE, who were militarily defeated in 2009, under the strong leadership of current Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. Thousands of innocent civilians also lost their lives as the LTTE unleashed its terror on everyone including children. Some of our best politicians were assasinated and Sri Lanka was a country which was far from approached by any investor or tourist. 30 years of a war left us devastated and our economy ruined. At that time we saw no hope.
However, in 2005, with the LTTE already having caused massive destruction, Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected as Sri Lanka’s President and then he appointed Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the Defense Secretary. Realizing that past governments had done little to end the war, under the strong leadership of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the military was strenghtened and within four years, the LTTE were banished. Terorrism was wiped off from our shores. The war had ended. Freedom had finally prevailed. Sri Lanka’s soil strenghtened once again after our independence in 1948.
I remember that day in May 2009, when my father was informed that the war was over he had tears in his eyes and his immediate reply to a few of his close associates was, “my people are free. We will now move forward and transform this country into the most developed state for the sake of those who sacrificed for us.”
From 2009 to 2015, Sri Lanka worked tremendously hard, so much so that within a short span of time, we emerged as one of the leading tourist spots in the world, a hot spot for investments, we welcomed large FDIs, our ports were strenghtened and we began appearing on several global rankings.
Sri Lanka was suddenly the talk of the world. Through investments, people started getting jobs, we attracted large foreign exchange, star class hotels entered our shores, global businesses were set up, global brands entered, our economy stablized and we were producing the fastest millionaires in the world. People who could not see the sudden transformation, criticized the past Rajapaksa government and attempted to destabilize the nation. Suddenly, in 2014, just months ahead of a presidential election, some groups with ulterior motives, caused riots to break out, attempting to brand the Rajapaksa government as racists and trying to divide the nation. Fear was unleashed on minority communities and the former UNF government made this their main election campaigning point. Their false campaigning eventually led to a government change in 2015.
Since then to last November, Sri Lanka once again faced a hurdle. All what this country had worked for, started slipping away as weak governance crept in, the same weak governance which led to youth uprisings. A ruthless era of corruption, under the guise of good governance took over, and the people paid a heavy price, through unjust taxes, rising unemployment, weak policies, zero FDIs, internal political rivalry and lies. Then in April 2019, the biggest nightmare this country had left behind, hit us again – terrorism. While the former government was busy clinging on to power, our national security was severely compromised, which cost us heavily as a nation. Sri Lanka, a budding nation, went silent again.
In November 2019, realizing that Sri Lankans truly valued peace and freedom, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who with Mahinda Rajapaksa and our valiant forces contributed in brining peace to the nation by defeating the LTTE in 2009, was sworn in as the President while days later Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn in as the Prime Minister. The duo were back again to govern with a firm vision, to develop Sri Lanka and ensure that peace remains on our shores.
Today just three months since the new government, many changes have been made. Although it will take some time to clean up the mess created by the UNP, the government is slowly moving forward to ensure Sri Lanka propspers once again. Already people are recieving employment, a program to end poverty is in place, we are maintaining a neutral foreign policy, and investors are keen to enter this island once again.
Although some groups critisize the government claiming, minorities will face racism, President Rajapaksa, in his Independence Day speech to the nation, dismissed any fear stating, “Every citizen living in Sri Lanka has the right to live freely and securely. We will always ensure their right to think freely, hold independent opinions, and express themselves without any hindrance. We will always respect the right of any citizen to follow the religion of his or her choice. Every citizen has the right of free association and of free assembly. We will always defend the right of every Sri Lankan citizen to participate in the political and governance processes through his or her elected representatives. We consider all these as rights of human beings that no one can challenge.”
Sri Lanka has faced many hurdles. But today 72 years later, our citizens are still committed to take this nation forward. A new day and new era has dawned upon us under this new government. A new freedom has been laid on us all. Time we do everything to keep this freedom in tact once and for all and move forward together as one.
This is the least we can do for the thousands of brave men, women and children who were sacrificed in our struggle for freedom. We will do them proud.
Just hours ago, the Sri Lankan government lead by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, were successful in safely evacuating and bringing home 33 Sri Lankan students and their family members who were in Wuhan, a city which is under lock down due to the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus.
While many other countries are also in the process of evacuating their own citizens from the Hubei Province, it is commendable that Sri Lanka was able to lead cordial and successful discussions with the Chinese government in bringing our nationals back home safely.
There are many questions now being raised as to if these students pose a threat to other citizens. However keeping the safety of all citizens in mind, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and all other concerned stake holders including the Health Ministry and the military had taken steps to ensure that adequate facilities were immediately put in place and the returning students will be quarantine for 2 weeks.
Within a matter of days, the army was successful in putting up a sealed facility at the Diyatalawa base where each student will be kept in quarantine in a separate, sealed room whilst being provided with all the facilities including wifi, washing machines and other basic necessities.
The Sri Lankan Airlines crew who landed at the Wuhan airport to bring home our citizens safely on the instructions of President Rajapaksa, are also heroes who need to be commended and the military along with a team of specialized doctors will now take over to monitor the students.
The Sri Lankan government has taken marvelous steps to ensure that the coronavirus does not spread in the country, which indeed has a large number of Chinese nationals working in project sites and tourists arriving to holiday here. Infact since the initial stages of the outbreak in China, Sri Lanka’s Health Ministry was in discussions with the WHO and were monitoring the situation closely without any neglect. Within days, under the instructions of the President and Prime Minister, specialized scanners were deployed at the Bandaranaike International Airport along with a medical desk and once the virus began to spread to other countries, the Immigration began to issue a special mark on the ETA of Chinese nationals arriving here from the affected cities.
The strategy taken by the government was to implement strict preventive measures from the port of entry. A ‘nip it in the bud’ process.
Once the 43 year old Chinese tourist was detected with the virus late last month, all Chinese nationals arriving here were led to a separate terminal under heavy monitoring and specialized medical tests and quarantine.
The lady was immediately transferred to the National Infectious Disease Hospital within 24 hours, all those she had come in contact with were traced down and taken in for medical checks. The hotels visited by this tourist was also checked. Today, just within a matter of days, the Health Ministry announced that the Chinese national, who was treated by a team of specialized doctors had fully recovered and was ready to be discharged. Sri Lanka’s treatment on a coronavirus patient, was successful and swift.
The team which treated her indeed need to be praised.
Taking into consideration all the steps taken by the government, the World Health Organization, on Friday, appreciated the steps taken saying the Sri Lankan government had taken appropriate measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus and relevant ministries were well prepared and equipped.
Within these past few weeks, many individuals including the opposition have attempted to play dirty politics taking into advantage the ongoing situation by spreading unwanted fear among the public stating Sri Lanka was not well equipped to deal with an outbreak. However all these allegations have been in vain, and today, Sri Lanka is not only free from the virus, but 12 state hospitals across the country are also ready and equipped to deal with the situation if further cases are reported.
The new government indeed has worked in unity with all authorities to ensure the safety of this nation and this was one of the pledges undertaken by President Rajapaksa in his election campaigning – to always ensure the nation remains safe.
Sri Lanka indeed is taking great leaps forward under the strong leadership of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Mahinda Rajapaksa. It is time we all unite to join them in developing this beautiful country further.
The year 2020 has indeed started off with a stark reality, that climate change is a threat on us all and it is only worsening every single day.
There is no country in the globe who can today stand proudly and say they have not been affected by this crisis or have taken enough steps to mitigate this issue. Nations, including Sri Lanka, need to do more to address this grave crisis and it is high time world leaders unite to pass necessary resolutions to address climate change.
The year 2020 began with some alarming examples of how we all have to some extent neglected the climate crisis. Australia is burning with dozens dead and a billion animals perished, floods have swept through parts of Jakarta, skies in New Zealand have turned orange as a result of the Australian fires, the Earth has endured its second hottest year on record and the Arctic is melting at an alarming rate, all due to global warming.
So as humans have we done enough to protect our Mother Earth?
Being a small island in the Indian Ocean region, Sri Lanka shockingly was the second worst country affected by climate change in 2018. Floods and droughts have become a yearly phenomenon in this country which as a result has killed hundreds of innocent people, affected thousands and caused immense damage in recent years. The last government unfortunately were so engulfed in their internal political battles that climate change was never a priority on their agenda. Infact, this was one of the least debated issues in Parliament within these past four years while we were hit by the crisis the most.
During my political career, I have always been vocal about climate change and have on many occasions written about it on this platform. I have also discussed it on several international forums and stressed on the importance of how our future generations should be encouraged to address this issue.
With the election of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the appointment of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in November, it is encouraging to see the importance these two leaders are giving global warming and how we in Sri Lanka have begun taking steps to address this issue.
Infact I myself, as a politician and citizen of this country, under the guidance of the President and Prime Minister have already begun a program to strengthen the organic farming industry by increasing lands for organic farming to 1000 acres this year. Steps are also being taken to increase the number of farmers involved in organic farming to 1500 and by the end of 2020, Sri Lankans can purchase more organic food to maintain healthier lifestyles.
Then a few weeks ago, the government also started a project to plant thousands of trees and I personally began this project in my constituency of Hambantota. These trees planted are commercially viable trees which can bare fruits and vegetables so that it can benefit us and our children.
We started this project a few weeks ago from the Hambantota AG’s office and last week I planted trees in the Rajapaksa Central College in Weeraketiya. I will be visiting all schools in the Hambantota district to plant these trees in collaboration with the school management in the coming weeks and students will be encouraged to follow this project and will be educated on the importance of climate change.
If we begin our challenge in addressing this global risk, we can soon join many organizations and politicians world over who are working tirelessly towards this efort, trying to make their voices heard and implementing projects to minimize global warming.
As a responsible government, we will ensure that Sri Lanka’s future generations will be educated on the threat caused by global warming and the steps which need to be taken to mitigate this crisis completely for the generations to come.
I have always believed, that as a politician, my job requires me to work towards my nation and all its citizens and I have to take steps to safeguard this country. I have started my bit to make a change. I invite everyone to join me.
As we enter into a new year, Sri Lanka is undergoing mega changes.
November bought about a big change in the political environment of the country with the victory of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and days later we witnessed a government change with the swearing in of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and a 15 member new cabinet.
Following this, further robust changes were made by the President and Prime Minister immediately after to provide relief to the people such as cutting down on expenditures within the government and state institutions, drawing up plans to lift 100,000 people out of poverty which will be launched on January 15, launching tough measures to tackle corruption, taking steps to address climate change, cutting down on unwanted taxes, slashing the cost of living etc.
This change indeed was what the Sri Lankan citizens were desperately yearning for, for 4 years.
With Sri Lanka adopting such positive changes, another big change which the country has seen after decades is the entry of young politicians into the island’s political circle. This indeed is the beginning of a new political era and is the first step towards the President and Prime Minister’s firm vision that the younger generation is the backbone of our society and they should be more involved in politics and decision making.
Presently, the existing cabinet as well as the state sector includes young and dynamic leaders which is a positive move in the political sphere of this country.
With Sri Lanka undergoing fresh new changes, today I would like to stress that young, dynamic and capable politicians are an asset and an investment which is made by citizens. Such an investment is often overlooked, but young, deserving, hardworking politicians with a futuristic vision in any country, brings about positive changes in the overall political circle by bringing stronger changes to the entire governing system. In many countries, citizens vote for talent and hard-work, expecting such politicians to bring about changes which will benefit the common man. Such changes are now what is expected in many countries as the youth world over are getting stronger whilst public expectations are rising.
Sri Lanka, just like many other countries in the region will soon see developmental and social changes with the election of a new president and new government. But for the country to truly prosper, a majority of our citizens have to welcome the entry of new, young politicians who can truly contribute towards the overall change of the country. For years, Sri Lanka has been seeing the same system, but with Asia soon emerging as the next super power, it is time our citizens realize that despite there being several politicians contesting for seats, they should invest in those who are capable and who can do justice to their votes.
For years now, citizens are frustrated with the same old mind set of electing politicians and then not being able to even approach some of them to discuss any issues.
2015 was an ideal example when the yahapalanaya government promised to bring about changes to the entire system but exited by being the worst performing government this country had faced. That change indeed was a blow to the entire country.
Infact not only did the UNF government perform below expectations but Sri Lanka’s national security was also severely compromised which resulted in the loss of innocent lives.
But as the world changes, it is time Sri Lanka too change and bring in a new polticial culture which will not only be a long term asset for us all, but will also contribute towards the overall economic, social, development change of the country.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa have always stressed on the power of the youth and their contribution towards decision making and politics. It is time we, as a nation select the right politicians and with the parliamentary elections just months away, the country has the opportunity to elect both young and old, but a talented, hardworking parliament which will be an investment by the citizens for the citizens.
Change is crucial. We must change our mindsets, our thinking so that the changes we make today, will be our investments for our future generations. Sri Lanka has started the new year with positive changes, time we all live up to it.
Since the end of Sri Lanka’s 30 year civil conflict in May 2009, Sri Lanka’s health sector has performed commendably by receiving WHO status in the elimination of certain diseases as well as offering a free health care system to all.
In fact, when compared to other countries in the region, Sri Lanka’s health care system is quite advanced but the sector indeed has suffered a blow within these past four and a half year under the adhoc rule of the UNF government.
A sizable majority of Sri Lankans today depend on Sri Lanka’s free health care system and that is why before 2015, the previous Rajapaksa government entered into agreements with foreign countries to construct state of the art hospitals in remote areas. Infact today, in Hambantota alone, there has been a mega state of the art hospital opened, which was initiated by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa before 2015 but was only opened by the former UNF government in July 2019 after a wide public outcry.
In these recent weeks, following the victory of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the Nov.16 Presidential Elections, I have been travelling to many remote areas across the country listening to the hardships of the citizens as well as speaking about the vision of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. Infact one area which I have been closely working on is my own constituency of Hambantota.
Within these past four years, I have received several complaints from the residents in the area of the neglected and failing health system. Which is why this prompted me to request
Hon. Minister of Health, Pavithra Wanniarachchi to visit Hambantota on Thursday, where we undertook a tour of the health departments as well as the Hambantota and Weeraketiya Hospitals which was shockingly in a neglected state.
While there, I was shocked to realize that there was a massive shortage of infrastructure development as well as a severe demand for doctors, nurses and minor staff. While patients were in numbers, the shortage of staff made daily functions difficult which led to a gross neglect in the functions of each department.
There were other serious issues as well. The hospitals faced a severe shortage of essential drugs, such as that for thalessemia as well as a shortage of drugs to treat kidney diseases.
I have discussed in detailed with Hon.Minister Wanniarachchi of the necessity to construct a separate hospital to treat thalassemia patients in Sri Lanka as well as the need to take urgent steps to ensure that there is a free availability of drugs to treat such patients. A big complaint which patients discussed with us, during our tour was that there was always a shortage of drugs to treat thalassemia and this is a cause for concern as annually, according to medical surveys, around 300,000 babies are born worldwide with serious hemoglobin disorders, thalassemia and sickle cell disease. This needs our serious attention.
Also there are urgent policy decisions which need to be taken by the government which should enable to hand over more power to the district hospitals and regional hospitals so that they can take decisions to develop infrastructure as well as recruit more staff. This will ensure smooth operations in the hospitals as well to ensure a better health care system for all. I discussed this in detail with Hon.Minister Wanniarachchi who agreed that these changes are extremely vital for the better operations of our district hospitals.
It is most unfortunate that when irresponsible governments are in power, vital sectors take a blow in their terms. For the past four years, there was much neglect and power struggles, but now to ensure that sectors revive, the new government will ensure that all shortages are fulfilled. The health sector especially in all remote areas will be well looked after to ensure citizens receive a smooth and efficient medical treatment as well as an efficient free health care system.
Sri Lanka has been plagued with shortage of essential drugs under the previous UNF government as well as the lack of staff and doctors. Despite many complaints by the residents and patients in the area, these were ignored by the former health minister and his team, who were in fact more busy preparing people to fabricate false allegations against the SLPP and the Rajapaksas.
Health is a sector which will not be compromised under our government. Infact I am much obliged to Hon.Minister Wanniarachchi for undertaking the tour with me on Thursday to see first hand of the struggles and shortages facing the health sector in Hambantota.
In his election campaigns, President Rajapaksa vowed to make a change and this time, all members of the SLPP along with the government will ensure to make a difference. I will personally look into the upgrading and the development of the health sector in areas such as Hambantota and will be in touch with the Health departments to ensure that citizens get their basic medical needs fulfilled.
Change has come upon Sri Lanka and I invite you all to join me to make a difference.
Since the victory of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Nov. 16 Presidential Elections, all SLPP members including myself have received more responsibility in working towards achieving President Rajapaksa’s vision and getting the country back on track.
After all, there remains much to be done in this beautiful country after the severe failures, malpractices and corruption caused by the former UNF government who came in vowing good governance in 2015, but departed as the worst performing government Sri Lanka ever had.
The time lost in greed and corruption these past four and a half years is regrettable. Especially considering the fact that it set us back as a nation, and downgraded our economic status and unleashed enormous suffering on our citizens.
However, Nov. 16 dawned a new era for Sri Lanka and the new government headed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa are now determined to drive this nation towards a positive tomorrow.
These past few weeks, since November, I have been travelling to several areas of the country speaking to the citizens, listening to their hardships and promoting the President and Prime Minister’s firm vision. One of the constituencies I have also been spending a lot of time is in Tangalle, which is my home constituency and the constituency of Sajith Premadasa.
Now we all know that Mr Premadasa held one of the most vital portfolios during the previous UNF government and that is the Ministry of Housing. What I mean by vital is that this Ministry offers a lot of relief to the most needy families who are struggling to put a roof above their heads. Such families number in several thousands.
In these past four and a half years, I personally have received several complaints from many needy people complaining of malpractices in the Housing Ministry and complaints from the poor having failed to receive houses. Even while in the opposition, I visited these needy people and the projects which fell under the Housing Ministry and the state of these projects were appalling.
It is shocking to note that many houses had been constructed in a pathetic condition by the Housing authorities and people do not have clear deeds to their homes even to this day. Infact, following an investigation, it has now come to light that the Housing Ministry, under Mr. Sajith Premadasa ended up spending millions more than their budgetary allocations but houses remain incomplete without clear title deeds. These projects have been left halfway, construction of homes have been of poor quality and people are still struggling with clear deeds, why was there such a colossal waste of money? And what was that money spent on?
Further it has come to light that most of the houses built for people have not been constructed on state lands or lands belonging to the Housing Ministry, Instead these houses have been built on wild lands with no clear deeds and are the habitats of animals, more frequently elephants. This is one of the main causes for the escalation of the human elephant conflict within these past four and a half years. The number of human and elephant deaths in such conflicts within these past few years has been tragic, but it is a matter which was blatantly ignored by the Housing Ministry and the previous government.
How can any authority or politician rest, by jeopardizing the lives of innocent poor families who trust the state to keep them safe? How can we sleep knowing that little children may be attacked by wild animals and their homes have become their dungeons of death?
The Housing Ministry has severely violated procedures by allocating houses on wild land and now these families are left with no ownership deeds. Which is why many families, after having constructed their houses have been kicked out of their homes as these are unauthorized lands and dangerous for occupation. Further more, what is even more shocking is that loans given by the Housing Ministry for construction of homes has charged exorbitant sums as interest rates from the poor house owners which has left many thousands still paying the interest to date. Many in fact have complained that their eager incomes have gone into only paying the interest within these past four years.
For example, one family I spoke to said they had obtained Rs. 40,000 as a loan from the Housing Ministry from the allocated Rs.500,000 but to date they continue to pay the interest for the full half a million.
This is daylight robbery.
Sri Lankan citizens have faced enormous set backs under the previous government, but injustice on the poor in such a gross manner is shocking.
Today I highlight this grave issue not only as a politician, but also as a human being who wants to provide justice to these innocent people. Whatever heights we politicians climb to, we must always remember that our first priority is our citizens who have placed their confidence in us. It gives us no right to cheat them just to get their votes and then take them as a joke.
The Housing authorities under Mr Sajith Premadasa has to provide an explanation for the severe injustice they have caused.
For such a blatant violation to occur in this day and age, makes us wonder, what some have transpired into. Shame!
Sri Lanka is a country rich in its values and with a modern outlook. This small country has so much potential that global investors know our worth and are keen to step in due to the endless advantages we have to offer whether it be through our strategic location or the richness in our soil.
Today, in the 21st century, for any country to prosper, a strong youth generation has to be in place. When compared to youth 30 years ago, the aspirations of this generation has changed rapidly. For example, 30 years ago, if a youth was questioned on what his aspirations are, he would simply say he wants to read a good book. But today, the aspirations of our youth are vast as they are surrounded by upgrading technology and the world is just a click away. Their aspirations are different and dynamic keeping in line with worldy trends.
But despite the developing global trends, some aspirations between our past and present youth are common even to this day. The youth, which ever country they reside in, yearn for a good education, employment, a good quality of life, a good source of income, good governance, a strong democracy and anti corruption.
This week, I was invited to speak at the “Innovation Network of Asia 2019” in Jakarta, Indonesia where I was able to discuss about Sri Lanka and the aspirations of our youth and what need to be done to capitalize their potential.
After we gained Independence in 1948, Sri Lanka faced three major youth uprisings which costed us more than 300,000 lives. And during this time, over 4 million youth left our shores, some in fear and some in search of a better future.
Sri Lanka faced its first youth uprising in 1971 in the south followed by the northern youth uprising in 1983 which lasted for over 30 years. This uprising created one of the world’s most ruthless terrorist organizations. The government back then appointed a commission in 1989, to probe as to what went wrong for such an uprising to take place and this led to the stark reality that the governments back then had failed to meet the aspirations of the youth, hence the country had to face such deadly uprisings.
So what has Sri Lanka done as a country to address these issues and how have we learnt from our past mistakes? In 1947, our government back then decided families must be resettled in the dry zones for agricultural purposes providing irrigational skills which continued till the early 1990s. Since then, we created a youth ministry, a youth council, and many youth programs in order to address these issues.
In 2005, my father and present Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakasa, who was sworn in as the President back then, together with his government decided that terrorism must be eradicated from Sri Lanka as it was the youth who were being heavily scarred. His government managed to wipe out terrorism within four years after which a vigorous program of rehabilitation, reconciliation and resttlement was launched in the country. We started building all our sectors and started expanding our airports. We also began expanding our maritime sector by strenghtening the Colombo Port and by building the Hambantota Port. We also built highways aiming to connect the airports to the ports so that internal trans shipment can take place smoothly. And educational reforms were introduced along with vocational training and a rural economic transformation was launched during this period. We managed to achieve some goals through these initiatives.
Under Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka was able to achieve an economic growth of 7.2 percent and following the end of the war in 2009, we managed to double our per capita income and reduce the unemployment rate to less than 5 percent. Bank interest rates were reduced to encourage more youth to transform into entrepreneurs.
However, looking back, we know there is still a lot more Sri Lanka needs to do for its youth. From 2015 to 2019, Sri Lanka went through a severe political instability which affected our national security and our national economy was at a verge of collapse as a result.
However just last month, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected as the new President of Sri Lanka and we believe through his firm vision and the vision of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka will once again create political stability for the next five years. We as a government, and as a nation have realized we need to create more opportunities for our youth not only to be a part of our economic growth but also to be a part of the administration. We believe the new generation of youth have much to offer and they should play a stronger role in political activities and be a part of the governing process.
This is why Sri Lanka, two years ago, proposed a 25 percent youth representation in nominations for local council elections. Today in addition to a strong youth representation in the local councils, the new interim government also has an equal youth representation who are contributing to the new policies and agendas of the government.
At large, the new government, also strongly believes in implementing educational reforms in Sri Lanka that can cater to the demand that is out there in the world. We also propose to start a fund to support innovative startups and entrepreneurship. In addition to financing, this fund will also guide youth and mentor them for further business expansions and partnerships.
Countries like Indonesia has achieved so much just through innovative start ups. Countries like Estonia, who has a population of only 1.2 million also have four unicorn start ups. Taking these countries into consideration, there is much that Sri Lanka also can learn and implement.
There are barriers this new government will definitely have to face in the coming 5 years. But we are committed to creating a level playing field for all, so that every Sri Lankan can be a part of the country’s growth.
Sri Lanka also has an advantage as it offers free higher education which is very important for our youth and this must be safeguarded. But with changing trands, we will look at new educational partnerships and also look at establishing more vocational and skill development institutions. We will also look to expand universities and introduce new universities especially in ares such as maritime and aviation and also expand our tourism industry and introduce more technology in the agricultaral sector.
Today, Asia has 700 million youth but we are also faced with the dark reality that Asia faces the highest unemployment in the world. Also the epidemics and poverty are the challenges that Asia has to face. This is something regional leaders should understand.
There is much work that lies ahead of us but it is never too late to start. Sri Lanka has a firm vision and we will soon be an example to the world of a country which rose from terrorism and hardships, to transforming into a leading nation with the backing of our youth generation. Our work has begun.
Today is a week since newly elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa took office and began work for the entire nation.
President Rajapaksa’s victory at the recently concluded Presidential Elections is proof of the change people were yearning for, following the sever failures of the former UNP government.
Just within the first week of office, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who before 2015, led the country towards a path of prosperity have already started a change.
Several projects are already on the cards to strengthen our economy and provide much relief to our citizens and a massive clean up operation is already underway to keep the island clean and its environment healthy.
There were several obstacles and allegations that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa faced before being democratically elected through a vote but both of them faced it with courage and honesty and their hard work for the nation, even while in the opposition has given them the opportunity to lead this country towards a bright future once again.
Within a week, both President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa did not waste any time in appointing an interim cabinet. Infact within hours after former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe stepped down from his position a new interim cabinet of 16 members was appointed consisting of those experienced and new, young and old.
There was never a battle for portfolios. Those loyal to the party with years of experience in politics, came forward and suggested they would stay away from portfolios and paved the way for a temporary cabinet to be selected.
And today, I am glad to see that the interim cabinet, although only 16 members, is a strong, efficient and capable cabinet with a mixture of young and old.
This cabinet proves that once the SLPP wins the general elections, we can see a good mixture of young and experienced ministers in the government as well as a higher female representation for our country to prosper.
Now that the Presidential Election is over, I call upon Speaker Karu Jayasuriya to dissolve Parliament at the earliest so that we can go in for a general election.
It is very vital that as much as it is important to have a strong President and Prime Minister, we also need to form a strong government at the earliest so that we can begin work for the citizens.
Sri Lanka has suffered much within these past four years and it is now time we get back on a path to prosperity. There is much work to be done.
And the SLPP led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who himself is one of the most successful and experienced members in our Parliament, is ready to work for this country and take Sri Lanka forward.
We have finally been freed from the clutches of political instability, lies, power struggles and failures. Sri Lanka is now ready to take it on.
Today, at 12 midnight, all election campaigning will come to an end, as Sri Lanka is just days away from electing their new President.
These past few weeks, since campaigning began, it was a real honor for me to visit several districts, representing your leader, Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the SLPP, and meet citizens young and old, and discuss issues they have been facing during the past four years under the present government and also educate them on the policies set by Mr Rajapaksa.
Many, are suffering and many are hoping for a change. Come Nov. 17, and I am confident Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be your new President as he has a vision to work for the people, including the masses and lead this nation forward.
Every election campaigning has been a brand new experience for me as a politician and within these past few weeks, I met many citizens, including young children who had so much to propose and discuss. It was so great to meet a cross section of people who brought a smile on my face and joy to my heart. Sri Lanka may be a small country, but the hearts of our citizens, are as deep as the ocean. Religion, race, caste does not matter.
Amidst the mudslinging by the UNP and the false accusations against Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, what I noted during campaigning is that the people do not care about politicians’ cheap tactics. All what the people want is a true, visionary leader, who can bring relief to their lives. Their issues are far severe. Many do not have homes, many are unemployed, children do not have adequate facilities to go to school, schools need updated facilities, women need to be encouraged to be employed and many eat only a meal a day.
It will be a task for the new President to bring things in order, after the severe failures of this government within the past 4 years but Mr Rajapaksa will now turn this country around for the betterment of all its citizens, once again.
I was also given the task by my party, the SLPP to campaign on behalf of Mr Rajapaksa in the north and east and my constituency, Hambantota. The experience was great because I learnt so much. The north and east are districts with so much potential and the citizens are yearning for development and basic needs. The civil war set us all back severely but these districts suffered the most. There is much work to be done.
I thank, Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa, my father Hon. Mahinda Rajapaksa who has taught me all the basics of politics and what it is like to be a people’s leader. His vision for this country is great, and within these past four years, he never stopped working for all citizens. I also thank the SLPP for giving me the opportunity to campaign in challenging districts such as the north and east. I also thank social volunteers who were with us, the media for their tireless efforts in reporting, the tri forces and police for giving us the necessary security, Viyathmaga, my staff and all members of the SLFP and our coalition partners. But most of all I thank you, the people, for being there for all my campaigns, for listening and having confidence in my party and your leader, Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
I also want to especially thank Mr. Basil Rajapaksa for formulating plans which led to a successful and fantastic campaigning. He has worked tirelessly within these past four years for the party and I appreciate these efforts.
Hopefully, come Saturday, Sri Lankans will exercise their vote, and I hope you vote wisely. It was a fantastic campaigning and I wish all candidates, especially Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the very best of luck.