|A New Year of Commitment to Progress
|Sunday, November 18, 2012 - 05.20 GMT
“This earth and its vegetation is yours.
But they should be protected not only for your benefit but
also for the benefit of future generations. A ruler is only a
temporary trustee and not an owner of your
Arahat Mahinda to King Devanampiyatissa – 3rd Century BC
-quoted in ‘Mahinda Chinthana’: Vision for the Future
In keeping with this admonition when Buddhism as first brought to Sri Lanka, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has restored peace across the island nation and set the country on the path to rapid socio-economic development.
President Rajapaksa’s vision for Sri Lanka is to deliver sustainable peace and prosperity for all, a major task and one designed to bring the country’s population of diverse religions together in harmony. He believes that our economy should be independent, resilient and disciplined, with a strong growth focus, operating in keeping with international standards, whilst maintaining the local identity.
When he first assumed office as President, after 57 years of independence, our per capita income was only around US $ 1,000, growing at a very slow pace. However, during his tenure as President in the past 6 years, per capita income increased to US$ 2,800 from US$ 1,062 in 2004. This was possible because of the sound national economic policies set out in the Mahinda Chinthana, which nurtured and protected our national economy. Inflation declined to 7 percent and unemployment to 3.9 percent from a double digit, before.
Poverty was reduced from 15.6 percent to 8.9 percent. The Budget deficit was reduced to 8 percent from 10 percent and Debt to GDP reduced to 80 percent from 100 percent.
External stability was sustained through international reserves being maintained at around US$ 7 billion. All these were achieved amidst high oil prices, the global economic recession, natural disasters and adverse climatic changes.
The Government’s aim is to transform the country to an upper middle income country by reaching a per capita income of US$ 4,000 by 2016.
Sri Lanka recently improved its position in the 'Doing Business 2013' ranking released annually by the World Bank and International Finance Corporation, being ranked 81 going up 15 notched from the ranking of 96 in the current year.
Implementing of reconciliation initiatives identified by the Presidential Task Force based on the recommendations by the Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) has been given highest priority. The initiatives to promote a trilingual Sri Lanka, social integration programmes, rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-combatants, issuance of land title documents and resolution of land related issues, providing housing needs and strengthening local authorities and public services have been identified as the key priority areas. A budgetary allocation of Rs. 763 million has been provided under respective spending agencies, to address the above concerns. In presenting his budget speech 2013 to Parliament, the eighth presented by him, President Rajapaksa proposed a further supplementary provision of Rs. 500 million to fast track this resettlement, reconciliation and peace building process.
Towards a Tri –lingual Sri Lanka
President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared 2012 as the Year for a Trilingual Sri Lanka.
A 10-year National Action Plan was also launched for this in 2011. This plan will be implemented together with the ministries of National Languages and Social Integration, Education, Higher Education, Public Administration and Provincial Councils.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared that the Dehiwela - Mount Lavinia, Ganga Ihala Korale and the Kandy Four Gravets and Gangawata Korale, Matale, Lankapura and Welikanda in Polonnaruwa, Ratnapura, Balangoda, Mawanella, Kekirawa, Vavuniya South and Dehiattakandiya divisional secretariats should use both Sinhala and Tamil languages in their administration.
A programme is currently been underway to provide Sinhala language training to the last remaining batch of 698 ex-LTTE combatants who are undergoing government sponsored rehabilitation programmes.
As a part of the government's initiative to recruit 2000 Tamil speaking police officers, a considerable number of youth from North and East have been recruited to the Police so far. Sri Lanka Army has taken steps to recruit 100 female Tamil soldiers to the force.
Sri Lanka, among world’s most popular tourist destinations
The Government has done much in the past six years to boost the tourism industry. It has identified tourism as a fast emerging potential growth sector in the economy in terms of foreign exchange earnings, employment creation, infrastructure development and regional development. Sri Lanka is now fast becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. The end of a nearly 30 year war against terrorism and the restoration of peace has made Sri Lanka a much sought-after tourist destination.
World’s most renowned and largest travel guide and digital media publisher –“The Lonely Planet” named Sri Lanka as the Number One destination in the world to visit in year 2013. The World Travel Market Industry Report too ranked Sri Lanka as one of the world's top five emerging travel destinations.
Condé Nast Traveller magazine also nominated Sri Lanka as one of the top five destinations to watch in year 2012. Sri Lanka is named among the top five destinations in Kuoni’s annual poll of where UK customers want to spend their holidays. Sri Lanka also retained the number one destination for weddings among tourists according to the report.
Tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka increased by 16.0 % during the period of January to September, with a total of 693,772 arrivals to the country in comparison to 598,006 arrivals during the same period last year (2011). The number of is expected to reach close to a million by end December 2012.
Sri Lanka has launched an ambitious five-year plan under the Minister of Economic Development to boost tourism in the country, under which the country expects to raise the number of arrivals to 2.5 million and to earn annual revenue of US$ 2.75 billion by 2016.
In keeping with Mahinda Chinthana, the Government has taken several steps in the past five years to meet healthcare needs of the people, by upgrading health facilities throughout the country. Re-constructing and upgrading hospitals by the Government in a number of areas, is a key aspect of this policy.
In 2013, Rs. 125 billion has been allocated for the health services. The Government under President's directive has diverted its attention to manufacture pharmaceutical products locally to meet the rising demand in the health services, and funds have been allocated to expand the capacity of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Corporation.
The government also expects to expand indigenous health facilities to prevent the rising incidence of non-communicable diseases and to improve care for elders. Priority will be given in the next 3 years to promote and conserve traditional indigenous medicine by involving well known indigenous doctors with the Department of Ayurveda and its hospital network.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa presenting the budget for 2013 to Parliament on Nov 8 proposed to increase expenditure on education by 14 percent in 2012 and by a further 15 percent to about Rs. 177.6 billion in 2013.
The knowledge services industry of Sri Lanka generates nearly US$ 400 million of foreign exchange earnings and employs about 65,000. The Government aims to promote this to a billion dollar industry with 150,000 direct employment opportunities in the next 3 years.
The Government has already setup an IT Park in Hambantota.
An allocation of Rs. 300 million will be provided to Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) to promote training to improve and quality certification in the IT and BPO industries. The government is making arrangements to set up Nenasala or Knowledge Centers in every Grama Niladari division as a special project to broaden access to IT facilities.
Generating power for a sustainable future
Mahinda Chinthana: Vision for the Future, places much importance to energy security and conservation in the country. The government has, therefore, successfully commenced many projects related to power and energy around the country, such as construction of the Kerawalapitiya Combined Cycle Power Plant project, Upper Kotmale Hydropower Project, Norochcholai Coal Fired Power Plant project, and the proposed construction of the Trincomalee Coal Power plant.
Electricity generation in Sri Lanka depends heavily on crude oil. Thus, the power generation cost has increased. In order to overcome this situation, low cost electricity generating facilities, such as coal and hydro electric power facilities are being increased.
The Jaffna peninsula was connected to the National Power Grid after 25 years by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, by energizing the Kilinochchi grid station. The LTTE terrorists destroyed the entire electricity supply network in Jaffna in 1987. Since then the electricity supply to peninsula was not connected to the national grid. The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) completed the erection of the Kilinochchi high voltage transmission lines and constructed 238 transmission towers from Vavuniya to Kilinochchi within a period of 2 years at a cost of 3.2 billion rupees, to link Jaffna to the National Grid.
The Government expects to provide electricity supplies to all households in the peninsula by the end of this year. Meanwhile the government will soon launch the 500 MW Sampur Coal Power Plant, to be built jointly by the CEB and National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) of India.
The refugee crisis is still a burden faced by many countries with conflicts around the world. Economic activity and development takes a backseat due to the direct and indirect problems that arise from refugee situations.
The issues caused by wars still remain in several countries. The problem of internally displaced persons (IDPs) by wars can be considered as the major problem among them.
In contrast, Sri Lanka succeeded in resettling 225,000 people out of 295,000 IDPs who arrived to government’s relief villages during the final battle between the armed forces and LTTE terrorists, in just over three years. Indeed, it is significant that the government could resettle them so soon in their places of origin.
The last batch of the IDPs was resettled in their villages in Mullaitivu on 24th September 2012.
Sri Lanka has climbed to a high performance level relating to the UN Millennium Development Indicators. Economic indices such as unemployment, inflation and the budget deficit have continued to decline underscoring the stability of progress.
The recognition of the country as one of the best destinations for investment and tourism by reputed global agencies is on the rise.
Huge developments are being designed and constructed, with particular emphasis on the war torn North and East of the island.
In Geneva, the Sri Lanka continued to make a strong and effective case against moves to call for an international probe into allegations of war crimes and violations of International Humanitarian Law, in its efforts to defeat the terrorism of the LTTE. This success was despite the concerted action against Sri Lanka by the pro-LTTE Tamil groups in the West, the heavy propaganda of media institutions such as Channel 4, and continuing efforts of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group to keep Sri Lanka in focus among the western nations to serve the interests of the so-called “Tamil Diaspora”. Despite these efforts of pro-LTTE forces, there were successful legal action taken against LTTE organizers in the Netherlands and France, continuing action against the LTTE in the USA and India’s refusal to give in to internal regional pressure to lift the ban on the LTTE.
At Sri Lanka's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in early November, a clear majority acknowledged the country's positive achievements in post-conflict development, including the setting up of the Task Force to monitor and implement the LLRC recommendations, launching of the National Human Rights Action Plan, efforts to resettle IDPs and progress made in normalizing the situation in the country since the end of the conflict in May 2009.
Member countries further recognized the steps taken to rehabilitate and reintegrate child soldiers, efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), particularly in the area of poverty reduction, primary education and child and maternal mortality and the de-mining programme which has cleared over 90% of mined areas.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa who begins the third year of his second term of office today, remains committed to pursue the path of peace and reconciliation for the development of the entire country, in the midst of the challenges faced by the economic and financial crises in the West, strengthened by the continued support of the people of Sri Lanka.