|Support assured to all exporters if GSP+ removal strategy succeeds - President
|Tuesday, December 22, 2009 - 6.05 GMT
In view of the current threat of withdrawal of GSP+ concession of the EU, which is seen as another pre-planned attempt to obstruct Sri Lanka`s progress, President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday gave a firm assurance to all local export industries that the government will safeguard their industries with measures necessary to support them, in the event of a carefully managed, strategic withdrawal of this scheme, being introduced by the relevant authorities at this sensitive time.
President Rajapaksa said so in his address at the ceremonial induction of the 29th President of the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA) held at BMICH yesterday (December 21).
President also said: "while we are concentrating on the development effort, we must also be intensely mindful about preserving democracy in our country. Democracy is the corner stone on which our political structures are built. We cannot risk our democratic way of life. World history is filled with many instances where ambitious persons who have not been brought up in a democratic framework, assuming power and then suspending democratic institutions in various countries. I am certain that the professionals and right thinking persons of our country are well aware of such risks, and that they would act in the manner necessary to preserve and carefully sustain democracy for our future generations."
President also said in his second term as President, he will ensure that every youth who completes his secondary education will be assured of a livelihood. "We will develop a scheme that will entitle our youth to specialized education of one’s choice when they turn 18. Such education will be supported by my new Government," he said.
Here are some highlights of future policy announced by the President.
- bonus interest of 20% on deposits of senior citizens
- bring poverty levels down to below 2%
- 100% electricity coverage by 2016
Here is the full text of the speech by President Rajapaksa :
Newly elected President of the Organisation of Professional Associations of Sri Lanka, Professor Indraratne,
Members of Parliament,
Your Excellencies, and
My dear friends.
Let me begin by thanking the OPA for inviting me to the Induction Ceremony of the Twenty Ninth (29th) President of the OPA, Professor Indraratne. Professor Indraratne is a well known Professor of Economics in our country and is held in high esteem by both the Government and the private sector. He serves in the National Economic Council and has been a valuable asset to our country.
At the outset therefore, I wish to congratulate Professor Indraratne, the eminent Vice Presidents, and the other distinguished office bearers of this important institution and wish them success in the year ahead.
My Government and I look forward to working with you and your colleagues closely over the next few years, as I have already done in the past, and I am certain that our country would benefit by your members’ professional advice and contribution.
As you all know, the past 4 years have been immensely challenging for our country. In particular, the last 2 years have been very difficult. But yet, when compared to many other countries, Sri Lanka was able to do better than most others.
When other economies collapsed, ours progressed. When businesses in many developed countries closed down, ours survived. When workers in their millions lost jobs in many other nations, our workforce retained their livelihood.
When other governments pumped billions of dollars to stabilize their financial systems, we stabilized ours without such efforts. When other countries delayed or defaulted on their re-payments, as a result of high world oil prices, we were able to negotiate long term credit lines from Iran and face the crisis. When currencies of many countries depreciated sharply, the Sri Lanka rupee held its value. When hundreds of banks failed across the globe, we protected the banks in Sri Lanka.
When food riots took place in many societies, we enjoyed food security in our country by strengthening our farmers, who are an important segment of our economy. It is however very sad that one or two economists who are advising the Opposition are referring to our farmers as “Amude jokers” and are ridiculing them. I hope these people who comment in this arrogant and insensitive manner will some day realize that it was these hard-working farmers who kept all of us fed during the global food crisis.
My dear friends, the successes I described did not happen by accident. These positive outcomes were achieved because of the wise and sound manner in which we managed our economy and our country. Towards that effort, many thousands actively helped us, and I would like to thank all who made these victories possible.
Mr. Chairman, as a member of the legal profession, I am also a member of the OPA. Therefore, I know the value of professionals. That is why, in almost every type of activity in my government, I selected people with professional knowledge and ability, to implement programs and plans, in order to achieve the objectives of our nation. We also respected professionals who put the country’s interests before their own.
Mr. Chairman, it takes many types of knowledge, skills and talents to operate a results-oriented administration. Some persons in the team have to be far thinking experienced politicians. Others, effective administrators. Some have to be clever planners. Others have to be smart implementers. Some have to be out-going personalities. Others have to be behind- the-scene advisors. Some have to be tough fighters. Others have to be patient diplomats. If we make mistakes in selecting the team, or mix up the skills that are required, the entire administration could collapse.
My dear friends, I think I made sound judgments in selecting persons to serve in my administration. That is why we were successful. We had the right man for every job, depending on the circumstances. If, by some chance, I did not get it right and I stationed an articulate diplomat where a quick acting implementer was needed, or appointed a crafty and fierce military man where an astute and sedate politician was needed, the entire country, would have been plunged into crisis.
I must of course admit, that I have made one or two mistakes in my selection as well. Some persons whom I thought were patriotic, have subsequently betrayed our beloved motherland for personal and material gain, and I have been very sad about that situation. But, by and large, the vast majority of my administration staff members have displayed a great love for our country, and I am deeply touched by their patriotism.
Mr. Chairman, when I took office as President in November 2005, almost everyone, including a few foreign politicians, told me that we will not be able to defeat terrorism in our country. At that time, the country had been divided by an illegal agreement. Our forces were confined to barracks. No money was allocated to up-grade our defence establishment. The mood of the nation was that of dejection and despair. We were told that we have no capacity or money to fight; we have no resources to develop; we have no money to support our public service or development activities. The negative list was endless.
But, within a few months, we changed all that.
We built our capacity and intelligence to fight the terrorist enemy on land, sea and air. We developed our legal capabilities. We gathered support for our anti-terrorism effort from within the country, especially, the clergy, trade unions, and civil society. We had regular interactions with the media and won their commitment towards our cause.
We quietly and seriously engaged with world leaders and opinion makers. When we started our diplomatic efforts, many world leaders and opinion makers had already been systematically fed untrue stories about human rights abuses and suppression of media by hundreds of terrorist sympathizers, and their well paid promoters. In response, we had to embark on a massive campaign to convince our neighbours and others of our stance, and the successes we achieved in this regard were vital in our fight against terror.
We strengthened our medical capabilities and welfare facilities to look after our fallen heroes. We set up special funds and welfare centres to assist those who were disabled as a result of the conflict. We boosted the morale of our fighting forces as well as the confidence levels of all our citizens.
While undertaking all these activities, we had to strongly resist and overcome the sinister efforts of various parties, both national and international, who tried to destabilize our country, politically, socially and economically.
In this regard, you may recall the attempts of the Opposition parties to block our sovereign bond issue, our IMF Stand-by loan facility, both of which, we were able to defeat. The latest is the threat of withdrawal of the GSP plus concession of the EU, which we see as yet another of those pre-planned efforts. In this regard, I wish to firmly assure all local export industries that my Government will safeguard their industries with the measures necessary to support them, in the event of a carefully managed, strategic withdrawal of this scheme, being introduced by the relevant authorities at this sensitive time.
Mr. Chairman, the massive development activities that we implemented in all parts of the country over the past 4 years, also needs to be mentioned. We are building 3 major power plants in Norochcholai, Kerawalapitiya and Upper Kothmale. Kerawalapitiya is already supplying power to the national grid. We are undertaking massive port constructions in Hambantota, South Colombo, Galle, KKS and Oluvil. We are building a new international airport in Mattala. Flyovers, Highways and Roads are being constructed everywhere. New water supply schemes, tank restoration works and fisheries harbours are being built in all parts of the country.
While we are doing all this, we have continued to support the schemes for the upliftment of the poor as well.
We did not reduce, and in fact, we actually increased, the allocations for the Samurdhi programme.
We continued to ensure food security in our country through the fertilizer support stimulus package. We provided fertilizer at Rs 350 per bag, even when the fertilizer prices in the world market reached a staggering Rs 9,500 per bag.
My dear friends, it took Sri Lanka 55 years, 1948 to 2003, to reach a per capita income level of around US dollars 1,000. But during the next 5 years, 2004 to 2008, we were able to increase it beyond US dollars 2,000. That is surely an amazing achievement.
The fact that this doubling of per capita incomes was achieved, while we were liberating the country from an inhuman terrorist group, makes it even more extraordinary.
My dear friends, the next 6 years will be a period where our nation will build for the next century. We will implement a new wave of development strategies to develop the country on all fronts.
We have effectively set the stage for such a take-off with low inflation, low interest rates, high reserves and a sound financial system. But sometimes, even favourable macro-economic fundamentals result in un-foreseen difficulties being faced by some stakeholders, in the short term.
A case in point is that when rates of interest decrease, it is welcomed by entrepreneurs and businessmen, but not by the savers, especially the senior citizens. Consequently, many senior citizens have appealed to us to intervene in this regard. As a leader who is sensitive to the issues confronting our people, we do see some merit in this request.
Therefore, we have decided to respond by developing a scheme whereby the Government will pay a bonus interest of 20% of the interest paid by Banks on deposits of senior citizens, to be effective from January 2010. This would mean that a senior citizen who receives interest on a deposit with a Bank, will receive an additional one-fifth of such interest from the Government as a special support, so long as Treasury bill interest rates are lower than a certain specified level.
By introducing this scheme, we would ensure that our senior citizens, who have diligently saved for their retirement, will be able to enjoy a higher income, when interest rates decline sharply. In this regard, I will request the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance to work out the logistics, so that we can implement this scheme in the New Year.
Mr. Chairman, over the next 6 years, we will also take measures to bring poverty levels down to below 2%. We showed our commitment to this effort by reducing poverty levels by one third during the past 4 years, and we are confident we can meet this new vital goal as well.
In addition, we will ensure one hundred percent (100%) electricity coverage in our country by the year 2016. We will ensure that there will never be any power shortage. Over the past 4 years, we increased the electricity coverage from 75% to 87% of our country, and we shall continue with that momentum over the next few years as well.
Our youth are our future. In my second term as President, we will ensure that every youth who completes his secondary education will be assured of a livelihood. We will develop a scheme that will entitle our youth to specialized education of one’s choice when they turn 18. Such education will be supported by my new Government. By these initiatives, we will ensure that every youth would be trained for a livelihood program or profession, without exception.
We will also make the best use of the opportunities that have opened out due to the liberation of the North and the East. These parts of the country too, could deliver tremendous value to our economy over the next few years. The re-settlement process of those of our brothers and sisters who were displaced because of terrorism, is now going on at a fast pace. Our commitment to resettle 80 to 90 per cent of those displaced by the end of this year is on track, and that will be completed by the end of January 2010.
During my next term, I will also lay special emphasis on improving our country’s governance structures, so that the administration as well as other sectors would be even more efficient. Over the past 4 years, we made significant improvements in our administrative mechanism, and that is why we were able to implement the biggest ever development programmes in the history of our country. Even so, our next wave of development would require the establishment of better processes and procedures, and I would make it a priority to establish new and tight standards and norms to do so.
I will also increase our focus in dealing comprehensively with organized crime and drug abuse, so that we could provide a well disciplined and safe society for all our citizens.
Through these and other initiatives, my target is to double the per capita income of our country to reach at least 4,000 US Dollars by the time I finish my next term of office as President. When we do that, we will make our country a truly middle income country. Then, we will be able to walk with our heads held high as a prosperous people.
My dear friends, while we are concentrating on the development effort, we must also be intensely mindful about preserving democracy in our country. Democracy is the corner stone on which our political structures are built. We cannot risk our democratic way of life. World history is filled with many instances where ambitious persons who have not been brought up in a democratic framework, assuming power and then suspending democratic institutions in various countries. I am certain that the professionals and right thinking persons of our country are well aware of such risks, and that they would act in the manner necessary to preserve and carefully sustain democracy for our future generations.
Mr. Chairman, every citizen of this country knows that I have delivered on my promises. My new mission is to lead our country to prosperity soon. I am confident we can do so, because we have the vision, courage, and experience to improve our society and economy. Towards that goal, our workforce and people are responding, and I am thankful for their encouragement and confidence.
My dear friends, I also look forward to draw on the strength, support and advice of the professionals of our country. You are the brains of our nation. There is plenty of work for all of us to do. I am sure, if all of us take it upon ourselves to help our country, we would soon be the prosperous nation we are hoping for.
I wish you all, a prosperous future.