President Gotabaya Rajapaksa met with the Foreign correspondents at the Presidential Secretariat on 19.12.2019. He opened the forum by welcoming the journalists and inviting them to asks the questions they wish. The journalists in turn had a myriad of questions ranging from current economic progress to the Swiss saga, renegotiation of the Hambanthota Port, stance on the Geneva Resolution 30/1 and TNA’s expectations of a political solution.
Elaborating on the new Administration’s progress within this one month, President Rajapaksa explained that during the elections, a detailed policy plan was outlined. This plan is now being implemented on a priority basis. As a first step, a complex tax structure had been replaced with a simpler, more transparent one. This move, especially the removal of PAYE has eased the business community a great deal.
Commenting on the Fitch ratings, PB Jayasundara who was also present at the briefing explained that the broader picture has still not being entertained by the rating companies. The new simpler tax system should help eliminate corruption and inefficiency to the private sector. This coupled with expenditure maintained at efficient levels across all ministries will in time help achieve the goal of reducing the National Debt to GDP ratio from its current 90 percent to a lower 70 percent.
In answer to how 100,000 jobs would be created, President Rajapaksa explained that the target is to provide employment to at least one member of each family that falls below poverty level. These people are mostly unskilled and without any particular talent. Hence, they do not have much employment opportunities. The main objective thus would be to provide a fixed income for poverty stricken families.
The Government sector has a requirement for unskilled labor. Therefore, these people can be easily absorbed into the work cadre and maybe even provided with the required training.
Commenting on the Swiss saga, President Rajapaksa explained the events that had since transpired. Swiss Ambassador was quite right to have taken up the issue with the Sri Lankan Government, especially as this concerns a Sri Lankan citizen. However, evidence established through technical support such as cctv footage, physical where abouts of the said employee and testimonies from reliable sources such as the UBER driver she had used clearly proves that this allegation is a mere fabrication.
This has been communicated to Ambassador Mock, who had accepted the evidence as legitimate. Since it has transpired that the said employee had not been truthful, it is only fair for the Ambassador to distance himself from the matter, noted President.
Commenting on the obvious miscommunication between actual events and the Swiss Government’s understanding, President noted that he too was summoned by the CID many times over the past few years. He obliged as that is the law of the land. This employee on the request of the embassy had been allowed to have a lawyer present, which is not a privilege usually given when being questioned by the CID.
Hambanthota Port will not be renegotiated as it is a commercial contract. However, it is important that the security aspects pertaining to the agreement analyzed. It is important that the Sri Lanka Government has the control of all Security aspects just as with the other ports in terms of the ships that enter the Port and matters concerning the boarder controls. This concern is understood by the Chinese Government who are willing to work with the Sri Lankan Government on this regard. President stressed that commercial contracts cannot be changed with the governments.
The Geneva Resolution cannot be entertained in its current standing, noted President. It is not possible for the Government to act against its own country. After serving as the Defense Secretary during the last defining years of the conflict, he stressed that is not possible to allow any harm to the soldiers or the independence of the country.
President noted that the devolution had been politicized and that is the reason for its failure. Without the consent of the majority, it is not possible to implement any form of power sharing political solution. He also observed that the real needs of the people such as economic opportunities had not been addressed and this must be the point that needs to be addressed.