President Rani Wickremesinghe addressed the nation this evening (04 Feb.), in view of Sri Lanka’s 75th Independence Anniversary.
In his speech, the Head of State discussed Sri Lanka’s looming economic crisis, stating that the only way out of it was by making difficult and unpopular decisions.
“Sugarcoated stories by politicians will not resolve this crisis”, Wickremesinghe said, adding that he will continue to move forward with reforms such as those implemented thus far, albeit being severely unpopular and criticized.
Moreover, he noted that under his Government, the ‘system change’ that was demanded by the youth of Sri Lanka over a prolonged period of time will be implemented, with changes being made in all areas of the country’s political system in a manner fitting for a modern era.
Below is the full speech delivered by the President;
Most Venerable Maha Sangha and the clergy, my fellow citizens, all Sri Lankans abroad, dear children,
Today, I will not be delivering a traditional Independence Day statement. I am not going to dwell on the freedom we gained while honouring those who were dedicated and worked hard for the country’s freedom, including the late D. S. Senanayake.
I will focus on regaining the freedom that we have lost today.
Around 75 years ago, the esteemed ‘London Times’ newspaper carried an editorial stating that ‘it is our desire to see SL become a Switzerland in the East very soon’. They had not expressed a similar vision for any other country in the East.
However, what has happened to us today?
Today we are facing an unprecedented economic crisis, hitherto never experienced.
Why have we to face such a situation? Who is responsible for this? Let’s be honest, all of us are more or less responsible for this situation. None of us can point fingers and blame each other.
We made mistakes from the beginning, though efforts were made to rectify those mistakes, it was not possible to rectify them completely.
The policy followed by the late D S. Senanayake in securing the country’s freedom was to unite all Sri Lankans. He believed that everyone, be it Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim or Burgher, should forge ahead as Sri Lankans.
However, after independence, we divided in terms of race, religion and region. We were divided to a point of developing suspicion and animosity against each other. Various groups exploited this division to gain power and created further rifts among the people.
Instead of rejecting such people, we accorded the power to these very same groups. In politics, lies were spread instead of the truth, and politicians who spoke the truth were rejected by the people. Those who pointed out the real situation of the country and sought related remedies were hardly given a place, yet those who satisfied people with their lies gained greater acceptance.
We got trapped in a political culture based on promises. We depended on resources that did not belong to us, those which were received on loan facilities, and we borrowed even more loans.
We adapted to the notion that the Government is a ‘spring of resources ‘, after which many were of the view that the duty of the rulers was to distribute the various resource obtained from that ‘spring’, amongst the people of the country.
Accordingly, job opportunities were provided, various goods and equipment were distributed, cash was also distributed.
In most instances, we did not vote on behalf of the country, instead, we voted for a candidate in order to receive a job, gain admission to a school for our children, and have a tender passed, etc. We worked for political candidates expecting personal favours in return. Most of us contested not for the country, but for personal power, for greater benefits, and to earn a little more.
We were trapped in promises and endured slogans which finally resulted in the gradual collapse of the country’s economy.
We borrowed extensively to fulfill the election pledges and to prove that the slogans shouted at the protests were correct, we borrowed more for consumption than for investment.
However, according to Buddhist philosophy, one should take loans for investment purposes and not for consumption. Although we preach about Buddhism, our actions are not in line with the Buddha’s teachings.
Lee Kuan Yew, who visited Sri Lanka after many years to study and formulate a strategy to rebuild Singapore, said that “This situation has arisen in your country due to unnecessarily prioritizing politics. If Sri Lanka was taken as an example, Singapore too would have perished by now”.
In fact, we have now reached a point of destruction. There are those who want to keep prolonging this wound forever, however, I do not like that. Although it may be difficult and painful to do so, let’s aim to heal this wound, because if we endure this pain and suffering for a short while, it is possible for us to heal this wound completely.
There is no shortcut to getting out of this crisis, despite claims made by certain political parties.
We have only way to get rid of this situation if we want to overcome this crisis and achieve real economic and social freedom, there is only one ladder to get out of this ditch.
Keep in mind that if we place this ladder aside to satisfy political agendas, we have no country, and we have no tomorrow.
On several previous occasions, I pointed out the seriousness and danger of the looming economic crisis we are currently facing, and I have already said that the first six months of this year will be extremely difficult. We have to face this difficult situation, even if we do not like it, for the sake of the country.
Sugarcoated stories by politicians will not resolve this crisis.
Although a large number of people in this country moved away from poverty with free education and expanded the middle class, today the country has turned into a land where it is impossible to fulfill their aspirations.
I see the youth who should be working hard in different fields in this country creating long queues to obtain passports instead, we need to change this.
To achieve this, we should modernize the economy and open it to the world.
The corrupt political factionalism that deceives people, pushing them further into poverty and making them further dependent should also be changed.
This is the ‘system change’ that the youth of this country have been demanding for a long period of time.
Thus, my government has embarked on a new path of reform to fulfill the needs of the youth.
Even though those decisions that have to be taken for it are unpopular, it has to be done in order to overcome this crisis. We have to move away from narrow politics if we are to get rid of this crisis.
We must face this challenge together as children of one mother, and make our fullest contribution to strengthening the path toward the successful development of this country. We must all move forwards as Sri Lankan nationals leaving aside all differences.
Hence the first steps towards the development of a strong new economy have already been taken.
We are in the final stages of securing certain difficult elements required for the IMF bailout, and we are expecting their approval in this regard soon. We cannot be satisfied just by strengthening the economy, the entire system needs to be changed.
All areas of the political system, the legislature, Parliament, Executive, and State Institutions should be changed in a manner suitable to the modern era. Both the nation and us should benefit from this change.
More space should be created in this new system for the representation and opinions of young people and women in particular.
We are in the process of presenting several proposals to the Parliament in this regard.
Furthermore, immediate action needs to be taken in relation to the specific issues faced by those in the North and East. A cabinet sub-committee has already been appointed for this purpose.
All political parties are informed of the committee’s decisions and the dates these decisions are due to be implemented, after which these tasks are carried forwards based on their ideas.
We have also prioritized certain tasks such as the release of lands and prisoners.
Measures are also underway to create the maximum devolution of powers possible within the premise of a unitary state, however, we will never consent to the division of this nation.
I am not attempting to treat a superficial illness with painkillers, but instead to treat the root cause of this illness – it is challenging, and it is difficult, but this is our only way forward.
I know that many of the decisions I have been compelled to take since assuming the Presidency have been unpopular, however, because of these decisions, today, no citizen of this country is forced to die of dehydration or starve without gas. They do not have shout out curses due to the lack of fertilizer.
Therefore, regardless of the obstacles the anarchist political forces try to create, I will continue these new reforms with the majority of those who love this country.
We can become a developed country by 2048 if we work and move forward in a united and planned manner envisioning peace and reconciliation.
We have the potential to become a developed country that need not beg from any other nation in the world, true freedom can be achieved.
It is our collective responsibility to build a new country in which our children can compete with the rest of the world.
Therefore, I urge all parties to come together to overcome this crisis.
Let’s unite! Let’s join hands!
With these joined hands, let’s embark on the journey that we have planned for the next 25 years, together!
Let’s further nurture those plans in accordance with the views of all parties, let’s make them stronger, more systematic and streamlined.
Not only those of us who live in Sri Lanka should make a joint effort towards this, but those Sri Lankans living abroad, across the globe, must also shoulder this journey.
Everyone should contribute to the achievement of these goals to their fullest capacity.
Let us devote ourselves and unite as children of one mother, let us make our country one of the most developed in the world by 2048, when we will celebrate 100 years of independence!
Thank you all.