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The "Satarawa Deepani" Felicitation Ceremony, which was organized at the behest of Minister of Transport, Highways, and Mass Media, Dr. Bandula Gunawardena was held at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) Yesterday afternoon (16). The event, presided over by President Ranil Wickremesinghe, was held on a grand scale.

During the event, tributes were paid to a group of artists who had contributed to the artwork created by Dr. Bandula Gunawardena. Veteran artists such as Dharmasiri Bandaranaike, Parakrama Niriella, and Cyril Wickramage were awarded by the President in recognition of their contributions.

Veteran artists such as Professor Ariyaratne Athugala, Kumara Thirimadura and Sarath Kothalawala were also appreciated during this event.

The book "Subandhu Cinema Watha," which chronicles the cinematic career of Dr. Bandula Gunawardena, was launched at the event. The book was edited by esteemed media professionals including Prof. Praneet Abeysundara, Ranjith Kumara, Aruna Gunaratne, and Dinusha Kudagodage.

During the event, a token of 25 scholarships was awarded to 25 out of the 251 students who are currently pursuing the G.C.E. (A/L) Technology stream this year. The scholarships were given under the "Pragna Bandhu" scholarship program, a concept introduced by Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena. The scholarships were presented by distinguished individuals such as Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, former Presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa and Mithripala Sirisena, as well as Education Minister Susil Premajayantha.

Mr. Gamini Weragama, a seasoned film critic, delivered the keynote lecture at the event.

The event was attended by a diverse group of individuals, including the Venerable Maha Sanga such as Most Ven. Iththapane Dhammalankara Thera, the Maha Nayaka of Kotte Sri Kalyani Samagri Dharma Maha Sangha Sabha, foreign diplomats, ambassadors, and high commissioners, politicians from both the governing and opposition parties including ministers and parliamentarians, artists, heads of media organizations, journalists, professionals, and other guests.

Director of the Mental Health Department of the Ministry of Health Dr. Rohan Ratnayake, yesterday said that 3,406 suicides had been reported last year and one suicide is reported every four hours.

 He also stated that suicides can be prevented if mental health is improved.

He said this yesterday (16) while participating in a workshop held jointly by the Ministry of Media and the Ministry of Health at the Sri Lanka Administrative Development Institute.

He said that 2,832 of the suicides reported last year were men and the remaining 574 were women. Accordingly, the number of cases of male suicides is higher than female suicides.

Dr. Rohan Ratnayake also said that people resort to suicide due to chronic illnesses, impotence, mental illness and drug addiction etc.

The Director of Mental Health said that more suicides had taken place in Gampaha and Kurunegala Districts while suicides in the Gampaha District had increased irregularly last year.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka organized a felicitation dinner at the Oak Room, Cinnamon Grand Hotel Colombo Yesterday evening (12), to honour those who have completed fifty years at the Bar.

During the Felicitation Dinner, President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who has also completed fifty years at the Bar, was honoured and presented with a plaque by Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya PC.

The Felicitation Dinner was organized by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) to honour 26 individuals who have served at the Bar for 50 or more years. The event coincided with the two-day National Law Conference 2023, also organized by the BASL, which is held on the 12th and 13th of March.

Juliana Margaret Coswatte, Walter Leslie de Silva, Ratnasabapathy Arumugam Jegatheson, Upali A. Gooneratne PC, Kanagaratnam Kaneshayogan, M. M Zuhair PC, Vijaya Niranjan Perera PC, Vernon Manilal Fernando, Justice J. Asoka Nihal de Silva, W. D. J. Seneviratne, Justice D. J. De S. Balapatabendi also were felicitated at the ceremony.

Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya PC, Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam PC, BASL President Saliya Peiris, Chairman of the Felicitation Committee Janaprith Fernando and Convener of the Felicitation Committee Chamath Fernando addressed the Felicitation Dinner.

Decisions taken by the Cabinet of Ministers on 07.03.2023

1. Identifying the boundaries of the Sri Lankan continental shelf

In 2009, Sri Lanka submitted technical and scientific data and other information to the
Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf for the establishment of the outer limits of
the continental shelf beyond Sri Lanka's Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 nautical miles
under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Commission has appointed a
sub-commission to consider Sri Lanka's entitlements. The National Ocean Affairs Committee
under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been stablished with the Cabinet approval to work
with this sub-committee to identify the limits of the continental shelf claimed by Sri Lanka.
The Cabinet of Ministers approved the proposal presented by the Minister of Foreign Affairs
to call for expressions of intent for the reconstitution of the National Oceanic Affairs
Committee with a view to identifying its outer limits with supporting evidence for the
establishment of Sri Lanka's continental shelf.

2. Construction of a water treatment plant for Horana Export Processing Zone

Water is supplied to the Horana Export Processing Zone and the Wagavaththa Industrial Zone
through a water supply scheme with a production capacity of 3000 cubic meters of water per
day implemented by the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka. Since the daily water requirement
of the investors in Horana and Vagawatta zones is about 4350 cubic meters, the Water Supply
and Drainage Board has prepared plans to construct a new water treatment plant with a
capacity of 2000 cubic meters per day. The Board of Directors of the Board of Investment has
agreed to secure provision for this. Accordingly, the Cabinet of Ministers approved the
proposal presented by the Hon. President in his capacity as the Minister of Investment to build
and operate the new water treatment plant in the Horana Export Processing Zone using the
provisions of the Investment Board.

3. Sri Lanka's contribution to the “Commonwealth of Learning “ Organization

“Commonwealth of Learning “ is an international organization established by the leaders of
the Commonwealth of Nations to strengthen their capacity to develop the human resources
necessary for economic and social development in member countries. This is the education
section of the Commonwealth of Nations fund. As a member country, Sri Lanka contributes
to the “Commonwealth of Learning “ organization through the education section of the
agreement reached by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the Commonwealth Fund.
Accordingly, the Cabinet of Ministers approved the proposal presented by the Minister of
Education to continue the membership of the “Commonwealth of Learning “ Organization by
paying the relevant contributions

04. Amendment of National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Act No. 38 of 2009

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Act No. 38 of 2009 has been
instituted with the objective of establishing an institute on national occupational safety and
health for the purpose of declaring a national policy for the preparation of standards for
occupational safety and health as well as creating an occupational safety environment that
ensures the safety of the two parties namely the employer and employee. It has been
recognized that this act should be revised according to the present requirements. Accordingly,
the Cabinet of Ministers approved the resolution submitted by the Minister of Labour and
Foreign Employment for instructing the Legal Draftman to draft statue to amend the National
Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Act.

05. Establishment of finance sector crisis management committee

It is important to prevent any impact of the financial crisis that take place in the finance sector
due to public finance, credit and payment balance difficulties and minimize the cost of a
financial crisis if occurred as such. Accordingly, it is vital to execute decisive crisis
management and take timely decisions. Therefore, the Cabinet of Ministers granted their
consent to the resolution furnished by the Hon. President as the Minister of Finance,
Economic Stabilization and National Policies to establish the finance sector crisis
management committee as well as the finance sector crisis management technical committee
which coordinate the preparation and management of the financial crisis between the Central
Bank of Sri Lanka and the subject Ministry of Finance and to include required provisions in
the banks (special provisions) act.

06. Review of the 6 th periodical report of Sri Lanka under the International Convenant on
Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

Review of the 6 th periodical report of Sri Lanka under the International Convenant on Civil
and Political Rights (ICCPR) is scheduled to take place in Geneva during the two days of 8 th
and 9 th March 2023. The Cabinet of Ministers took into consideration the facts furnished by
the Minister of Foreign Affairs regarding the steps taken by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
for the said review.


President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s proposal to transform the historic city of Kandy into a well-planned, organized and developed city has received unanimous approval from the Cabinet of Ministers. To this end, the government intends to take measures to accelerate the Central Expressway project that will connect Kandy with Katugastota.
A special committee will be established, consisting of the Urban Development Authority, the Kandy District Development Committee, parliamentarians and ministers representing the district, and experts in the field of city planning. This committee will prepare a comprehensive development plan for the Katugastota, Kandy and Kundasale areas, with a particular focus on improving infrastructure, amenities, and services.
To ensure that the project remains on track, the committee will meet every two months to review progress and make necessary adjustments.
The Cabinet meeting, where the proposal was approved, was held at the President’s Official Residence in Kandy, following the Janaraja Perahara (Procession) which paraded through the streets of Kandy on the previous night (19).

The ‘Namo Namo Thaye’ Cultural Festival was held yesterday at the Jaffna Fort premises in celebration of Sri Lanka’s 75th National Independence Day. The event, which showcased the rich Tamil culture of the Northern Province, was attended by a large number of people from Jaffna and featured a massive music concert.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe was the Chief Guest of the event and was joined by several high-profile individuals, including Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda, Former State Minister Vijayakala Maheswaran, the President’s Senior Advisor on National Security & the Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayake, President’s Secretary Saman Ekanayake, President’s Senior Advisor for Climate Change Ruwan Wijewardene, President’s Coordinating Secretary to the Northern Province M. Ilangovan, other government officials and Chiefs of Security forces attended at this event.
The cultural festival was a vibrant display of the cultural heritage of the Northern Province, and the music concert was a highlight of the event, featuring several South Indian artists. The presence of such a diverse range of people, including government officials, dignitaries, and artists, demonstrated the importance of this celebration of Sri Lanka’s independence.
In addition to the cultural festival, an Independence Commemorative Parade was held in the afternoon at the Jaffna Cultural Center, bringing together all five districts of the Northern Province to present various dance elements. Schoolchildren from the Northern Province participated in the parade, which was a showcase of the cultural richness and diversity of the region.
The ‘Namo Namo Thaye’ Cultural Festival and the Independence Commemorative Parade were both well-received by the local community and were a testament to the significance of Sri Lanka’s 75th National Independence Day. These events will be remembered for years to come as a celebration of the country’s independence and the rich cultural heritage of the Northern Province.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe and others officials including the Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Gopal Baglay also attended at this event

President Ranil Wickremesinghe delivering the Government’s Policy Statement yesterday requested everyone not to be prisoners of the past, but think about the future.

“Let’s unite consensually and move forward democratically to support the recovery of the nation from the current crisis. If anyone wishes to have a political agenda, let’s consider it after we rescue the nation,” he said.

He said that Sri Lanka’s economy today is severely damaged. Its malaise needs to be immediately diagnosed and treated accordingly. However, people are pointing to the mistakes made by those in-charge and are urging them to be punished first. “However, I try to cure the malady first, after which we can take further measures. We should prioritize curing the ailment, which is what I am doing.,” he noted.

President warned all politicians that it is their responsibility to meet the expectations of the country’s children and youth who have aspirations for the country and are determined not to leave. “It is the duty of this House to make them inherit a free tomorrow and a free nation,” the President said.

The President’s full speech as follows:

The moment the schoolchildren sang the National Anthem and Jayamangala Gatha during the last Independence Day Celebration, I was convinced of the need to secure their future. Are these children confident of their future?

Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland who visited Sri Lanka for the Independence Day Celebration, had discussions with groups of youth in our country. They had pointed out that their confidence of the future has been eroded due to the developments over a long period of time. Do they have full confidence on their future?

The day after Independence Day, a special supplementary was published in the Sunday Times newspaper, where some youth had expressed their opinions regarding the present situation in our country.

Mathisha Udawatta says, “While leaving the country is a constant resonating thought, there is still a smallest spark inside me that’s holding me close to home. I intend not to let it die. I have not given up on my Sri Lanka yet”.

Clifford Fernando has the idea that, “I won’t migrate, but I sincerely hope there will be a change in the situation in Sri Lanka. All our attitudes need to change, better discipline is needed, people need to obey rules and show more empathy towards each other”.

Cilani Wijesinghe says,”I don’t want to leave my country – I wish to help it come out of the situation it is in, currently. I also don’t want the people leaving at a time the country needs them the most, only to come back when things are better”.

While reading these comments, I was reminded of the twins who came to meet me recently in Anuradhapura. These girls met me at the end of the ceremony of awarding credentials to Atamasthanadhipathi, Ven. Pallegama Hemarathana Thero. Namadi and Chenuti Perera are studying in Year 5, at Maliadeva Balaka Vidyalaya, Kurunegala. The rendition of their song ‘I will not leave the country’ was presented to me in a CD. I request the television channels to broadcast that song after my speech today.

Rebuilding the Nation

These children and youth are the future generation of our country, who wish to rebuild the nation, without leaving. It is our responsibility to create a country where they can live freely. Therefore, this is your responsibility, the Honorable Members of the House. This is also the responsibility of every Sri Lankan.

I believe everyone remembers the situation the country was in when I addressed the opening of the previous Session of the Parliament. You may recall the country’s situation when the last budget was presented and also seven to eight months ago.

Schools closed. Examinations could not be held. Agriculture and plantation industries collapsed without fertilizer. Farmers were helpless. The tourism industry declined. Power cuts of ten to twelve hours imposed. Gas almost over. Residents of urban houses lost being unable to cook. People had to waste days in queues for kerosene, petrol and diesel. Lives were sacrificed by citizens who were exhausted staying in queues. Unable to bear this pressure, people took to the streets in protest.

However, the situation is different at present. Due to the measures taken, we have been successful in reducing this burden gradually. Now there is stability in the economy. People are comfortable. We have been able to safely guide Mother Sri Lanka a long way across a challenging course. It was not an easy journey. However, it is not yet over.

We committed to securing the financial system that was on the verge of collapse. Government expenditure was controlled. Measures were taken to increase tax revenue.

We know that tax revenues decreased due to decisions taken in the past. As at 31st December 2019, 1.6 million businesses, companies and individuals paid taxes. However, by December 2021, the number of tax payers decreased to five hundred thousand. Government tax revenues fell to an all-time low.

Realizing the destruction this caused to the economy of the country, many institutions and organizations requested to revert to the tax system which existed in 2019. In April 2022, the Sri Lanka Administrative Service Association (SASA) presented short-term proposals for economic and social revival.

Section 3.3 of said proposal states,

*Re-introduction of PAYE (pay-as-you-earn) tax system

*All officers of state enterprises should personally pay taxes from their salary and not through the relevant institutions and employers

* Re-introduction of Withholding Tax

* Suspension of all tax exemptions

*Revision of the income slabs for taxation and the level of turnover subject to Value-Added Tax

The SASA presented this proposal even before the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund were initiated. Presently these are the suggestions we have implemented.

However, it is the same people who requested such tax policies, who are criticizing the present tax regime. Introducing new tax policies is a politically unpopular decision. Remember, I’m not here to be popular. I want to rebuild this nation from the crisis situation it has fallen. Yes, I’m ready to make unpopular decisions for the sake of the nation. People will realize the importance of those decisions in two to three years.

Some people say that the primary taxable income should be raised from 100,000 to 200,000 rupees. Others say that the PAYE tax method should be abolished. We did not impose these taxes willingly. However, just doing what we like will not build the nation. Even reluctantly, the right policy should be implemented.

If PAYE tax is abolished, the country will lose 100 billion rupees. If the tax limit is raised to two hundred thousand rupees, the economy will lose 63 billion rupees. The total amount that will be lost is 163 billion rupees. We are presently not in a position to lose this income.

Economic Crisis and Tax Burden

Due to the present economic crisis, the tax burden is more strongly felt. There is an important fact to be considered. At present, most of the taxes are paid by the general public. Since taxes from individuals and institutions directly liable for taxes are not being properly collected, all Sri Lankans pay huge sums of money as indirect taxes. A large number of people who are not liable to pay taxes, pays it by default. These taxes are called indirect taxes.

In other countries, most of the taxes are collected from on a higher income bracket. In 2021, in India – 50% direct tax, and indirect 50%. Bangladesh – direct tax 32%, and indirect 68%. Nepal – direct 31% and indirect tax, 69%. Indonesia - direct tax 40%, and indirect 60%. Vietnam - direct tax 31% with indirect being 69%. Thailand, direct taxes 37%, and indirect 63%. Malaysia, direct tax 66% and indirect 34%.

However, the situation in our country is different. In 2021, our direct tax was 21% while indirect was 79%.

Therefore, we should take action to rectify this tax divergence. Then the tax burden on the general public will be reduced.

Inflation rises during an economic crisis. The price of goods increase. Employment is at risk. Businesses collapse. Taxes increase. It is difficult for all sections of the society to survive. However, if we endure this hardship for another five to six months, we can reach a solution. If we continue in this manner, we will be able to give an additional allowance to public servants in the third and fourth quarters of the year, and give concessions to the private sector. The public would become prosperous, with income sources being increased. The interest rate can be reduced. In another three years, the present income can be increased by 75 per cent.

Despite difficulties, we have taken measures to protect the vulnerable groups suffering due to the economic crisis. This has been fully supported by the World Bank.

However, the welfare system in our country is distorted. Even those with higher incomes are subsidized. We are taking measures to change this situation. Those in absolute poverty are identified. A program is being prepared to finance them directly through a welfare bank account.

However, some groups are trying to disrupt this process. They uphold the reduction of taxes, raise wages etc. if they come to power, and attempting to organize various activities to sabotage the present process.

I never promise what cannot be delivered, and never lie in seeking power. I am currently implementing all the pledges in the budget speech and the last opening session of the Parliament. Through this, we have been able to create some stability in the economy. It is clear to many that the future cannot be built on falsehood.

We are now moving from a negative economy towards a positive one. By the end of 2023, we can achieve economic growth.

When I first addressed this Parliament as the President, the inflation of the country was 70 percent. Due to the measures we have implemented, it was reduced to 54 percent in January 2023. We will strive to make it a single digit by the end of 2023.

By the end of 2022, we were able to increase the export income to USD 13 billion. Local entrepreneurs worked hard towards making this possible. Also, we were able to limit the cost of imports to a level of USD 18 billion. Migrant workers have been extremely supportive to the motherland at this critical juncture. By the end of 2022, their remittance reached USD 4 billion in foreign exchange.

Foreign Reserves

Our entrepreneurs and migrant workers made this commitment in the context of political parties and groups influencing them on diverse fronts. They have proven that they increase export revenues and remit money to Sri Lanka not according to the political party in power, but for the sake of the country. All of them deserve our respect.

We have now been able to increase the foreign reserves which had fallen to zero up to USD 500 million.

We were able to revive the tourism sector. Tourists visited Sri Lanka even in the midst of political street protests. Sri Lanka was designated among the top 10 tourist destinations in the world. The number of tourists who visited Sri Lanka in the month of January is over one hundred thousand, which is a record.

We are making progress in all sectors, in this manner.

Some time ago, Greece was in a serious economic crisis similar to that of Sri Lanka, and declared bankruptcy. To overcome this crisis, the salaries of public servants were reduced by 50 percent. It took them 13 years to emerge from bankruptcy and repay their debts. During that period, they received aid from the IMF three times.

However, if we continue according to this plan, we can rise out of bankruptcy by 2026. As I have been continuously appealing, if all the parties in this Parliament join the process to build the country, we would be able to extricate from this crisis even earlier.

We left the IMF in 2020. That short-sighted decision has also affected the current situation. Bangladesh was able to obtain IMF assistance early, as they had continued to be in that process. We had to initiate the process from the beginning. However, amidst all the difficulties, we started this journey.

Now we are negotiating debt restructuring with our creditors. The only other way is to get support from the International Monetary Fund, which could be progressed based on negotiations. We have no other way but this process. I request the political parties criticizing our course of action, to please present their alternative solution to this House.

IMF negotiations

We have now reached the final stage of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). We were able to reach a basic agreement last September and now there is the debt sustainability programme.

In this context, we also discussed with the Paris Club. We have continued negotiations with India and China, which are not members of the Paris Club. India has agreed to debt restructuring and has extended financial assurance. On the one hand, the Paris Club and India are continuing discussions. We are in direct discussions with China. We have received positive responses from all parties. We are now working towards unifying the approaches of other countries and that of China. I express our gratitude to all the countries that support us in this effort.

The Paris Club announced yesterday that they will extend unstinted support for the Agreement with the IMF and debt restructuring. With that announcement, we receive the Paris Club endorsement. They took this decision after a round of discussions with their member countries, and in addition India as well as the World Bank and the IMF.

This decision, for us is a great strength and courage, for which I am grateful.

The international support demonstrates that we are on the right path. This is reconfirmed by the pressure on the public becoming less than before.

Revival of Tourism Sector

The tourism sector is reviving. The collapsed agriculture and plantation sector is recovering. It is predicted that the harvest will increase in the Maha Season. Financial provisions have been allocated to purchase these crops. A plan has been implemented to process paddy to rice worth 20 billion rupees with its distribution free of charge to low-income families, with 10 kilos of rice being given twice a month. Power cuts have now reduced. School activities are returning to normal. Children have commenced undertaking educational trips. Exams are being conducted. Continue on this path and build the country, or destroy this path and ruin the country with sloganeering politics? The decision is before us.

We know that the decision of the majority of people who love the country and do not have narrow political agendas, is to continue in this manner.

Sri Lanka’s economy today is severely damaged. Its malaise needs to be immediately diagnosed and treated accordingly. However, people are pointing to the mistakes made by those in-charge and are urging them to be punished first.

However, I try to cure the malady first, after which we can take further measures. We should prioritize curing the ailment, which is what I am doing.

However, as soon as this critical condition is addressed, we will take another step to eliminate the recurrence of such a crisis. For this purpose, we are introducing an Anti-Corruption Bill. We are taking steps to include the “Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative (StAR)” into this Bill, together with the World Bank and the United Nations.

By obtaining the agreement of the IMF, we will be able to stabilize the economy. However, we have more steps to take in moving forward.

With the certification by the IMF, we would be able to receive loan assistance from other international financial institutions such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank etc. Accordingly, the confidence of investors will also be established. Therefore, there will be a tendency for foreign exchange to flow into the country. We should use such financial aid for the development of the country through efficient management.

Together with this, we can get a significant growth in the tourism industry. A number of development projects that have been halted can also be resumed.

Economic Reforms

Also, the economic reforms required for our country should be implemented. We neglected economic reforms for the sake of narrow political agendas. The burden of loss-making government institutions was borne by the people. Last year, the loss of state-owned enterprises was approximately 800 billion rupees. The people have been bearing all that loss for many years. However, they do not realize this situation. They bear the burden of these loss-making government institutions. Even the most destitute have to bear the cost of maintaining these institutions.

Therefore, we should immediately carry out economic reforms. Countries like Thailand and Vietnam that have taken such steps are moving forward day by day. Otherwise it would retard our economic development.

We need to accurately identify the role of the Government in these reforms. The strategy of the government should be to guide the private sector in business activities, while being in the background. Government should intervene only in areas such as monitoring functions, public facilities and maintenance of law and order. The private sector should be used as the driving force of the economy. Also, private entrepreneurship should be utilized to strengthen foreign economic relations.

There are many instances where state sector land and buildings are wasted without being used for any productive purpose. We expect to use them productively. There are a number of fertile lands owned by government institutions, which have become forest land. There are thousands of acres of abandoned paddy lands. We are working towards utilizing all that effectively for agriculture.

Also, projects based on credit will be implemented in the future only based on an evaluation process. It is imperative to stop the practice of directing public investment for political reasons.

In the past, the banking system has been weakened since these institutions have given grace periods for the recovery of loans. Now that the grace period is over, the banks are re-vitalizing.

At the same time, our attention has been focused on businesses that have collapsed due to difficulties. With the growth of the economy, we are taking measures to provide them with the necessary facilities to rebuild.

We expect to use technology to the maximum for increasing production, providing goods and services, industrial and agricultural modernization etc.

Currently, the revenue of the country is 8.15 percent of the GDP. It is our expectation to increase this to 15 percent.

An international organization with experience in solving financial crises made the following statement about our country.

“Sri Lanka has a reputation for ‘kicking the can down the road’ – this leads to problems avoided rather than solved in the long term.”

We avoided problems and did not seek long-term solutions. We are all presently experiencing the result of that behaviour.

Remember that currently, we are facing an economic crisis which is more decisive than the past conflict in the North and East. Though ethnic groups were divided during that conflict, all Sri Lankans have to cooperate in this current struggle. If we ignore the problems without a solution, we will lose overcoming this economic catastrophe, and therefore will be dependent economically. Therefore, it is our responsibility to bear the hardships and provide the necessary support to win this economic crisis.

Communal Harmony

Surviving the economic extremity to create a developed economy in our country, would culminate in ensuring peace and harmony among the communities in our nation.

Both Hon. R. Sambandan and I were elected to Parliament in 1977. We both have a common dream, which is to provide a sustainable solution to the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka while we are both in Parliament. Ever since, we have been discussing that dream and have been making efforts towards its achievement. All previous attempts have failed, but, we wish to succeed this time. We expect your support to this end.

The conflict in the North and East affected the entire nation and many areas were severely damaged. The Northern Province entirely and several areas in the Eastern and North Central Provinces suffered immensely from the war. We are taking steps to put more weight on the development of these areas. A general plan is being implemented in this regard.

We know that there are still unresolved issues related to land in the North. In the Jaffna district, there are 3300 acres of state land including security camps. The extent of 100 acres that had been taken over for the Palali Camp were recently released. A decision has to be made regarding more land to be released for which discussions are being held with the Army and other parties. Discussions have also been initiated regarding the lands around other security camps.

Not only in the North and East, but also in the other provinces of the country, there is a serious problem regarding the availability of land. Forest lands were determined through a Gazette notification 12 years ago. At that time it was based on GPS maps. Due to the conflict and other reasons, many village lands were gazetted as forests. Now the conflict is over. Due to the reason of lands owned by the people being gazetted as forests, there has been a great injustice to the community. People from Monaragala to Jaffna are facing this problem.

We will take steps to correct this injustice through re-gazetting the forests and lands according to the 1985 map.

We are streamlining and expediting the process of tracing missing persons. The mechanism of the Office on Missing Persons will be strengthened.

Our attention has also been focused on the people who have been imprisoned for being involved in terrorist activities. They have been imprisoned for many years without trial. We are taking measures to systematically release these prisoners.

Drafts are being prepared to establish a National Land Council and a National Land Policy.

It is alleged that due to certain practices of the Central Government, the powers of the Provincial Councils have been reduced in the fields of education and health. Therefore, we envision bringing new laws regarding the implementation of powers of the Provincial Councils in these fields.

Amendment will be introduced to the following Acts in order to regularize and streamline the delegation process. The Transfer of Powers (Divisional Secretaries) Act, No. 58 of 1992, the Provincial Councils (Consequential Provisions) Act, No. 12 of 1989 and Provincial Councils (Amendment) Act No. 28 of 1990.

We expect to establish a modern system for the District Development Councils to streamline the coordination functions between the Provincial Councils and the Central Government.

We will present all these Ordinances and Bills to the National Council of the Parliament. The responsibility of making the final decision is assigned to the National Council.

DIG divisional boundaries are currently not based on provincial boundaries. Due to this, a number of practical difficulties have arisen. Therefore, we expect to determine the boundaries of DIG divisions according to the provinces.

There is no change in police powers.

The report of the Presidential Commission headed by A. H. M. D. Nawaz, Supreme Court Judge to investigate the violation of human rights, serious violations of international human rights laws, has now been received. Its recommendations are currently being studied.

Northern Development

A separate plan is being implemented for the development of the North, which was the most damaged due to the conflict. Malwatu Oya development project will be commenced. Necessary measures will be taken for the river and water management in the Eastern Province, restoration of Vadamarachchi lake and lagoon, and accordingly, which will provide water for drinking and agricultural purposes.

The electricity requirement in these areas is expected to be generated through renewable energy. Solar and green hydrogen power are also used for this purpose.

More opportunities will be created in the tourism sector. Investment zones will be established. The required technology and facilities will be provided for the modernization of agriculture.

The Kankasanthurai Port is being modernized and expanded. Trincomalee is being developed as a modern international city. A special development plan is also being launched for the Eastern and North-Central provinces that have suffered economic and social setbacks during the conflict.

Special attention is being paid to the Upcountry Tamil community, who were first brought to Sri Lanka 200 years ago, to develop plantation industry in Sri Lanka.

Soumyamurthy Thondaman, who rendered yeoman service towards the plantation sector and I were in the Cabinet of Ministers together. Both of us worked together for the welfare of the plantation community. We have already granted all their legal rights. However, many problems related to economic and social rights still remain. To solve these problems, we expect to discuss with the MPs representing the plantation sector and take necessary measures. The Plantation community, which has been struggling to feed the Sri Lankan economy for two centuries, should be integrated as a whole in the Sri Lankan community.

When I was elected to the Parliament, my Cabinet Minister was A. C. S. Hamid who made me aware of the unique situations faced by Sri Lankan Muslims. We know that the Muslim community faces various problems from time to time and they have our full support.

The Sinhalese community is also facing issues of their own which require open discussion. We expect to recognize the communities that are marginalized in society especially due to caste discrimination.

Considering all the facts, we expect to devolve power within a Unitary State. However, I wish to reiterate a fact has been emphasized on many occasions. There will be no division of the country.

Public Opinion

I don’t have a political group in this Parliament. The Party I represent has only one MP. However, as the President, I do not represent that Party. I represent the entire nation. Therefore, I do not engage in party politics.

I will implement all these proposals through the National Assembly of the Parliament. In addition, we regulate the Jana Sabha Act for the function of representing public opinion.

As I have emphasized many times before, the time has come to think anew and embark on a journey accordingly. The traditional politics that we have followed so far is no longer valid. Deceptions made with lies and illusions for political gains are not suitable for the future.

Some political parties that discuss about system change propose to change others instead of themselves. This is also a part of traditional politics. If we come, we will change, that’s what they say. We are staying out of line, and trying to change others.

Those who make their lives at risk for Independent Commissions, say no to them in the face of power. Those who rejected the Executive Presidential System discuss the manner in which those powers would be used when they are elected. They change the policies for power.

These are issues we have experienced from the past to date. I suggest that we should change this situation. Otherwise, none of us can make a change in the system.

Change should begin from within ourselves. We all should change and that too should be for the betterment. As politicians we should change for the better. Political parties, the Parliament, the Executive, the Judiciary and the Public Service should change for the better.

For this change, we have already established the Parliamentary Oversight Committee System. However, youth representatives have not still been appointed to these Committees. I request this Parliament to implement this system at the earliest. It is your responsibility in this House to get the maximum benefit from the Parliamentary Oversight Committees.

We will not stop there. Steps are being taken to make all the MPs active stakeholders in the governance.

For this purpose,

* A Parliamentary Budget Office will be established as a fully independent entity.

*At present, the rules and regulations regarding the conduct of MPs are insufficient. A Conduct of MPs and Parliamentary Standards Act will be drafted, following the example of countries such as the United Kingdom.

*We have practically recognized that the Preferential Voting system is corrupt. Therefore, the entire nation strongly feels the necessity for a new electoral system. We are working to appoint a Selective Committee on the Election system after discussing this with the Party Leaders. I believe that intellectuals, youth and women should be given adequate space in the envisaged new electoral system.

We should pay close attention to the political parties currently operating in Sri Lanka. Rather than political parties, political alliances created to win elections are represented in the current Parliament. Most of these political parties have been sold for cash. The party and the logo are being sold, as on the pavement in Pettah. Some get sold. Cases have been filed before the court regarding the ownership of parties.

I will act to appoint a Presidential Commission to look into the Political Parties of Sri Lanka and submit a report regarding the methodology which they should implement.

This Commission is entrusted with the responsibility of looking into matters such as party registration, transparent functioning, membership rights, obtaining funds and income, expenditure on election campaigns, use of mass media, etc.

In this regard, it is expected to be based on the Political Parties Act of Kenya, Germany and Norway, the European Public Accountability Methodology (EuroPAM), the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act of the United Kingdom.

In order for a better future, new institutions, rules and programs are being introduced.

We are establishing a new Institute of History, Institute of Economics and Trade, and an Institute for Women and Gender. Also, four new universities are being established, namely, the University of Government and Public Policy, University of Agro-Technology, University of Climate Change and the University of Sports.

Steps are also being taken to introduce new rules and Ordinances.

* National Commission on Women’s Act

* Gender Equality Act

* Women’s Empowerment Act

* Child Safety Act

*Youth Parliament Control Act

* Narcotics Command Headquarters Act

l Truth and the Reconciliation Commission

* Prevention of Terrorism and National Security Act

*The Public Performance Board Ordinance currently in force will be repealed. An Art Classification Act will be prepared based on the right of expression in the Constitution.

Our country is located in the climate change zone. Therefore, we should pay special attention to climate change. If we act according to proper practice in that regard, we will also have the space to get green provisions.

Taking all of them into consideration, we are taking steps to introduce these Ordinances.

*Climate Change Act

*Social Justice Commission Act

*Reforestation and Tree Cover Act

* Living Entity Act – Mahaweli Ganga, Sinharajaya, Sripada Adaviya and Peak wilderness, Horton Plains, Knuckles, Adam’s Bridge will be covered under this Act.

* Law for Ocean Resources Exploration and Management

* Muthurajawela Conservation Act

New ordinances are being introduced for the economy. Zero Budgeting will be introduced for public expenditure management.

* Revenue Authority Act

*National Debt Management Act

*Food Security Act

* Public Property Management Act

* Economic Stabilization Act

*National Pension Contribution Act

* New Excise Act

*Amendments to the Foreign Exchange Act

* Bankruptcy Act

* Foreign Trade and Investment Act

*Digital Technology Act

* Department of Cinnamon Development Act

*Divorce by Mutual Consent Act

Economic, Social and Political Reforms

In order to succeed in such economic, social and political reforms, it is essential to make the community aware, based on accurate facts. The main role of making the society aware belongs to the media.

Journalists should be given national and international level training in that regard. In 1993, as the Prime Minister, I appointed a Committee with Dr. Gamini Corea as the Chairperson, in order to obtain recommendations for the establishment of a Media Training Institute. Although the Cabinet approved the establishment of this institution, it was not implemented due to the 1994 General Election. Therefore, we urge to establish a system of institutions ranging from an institute of journalism to a university for journalists, in order to receive international-level training.

But, looking closely at the past decades, the question arises whether the role of the media has been properly fulfilled. Therefore, our country needs media reforms. We have to consider both traditional media and social media. That is the reason for preparing a national policy on mass media.

I’m of the view that it is important for the Government and the media industry to take care of a collective self-regulation system. In cyberspace, we are experiencing not only fake news, hate speech, misinformation, child and women harassment, fraud and corruption. We believe that a transparent regulatory system that includes social media network companies is required in this regard.

An important point that we need to focus on is to reach an agreement on policies.

A stable National Policy which will prevail irrespective if the change of government or Ministers is required. Every developed country in the world has progressed through a series of stable policies which are periodically updated.

This is just the beginning of a system change. We need to make more changes. We expect to implement those changes according to the views of the Sri Lankan community, especially the youth.

Therefore, I request all of you to submit proposals on the policies and practices that we should follow in the next 25 years. I am making that request not only from you in this House, but also from all Sri Lankans. Submit your ideas whether you are in Sri Lanka or abroad. Join this collective exercise of rebuilding the nation.

Many people in this country do not understand the length-extent-depth of the crisis that the country is currently passing through. Since we have never faced such a dangerous and serious crisis in our lifetime, I re-emphasize that we all should come together to get rid of this crisis. Religious leaders, political parties, trade unions, academics, non-governmental organizations etc. should unite. This unity should commit to implementing one policy with one objective within a certain period of time. A social convention should be established. We all have to change our lifestyles for the sake of the nation.

All the groups mentioned earlier are currently making commitments, bearing the weight. Therefore, after we uplift the economy, all the benefits should be distributed among the citizens, who should be part of economic development.

We expect to establish the Social Justice Commission to implement this social consensus. The new policy framework for the next 25 years will be created based on this social consensus.

Finally, I can recall one more aspect. Let’s understand the difference between State and Government. We are all bound to protect the State of Sri Lanka. Any citizen has the opportunity to democratically change Governments through the elections. However, no one has the right to create anarchy in Sri Lanka. Not any political party. Not any group.

We cannot allow our motherland to become an economic or social colony. Anarchy cannot be allowed. No one who truly loves the nation will allow such a situation. We all should stand on the side that supports the nation and not that which is bent to destroy the country.

Earlier, we paid attention to some comments made by a few youths in the Sunday Times newspaper, last Sunday. Before concluding my speech, I would like to draw your attention to another observation made by Mr. Clifford Fernando.

“I hope the political leaders will get their act together – they have failed miserably. A leader should have the ability to lead by example if they expect people to follow. Sri Lankans are very resilient and will buckle up and do what it takes to come out of the present crisis. If the leaders could act wisely, use some common sense and put their words into action, we will be able to manoeuvre through these challenging times.”

It is the responsibility of this House to meet the expectations of these children and youth who have aspirations for the country and are determined not to leave. It is the duty of this House to make them inherit a free tomorrow and a free nation.

Are you ready for this challenge?

Let’s not be prisoners of the past, but think about the future. Let’s unite consensually and move forward democratically to support the recovery of the nation from the current crisis. If anyone wishes to have a political agenda, let’s consider it after we rescue the nation.

Lord Buddha said,

“Be a lamp unto yourself.”

Following that erudite advice, let’s be lamps unto ourselves.

Only then can the country be bright.

Justice K. P. Fernando, President of the Court of Appeal took oath as a Supreme Court Judge before President Ranil Wickremesinghe this morning (06) at the President’s House in Fort.
Court of Appeal Justice Mr. Nissanka Bandula Karunaratne took oath as the President of the Court of Appeal while High Court Judge M.A.R. Marikkar was also sworn in as a Judge of the Court of Appeal before President Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Minister of Justice Wijayadasa Rajapaksha, Secretary to the President Mr. Saman Ekanayake, Commanders of the Tri Forces and other officials attended this event.

Ministers representing India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal who visited Sri Lanka to participate in the 75th Independence Day Celebration called on President Ranil Wickremesinghe at the Presidential Secretariat yesterday(04).
India’s External Affairs State Minister V. Muraleedharan called on the President first and during their discussion attention was drawn on the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the constitution and the measures taken to ensure ethnic harmony. Indian State Minister V. Muraleedharan appreciated the measures taken by the Sri Lankan government under leadership of President Wickremesinghe to ensure ethnic harmony in the country.
There after President Ranil Wickremesinghe met Bhutan’s Education Minister Jai Bir Rai who arrived in the country to partake the Independence Day celebration. Their discussion focussed on strengthening ties between the two countries. A greater focus was drawn on education and improving cultural ties especially in the fields of tourism.
During the discussion between the President and Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Dr A. K. Abdul Momen, focus was drawn on strengthening ties between the two countries where President Ranil Wickremesinghe thanked the latter for the assistance rendered to Sri Lanka during economic crisis.
Later Pakistan’s State Minister of Foreign Affairs Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar called on President Ranil Wickremesinghe. Pakistani State Minister appreciated the commitment made by the President in the economic recovery efforts and extended an invitation to the President to visit Pakistan. Discussions also focussed on the development of business ties and tourism especially in the field of religious tourism.
Nepal’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Bimala Rai Paudyal also called on the President and welcomed the initiatives taken by the President in tackling climate change. The Nepali Minister also expressed the desire to see further strengthening of tourism between the two countries.
Foreign Affairs Minister of Maldives Abdulla Shahid also called on the President and engaged in a discussion.

The Japanese Government donated 150 motorcycles, 74 vans and minibuses and 115 pieces of surveillance equipment for the use of the Sri Lanka Police Department. The donation was symbolically handed over to President Ranil Wickremesinghe at the Presidential Secretariat yesterday (03) afternoon.
Japanese Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Mr Takei Shunsuke presented the documents related to the delivery of this equipment to the President.
Following the inspection of these vehicles, the President engaged in cordial conversation with the Japanese State Foreign Minister.
The Japanese Government donated this stock of equipment to make it easier for the police to carry out their investigative operations.
Japanese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Mr Mizukoshi Hideaki, and the Japanese delegation, the President’s Senior Adviser on National Security and Chief of Presidential Staff Mr Sagala Ratnayake, Director of International Affairs to the President Mr Dinouk Colombage and several others attended the event.

“I know that Sri Lanka continues to feel the weight of political and economic pressure. The pressure can be hard to bear. It can be destabilizing, isolating, and frightening, and I am here because I want every Sri Lankan to know that you are not alone. You are part of this special precious Commonwealth family, said the Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland addressing the Inaugural Lecture for Geopolitical Cartographers.
The Geopolitical Cartographer was held on the theme of “The role of the Commonwealth in an Era of ‘Polycrisis’ “under the patronage of President Ranil Wickremesinghe, yesterday (03) at the Colombo City Centre.
Speaking further the Secretary-General said as a family we have responsibility for one another. A duty to each other, a shared love and a shared journey and you are not alone like the challenges you face.
‘I travel all around the commonwealth and the wider world and whilst every country and its direct experience and circumstances are different, they are similar challenges everywhere and you may feel that you are living in a country under pressure, but the reality is that we are all living in a world under pressure. All of us are tightly bound by a tangled knot of crisis-spanning global systems. A world living with the social political and economic consequences of COVID-19,’ she said.
Speaking at the session President Ranil Wickremesinghe said, ‘The first person to come here and to be invited here is none other than the Secretary General of the Commonwealth. She has been a good friend of Sri Lanka, a good friend of Asia, and Africa and she represents our thinking. But there’s also another reason for her, the Commonwealth to be here. When we got independence, we first joined the Commonwealth. Our entry to the UN was blocked. It was only in 1955 that we became a member of the United Nations. But from the beginning, we have been with the Commonwealth. It was only correct that the Secretary General of the Commonwealth should be here on our 75th Anniversary of Independence. You were there when we got independence and you are here now. So it is to mark that occasion as she was invited here by the government to take part in the 75th Anniversary of our Independence, the President noted.
Following is President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Full Speech:
It gives me great pleasure to be present here today with Patricia Scotland, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth for the inaugural lecture of the geopolitical cartographer. The geopolitical cartography is the outcome of a discussion or firstly, increasing the number of think tanks and research institutes in the country. Secondly, to focus on international affairs, thirdly, not merely to cover the whole range of international affairs, but to focus on the area which was of concern to us where we are located in the Indian Ocean, its geopolitical aspects. Its geo-economic aspects, its environmental aspects fall into either geopolitical or geo-economics.
And it was called the geopolitical cartographer because now the maps are drawn and boundaries are drawn not according to geography, but according to geopolitics. For a long time, we belonged to a region known as the Indian Ocean, and all of a sudden it became the Indo-Pacific. So that is geopolitical cartography. In the same way, Europe has a problem now with where to draw the boundaries between Russia and Ukraine. It keeps changing throughout the world. Various claims are made, but we have to learn now that cartography depends completely on geopolitics and nothing else. So we called the name geopolitical cartographer but was to discuss how geopolitics and geo-economics were changing the Indian Ocean, the most vital ocean in the world till about the 18th century. This was also the richest.
In time to come, before the end of the century again, you will find first the development of South Asia of Indonesia and Southeast Asia of the Middle East. And finally, the big development explosion in Africa, that’s why the focus is completely on this new emerging region. And the first person to come here and to be invited here is none other than the Secretary General of the Commonwealth. She’s been a good friend of Sri Lanka. She’s been a good friend of Asia and Africa and she represents our thinking. But there’s also another reason for her to be here on behalf of the Commonwealth. When we gained independence, we were admitted to the Commonwealth.
Our entry to the UN was blocked because the US had blocked some of the Soviet countries and in return, the Soviet Union blocked Sri Lanka. It was only in 1955 that we became a member of the United Nations. But from the beginning, we have been with the Commonwealth.
It was only correct that the Secretary General of the Commonwealth should be here on our 75th Anniversary of Independence. You were there when we got independence and you all are here now. So it is to mark that occasion as she was invited here by the government to take part in the 75th Anniversary of our Independence.
But today you’re not here to listen to me speak. You’ll be here to see and listen to what Patricia has to say. So I would like to invite her to address all of you and the numerous crises that she is going to now explain and layout.
Thank you.

The “Freedom Path” artefact exhibition organized in view of the 75th National Independence Day celebration was declared open yesterday (05) at the National Museum, Colombo under the patronage of President Ranil Wickremesinghe.
The Department of National Museum, the Archaeological Department, and the Central Cultural Fund jointly organized this exhibition.
The President, who arrived at the exhibition grounds, was received by Buddha Sasana, Religious, and Cultural Affairs Minister Vidura Wickramanayake. The President who declared open the exhibition also engaged in an observation tour.
A collection of newspaper front pages reflecting unique moments in history related to the freedom struggle between1919-1972 was presented to the President by the Director General of the National Archives Department, Dr. Nadira Rupasingha.
Four rare books were reprinted with the courtesy of UNESCO. A Gazette of the Central Province of Ceylon, Volume I & II, The Geology of Sri Lanka, Sigiri Graffiti volume II and Maha Vansaya first half and second half was also presented to President Ranil Wickremesinghe by the Director General of the National Museums Department Mrs. Sanuja Kasturiarachchi.
‘Urumayaka Arumaya’, a collection of murals of the Kelani Vihara, Book of Buddha and bodhisattva, images of Ancient Sri Lanka, the book on Sathsathiya After the Enlightenment Based on Frescoes of the Kandyan Era, Ancient Ceylon Volume 26, Roots of Sri Lankan arts and History of the kingdom of Rohana was also introduced to the President by the Director General of the Department of Archaeology Professor Anura Manatunga.
The Director General of the Central Cultural Fund, Professor Gamini Ranasinghe, also presented a commemorative memento to President, Ranil Wickremesinghe.
President’s Secretary Saman Ekanayake, Secretary to the Ministry of Buddha Sasana, Religious and Cultural Affairs Somaratne Vidanapathirana, and Buddhist Affairs Commissioner General Sunanda Kariyapperuma were also present at this occasion.
The Path to Freedom exhibition will be held at the Colombo Museum from 4th to 10th February from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm.

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