Don't exploit LTTE ban for narrow gains -Ranil

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 22 January 2002, 14:28 GMT]
"We have no right to play around with this last chance we have to achieve peace in Sri Lanka. We also have no right to indulge in narrow political aims making use of the ban on the LTTE. Like with the war the economy has deteriorated by serious proportions. For the first time in three decades the country's economy is set to show a zero or even a negative growth. It may even be as much as seven points below zero. The country is near bankruptcy," said Sri Lanka's Prime Minister, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe, Tuesday in his first policy statement to the Parliament since coming to power.

Following is the full text of his speech.

'Hon. Speaker, I intend to speak on the main conflicts and issues we are facing since gaining independence, in an honest and decisive manner. Time is now upon us to speak out honestly and courageously. The various crises we face today inter connected. These have manifested in different forms. The chief among these conflicts is the North-East war which started in 1983 and continued for 19 long years. Devastation caused by the war has wide ramifications affecting a vast area of activity. Over 20,000 personnel of the Three Services and the Police have sacrificed their lives. According to statistics quoted by the foreign media more than 60,000 lives have been lost due to the war. The number who have been maimed or disabled is even greater. The expenditure on the war for the year 2001 alone has exceeded Rs. 80 Billion. A part of this sum has been met through the Budget and the balance raised through the State Banks. A total of Rs. 500 Billion ÷÷has been spent on the war during the past 19 years. Unemployment increased in leaps and bounds. Revenue declined seriously affecting development activity. Several towns were destroyed. Ultimately it came to a situation where the country's airport and the Port had to be temporarily closed down. A large number of educated and professionally qualified people of all ethnic groups from the middle income category left the country as a result. In fact if not for the war we would not have had an unemployment problem.

The objective of the LTTE in setting up a separate state in the North East by chasing away the Security Forces has not succeeded. Likewise we have not been successful in completely eliminating the LTTE through a military solution. This is the present status of the war.

The concern of India as well as the donor countries have (sic) been drawn towards this problem today more than ever before. They steadfastly advocate apolitical solution to the war. In this context the centre of attention is international opinion. A solution to the North East problem will be through international opinion. We must focus our attention accordingly. In this backdrop if international opinion is with us we could protect the territorial integrity and unity of our nation.

ranil_wickremesinghe_6.jpgWe will gain strength if we act with one aim unitedly. This will help us win international opinion. If weallow ourselves to be divided on petty and narrow political aims we would be defeated in the face of international opinion.

The status of International Opinion today is against terrorism, war and resolution of conflicts through political solutions. By inviting the Government of Norway to act as an intermediary two years ago for the resolution of the North-East Conflict we too moved towards finding a political solution.

Several countries have already banned a number of terrorist organisations by enacting legislation. Many countries have endorsed measures taken by our country towards evolving a political solution as the most appropriate step. At the same time they have also informed us to first work towards the evolution of a political solution to the conflict.

The majority of the people's wish is to work towards a solution through devolution of power democratically, ensuring the territorial integrity of the country and preserving the rights of all sections of the people. We have received a mandate to achieve this at the last elections. International opinion compels us in this direction. This compulsion is not only limited to the Government of Sri Lanka but is also equally compelling on the LTTE. This opinion has intensified since the September 11 th. attack on New York. The LTTE is under pressure to give up terrorism and the armed struggle for a political solution as a result.

We are at a most decisive moment today. This is the last chance we would have in the resolution of Sri Lanka's North-East problem. We should make maximum use of this opportunity and march forward. If not international opinion would weigh heavily against us.

We can approach peace if the Government and the LTTE make an honest, genuine and concerted effort along the same path. If the Government makes an honest effort towards peace, international opinion will be in our favour despite whatever position the LTTE takes, since a sovereign nation's honest action will be protected by the international community. However if political parties are not honest in their efforts we will equally stand to lose this favourable opinion. Without international co-operation we will not achieve anything as a nation.

If we look to achieve narrow political gains by misinterpreting an honest effort, we will lose the momentum so far gained. We should not trifle with this final opportunity in achieving peace. We have no right to do so. To do so would be the greatest betrayal of our people. We should position ourselves with the rest of the world.

We stated during the elections that we will address and find solutions to the suffering of our people in the North. We promised to bring normalcy to the people in the North and East. We are not prepared to let the people of the North and East be sandwiched in suffering due to the conflict between the Government and the LTTE.

Forget not that the people of the North and East are also citizens of the country like you and I. We have identified many areas affecting the people of the North and East. These problems cannot be solved in 24 hours. Neither can we alleviate their mental anguish in 24 hours. These have to be addressed, a step at a time. We estimate that it would take about eight weeks to bring an environment of normalcy in these areas.

Sending food and other items to the Wanni was only one step in this direction. This was due to plans by the Government during April last year. On successful completion of this plan we would focus what the Government's reforms would be. Similarly, we have to remove step by step, the irritants placed in the path of the Tamil people. We have by now received many reports on these issues. We will take action to reform and relax the restrictions placed on the fishing community of North and East. I consider this a duty towards our people wherever they may be.

On 24th of December the LTTE announced a ceasefire unilaterally. The Government too responded similarly. Now there are two cessations of hostility operating in parallel. However these two acts are not with common consensus. Therefore there is a difference between the two. Towards reaching a common consensus between these two announcements, messages have been initiated with the LTTE via the Norwegian Government. Within the ambit of this ceasefire the LTTE has agreed not to launch offensive operations or bombings. Similarly the Government has opted not to launch land, sea or air strikes.

Agreement has been reached that armed LTTE cadres would be confined to the areas where they are now and that the Army would not enter such areas. We must try to agree to a common framework of action during the period of cessation of hostility. Our aim is to work out a long term cessation of hostilities through such a common agreement which would pave the way for talks. We will focus on the Muslim community specially in the districts of Batticaloa and Ampara during the period of cessation and ensure their rights. Towards this end discussions are taking place via the Norwegian Government with the LTTE in a definite manner. We will avoid action which would hinder the fruition of our hopes in making the ceasefire last.

This is our aim. Simultaneously we will ensure that the people of the North will receive the security that they require through the security forces. We will carry forward our efforts at finding a political solution started through Norwegian Government. It is our intention to exchange views through Norway to commence peace talks. On this basis our first step would be to agree on fundamental matters concerning peace talks. We will keep international opinion with us as a safety net every step of the way. I am aware of the experiences of Presidents J.R. Jayawardene and Ranasinghe Premadasa in the conduct of Peace Talks as well as the approach of President Chandrika Kumaratunga in this regard.

The main issue for the commencement of talks with the LTTE is the international and local ban on the LTTE. The LTTE has stated that if it were to come for talks the ban imposed on the organisation locally should be lifted. On the other hand, international opinion stresses on the need to commence talks towards achieving a political solution. One aspect we should seriously consider is whether we should lose international co-operation at this juncture due to the ban imposed locally. My opinion is that the alienation of the international co-operation to (sic) Sri Lanka would pave a way for the realisation of the motives of the LTTE. We are not prepared to let go of this last chance for peace. Deep thought is necessary on the local ban of the LTTE in view of this backdrop.

I see two fundamental matters which we should consider in this regard. The first is the guarantee of the honesty of the LTTE as regards the Peace Talks. The second matter is preventing adverse effects any local arrangement would have on the international ban on LTTE. Based on these two factors under the umbrella of a Žsecurity net', amendments governing the regulations of the local ban should be considered whilst safeguarding international opinion. This is one alternative.

Honesty is the only guarantee towards peace. It is natural that the government on the one hand and the LTTE on the other would be suspicious of each other. It is my view that the security forces should be in a state of alertness in this backdrop. However when confidence builds up between the two sides this situation will change considerably.

After formalising the basic agreement as regards peace talks, the talks should be held within a definite time frame between the Government and the LTTE.

Any questions that may arise at these talks should be argued between the Government and the LTTE. What does the LTTE want? What are the issues to be discussed? We cannot come to a definite conclusion on these matters without finalising the basic agreement as regards the talks. We will take action to brief the other political parties when these matters are clear.

However, if we try to discuss and debate these matters before they surface in trying to achieve narrow political gains, we will not prevent sending wrong signals to the international community, creating doubts as regards our honesty. As a result we may stand to lose international co-operation. We should think whether by such actions we would be helping the LTTE make gains.

We have no right to play around with this last chance we have to achieve peace in Sri Lanka. We also have no right to indulge in narrow political aims making use of the ban. Like with the war the economy has deteriorated by serious proportions. For the first time in three decades the country's economy is set to show a zero or even a negative growth. It may even be as much as seven points below zero. The country is near bankruptcy. There has been no significant foreign direct investment and production is in a parlous state. Exports are in decline. The Agricultural Sector and the rural economy has (sic) slowed down. It is the same with the construction industry and tourism. Business houses are straining to meet finance costs and trade has declined. This is as a result of the private sector not having confidence in the government's management of the economy in the recent past.

With the resultant economic meltdown the expected Government revenue did not materialise. The Government expected a revenue of Rs. 2640 billion. However the achievement was Rs. 2340 Billion only. In fact the shortfall in revenue was Rs. 300 Billion. The Budget deficit increased from Rs. 1230 billion to Rs. 1480 billion. This is an increase of Rs. 250 billion. The Government had to borrow Rs. 1180 billion to meet its urgent commitments. With the economy declining domestic borrowings of Rs. 690 billion was insufficient and the Government had to borrow a further Rs. 450 billion , thus diverting money which could have gone towards development of the small and medium industry and the private sector

The national debt too increased during this period. The national debt which was Rs. 5509 billion in 1994 ballooned to Rs. 14302 billion. This is an increase of 159.6 % .in seven years. Similarly government's interest payments during this period increased from Rs. 607 billion to Rs. 1842 billion. Accordingly the debt on each Sri Lankan citizen ,in seven years increased from Rs 30,000 to Rs. 79,000. The Government is faced with a gigantic problem of meeting its debts. It is more so when the nation is expected to show a negative growth.

However we must not be a nation that does not meet our financial obligations. It does not end with the above. Certain corporations and government departments have run up huge debts. The Ceylon Electricity Board is a case in point. Its accumulated debt is Rs. 156 Billion and continues to lose Rs. 6.2 billion a month. The Petroleum Corporation debt has increased to Rs. 230 billion and the C.W.E. Rs. 8 billion. Many more corporations are in the same predicament. The Government has resorted to borrowing monies lying to the credit of the EPF and ETF.

There are other problems to be faced by this Government in addition to the economy. The Multi Fibre Agreement (MFA) will see the end of the quota system for finished garments in the year 2004. We will have to compete on equal terms with the rest of the world to hold our share of the market in the garment industry. We will face stiff competition from India, China, Bangladesh, North Africa and Central America. It can be assumed that our garment industry will shrink by 50 per cent come 2005. This will natural follow a decline in foreign currency earnings. It is feared that employment in this sector will reduce between 40 to 50per cent.

The expenditure on education by the Government at present is 2.9 per cent of the GDP. Developing countries on an average spend around 3.2 per cent to 4 per cent on education. The deterioration of higher education and technical education is unavoidable due to insufficient funds being expended on education.

The economic development of a country in the 21st century depends on a knowledge based society. We have seen how other countries have greatly increased expenditure on education to develop a knowledge based society. If we reduce expenditure on education the country would be devoid of a knowledge based society. There is no doubt that Sri Lanka would have to face a serious economic set back in the second decade of the 21st century. With an aging population in Sri Lanka the expenditure on the health services would increase greatly. With the worsening of the economic situation Sri Lanka would not be in a position to meet the increased expenditure on health services as well. Sri Lanka is also faced with a serious power crisis with a shortfall in power generation to meet the requirements. The main cause for this crisis is due to the failure of formulating long term plans to increase power generation . You yourself would have experienced the difficulties having to spend dark hours at home. It had also affected the economy disastrously due to the disruption of industries and other ventures and drop in investments. If we are to develop the country economically we will have to solve the power crisis as an urgent and priority matter. We have already taken steps to evolve short term and long term plans to address this problem. We have taken action to put in place several programmes which should have been implemented several years ago within a short period of time. As a short term measure we have arranged to obtain fuel based power generation from the private sector. We hope to develop hydro power and coal fired power projects as a long term measure. We have also in place a programme to generate power through use of gas.

I would like to state it is our aim to free the country from being a "prisoner of nature" by ensuring a continuous power generation. Whatever difficult situations we would face we hope to take all steps necessary towards the regeneration of the economy within this year itself. If we do not evolve quick solutions to the problems we would face a disastrous situation in the coming years. The Minister of Finance will outline these measures when he presents the Budget shortly We cannot be satisfied with economic development alone. If we are to relieve ourselves with the huge debt burden, increase income levels of the people and provide employment to the youths we will have to increase the rate of economic growth to ten per cent per annum continuously for a period of ten years. It is only the private sector who can generate the required employment opportunities speedily. We need to immediately launch on a programme to provide incentives for creation of small scale and big scale ventures. Our strategy is to make the products competitive in the international markets. We will not confine this development to the Western Province alone. We hope to create five zones out of the 22 districts and set up five Economic Commissions for each to attract local and foreign investment. Within these Commissions we will develop industries, tourism, trade fisheries and agriculture in a planned manner. The necessary regulations and laws will be brought to Parliament on an urgent and priority basis. As a first step we will with haste obtain the feasibility report on the development of the Hambantota Harbour.

Steps have to be taken to accelerate the development of the rural economy . Agriculture will be developed according to a National Agricultural Policy aimed to compete with the international markets. Our next step is to make industry and tourism flow to the rural areas. Through this the rural economy will be enhanced.We have several measures planned to prevent the downfall of the Apparel industry with the removal of the quota system by year 2005. We intend to negotiate with the American Government and the European Union with the intention of removing the tariffs on manufactured garments from Sri Lanka thus making our apparel very competitive. Talks in this regard will commence immediately. Presently an inbound tourist spends approximately US$ 50 per day. This is far too low for the region. In the short term we intend to increase our off take from an inbound tourist to US$ 100/- and thereafter to further increase this figure to US$ 200 per day. These are realistic figures for the region. Many countries earn more than this. We too must aim to achieve higher returns. We also propose to increase the number of inbound tourists to one million a year. This will definitely be a catalyst to improve our economy. We will make concerted efforts to improve banking, financial services, post and telecommunication, information technology, shipping, aviation and engineering sectors by granting incentives to achieve a 10 per cent growth per year.

Budgetary allocation for education will be increased with a view to improving our human resources in achieving a knowledge based society. We will offer financial assistance to our youth for their higher and vocational education to achieve this goal. This assistance will extend to computer literacy as well as the learning of English as a language. Whilst being engaged in the economic development of the country we are committed in creating employment opportunities for our youth. The intention of the Government is to train and educate youth in skills required for employment through the proposed Youth Brigade programme. This will be in place this year. Our youth should not be satisfied with a job and monthly pay check. We must create an environment for our youth to face the future with self-respect by making decisions on their own and not be a burden on their parents. Parents are reduced to pawning their jewellery , selling their land to educate their children to ensure a safe future for them. Similarly our Government will find the means to ensure a safe and secure future four our youth. Our intention is to secure the rights of our youth. It is not our intention to have more government controls and enjoy privileges. Our priority is to spend more money on our youth. I am not prepared to divert these funds to corporations or other institutions to cover their losses.

Even at this late stage we should address whether the people should serve their government or the Government should serve their people. The answer lies in the strengthening of democracy further. Strengthening democracy is the only answer to this multi faceted problem.

We will institute the Constitutional Council to implement the 17th Amendment to the Constitution passed after extensive discussion with all political parties last year. Necessary steps have been taken to constitute three independent commissions. The necessary laws for these commissions to function will be brought before Parliament shortly. I would also like to state that the laws required to correct the shortcomings of the 17th Amendment will be brought shortly.

The freedom of the media is a sine qua non for democracy to thrive. There are several laws in place that hinder the freedom of the media . We will rescind most of these laws this year including the criminal defamation law. Similarly, the right to information, will be secured by law through an act of Parliament. Our policy is to ensure that the state media will act impartially .

At the same time Parliament must be strengthened. Powers of the Parliamentary Committees will be strengthened to ensure fiscal discipline. Parliamentary proceedings will be broadcast/telecast live through the media. A Research Unit will be instituted in Parliament. Every single M.P. irrespective of party affiliation will be encouraged to take part in the development programmes of the country.

Women constitute a majority of our country. If we are to strengthen democracy womens rights must be protected. We introduced the "Vanitha Dirimaga" in our manifesto to ensure equality between men and women., during the last election. Our Minister for Women's Affairs will forward the proposals to Parliament to give effect to this movement. I would like to remind the House of a responsibility of this government. Improvements to the precincts of the Dalada Maligawa , Sri Maha Bodhiya and Maha Meuyuna Uyana have been a duty of the rulers from the Anuradhapura era. Our kings followed this practice. I will revive this historic task. We will discuss with the Maha Sangha to create an institution to foster Theravada Buddhism which is practiced in Thailand, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. We have activated the Government machinery through our 100-day programme. The Government will go along this path to achieve the set targets.

The people have given us a clear mandate to act decisively in dealing with three burning issues facing the country. These are the war, poverty and democracy. We will accept that challenge. 18 Million people toil within our country and their sweat goes into paying my salary. They expect these problems to be solved by us to ensure them a better tomorrow. I will realise their hopes. I have spoken the truth before this House on these issues. Buddhism has taught us to address these issues without fear. Lord Buddha sent Ananda Maharathanwahanse to recite the Rathana Suthra to Vishala Nuwara when it was faced with famine, disease and inhumanity (the three fears). Ananda Maharathananwahanse in chanting "Ethena Suvichena Suwaththi Hothu ÷÷." "May Sathyayen Siyalu Sathwayan Suwapath Wewa" preached the truth. Vishala Nuwara was rid of all three fears.

I have spoken truthfully today and also explained the seriousness of the three main issues affecting us. I have also explained the path to solving them with the inspiration of the Buddha Dhamma. Never before has the country and our people faced problems of this nature since independence. I have spoken the truth in the firm belief that solutions could be found to these three problems. Let us all unite. Let us face the challenges and overcome them together.

 

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