The speech made by President Maithripala Sirisena at the inauguration of the new session of the Parliament on May 8, 2018

The speech made by President Maithripala Sirisena at the inauguration of the new session of the Parliament on May 8, 2018

Honourable Speaker, Honourable Members of parliament,

As the President and Head of the Government of the people of Sri Lanka, I greet all of you at the opening of the Second Session of the 8th Parliament of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.

You are aware that in accordance of the powers entrusted to me under the Clause 70 of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka I have issued the Extraordinary Gazette Notification on April 12, 2018 proroguing the First Session of the 8th Parliament. I wish to inform that the Second Session of the 8th Parliament commences today in accordance with the Clause 70 and Clauses 32 and 33 of the Constitution. This is in fact closing of one session and commencing another session of the Parliament in accordance with the Parliamentary traditions of our country.

I wish to make this Statement as an extension of the Statement presented by me at the commencement of the First Session of the 8th Parliament.

I believe that you will, despite some criticism, acknowledge that the task of restoring the Sri Lankan Society as a democratic, humane, and accountable society has been completed successfully during the last three and a half years, which was the main request of the people of this country who gave the verdict to this government.

I gratefully recall the cooperation extended to me by the 7th Parliament and the 8th Parliament since I was elected by the people of this country as President on January 8, 2015 for fulfilling the above mentioned democratic aspirations of the people.

I wish to make a special mention about few truly people-oriented Acts that were passed by the 7th Parliemant, under the tenure of government I formed in January, 2015.

  • The amended Act to establish a National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol in March 2015
  • National Drugs Act adapted in March 2015, and
  • 19th Amendment to the Constitution adapted in May 2015.

The adaption of these Acts has been very significant in the history of Sri Lanka Parliament. I wish to mention two of the important features about these enactments.

It is of high significance that all the political parties represented in Parliament have come to a consensus in view of the benefits to the country and the people. When you consider the party strengths of the 7th Parliament, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) had 142 seats and the United National Party (UNP) headed by Prime Minister had 42 seats. However, displaying an unusual cooperation, all the political parties proved that they could shed their political differences and work in cooperation in issues of national importance. This has proven that the solutions to the national level issues remain unsolved since independence and accumulated over the years, lie in the path of dialogue and consensus.

Hence,

  1. The SenakaBibile Drugs Policy, which was unimplemented for three decades is a reality today,
  2. The 80% graphic warnings on the cigarette packets has been implemented,
  3. If any single political issue was met with so much opposition in the recent history of Sri Lanka, it was the system of Executive Presidency. However, over this period nobody could curtail the excessive powers of Executive presidency. On the contrary, the powers were further enhanced in an authoritative manner. The true potential of consensual politics is that, on May 15, 2015 the maximum power reduction of Executive Presidency, without going in for a national referendum as ruled by the Supreme Court, was achieved.

I state with gratitude, that the most members of the 8th Parliament that was elected in the Parliamentary elections in August 2015, have worked to further strengthen the political change that began on January 8, 2015. Most of the bills adapted by you during that period are related to economic management of the country. You have adapted 18 bills related to economy, in addition to the two appropriation bills. They were adapted with the desire of effectively managing the Rs. 10.3 trillion debt burden. Furthermore, several bills have been introduced to enhance the revenue of the country. The Right to Information act, which was passed in August 2016 is the strongest such act to empower the citizens of any country in Asia.

In November 2017, the Local Government Elections (Amendment) Act was passed to strengthen the franchise of the people.

In October 2017, Sustainable Development Act was passed to attain the objective of sustainable development targets.

It is also needs to mention the establishment of the Office of Disappeared Persons and the Witness Protection Act to ensure transitional justice and co-existence.

Hon. Speaker,

I believe that it is necessary to draw your attention on some of the victories achieved for the people by the government during this period.

We were able to regain GSP Plus concession which was lost to our country since 2010. Over 6,600 products get duty-free access to the EU market, increasing our total income.  Apparel and exporting fish to the EU are among the prominent sectors benefited from this concession.

Megapolis and port development commenced again. The independence of the judiciary was ensured. Law and order in the country was enforced without any interference. The power of the law of the country is established. There is no room for illegal detention.

With regard to law and order, we were able to reduce grave crimes by 30% from 2014 to 2018.

Sri Lanka Ports Authority made profits of 13,200 million rupees in 2017, compared with the profit of 1,100 million rupees in 2016, this is over 100% growth. We have accomplished a lot in the field of ports development.

Sri Lanka’s exports in 2017 hit an all-time high of $ 15.1billion, for the time recent history.

With the aim of promoting new technology to the school system and the state sector, many projects are being implemented.

We have fulfilled numerous important tasks for the benefit of the foreign employment sector as well as for the expatriate workers.

The ‘Nearest school is the best school’ project, the  ‘Suraksha’ free health insurance scheme was introduced for the benefit of the school children, Educational reforms, the programme to provide continuous and compulsory school education to all children from Grade 1 to Grade 13, reforms to National Education Institution, and the promotion of Tri-Lingual education are some examples of programmes in the field of education.The ‘DaruwanSurakimu’ (Let’s Protect Our Children) National Programme, the human resource and infrastructure development at Pre-School and Day Care-centres, reduction of the incidence of low birth weight and increase the standard of the nutritional status of the mothers, as well as providing of nutritional meals to children living in selected areas with the aim of reducing malnutrition in rural areas.

The National Action Plan to address Sexual and Gender-based Violence has been successfully launched. A quarter of all projects implemented to develop the rural economy aretargeting targeted to bring benefit to women.

The national housing development programme of our government, implemented by the National Housing Development Authority has shown tremendous progress. Under this programme, nearly 300,000 people have been benefited from 2015 to present. Our Government’s housing programme has been successful for the families heavily affected by financial difficulties.

In order to achieve sustainable development goals of 2030, the period 2015-2017 has focused on four categories to ensure their wellbeing and rights. The groups were, persons with special needs are 9% of the population, people over 60 years of age (12.5%), single parent families (12% of the population), and Samurdhi beneficiaries 25% of population.

Under the ‘Surya BalaSangramaya’ programme ( Solar energy programme), 150 MW have been added  to the national grid. We have presented a mixed – power generation plan to meet the country’s long-term power generation requirements. Also, ending the era where children used to study under the dim light of a kerosene lamp, electricity supply was provided to 275,000 underprivileged families , which was any government had paid no attention to this issue.

It is significant that the development of renewable energy has been a main priority. Like many other countries in the region, we too have had to face hard weather and climate conditions. As a result of the drought prevailed in the country during the past few years, the agricultural output has declined significantly. As the previous governments, we too had to import rice from foreign countries. The production of agricultural commodities and the income derived from agricultural activities have declined by 30% due to the annual rainfall decline. It also had a huge impact on hydro-power generating.

Numerous programmes have been implemented to encourage the farmers to implement toxin-free farming methods.

 

We have increased the number of Lanka Sathosa outlets from 300 to 400, with the aim of providing high quality food at reasonable rates to consumers. Moreover, a new version of consumer societies has been introduced across the country to ensure the rights of the consumers.

We have made a historic achievement by strengthening the free health service. We have enacted the National Medicine Regulatory Authority Act amidst various hurdles and obstacles, which was the aspiration of people over the past 50 years. As a result of the passing of this Act , the prices of forty eight (48) essential pharmaceutical drugs were reduced. The Government lifted the limit for medical treatment expenses for cancer patients.

For the first time, we introduced a system for the benefit of heart patients where all the heart surgery costs will be borne by the government. Further we started to provide high quality stents for heart patients free of charge.

At present, the World Health Organization appreciates highly us for the great service delivered by our free health service including services rendered by our doctors and nurses.We can be pleased over the National Policy on Alcohol which our government approved.

We have paid special attention to the chronic kidney disease of unknown aetiology and launched a broad national programme to prevent the disease as well as to treat the affected.

At present, steps have been taken to build a Water Research Centre in the premises of the University of Peradeniya at a cost of Rs.3,600 million, to identify the root causes of the kidney disease.

Since 2017, we have given the opportunity to all students in the vocational and technical education field to study all the courses free of charge.

We have given the priority to develop the vocational and technical education and to build a human resource to meet the challenges of an innovation economy.

 

Allowance to Samurdhi beneficiaries has been doubled in order to help needy people. Gramashakthi People’s Movement will cover 2000 villagers in this year.

Allowance to elderly people has been increased, while the nutrition pack for pregnant mothers, worth 500 previously, has been increased to Rs. 2,000.

Basic salary of government servants has increased by Rs. 10,000 after a decade. Salaries and allowances for Judiciary service have been increased on a special basis. Mahapola Scholarship has been increased by Rs. 2,500 to Rs. 5,000. Allowance for kidney patients has increased from Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 5,000.

Today, Katunayake International Airport has the ability to facilitate world’s largest airplanes due to the construction of a runway which was completed within a short period of time.

Tourism has become the 3rd largest foreign exchange earning sector in the country, as it brings in 15% of all foreign exchange.

The project ‘SathviruSanhinda’ housing assistance scheme for war-heroes was launched in 2017 and, it has achieved 90% progress as of now.

Strategic Defence Communication network Project started in 2015 has shown commendable progress.

A special salary and allowance scheme has started to provide allowances for the disabled soldiers of the Tri-forces and widows of fallen soldiers.

Paying of pension arrears has been systemized.

Allowance to Samurdhi beneficiaries has been doubled in order to help needy people. GramaShakthi People’s Movement will cover 2000 villagers by this year.

Allowance to elderly people has been increased, while the nutrition pack for pregnant mothers, worth 500 previously, has been increased to Rs. 2,000.

Basic salary of government servants has increased by Rs. 10,000 after a decade. Salaries and allowances in the Judiciary service have been increased on a special basis.

Mahapola Scholarship has been increased by Rs. 2,500 to Rs. 5,000. Allowance for kidney patients has increased from Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 5,000.

Today, Katunayake International Airport has the ability to facilitate world’s largest airplanes due to the construction of a runway which was completed within a short period of time.

Tourism has become the 3rd largest foreign exchange earning sector in the country, as it brings in 15% of all foreign exchange.

The project ‘SathviruSanhinda’ housing assistance scheme for war-heroes was launched in 2017, and it has achieved 90% progress as of now.

Strategic Defence Communication network Project started in 2015 has shown commendable progress.

A special salary and allowance scheme has commenced to provide lifelong benefits and allowances to the disabled soldiers of the Tri-forces and widows of fallen soldiers.  Paying of pension arrears has been also been systemized.

During the period 2015 to 2018, a land area of 40,475 acres has been released from the use of the Tri-forces. Thus, 85% of all the land occupied by the military during the war period has now been released in the North and East provinces.

We have been able to achieve 90% progress in the programme to endow ownership of one million land plots to people.

Moragahakanda-Kalugange project, that was launched and implemented among many obstacles, has shown commendable progress. Since 2015, an accelerated construction programme was introduced and suitable officers were appointed to complete this mammoth project, that is six times as large as the Parakramasamudraya. The water of the Moragahakanda was released to the farmlands, and the Kaluganga waters will soon be released too.

As a measure to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change and to strengthen national agro-economy by bring solace to the people suffering from drought, an initiative was launched to improve the irrigation systemsinRajarata and other areas. As such, 800 small tanks in the North Central Province, 1400 small tanks in the Northern Province, and 350 small tanks in the Uva Province will be restored. I must mention here that this is the first time that a government in power since Independence has undertaken to restore more than 2500 tanks simultaneously.

Further, the construction of North Western Canal (WayamabEla), and North Central Canal (UthurumedaEla), Minipe canal, have been started. They will certainly bring benefits to the people of Sri Lanka for generations.

We have shown serious commitment towards the environment and brought strict laws to control polythene and plastics. In recognition of our dedication to the environment, Sri Lanka has been chosen to lead the mangrove protection initiative of the Commonwealth of Nations.

The progress achieved by our programmes, Environmental Protection, Anti-Narcotics, “Save our Children” National Programme, Sustainable Schools, Chronic Kidney Disease Prevention, have achieved over 90% progress. We have prioritised managing waste, controlling environmental pollution, increasing environmental literacy, and protection of the forest cover. The waste management system, though received with some criticism, is now a well-functioning system.

Honourable Speaker,

I hitherto stated the political, economic, socio-cultural developments the present government obtained during the first session of the 8th Parliament under your leadership, which brought about some important legislative developments and developmental achievements.

It is no doubt that these achievements helped builddemocratic and humanitarian governance which is responsive to citizens and ascertained a path to fulfil the fundamental needs of the people. However, we have not yet overcome all the challengesconfronting us at present.

It is important to pay serious attention to those challenges when choosing the new path of the government,without passing burden of the ten-trillion-debt to the people. Further, the new path of the government should help the poor overcome poverty,and achieveefficiency in public service while delivering a people friendly service. This needs adopting new policies, implementing strategies and making crucial management decisions.

We must commit ourselves to the fast development that the people hope for, including the educated youth. This can never be postponed to the future. We must also ensure that Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Malay, Burgher, and the indigenousVadda communities can accomplish their reasonable aspirations, together as Sri Lankans.

For the past economic growth, achieving an efficient cooperation between public and private sector, increasing productivity and competition, optimizing resources to increase direct foreign investment, consolidating the country’s fiscal condition are critical.

Accomplishing the above mentioned goals and targets amount the fulfillment of our main goal; to emerge as an unconquerable nation in any aspect of development.

The second target is to achieve national and religious reconciliation to ensure political stability of the country. The third target is to build efficient state governance free of corruption and fraud. My prime goal is to achieve these objectives within my tenure.

The core of the Throne Speech I delivered before you on 1st of September 2015 was this. At that time, we stated that you are the pioneers of a transformative period which none of the previous parliamentary representatives had faced. The history of the world has showed us that a transformative era has always being a hard and unpopular period by nature.

Honourable speaker,

The whole country today wants to achieve the freedom of prosperity. Standing against bribery, corruption and waste is the self defence of a nation, for its future.

It should be considered that the new session starting today provides an opportunity to achieve those noble goals.

In Sri Lanka, three hundred and thirty one thousand babies are born every year. The annual death rate is one hundred and thirty one thousand per year. As such, two hundred thousand people are added to our population annually. The new generation of our country have their goals; the intellectuals too. The country too has its goals and targets. I left the previous regime and formed this government with the blessings of the people to ensure that those noble targets and goals are achieved for the betterment of our motherland.

It must be noted that the country is not in a situation where it is appropriate for different parties and groups to test their political power, but in a situation where the challenges faced by the nation should be overcome with a collective effort.

In order to make this a reality, the power struggle among the parties in the National Government as well as the power struggle between the government and the opposition must be contained. It is the people who are aggravated by all forms of conflicts over power.

Honourable Speaker,

I identify fifteen broad criteria that will make the foundation of a truly people-oriented program to fulfil their expectations:

  1. Ensure economic prosperity of the people,
  2. Eradicate poverty,
  3. Generation of new employment opportunities for the youth,
  4. Satisfy the public servants,
  5. Ensure the confidence and motivation of the police and the Tri-forces,
  6. Further strengthen rule of law, democracy, human rights, and freedom of speech in the society,
  7. Recognition of equal rights based aspirations of the Tamil people,
  8. Ensure the wellbeing and socio-cultural needs of the Muslim community,
  9. Empower the upcountry Tamil community socially and economically,
  10. Further strengthen the indigenous identity by reinforcing the cultural heritage of the Sinhala people,
  11. Involving directly to further empower women,
  12. Being sensitive to the requirements of people with special needs,
  13. Ensure sustainable development that will protect the environment and endow resources of the nation to the future,
  14. Sustainable stewardship towards all religions to protect religious faith and national values with the Buddhist establishment,
  15. Establishing a sustainable development vision by bringing together all ethnic and religious groups and political parties by transcending the struggle for political power.

When operating under those broad criteria it is imperative that we adopt both macro as well micro development strategies while bringing about structural reforms as required.

As such, you, as people’s representatives, are the implementers, supervisors, as well as advisors of this agenda collectively. The government will duly introduce a mechanism to monitor the progress based on development outcomes.

Honourable speaker,

There are some criticisms and accusations levelled against this government by various parties. We humbly take them into consideration, while being self-critical. We have already made sure that the law enforcement agencies of the government are independent. However, there are concerns as to why some large scale fraudsters have not being able to be brought to justice. Our prime motive is to eradicate corruption completely and to enforce law against perpetrators.

Another allegation against us has been about the coming together of the two main parties to form the national government. Yet, given the challenges the nation is facing right now, all parties should come together as one. The nation is burdened with a huge debt. And, we have to clean the remnants of a period that made wasteful expenditure. All should work together as one considering that this is the last opportunity for Sri Lanka to emerge as an unconquerable nation.

I also consider that it is an important political responsibility that we create an environment, in which the winner as well as the loser can co-exist with dignity without hatred and large scale political victimization we have been used to experience in times of regime changes in this country.

Our utmost expectation should be to serve the nation according to our conscience and I urge that we commit towards our future.

There were many challenges when this government was formed. First among them was to restore democracy and rule of law. Second was to ensure trust and promote peace among the communities. Third was to build the economy of the country tied to a huge debt. Fourth was to win the International arena which was lost. Whichever the criticisms may be, the government has been able to obtain a successful outcome within the past three years. However, there are lot of work to be done within all these areas.

Honourable Speaker,

Today, it is essential that we lead the country towards entrepreneurial management and adopt policies attractive to local and foreign entrepreneurs in order to build as strong and modern Sri Lanka.

Furthermore, steps should be taken to beat the so-called ‘economy of friends’ and to build a ‘society and people-friendly economy’. An economy is needed where everyone can prosper.

It is essential to mention here about the people of agriculture sector in the country. Owing to unfavourable weather during the last three years, the contribution of the agriculture sector to the Gross Domestic Product has decreased. The destructively-heavy rains and long term drought is a result of the climatic changes that affect globally. Rupees Thirty eight thousand million has been invested to provide rations including food to the people in areas affected from drought.

We must make sure that people can engage in agriculture unhindered by bad weather. As a nation, we have not yet been able to achieve satisfactory progress in modernising our agriculture sector with new technology. The agricultural production, post-harvest processing and distribution systems need to be be modernized.

Similarly, as a Middle Income Country, it is the time for us to develop an export-oriented industry, based on new technology.

Honourable Speaker,

The foundation of a stable country is national reconciliation. It is important to introduce a structure for taking political decisions based on equality for achieving meaningful reconciliation. I believe, it is dire need of the day to strengthen the existing provincial council system in order to achieve these objectives. Whatever the opposition, it is essential to enter into a political programme with the consensus and agreement of the people to find a permanent solution to the issue of unrest of the people in the North and East. Although we defeated the terrorists physically, we have not succeeded in defeating their ideology completely. During the last three years, I have made efforts to defeat the separatist’s ideologies with the cooperation of the international community.

We have to acknowledge that post-conflict management is a challenging task. At the time we assumed duty as the government, there was a delay of seven years to find solutions to these challenges, and the task of facing the challenges had become further difficult. There is a lot to be done to erase the war mentality instilled in the society for three long decades and establish harmony. It is extremely difficult for the government to do this alone. It is essential for all sections of the society to get involved. Hence, I appeal to everybody to work in harmony to attain this objective.

It is important to draw our attention to the national security, which includes protection of territorial integrity, human security and cyber security. While territorial security includes security of maritime areas, in human security, we have to consider food and water resource security.

As Sri Lanka is geographically located in a central location in the Indian Ocean, it is of strategic importance to us. We also have to remember that this has placed us in a position to think of futuristically about possible security threats. Hence, I emphasize the importance of maintaining a middle path foreign policy with friendship with all nations. This friendly middle path policy has paid dividends. The United Nations and all the countries in the world work with us as friends and cooperate with us more than ever before.

Honourable Speaker,

The era of change to which I gave leadership in 2015, has not been completed. Then, it was a novel experience for Sri Lanka. Certain incidents that took place in the past three years have proven that we have been unable to develop the socio-political maturity required to move forward with a national government system.The consensual and dialogue democracy is the governing structure of most of the democratic countries in the world today, but it is still an alien concept for us.

In the current political scenario, the opposition politics must take a different path and the sister parties in the national government must also a new course.The national unity government consists of various different political parties having different ideologies. If those political parties must function according with the path shown by the Buddha, giving priority for harmony and consensus as the Vajji, at the time of the Buddha, we should also truthfully follow the steps taken by Vajji. As the President during the past three years, I conducted was according to those principles. I strongly believe it will make us a victorious people and a nation.

Honourable Speaker,

In conclusion, I emphasized that, we, as a government, should fulfil our responsibilities under a strong political thought, which gives prominence to our heritage, our great culture and our unique identities, in the journey of rising as a nation while achieving economic prosperity.I believe that moving forward, we must work with a vision that is representative of our heritage and the needs of the common people. I wish success for the country and the people.

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