Self-reliance, a top priority
Addressing a press conference, Economic Development Minister Basil
Rajapaksa said that Sri Lanka has experienced rapid economic development
during the past few years. Sri Lanka’s paced progress is significant
when compared to the developed countries plagued with economic problems.
The original economic prognosis of the International Monetary Fund
took a different turn when most countries failed to achieve their set
development targets. Significantly in this context, Sri Lanka and only
one other Asian country have become exceptions when their economies
continued to be on a rapid pace of progress.
Economic Development Ministry Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundera drew a
comprehensive picture of economic success registered by the Ministry
last year and its future blueprint formulated on the basis of
discussions held with President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
President Rajapaksa has provided the budgetary funds to ensure the
completion of all development priorities.
“Our prime target is to herald a new economic era through meticulous
planning and completing all development projects. After Independence,
for the first time, we have brought down the poverty level to its
minimum while enjoying appreciable results in the field of investment.
“We have also succeeded in courting foreign investment worth over one
billion US dollars. Tourism has again become an integral part of the
country’s economy. There is also a considerable influx of foreign
tourists to our botanical and zoological gardens and the Pinnawala
Elephant Orphanage after they were vastly refurbished and extra
Vegetable prices have come down
Vegetable cultivation under Divi Neguma
Here are some of the questions posed by the media to Minister
Media: Despite the efforts to paint an attractive picture of the
economy, supported by statistics, the actual situation is quite
different. Prices have escalated on a daily basis. The people badly feel
the brunt of inflation.
Minister: Despite your assertion, one could clearly see the
difference when one compares this year’s prices with last year’s.
Despite a coconut fetching 80 rupees, on the whole, prices have largely
dropped. The price of rice too has dropped along with a number of
During the recent Christmas festivities, prices of commodities posed
no problem to the people. They were within their reach. There is a daily
saving of Rs. 200-Rs. 300 to a family of four members.
For all these we should be thankful to our farmer community.
Vegetable prices have greatly dropped in view of the launch of ‘Divi
This has helped boost the vegetable cultivation too. Today we are
prepared to export chicken. Earlier we imported rice, but our harvest
was so bountiful that our President had exported 7,500 tonnes of rice to
famine-stricken Somalia. Today we have a rice surplus.
Media: Most people claim that despite the economic success, they have
not been able to enjoy its dividends.
Minister: There could be many economic indices. There could also be
palpable differences. We should clearly understand the current economic
phenomenon. There is a considerable improvement in the income levels of
farmers, fishermen and the self-employed whose interests the Government
has always safeguarded. The provision of public utilities such as
electricity and water has ameliorated. Telephone and banking facilities,
the cadre of doctors and nurses and the number of university admissions
have been greatly expanded. Our principal aim is to ensure speedy
economic development which will certainly improve the quality of life.
Media: The tourist industry is of course, a success story. Yet what
benefit does it bring to the people?
Minister: One newspaper reported that tourists travelled in a
buggy-cart, when another highlighted that they were eating rotti! Both
the buggy-cart and rotti form a source of income to the people. The
demand for handicraft, curios, Ayurvedic treatment, textiles, lace, food
varieties and artistic creations has tremendously increased.
The income from these sources is enjoyed by the ordinary people; they
are the direct recipients.
Peace and freedom
Media: Terrorism is now over. Yet, the people have not received any
Minister: With the elimination of terrorism, there is security of
life, peace of mind and freedom to move about and for the people to
engage in their daily tasks.
It is because terrorism has been annihilated that there is a rapid
influx of tourists and investors. Please keep in mind that former
war-ravaged countries such as Germany and Japan took years for post-war
reconstruction. However, within a mere two years since the elimination
of terror, our economy has soared to dizzy heights.
Media: The business community as well as the people have to bear the
brunt of taxes.
Minister: The Government has effectively changed the basic tax
structure of the country. Our tax ratio is still at a very low level
compared to countries where it is on the high side.
Media: Certain regulations have become a stumbling block to
Minister: Yes, Certain impalatable and obsolete regulations have
posed difficulties to both the foreigners and the countrymen. In seeking
approval for housing loans, the average man always encounters a lot of
problems. We should ease such situations and introduce new systems to
However, it is my view that laws relating to the protection of the
environment should not be relaxed or changed.
Media: the Tamil National Alliance demands Police powers. The TNA is
not the sole representative of the Tamil community. The Government has
its majority in Parliament. Is there any shift in the Government’s stand
on the political situation? Or is there an alternative move?
Minister: Our position is well explained in the Mahinda Chinthana.
The President had time and again stated his clear stand as Head of
State, Head of the SLFP and Head of the UPFA on this issue.
The President and all of us hold the view that this issue has to be
studied by a Select Committee appointed by the Parliament. Therefore, we
need the support of all political parties to make this a reality.
I should also express my personal views on the question of devolution
I have an understanding of the aspirations and feelings of the Tamil
people in the North and the East since I had close contact and
first-hand experience with those people.
As I was involved in such vital matters as their relocation, dispatch
of medicine, food and other requirements and when they were under the
jackboot of LTTE terrorists as helpless victims.
The Northern people demand land for the landless and not “land
powers”. They also do not ask for police powers. What they really need
is security by the police to live a free life without being terrorised
and also protection against extortion.
My view is that the Government could provide the security for them.
Those political parties and certain individuals demand other things.
I feel that we should provide police security to those who are in
need of it and also provide land to the needy landless. That is my view.
Media: Has not the extortion game between two factions in Kelaniya
Minister: This is something important in every field and not to the
business sector alone. Extortion is something universal and it has
existed throughout. It has its fluctuations as well.
There is the Yakusa gang in Japan. Mafia godfathers are there in New
York and Italy. They all come and go. The media too has a greater
responsibility in this matter. If you allege that rivalry between the
two factions let the cat out of the bag, I would say that the Kappan
business came to an end because there were two factions.
Media: What are your future economic policies?
Minister: Our basic aim is to make every individual and family
self-reliant- immune to starvation. Every family should have a decent
house of its own provided with water and electricity and a nutritious
meal for its members. Our economic policy is based on that premise. Our
target is the creation of a developed Sri Lanka with pride of place
being given to the individual, family and village.