PM meets youth parliament members: Multiple opportunities for the youth | Sunday Observer

PM meets youth parliament members: Multiple opportunities for the youth

Members of youth parliament met Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at Temple Trees to discuss their problems last week. Here are their questions and the Prime Minister’s answers.

Q: Prime Minister, in place of the present competitive education system in the country what steps will be taken by the government to elicit the innate talents of each student? 

A: It is an important question. We should weigh the pros and cons of the competitive examination system to think of what reforms could be introduced. We decided to make the 13-year education compulsory. We hope to not treat the G.C.E. (O/L) examination as a mere criteria to decide whether one has passed or failed. However, the results will certainly enable students to select their future education stream. We have provided tabs to Grades 12 & 13 students free of charge which will effect some change in the present system of education. A good training for teachers which we have already launched, is important in this respect. A special team from the youth parliament could discuss this matter with the Education Minister and his officials as the provincial ministers do at present.

Q: We are thankful to you for allocating 25% women representation in local government bodies. Will there be suitable women candidates? Are they backed by a political program from local government level to the national level?

A: We have given nominations to the most suitable candidates. A grassroots level empowerment is necessary for women to raise their voice, which we have accomplished now. Once they venture into local government politics prospects are favourable for them to reach national level politics.

Q: You have focused on the need to bring back the Sri Lanka expatriate professionals. Will you offer any special benefits for them on their return?

A: At the moment we are in the process of creating a salutary environment conducive to them having regard to their income, children’s education and housing requirements. On their return to the country they should be able to set up their own business or seek gainful employment. Even if all won’t come back we will create healthy conditions to prosper in life, for those who opt to return. They could also migrate for employment during any part of the year. Their knowledge, experience and training are of vital importance to Sri Lanka. I believe once new business opportunities are created most Sri Lankan expatriates would not hesitate to grab the opportunity.

Q: Remittances by our housemaids in the Middle Eastern countries form a substantial part of our foreign exchange earnings. Will the government take steps to ensure their fundamental right to vote at elections?

A: This is a problem faced by other countries in the region such as India, Nepal and Philippines as well. Consensus among these countries on this issue is not possible since they hold the view that they should have the right to manage the polling stations. Only a few countries have permitted the expatriate workers to cast their vote in their respective countries. It is not, in fact feasible in the Middle East where there is a larger number of expatriate workers. However, a parliamentary committee has been set up in this connection. When I discussed this matter with leaders of a number of countries, they said problems might arise when an election of another country is held in their native soil. There are two sides to the issue and your intervention is welcome in this regard.

Q: The self-reliance project has enabled the youth to stand upright. Without limiting to loan facilities alone, what steps will be taken to carry forward this project?

A: It is true that most business enterprises funded from bank loans flourish but at times the banks are reluctant to approve loans even for viable enterprises due to fear that it will collapse. I would like you to find a solution to this problem which we could discuss later. Some of the proposals by the youth need to be re-examined and reconstituted, however much they are productive. Anyway we could move forward progressively.

Q:What steps will be taken to neutralize the preference for white collar jobs and guarantee social recognition to these local industries?

A: This we discuss very often and the youth parliament too could do so and convey their views to us. Despite many employment opportunities, the youths do not possess the required qualifications. The job opportunities in the construction sector are very attractive and one can earn a good income.

There are occasions where people wear tie and coat even in Japan or Europe. It all depends on the nature of the job you do. We are going to ensure that the form of dress is no bar to the choice of your job.

Q: We, as youth leaders would like to work further with you in this friendly atmosphere. Will you provide us an opportunity to work closer with you? Will the concept of ‘leisure parks’ for which funds were allocated by the budget be continued further?

A: We could discuss how to enlist their support. The concept of leisure parks will be carried on after the forthcoming local government election. Some people may support it, while others will oppose. Lack of lands for this purpose in some areas is another shortcoming we have come across.

Q: Various anti-drug campaigns have been launched through the National Youth Services Council. There are occasions where conflicts with the National Drugs Act surface. How do you rectify this?

A: Today the biggest problem which confronts the youth is narcotics. Minister Sagala Ratnayaka will answer your question.

(Minister Sagala Ratnayaka): New laws are needed to tackle this problem. Already three rounds of discussions have been held. In the next round of talks a draft bill will be produced to proceed with and also work closely with Ministry of Health and Ministry of Law & Order. We have already begun rounding up kingpins of the industry. We have set up a separate Anti-organised Crime and Narcotics Prevention division in the police department. There is a direct link between the underworld and narcotics industry. Most of the masterminds have been apprehended while others are absconding.

Our attention has been focussed on the narcotics distribution net work and its use. Addicts though imprisoned will resort to their old practice after release from prison. Therefore, we admit there are some loopholes in our strategy. Your views on minimising the youth addiction to drugs are always welcome.

(Prime Minister): Our first priority is the uprooting of narcotics distribution network to minimise the increasing number of addicts. A viable anti-narcotics campaign could be launched under the leadership of the youth parliament by enlisting the support of the youth themselves. The support of the social and religious organisations too could be harnessed. This awareness campaign could also be launched under the patronage of Ministers Sagala Ratnayaka and Akila Viraj Kariyawasam.

Q: Except for cricket, other sports have not acquired international status and we have so far won only two Olympic medals. What is your government’s stand on this issue?

A: Sportsmen and sportswomen are being trained by the Sports Ministry. It will take some years to complete training. The training for sportsmen and sportswomen given during my tenure as Education Minister produced top sports personalities such as Susanthika Jayasinghe, Arjuna Ranatunga and so on. Others acquired fame after I left the Education Ministry. We have started our programs targetting the next 10 years. When the late Minister Gamini Dissanayake took over the Cricket Board the school cricket began its long journey and the country could enjoy its success post 1996.

Q: Non-communicable diseases are on the increase among our youth today. What action has been taken for prevention of such diseases and revival of indigenous medicine and raising health standards of the rural youth?

A: Health Ministry has launched a number of projects in this regard. Programs are being implemented through the provincial ministries of health as well. We would provide the opportunity for a youth parliament committee to discuss the issue with the Health Ministry officials and proceed with it. The committee could identify the shortcomings, achievements and areas so far not covered.

Q: Under the new electoral system many have got the opportunity to contest. Have you focussed attention to organize awareness programs to integrate these neophytes to national politics?

A: Yes, we are considering this at the moment. The preliminary training programs will be conducted through the Local Government Ministry. The J.R. Jayewardene Centre and the universities too could be involved in training programs; perhaps foreign organisation may also elect them to help us. That they should be trained is a must.

Q: Is there a possibility of formulating a national youth policy for Sri Lanka?

A: The Youth Parliament could prepare the necessary draft for compliance by us.

Q: We have discussed this matter earlier too. We hope to prepare the draft and submit it to you in due course.

A: Very good. We could establish a dialogue between the two parliaments and explore ways and means of giving effect to the decisions.

Q: There are no laws to control the social media today. We request you to draft legislation to this effect.

A: This issue is receiving our attention. Unlike newspapers and television, the social media transcends national boundaries. Even England and European countries too have faced this problem. U.S. President Donald Trump had expressed his views on this.

Leading international companies are controlling the social media and they exert tremendous influence to carry on their business without let or hindrance.

The Government and local media institutions in England exert influence on the social media effectively to have control over it. This is as important as the desired legislation. We need to be mindful that the social media is responsible for the birth of certain organisations.

Q: European countries provide educational loans for students so that they could pay them back once they are employed. Cannot Sri Lanka introduce a similar scheme?

A: We are following a similar system in regard to science subjects and hope to extend it to the engineering field and to other areas in due course.

We discussed how to work together on a large number of issues with the stakeholders. I invited you to listen to your views and utilise then to launch new programs. On receipt of the report on narcotics, health, local training, education, and women representation which we had discussed, we may certainly get the opportunity to move in the right direction. Your knowledge will help us in large measure.

Translated by Michael Kittampahuwa