Editorial: A productive first 100 days | Sunday Observer

Editorial: A productive first 100 days

Gotabaya Rajapaksa achieved a magnificent victory at the Presidential Election held on November 16, 2019 and was sworn in on November 18, which also happens to be the birthday of former President and present Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. It is only the second time in living memory that two brothers are simultaneously holding these two posts in the global political arena.

On February 25, the administration of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will pass the important milestone of 100 days. The term ‘100 days’ has been misused especially during the tenure of the Good Governance administration, which announced a so-called 100 Days program replete with a host of promises. However, not much was achieved in the first 100 days and indeed, during the rest of that administration. This was one of the main reasons why the people decided to reject that administration at the Presidential hustings.

In the latter stages of that regime, doubts were expressed whether there was any Governance at all, leave alone Good Governance. With the then President and the Prime Minister at loggerheads over a variety of critical issues facing the nation, the people suffered the ill effects of not having a proper leadership or a sense of direction. Matters came to a head with the Easter Sunday bombings, which exposed glaring lapses in the intelligence and national security apparatus, not to mention a leadership vacuum. This was another major factor that hastened the demise of that administration. Hence, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s emphasis on revamping national security and intelligence mechanisms.

While President Gotabaya Rajapaksa avoided any talk of a 100 day program, his Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour manifesto and Policy Document did contain a number of viable proposals and programs that were on a priority list for swift implementation. Chief among them was the reorganisation of national security and intelligence networks, which had run into disarray during the previous administration. He fulfilled this task within weeks of coming to power, starting with the appointment of military veteran Kamal Gunaratne as Defence Secretary.

A total reset of foreign relations was next in line. Sri Lanka had veered too far towards the West during the previous Government, which had taken the extreme step of co-sponsoring a UN Human Rights Council resolution inimical to the interests of Sri Lanka. The President has already set in motion a process to withdraw from this resolution, but even more importantly, he has sought to strictly adhere to the principles of Non-Alignment in external affairs. He has made it clear that he does not want to entangle Sri Lanka in the geopolitical conflicts of other countries.

Development took a hit during the four and a half years of the Good Governance Government. The Central Expressway project, which it started with much fanfare, was stalled even before reaching midway status. Ditto for all other development projects, though they had obtained huge loans that apparently were not used for any purpose. The President has now flagged off a huge road construction drive, with strict instructions to expedite the Central and Ruwanpura Expressways along with around 100,000 Km of rural roads. He also started a program to build 14,000 houses islandwide. There will be a drive to uplift the SME sector as is the entire economy.

The President has rightly identified health and education as priority sectors. He visited the National Hospital to gain a firsthand understanding of any shortcomings faced by the staff and patients and has since directed a total revamp of the health sector. The fact that these measures had an impact was borne out by Sri Lanka’s excellent readiness for the coronavirus outbreak. Our health authorities could not only identify the first COVID-19 patient quickly but also managed to cure her completely, which even advanced countries such as France failed to do.

No other infected person has so far been found, though President Gotabaya Rajapaksa gave instructions to fully equip 12 hospitals islandwide to deal with any potential COVID-19 patients. The President was also instrumental in bringing down 33 Sri Lankan students from Wuhan, the epicentre of the COVID-19 crisis, by sending a special SriLankan Airlines plane. In fact, due to his good rapport with the Chinese leadership, Sri Lanka became only the fourth country after USA, UK/EU and Japan) to evacuate its citizens from Wuhan.

The President has focused heavily on education, stressing several times that all university courses must be consonant with the job market requirements. He has instructed that two institutes that currently offer surveying and forestry courses be upgraded to university level to increase the State university intake, along with designing a comprehensive program to find alternative study courses or employment opportunities for the 150,000 students who cannot enter State universities even after passing the GCE A/L examination. There has also been a massive response to his 100,000 jobs program for youth. He has begun a program to develop all schools throughout the island.

However, political analysts say the President and the Government have been frustrated in their attempts to carry forward this development-oriented agenda due to certain restrictions placed by the 19th Amendment and some other pieces of legislation. Hence the need for the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration to secure a two-thirds majority at the forthcoming General Election in order to amend such laws. In another refreshing change, he has pledged that educated, honest individuals will get prominence for the elections nominations process. That will be indeed be a transformative moment in local politics under the President’s watch.