PM ACCELERATES DEVELOPMENT DRIVE AS UNITY GOVERNMENT COMPLETES THREE YEARS IN OFFICE | Sunday Observer

PM ACCELERATES DEVELOPMENT DRIVE AS UNITY GOVERNMENT COMPLETES THREE YEARS IN OFFICE

In a surprising turn of events, what eclipsed the initial stage of the Local Government elections 2018 was the nomination blunders by the Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) backing former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

One should not forget that the SLPP’s chairman is none less than Prof G.L. Peiris, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Colombo and the former Minister of External Affairs. Its General Secretary is Sagara Kariyawasam, a lawyer by profession and a man who has held senior positions in the state sector.

In addition to them, the party is guided by Mahinda Rajapaksa, the former Executive President of Sri Lanka who was elected twice by the public, within a period of 10 years.

He is assisted by Basil Rajapaksa, the former Economic Development Minister and the key strategist of past election campaigns of the UPFA.

Despite such a star-studded team, 11 nomination papers presented by the SLPP were rejected during the nomination period, causing embarrassment to the Rajapaksa group even before the official campaigning started.

One of them is the Maharagama Local Government body where the SLPP had a strong support base. The nomination paper for Maharagama was rejected as a female candidate was listed as a male candidate. Due to this confusion, the entire nomination list of the party was rejected by the Elections authorities.

It was learnt that the female candidate who was listed as a male candidate represented the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna and the Joint Opposition leaders showed little interest in resolving the confusion.

“They believed that only the candidate under question would be rejected and it would pave the way for another candidate – probably a person whom they preferred more. So, they showed little interest in resolving the issue and as a result, the entire nominations list got rejected,” a source close to the Sri Lanka Podujana Permauna told the Sunday Observer.

First time

The nomination paper for Weligama had been rejected as the person who had submitted the papers was not a legal representative of the party.

Nominations for the Panadura UC were rejected as the nomination papers did not have the signature of the party secretary.

The SLPP nomination papers for the Agalawatte Pradeshiya Sabha were signed without mentioning a date. Therefore, one can imagine the carelessness with which the party had handled the nomination process.

Their nomination papers for Badulla, Mahiyanganaya, Thirappane, Jaffna Municipal Council, Valikamam North, Valikamam East, Delft and Thirapanne Local Government bodies were rejected due to technical faults.

This is the first time eleven nomination papers presented by one party has been rejected due to technical faults. This has created a major setback for the Rajapaksa group at the outset of their election campaign and has given ample arms and ammunition to its political opponents.

Many have already questioned whether a party that cannot prepare its nomination papers properly is capable of running the provincial administration of the country.

However, this unprecedented number of rejected nomination papers led to interesting developments on the final day of nominations.

Fanfare

After submitting the SLFP’s nominations for the Kurunegala District, Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera actually celebrated the ‘achievement’ that there wasn’t a single rejected nomination paper in the Kurunegala District. Deputy Minister Ajith P Perera too congratulated his supporters as all UNP nomination papers for the Kalutara District were accepted by the elections authorities.

All this time, the ability to present nomination papers properly was considered a basic skill and acceptance of nomination papers for a district did not invite celebrations.

The SLPP’s carelessness, however, has now lowered the standards in this regard, and acceptance of all nomination papers presented by one party has become a reason for grand celebrations and fanfare.

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan was hospitalized on Friday soon after the conclusion of the nomination process. The Opposition Leader had a tiring week as he personally looked into the nomination process and worked laboriously to ensure that the papers went to the elections officials without any technical fault.

However, sources close to Sampanthan said his condition was not serious and he only needed some rest. The Opposition Leader is expected to lead the election campaign of his party in the North and Eastern Provinces.

It was also reported that a former Parliamentarian of the UNP fell ill following a heated argument over the party’s nominations for the Gampaha District. The former MP was rushed to a hospital due to cardiac arrest.

The next few weeks, in all probability, will be a tiring period for all political parties. The United National Party has already instructed its candidates and supporters to conduct a peaceful election campaign while refraining from using polythene. The Police have been advised to work hand in hand with the Chairman of the Elections Commission and ensure a free and fair election.

The Ministry of Law and Order has already stated that the Police will take stern action against those stirring up communal and racial sentiments through false propaganda, seeking political mileage during the election period.

Development drive

While the election battle is underway, the Unity Government, which was formed on January 8, 2015, will soon celebrate its 3rd anniversary.

As they formed the government, President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said, during the first two years of the government they will focus on laying a strong foundation for the country’s economy.

The country is currently in a debt mire mainly due to extravagant expenses and flawed economic policies of the previous government, and the current administration is expected to move fast on the development front, despite such liabilities.

PM in Dedduwa

It is in this context that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, on Wednesday, inspected the site of the proposed tourism zone in Dedduwa -Sri Lanka’s biggest tourism construction project so far.

Dedduwa tourism zone was first proposed in the ‘Regaining Sri Lanka’ program which was formulated under the UNP Government in 2002-2004. The project was later abandoned as the Rajapaksa administration had other priorities.

The Premier stated that the Dedduwa project will focus heavily on conservation of the natural eco-system, adding that new laws will be formulated to protect the environment in the area, during construction.

The Dedduwa tourism zone, spanning across 1,800 acres, will be Sri Lanka’s first high-end tourist destination which includes unique holiday resorts, golf courses, high end restaurants, water sports and other entertainment activities.

Upon construction, this area will resemble Mayakoba, a high-end tourism zone in Mexico, which has attracted many a tourist from across the globe.

The area of the high-end tourism zone is over three times bigger than the Colombo Port City and 60% of the total area will be water.

The Prime Minister, on Wednesday, visited the site along with Ministers Sagala Ratnayaka and Gayantha Karunathilake and held discussions with the politicians and state officials in the area. During the visit, the Divisional Secretary of Benthara handed over the final report on the land acquisition for the project, to the Prime Minister.

While accepting the report, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe commended the state officials for carrying out a speedy land acquisition program.

Plan

“We have a plan to convert this 1,800-acre area into the best tourism destination in South Asia,” the Prime Minister said, before concluding the visit.

“Lunuganga, an area that will be a key part of the Dedduwa project, is well-known because of the legendary architect Geoffery Bawa. The project will be very much in line with Bawa’s concepts and will further enhance the natural beauty of the area,” he added.

“The government will carry out this significant tourism development project in collaboration with the private sector,” he said.

“The true value of this project would depend on the way it contributes to the natural eco-system in the area,” the Prime Minister said, adding that he had instructed the Law and Order and Southern Development Ministry to strengthen the legal framework to protect the environment in the area.

Tourism hub

The Galle District, the Prime Minister said, is located between two international airports – Katunayake and Mattala. “Although many concentrate on the coastal area of Galle in terms of tourism, its interior areas are blessed with natural beauty and have immense potential.

That is why we have already made plans to start tourism projects in Akurala and Koggala. With all these projects, Galle, I am certain, will become a major tourism hub in the region”

“We have also developed a program to promote tourism in and around the Sinharaja Forest. Several areas including Deniyaya, Rakwana, Hiniduma and Agalawatte will develop as a result of that program.”

“Alongside the tourism industry, we will develop Buddhist temples and historic sites in the area, promote entrepreneurship and give credit facilities to the people. We will also set up a tourism school in the Southern Province.”

“This comprehensive program will even reach the Badulla District. Tourism development and employment creation will be expanded to the Southern and Uva Provinces,” the Prime Minister said.

Rajagiriya Flyover

The next morning, the Prime Minister inspected the construction of the Rajagiriya flyover which has almost reached completion.

The flyover, which is aimed at easing traffic in and around Kotte, Rajagiriya and Jayawardanapura areas, will be opened on January, 9, 2018 – on the day the national unity government celebrates its 3rd anniversary.

It will also mark the beginning of the ‘development phase’ of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government, as for two years the government focused more on resolving the issues it inherited from the previous government.

Deputy Minister Harsha de Silva said, the construction of the Rajagiriya flyover has been completed 12 months ahead of its initial schedule.

The Prime Minister, during the inspection visit, said, an overhead bridge will be built from Kelaniya to Colombo Fort and it will be extended up to the HSBC building in Rajagiriya.

Easing traffic

He also pointed out that traffic congestion hampers the country’s economic development and added that short term, midterm and long-term initiatives have been formulated to solve all traffic issues.

“The intention of the government is to build roads according to a proper plan and not just build roads everywhere,” the Premier said.

“The Rajagiriya Flyover was constructed to improve the transport system and to reduce traffic congestion, but now there is a huge traffic near Town Hall,” he added.

The Prime Minister added that the government commenced various projects having taken into consideration all these issues.

The Premier also explained how the government managed to complete the project ahead of schedule.

“The project was expected to be completed by the end of December 2018. Instead of building two lanes separately on either side, we decided to build all four lanes at once.As all four lanes will be constructed at once, we will be able to reduce traffic congestion in that area,” he said.

The Prime Minister said the government has plans to build a road from Kandy to Hambantota.

“We aim at reducing existing traffic jams in Kandy and Colombo. Traffic congestion in these areas will be reduced after the Kandy – Colombo Highway is built. Measures have also been taken to commence Light Rail Transport (LRT) services. These initiatives are vital to strengthen our economy,” the Premier added.

Policy changes

The development drive of the national unity government has been supported by the budget 2018 presented to Parliament by Finance and Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera, last month.

It was a clear indication that the government had decided to move away from the ‘firefighting mode’ on matters concerning the economy and proceed with a long-term vision and a clear direction.

While liberalizing the key areas of the country’s economy, the budget also sought to unlock growth and encourage entrepreneurship.

Speaking to the media recently, Finance and Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera said the government would rely more on projects and programs on foreign funding and increase foreign commercial credit to fill the budget deficit in the coming year.

He also pointed out that since Sri Lanka came forward in the rankings of upper-middle income countries, the process of taking foreign loans has changed for Sri Lanka as well.

Accordingly, the government will decrease funding the budget deficit for 2018 from Treasury Bonds and Treasury Bills by Rs 10,000 million.

In 2017, the government has filled a fund requirement of Rs.70,000 mn from Treasury Bonds and Treasury Bills, Minister Samaraweera explained. In the next year, the government will lessen it by Rs. 10,000 mn, he explained.

He said the government has decided to decrease the amount of bank loans taken to fill the budget deficit, as well.

The Minister pointed out that the government took Rs.170,000 million as bank loans in 2017 to fill the budget deficit whereas in 2018, they are planning to lessen it by Rs. 50,000 million. 

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