By Sanath Nanayakkare
Sri Lanka, while pursuing the macro-fiscal adjustment programme, under the IMF’s Extended Fund Facility arrangement, should focus on two key national issues concurrently, President Ranil Wickremesinghe said yesterday.
“If the country is to achieve economic growth and share the dividends of prosperity among all its people, we need to focus on two key policy pillars. Number one would be national unity that drives economic growth in a sustainable manner. Number two would be meeting the aspirations of our youth – the valuable human resource – crucial for promoting the development of the country,” he said.
The President said so via Zoom, addressing the UNP May Day rally at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium.
“The UNP is a policy-driven political party. In our 2020 election manifesto, we asked for a mandate to go to the IMF and the World Bank to obtain USD 7 billion from these institutions. We were the only political party that asked for a people’s mandate for this. Other political parties gave various promises, that couldn’t be kept, while knowing the true status of the economy. As a result of stating the bitter truth, the UNP slid down to just one seat from the national list. In 2022, when the crisis was looming, I met with former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and advised him to get assistance from the IMF. Subsequently, when the former President summoned a conference of political leaders, represented in Parliament, the Tamil National Alliance and I participated in it, while other political parties boycotted it. My concern, at the time, was not doing politics but bringing some relief to the suffering masses. I accepted the presidency, at a time the country had completely collapsed. I did so on one conviction. That conviction was that I could rebound the economy with the support of the ministers who were also committed to accomplishing that common objective. Today there is political stability.
Food security has been ensured. Fuel and fertiliser shortages, and the electricity crisis, have been resolved. I convey my thanks to the ministers, political authorities and officials for their support, they extended, in getting this work done. However, we have to move beyond stability. We must become an advanced economy by 2048. India has that target set for 2047. China set it for 2049. We have set our sights on 2048. We should make policies and deploy strategies now to give that confidence to the young people that we are moving ahead, in line with that target. The UNP should take stewardship for the future.
Now as the Parliament has approved the IMF framework, I want to move beyond it. First, we must resolve our ethnic issues. Discussions are ongoing in this regard. I believe that all ethnicities would be able to come to a consensus, in this regard, by the end of this year, without making any betrayals. Thus we will be able to work together for the progress of the country. We must drive our economy towards a digital economy, and a green economy, for the aspirations of our youth to bear fruit. They want a transformation in our socio-economic environment. We must listen to it and create it. We will soon be giving prominence to the youth in parliamentary select committees and oversight committees. I request the support of all segments of the society to achieve these objectives,” the President said.
UNP General Secretary, Range Bandara, during his speech said that President Ranil Wickremesinghe didn’t physically attend the UNP forum because he didn’t want to play a political role and was keen on resolving the socio-economic issues at hand.