A convergence of viable ideas to spur development

Following are excerpts from an exclusive Daily News interview with Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation (SLIC) Chairman Jagath Wellawatte, who is also a senior lecturer at the University of Colombo:

“Sri Lankans did not demand ‘Mahinda Rajapaksa’ in 2005 or ‘Gotabaya Rajapaksa’ in 2019. Instead, they demanded ‘a real leader’ on the two occasions. When Sri Lanka was about to rise in 2015, the country fell into a black hole suddenly. According to Rostow’s stages of growth, Sri Lanka has passed the traditional society, the pre-conditions for take off in 2015. But it could not take place due to the drastic negative changes that occurred in the Government and the country after January 8, 2015. Thereafter, Sri Lanka needed a leader like Xi Jinping, Lee Kuan Yew or Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and fortunately, now, we have the leadership we all waited for.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should be given a Parliament with a two-thirds majority as soon as possible in order to amend a large number of Amendments and Acts which are not suitable for the country. Some of them are several decades old and exist since the colonial era. Now the entire country and all conditions have totally changed. We need a fast development drive. The leader selected by Sri Lankans should have power. A powerless leader cannot face international pressures. The late President J.R. Jayewardene introduced the 1978 Constitution to ensure ethnic harmony in Sri Lanka.

The minorities wanted one individual to rule the country and not a bunch of Cabinet ministers. They wanted a leader to lead them. But from 2015 to 2019, the minorities in Sri Lanka could not enjoy the power they gave to the Sri Lankan leader in 1978. A two-thirds majority is required to make changes in the Parliament. Under the current situation, this government will easily obtain the required power at the upcoming General Election. Now, the United National Party (UNP) has revealed its real face to the people and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) almost does not exist now.

What was presented by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the recently held Presidential Election campaign was not an election manifesto, but a Policy Statement formulated by a panel of experts who had gathered information from all sections of the people in Sri Lanka. It commenced with ‘Gama Samaga Pilisandarak’(a friendly chat with villagers). It ended with the consultation and gathering of ideas, views, and proposals from all top professionals in every field of the country. We selected 24,000 villages, including those in the North and the East. We gave them a set of three forms. One form for the general information of each village, the second form was for rural leaders and the third form was for the proposals for the policy document. Then, we entered all the collected data into a database. That was the first step.

Then we established 29 expert committees; each committee consisted of two or three members of the Parliament for political participation, a professional from the Central Bank, a lawyer, a university professor or a doctor, an accountant and a trade union representative. Each committee had 20 experts in them. Then they collected data from their fields through ‘Gama Samaga Pilisandarak’. “Viyath Maga” also followed the same procedure. They paid a lot of attention to developing subject-wise action plans. Then it was included in the policy document formulation.

Then we established a coordinating committee chaired by myself. The former Controller of Exchange Osmond Chandrawansa was the Secretary of the committee. Professionals such as Dr. Wijaya Sri Kariyawasam and Prof. Sunanda Madduma Bandara played key roles. After this, a National Level Committee was established under the guidance of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the former Minister Basil Rajapaksa.

Current Cabinet Ministers Dullas Alahapperuma, Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila and professionals such as Dr. Nalaka Godahewa and Dr. Priyath Bandu Wickrama were the members of the committee, which was the policy framework formulation committee. In addition, other experts representing every single field in the country, including Dr. P.B. Jayasundara, Ajith Nivard Cabraal and Prof. Lalithasiri Gunaruwan were consulted by the committee,” he said.

The very poor economic situation during the past five years had resulted in many types of issues in all fields in the country, such as crimes, murders, prostitution and drug abuse. We took into consideration this complicated and inter-connected condition of the country when formulating the policy document. We selected certain main areas such as people-centric economy, human resource development and agricultural revolution through technology and a disciplined society with law-abiding people who respect ethics. Those are the key areas of the policy document. But all concepts came from the President. We just put all the proposals to the relevant and correct baskets.

Tax reductions, provision of relief for bank loans and fertilizer facilities have been introduced to empower the economy of people. In addition, we proposed many other economic development activities. City plans, structural changes, a new tax system and especially, technological inputs for all areas such as agriculture, education and industries.

All previous eras had one main pillar of development such as tourism and a harbour economy. But agriculture was not included. This time, the main focus has been given to the development of agriculture. Many sanctions have already been implemented in the agricultural sector. The fertilizer facility is given directly targeting the agriculture sector.

Another revolutionary idea of the policy framework document is human resource development. In the past, free education and health facilities continued, but this time, we interconnect all sectors to develop human resources. We connect everything targeting the final goal of the country. For example, the well-being of pregnant mothers, reduction of malnutrition, uplift of pre-education and one curriculum for all, maintaining international standards. We will train all pre-school teachers under the Education Ministry. A student-friendly environment will be created in schools and in the education sector. We will upgrade the teachers’ status and minimize their work stress. All teachers’ educational colleges will be turned to degree-awarding institutions. Our graduate teachers do not have teaching experience and training. This issue will be solved with the new move. All students will be given a chance to become a graduate one day. We proposed to upgrade NVQ standard seven to level 10 which is PhD level.

Without a proper professional workforce, we cannot achieve the country’s goals. We do not need to create rich or wealthy people. We need to create complete human beings. In our traditional Sri Lankan culture, people led happy and satisfactory lives without money. They had almost everything in life. But today they have lost everything although there are rich people. There are no family values, and ethics have been put aside. Family relationships have collapsed. This is because we have lost all social values. All problems arise inside families. A drug abuser is being produced inside the family. We do not provide for the psychological requirements of the children. Then they slowly move away from homes and end up as drug abusers and criminals. Money cannot solve all matters. This is why we need to create a disciplined and ethical society. A large number of women are harassed inside homes due to loss of social values. Therefore, we cannot think only about economic development. We need social development as well. The policy document focuses on this.

Local arts graduates lack a place in the development process in the country. In the policy document, we focused on the ways and means of giving opportunities to arts graduates to follow other professional courses and become professionals. There, we proposed to offer them a loan of Rs. one million for a period of two or three years to be re-paid after finding a job. The courses are languages, IT, management, and hospitality and customer-oriented services. Then, we can produce job market-oriented graduates for the country. Usually, the majority of arts graduates come from economically poor families in Sri Lanka’s rural and low-income areas. They are being marginalized in their own universities. They have to overcome this obstacle, get professional training and join the workforce. It will not work out without proper job training.

University lecturers and students have to play a major role in pushing the country forward. University lecturers should forward their research papers to relevant ministries to put them into practice. We need to combine everything. We proposed an additional research allowance for university lecturers. After the election, we offered university lecturers holding several positions to head various institutions. We did not forget them after the election.

When it comes to Buddhism, Buddhist teachings are not only for Buddhists. Buddhism is a philosophy. Many Sinhalese people who are Buddhists go to Kovils. Buddhists go to some churches. Muslims go to other religious places. People who believe in other religions visit Buddhist temples. Therefore, while giving Buddhism priority, all the other religions have been protected and recognized in the Policy Statement. Anyone can read it and find out.”

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