(Colombo, Sri Lanka/ May 29, 2003) The Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, gave his keynote address before an international audience during the Council of Asian Liberals & Democrats (CALD) Conference 2003 on “Wealth Creation and Sustainable Development: A Liberal Democratic Agenda” today at th Taj Samudra Hotel.
The opening ceremonies commenced with the traditional lighting of the lamp. Those who gave the welcome addresses were Their Excellencies Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, MP, Founding Chairman of CALD and former foreign minister of the Kingdom of Thailand; Dr. Wolf-Dieter Zumpfort, Vice Chairman of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and Mr. Werner Hoyer, MP, president of the European Liberal, Democratic and Reform Party (ELDR) and former Minister of State, Foreign Office of Germany. It was chaired by Liberal Party of Sri Lanka President Dr. Rajiva Wijesinha.
The following is the account on the Prime Minister’s keynote address by Mr. Rohan Mathes of The Island (http://www.island.lk):
Commenting on the present deadlock in the peace talks with the Tigers who are demanding an “Interim Administration” before participating at the Tokyo �donor summit’, the Prime Minister observed that “we find ourselves in something of an impasse as what is being demanded is not what we can easily deliver. Reality has to play its role and frankly the LTTE has to be a little more understanding of the issues involved. As a responsible government we have to abide by the rules and laws of the land. We seek solutions within the framework of the laws of our country, and will move to a final solution to the conflict only after consulting the people through a referendum.
Ranil Wickremesinghe speaking further in his keynote address at the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) Conference on the peace process and sustainable development in Sri Lanka…said that things appeared to be moving forward at a steady pace over the past 16 months and suddenly “we �find ourselves with a discontented peace partner who wants nothing more of talks, or at least, for the time being.”
“The break in the peace talks allowed each of us to re-evaluate and re-view judgementally the last 15 months, where we were going and scrutinise how better we could achieve our joint objective” Ranil Wickremesinghe said.
“When we assumed office 16 months ago, we faced the problems of a debilitating war with an economy on the point of collapse. The war had seen many families, especially Tamil families split and scattered all over the world. As a society which lays great stress on our social status and the family unit being of such importance to us, we need to rebuild those family units. We need to encourage our diaspora to return with their know-how, their expertise and mostly their ideas for a better Sri Lanka. The funding of the international community was also vital”, he said.
The PM further said that “if we don’t succeed this time with all the international and national goodwill we have received, we will be consigned to the backwaters of history for a further 30 or 40 years with our people becoming increasingly impoverished. Our industries will have to struggle in competing in the world markets and more people would die in the conflict, without meaning”.
He said that every step had to be reviewed and re-evaluated in a step by step approach to rebuild trust between the two sides over time. He is so encouraged by the two communities coming back together in so many walks of life and re-discovering each other every day in professional contacts, business, school cricket teams and debating societies.” The LTTE’s contribution to the flood victims in the South was another significant gesture in rehabilitating our communal relationships which were unheard of just two years ago”. The statement of the LTTE who were now saying they no longer sought a separate state after living so many years divided, was another important factor, he said.
He opined that unlike other peace processes around the world, they quite rightly took a different approach in alleviating the misery and the devastation in the North and East first, and when those humanitarian issues were well developed, to move on to the political issues. Against this backdrop of progress, a major obstacle faced was that the international donors helping us were not used to this style of peace making. The 17 odd agencies assisting us, did it in a unco-ordinated manner resulting in confusion and duplication of effort.
“Frustration has grown in the LTTE over the speed of implementation, and we sought to overcome some of them by setting up committees such as SIHRN”.
The PM was of the view that the process of building a new united, peaceful and tolerant nation had at last started. Despite recent setbacks he believed there were great opportunities ahead and real hope for the future. He was also hopeful that we’ could resume the peace talks and pursue the medium to long term aims of establishing a federal system of government which empowers the people and encourages them to take control of their own lives.
The PM also expressed his views on the “Regaining Sri Lanka” programme, which is envisaged to create jobs, build a sound economy through reform and liberalisation, develop a lasting infrastructure and improve productivity and investment.
He said that realisation comes when we all appreciate that a weak South damages our economic potential in the North and a shackled business community in the West cannot invest in the South, North and East. The sums of our parts need to perform equally for the whole to benefit, he added.
That is why the “Regaining Sri Lanka” programme will create the right environment to drive out poverty, not through handouts which are self perpetuating and damaging but through intelligent investment in people and infrastructure, he quipped.
He stressed the importance of the Tokyo donor summit in terms of its potential of creating the investment potential to build the sustainable development across the whole island in the years ahead. He also expected it to be well attended.
Speaking further, the PM said that �our’ democracy was not functioning upto its expectations. There is bitterness, rivalry and unprecedented levels of partisanship often centred around communal politics, and for long term development of the country, we need to turn these differences around. It is one thing to disagree on a point of principle or to attack malpractice and incompetence. It is quite another to oppose for the sole purpose of seeking power. Such self-seeking degrades our political system and de-stabilises whichever party is in office, he commented.
He pointed out that �our’ media were freer than ever before and have sought to set up their own self-regulatory body rather than resort to legislation. The five commissions are coming on-stream to seek to depoliticise “our most sensitive institutions and we are working on the first �Freedom of Information Act’ in this part of the world”.
Democracy is about seeking a strong government that can carry out its mandate. Nevertheless, an opposition that feels secluded is not only a wasted resource but also a danger to that democratic process. That is why we are proceeding with plans of establishing 13 to 14 oversight committees to scrutinise the work of the government. The challenge for us was to involve the opposition as widely as possible in these committees. That is why our proposals recommend that the Chairperson of each committee will be a member of the opposition, he noted.
He further said that each committee would consist of between five and eight people who would be experts and academics from and beyond Parliament and of up to three non-Parliamentary specialists entitled to sit on those committees.
He believed and hoped that this involvement would prevent the feeling of alienation from the decision-making process and promote a more involved and responsible approach to the issues of the day.
He said that the problems faced in Parliament, display the social breakdown we have faced over a number of years and to move forward, we would have to develop a road map for sustainable development.
“We have to rebuild the organisational capabilities of our institutions and we have to see development by empowering our people throughout the country to have an increased say in the development of their local area. That will come by creating a “federal structure”, he added.
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