Recollections of the first year of a strong foundation for prosperity | Sunday Observer
President Ranil Wickremesinghe:

Recollections of the first year of a strong foundation for prosperity

23 July, 2023
President Ranil Wickremesinghe being sworn in
President Ranil Wickremesinghe being sworn in

On the night of July 9, 2022, the residence of Ranil Wickremesinghe was set on fire by a violent mob amidst the citizen struggle or Aragalaya in Sri Lanka. At the time he had already been sworn in as Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister for the record sixth time. In comparison to the many palatial mansions around, his residence appeared to be relatively small. Though a two-storey house, each storey was divided into smaller sections. The ground floor housed three remarkable Buddhist artworks, statues, and various antiques, along with two chairs used by his parents, Esmond Wickremesinghe and Nalini Wickremesinghe.

The living room also contained many valuable books, along with a book personally signed by the former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who turned 100 recently. During each visit to the Wickremesinghe residence, I made sure to spend a few minutes immersed in the presence of those books. I was often drawn to the book signed by Kissinger, who is still active in global diplomatic circles, as witnessed from his recent visit to Beijing. Unfortunately, that book with its massive sentimental value along with many others was destroyed in the fire on July 9.

Once seated on one of those chairs (which were sadly lost to the blaze), Ranil Wickremesinghe recalled a bit of his childhood to me during one visit. “I studied in the Sinhala medium at Royal College, Colombo. As my home was merely a few minutes away, I walked to the school every day. After completing my Advanced Levels, I made the decision to pursue a law degree, and my father recommended that I do so in the UK. During that period, my brother Shan (who later pioneered television in Sri Lanka) was already in the UK, studying electrical engineering. However, I told him I would first visit the country (UK) and see if it was to my liking. I boarded with my brother for a few months and witnessed the tough life he was living first-hand. He would repair radios all night to make ends meet. Winter only made things worse.

“I decided the UK was not for me and returned to Sri Lanka soon afterwards. I informed my father that I wanted to study law at the University of Colombo. Every day I walked to the University. More often than not, many friends who were not well off had their meals at my house,” he said.

While the story is rather long, that day he reminisced about his entire youth with me. He was immensely proud of graduating from the University of Colombo. “Children should study in Sri Lanka. No other language is more suitable for one’s education than the mother tongue, be it Sinhala or Tamil. But we must develop our education system further,” he said.

For five years Wickremesinghe practised law and later joined J.R Jayewardene to embark on a career in politics. However, we once admitted that if he did not study law, he would probably have become a journalist, due to his father’s Lake House connection. After all, he is the grandson of Lake House founder D.R. Wijewardene.

Last year, Wickremesinghe eventually became the Executive President of Sri Lanka following 50 years as an Attorney-at-Law and 45 years as a politician. At the time he took over the country, first as PM and then as President, nothing but anarchy and chaos reigned. The Easter Sunday attack, the Covid-19 pandemic and unbridled corruption had brought Sri Lanka to a halt and unable to service its foreign debt. The rupee fell drastically, creating LP Gas and fuel shortages. It also led to 13-hour power cuts. Meanwhile, food prices soared and the people were enraged.

However, Wickremesinghe was able to resolve the fuel and LP gas crisis almost immediately after being appointed. At the time Sri Lanka had not received any relief from the international community. But through the astute management of financial and other resources, he was able to rectify such issues. Today, the shortages are long forgotten.

Despite his relentless efforts, Wickremesinghe did not receive the support of the collective Opposition. It appeared that their intention was to let the country burn but it has now led to their own destruction.

They accused the President of attempting to “sell the country” (Rata Wikunanawa) when he was merely attempting to draw in investments. Lee Kuan Yew faced similar opposition and criticism when attempting to rebuild Singapore. Today, Singapore is one of the most developed countries in the world through foreign investments.

According to renowned Prof. Harold J. Lasky, the value of freedom becomes meaningless if individuals lack financial resources. This sentiment aligns with the beliefs and modus operandi of leaders like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, and Sri Lanka’s own Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Sri Lanka only received International Monetary Fund (IMF) support after the appointment of President Wickremesinghe. At a time no agency or country was offering any support to Sri Lanka, being able to secure an IMF bailout is in fact an amazing feat.

Assessing the political stability of borrowing countries has been a fundamental role of the IMF. This is because the repayment of foreign loans hinges on stable politics within a given country, free from chaos and disruptions.

President Wickremesinghe has laid out a comprehensive road map to achieve both political stability and foster an economic renaissance in the country. The President has a well-defined road map to transform Sri Lanka into a fully developed state by 2048, when Sri Lanka will be marking the 100th anniversary of Independence. He wasted no time in initiating this plan, beginning his efforts just two months after assuming office as President.

With the maximum support from the people, there is every reason to believe that the program can progress and succeed without any disruption. By rallying the nation behind his vision and garnering widespread support locally and globally, President Wickremesinghe aims to lead Sri Lanka on a path of comprehensive development, ensuring a prosperous and thriving future for the country.