“International ties vital to overcome economic crisis” | Sunday Observer

“International ties vital to overcome economic crisis”

6 August, 2023
On Wednesday morning, President Wickremesinghe met Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella and the heads of the health sector to discuss the ongoing health crisis. Pic: Courtesy PMD

The time spent with several foreign leaders last week was a unique experience gained by a President in the history of Sri Lanka.

President Ranil Wickramasinghe had the rare opportunity to meet five Heads of State and other leaders in one week. Starting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Japanese State Minister Fujimaru Satoshi, foreign Heads of State met President Wickremesinghe in a short span of 10 days.

A few hours after President Wickremesinghe met French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday morning, he met Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa at his official residence.

On Monday afternoon, another Japanese delegation met the President at the Presidential Secretariat. They were Minister of State in the Cabinet Office of Japan, Fujimaru Satoshi and former Minister of State for Regional Revitalisation, Yamamoto Kozo. It is significant that they represent the political party of the current Japanese Prime Minister. They discussed the stalled Japanese investments.

Meanwhile, Chief of Staff of the President, Sagala Ratnayake met the President that morning to recall an issue that was raging in the country at that time. “Sir, a group of farmers between Hambantota and Moneragala are facing a water shortage. The Ministry of Agriculture is requesting water from Samanalawewa for these farmers to begin cultivation. The Ceylon Electricity Board does not like it. They say that if the water is given, they will have to impose three hour power cuts in five districts,” Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayaka said.

The President said, “Currently, we cannot impose power cuts. On the other hand, the farmers cannot be abandoned. But we have to take the best option available.”

Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said, “If crops are damaged, farmers can be paid compensation. If power supply is curtailed, many industries and other sectors will be affected.”

Ratnayaka said, “There is another problem here. These five districts are not connected to the main grid. For several years, the construction of the transmission line has not been done because of one person.”

The President said, “Anyway, go for the best option. Whatever the decision, it has to be approved by the Cabinet.“

Aswesuma program

President Wickremesinghe entrusted Chief of Staff Ratnayaka with another duty. That is to solve the problem between the Aswesuma program and Samurdhi program.

Accordingly, President’s Chief of Staff and State Minister of Finance Shehan Semasinghe prepared a program. One suggestion was to give money to the Samurdhi beneficiaries who are not entitled to Aswesuma benefits.

It was also decided to make the July and August payments to the Aswesuma beneficiaries in the same manner and to review the appeals and objections made as soon as possible. The President as the Finance Minister presented the relevant Cabinet paper to the Cabinet and it was approved.

Drought and the Samanalawewa electricity issue also came up for discussion at the Cabinet meeting. Power Minister Wijesekera outlined the issue related to electricity and Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaraweera explained the farming issue.

Later, the Cabinet of Ministers decided to find an alternative for farmers and to conserve Samanalawewa water for electricity.

Apart from that, President Wickremesinghe also instructed Ratnayaka and Minister Wijesekera to look into the fact that the Southern Province is not connected to the main transmission line of the country.

When they looked into this, it was found that the reason for the problem was that the owner of a tea plantation put forward and changed conditions from time to time to draw transmission lines through the middle of his tea estate. After the President was informed about this, he ordered the appointment of a committee to resolve the issue as soon as possible.

President takes a break

President Wickremesinghe informed his staff that he would take a break on Tuesday as it was Poya Day and assigned the responsibility of looking after the Japanese delegation to the Chief of Staff.

The Japanese delegation had also met the Minister of Labour and Foreign Employment Manusha Nanayakkara. Chief of Staff Ratnayaka was also present. Job opportunities in Japan was also discussed and Minister Nanayakkara requested to give training and priority to the groups retiring from the Security Forces.

They also discussed the setting up of a training centre in the country. While officials of the Japanese Government met the President and the Ministers, UNP General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara met the Director of the Asia Pacific Region who came with the Japanese Foreign Minister.

During the meeting, the UNP General Secretary forwarded four proposals to the Japanese Director to uplift the country’s economy. The conversation started in English and ended in Japanese and Sinhala languages. It was when Bandara congratulated him in Japanese while the Japanese Director congratulated him in Sinhala when they said goodbye.

When the General Secretary inquired about this, he came to know that the Japanese Director had studied Sinhala at the Peradeniya University. Inviting Bandara to learn Japanese, the Japanese Director took leave saying that he would hand over the proposals made by the General Secretary to the Japanese Government.

Minister Manusha Nanayakkara and Chief of Staff Ratnayaka hosted a dinner at a restaurant in Colombo for the Japanese delegation including State Minister Fujimaru who was in Sri Lanka.

Organised on the instructions of the President, this dinner was an interesting one because the restaurant reverberated with Sinhala and Japanese songs. While Minister Manusha played the tabla, Minister Fujimaru and others sang songs.

They enjoyed themselves singing and dancing, appreciating the Sri Lankan hospitality.

Health Ordinance

On Wednesday morning, President Wickremesinghe met Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella and the heads of the health sector to discuss the ongoing health crisis. The President first told them to change the Health Ordinance.

The President instructed the officials to prepare a new Bill within six months as the Ordinance introduced by the British was now outdated. He also took steps to allocate Rs. 30 billion for solving the problems in the health sector.

The President as the party leader joined the UNP Working Committee meeting that evening. According to the party constitution, the Working Committee cannot meet without the leader. The Working Committee members began arriving at the Sirikota party headquarters before the arrival of the party leader.

Those who were there saw Ministers Harin Fernando and Manusha Nanayakkara coming to Sirikotha, although they were not members of the Working Committee. While they were whispering about this, they both went to the office of the party’s National Organiser Sagala Ratnayaka.

As they both entered the office, “I am glad both of you accepted our invitation,” Sagala said welcoming them. The two Ministers answered together, “This is our house.”

They stayed there until the leader came and befor the Working Committee started they discussed the problems of the country. Except for nine, all other Working Committee members were present. The nine members had informed in advance that they would not participate in the meeting, citing various reasons.

At the beginning of the Working Committee meeting, Party Leader President Wickremesinghe welcomed Ministers Fernando and Nanayakkara and said that he would bring them back to the Working Committee subject to an apology. After getting approval for the party convention date, the Party General Secretary got approval to appoint a 14-member organising committee to hold the 77th party convention.

Then addressing the members of the Working Committee, President Wickremesinghe gave a long explanation about the way the party should move, bringing out what happened during the time from D.S. Senanayake to the current Party Leader. Explaining the devastation caused by dividing the party into factions without unity, the President spoke about the future of the party going forward.

On Thursday, the President came to the Ministry of Finance for the economic review of the week. As usual, a group of Ministers were in attendance.

They also discussed the revision of water charges and the distortion of the national anthem. It came to light that the increase in water charges is a short-term measure and this will change later. The right of expression and the 13th Amendment was also discussed.

Aluth Gamak - Aluth Ratak

Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said that the Government continued to maintain the public service in spite of suggestions to make a reduction in the number.

He was speaking at the National Integration Participatory Development Program, Aluth Gamak - Aluth Ratak at the Moneragala District Secretariat on Thursday.

The Premier said that Sri Lanka faced a crisis in currency and a dilemma internationally. ‘‘International support and friendship is needed to overcome the present crisis. Countries that have faced the same crises have not come out of it so quickly. I met the leaders and envoys of other countries and all of them said that they are proud of Sri Lanka’s recovery,” he said.

Premier Gunawardena said, “We are proud of the farmers of our country. When the whole world was facing a food crisis, our farmers produced a good harvest. It is essential to overcome the shortcomings in the field of agriculture and make it more productive.

He said that at present Sri Lanka has won international trust despite the financial crisis. The economy started to grow based on that trust. We should not forget that there was a time when banking transactions of the country were barred internationally. The authorities including Government Agents, Provincial Council officials, local council officials and the entire public service should understand that situation.”

The Prime Minister said, “Wellassa is the symbol of our country’s freedom. Every Government of our country is indebted to this land. This is a journey starting from the village through the Divisional Secretariats towards food security and many related fields.”

“If we become self-sufficient in food, it is not necessary for us to spend Dollars for food. That means we incur only Rupees but not Dollars on food. It doesn’t need much arithmetic. There are many problems to solve.

“Allotment of land to those doing cultivation in these areas should be completed soon. We did not maintain deeds regarding cultivations in the past. It was the British Government that imposed various land laws along with deeds.

“A large number of people living in Wellassa today face inconveniences due to those laws. We discussed with the Surveyor General regarding the measures that can be taken to change these laws and provide relief to farmers. If the basic measurement plans are done through the Divisional Secretary, it will be possible to fulfil the hopes of these people,’’ he said.

He reiterated that the relief given to the lowest income earners of this country cannot be stopped. There is no need to create a conflict out of it. It should be done on humanitarian grounds. This is an effort to provide relief to the lowest income group in the country and to increase the amount.

The Prime Minister invited the public service to fulfil their responsibility as Government officials to make this program successful by solving problems.

“There were various proposals to reduce the number of public servants. But we didn’t do that. We need to get the country out of this difficult situation. If we all join hands and move towards a specific goal, we can become self-sufficient in food,” he added.

Opposition Leader in Rajarata

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa spent the past week in Rajarata including Mihintale and Anuradhapura. Sajith visited the Mihintale sacred city and drew attention to many deficiencies in it.

Chief Incumbent of Mihintale Raja Maha Vihara, Ven. Walawahengunawewe Dhammaratana Thera said that the representatives who are sent to Parliament to represent the 22 million people should think about them, but several people have died in the recent past due to substandard drugs.

He said funeral parlours have been set up in front of hospitals since time immemorial, but the purpose of this is not that everyone who is admitted to hospital will die. “Right now, doctors and intellectuals are leaving the country. We cannot find a person responsible for this. Some Ministers who are maintained by the people’s tax money take bribes from medicine suppliers,” the Thera said.

“In the past, there were no taverns around Mihintale, but recently a beer shop owned by a powerful State Minister of the Government was set up in front of the Rajarata University where 8,000 students study. Because of this, the current Government broke the record of Mihintale city, which was a city without a tavern or a meat shop. Pay attention to this matter in Parliament,” the Thera told the Opposition Leader.

Sajith: “Ven. Thera, how much will it cost to hold next year’s Poson procession, Sathi Piritha and the Aloka Pooja (illumination) of Mihintale?”

Thera: “It is estimated that between Rs. 30 to Rs. 40 million will be needed.”

Sajith Premadasa: “I accept that responsibility, Thera. I am ready to contribute through the Buddhist Advisory Committee of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya.”

Thera: “Politicians make various promises, but I know you are not like that.”

Sajith: “As the Minister of Cultural Affairs, I did work to the value of Rs. 320 million in the Mihintale Sacred city. That work was stopped during the previous Government. Ven. Thera, if I promise something, it will definitely be fulfilled.”

Last week, Opposition Leader Premadasa donated the 74th bus to Nochchiyagama Vidya Adarsha Maha Vidyalaya under the Sakwala program.

Premadasa said that while importing drugs, the tender procurement procedure mentioned in Section 58 of the National Medicines Regulatory Authority Act is being ignored and a corrupt program is being carried out to get large commissions with cronies for importing unregistered drugs.

Under the directive of Samagi Jana Balawegaya Leader and Opposition Leader Premadasa, 56 hospitals have been given health equipment to the value of Rs. 171,966,900 and 73 schools have received a bus worth Rs. 5 million each. Around Rs.354,200,000 was spent for that.

Under the Sakwala program with the aim of creating a smart student, 33 schools have been provided smart classroom equipment to the value of Rs. 29,033,650.00.

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa engaged in a friendly conversation with Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Parliamentarian K. P. S. Kumarasiri. They discussed many shortcomings in the area.