By Gotabaya Rajapaksa –
Venerable Maha Sangha and religious dignitaries, The 5th Executive President of Sri Lanka, HE Mahinda Rajapaksa, dear guests, members of Viyathmaga, Media Personnel, Representatives of National Organizations, all Sri Lankans residing in and out of Sri Lanka who are connected with us at this moment, my friends,
The objective of any government should be to develop a prosperous nation of productive citizens, living in a disciplined society with content families. As we meet again at the Viyathmaga third annual convention I wish to address how we could achieve this objective.
Sri Lanka is a free, sovereign and an independent country. As our country is most strategically situated in the naval routes connecting the East and the West, we have once again become the focus of global powers. It is the primary duty of the government to understand the potential this presents and also the challenges that must be faced steadily whilst firmly safeguarding our sovereignty.
In the days when America and Russia were the super powers, the developed countries aligned with one or the other of these super powers. The countries that were still developing maintained a policy of non-alignment. Sri Lanka too was then a non-aligned country.
America is still a super power. However, China with its fast developing economy has become America’s biggest challenge.
According to Parag Khanna‘s “The Future is Asian”, “Today all of Asia’s empires and powers are seeking national revival. None will bow to others. The future Asian geopolitical order will thus be neither American nor Chinese led. Japan, South Korea, India, Russia, Indonesia, Australia, Iran and Saudi Arabia will never collectively come together under a hegemonic umbrella, nor unite into a single pole of power that is neither bandwaggoning with China or balancing against it.
“Instead, they are on a high alert against excessive US and Chinese influence in their affairs. Asians in particular, have realised that their intense economic integration and rising prosperity require geopolitical stability.”
It is the same with Sri Lanka. We must strive to maintain cordial relations with all countries without ever compromising our independence. Therefore we must once again establish a governance that does not juxtapose before any foreign power over diplomatic relations or international trade agreements. We need a government that will at all times safeguard our sovereignty, maintain international relations on equal footing with all, ensure our national pride and rule with dignity. We especially cannot allow our territory or natural resources to fall into the control of foreign hands.
We must foster relationships with Japan, India and Vietnam to build a strong and a connected economy.
A peaceful environment is essential for the development of that country. This makes the National Security of a country a very important element. In a country that is not at peace, investments – local or foreign – will not take place. People will lose their freedom to engage in livelihoods. The entire economy will thus get weakened. The democratic process itself will be severely affected. That is why assuring the security of a nation is of paramount importance and becomes the primary duty of a government.
I am committed to address national security not only as a defensive mechanism, but also to provide broader social, political and economic security to the people. Our country should be free from crime, drug trafficking, terrorist financing, money laundering and corruption. Our houses and streets must be safe places for children, women and the community at large. Businesses should be shielded from security threats.
The Government that was in power from 2005 to 2014 understood this primary duty to strengthen the National Security. The terrorism that existed for 30 years in this country was a grave problem for our people. We effectively resolved that issue in less than three years. Afterwards, we continued to strengthen National Security, which is why it took ten years for terrorism to raise its head again.
After the war, whilst building up on National Security we were especially concerned to secure the right of the people to live freely. During this post-war period, neither the police nor the military were engaged in any activity that would pose any harassment to the people. However, we fortified our intelligence networks. These intelligence networks were dedicated to safeguard the people.
Therefore, we must re-establish this secured environment that is at present compromised. To do so, we must reinstate the intelligence mechanism that was proactive until 2015. We must bring the intelligence operations of the tri-Forces and the Police under the responsibility of one head and thereby connect all these units together. This responsibility must be again handed over to capable officers. At the same time, we must introduce a legal framework that will provide these officers the protection from the kind of political interference that we saw in the recent past that severely affected the confidence of our intelligence officers. For our intelligence officers to be effective, it is very important to connect them with foreign intelligence services, provide them with both foreign and local training and equip them with modern technology.
Economic development is an essential component of a country. The solution to most problems in a country is its economic progression. However, it has to be a people centric development. I firmly believe that every citizen is entitled to a dignified life with economic stability and equal opportunities to progress.
GDP is not the only criteria in measuring development. Growth alone is not enough to deliver overall wellbeing of the people. In the 21st century, inclusive development has become a better measure of national progress. The recently devised Inclusive Development Index (IDI) takes into account not only economic size but also life expectancy, unemployment, median income, poverty level, inequality rates, household savings, carbon intensity and other factors. We need to be aware of these important factors.
We must also bear in mind that the centre of gravity of global economic development has shifted to Asia. If we look at the Asian region, from Turkey to China, the population is close to five billion. There is a large middle class in this region with high purchasing power. India alone has a 400 million strong middle class. China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Malaysia are other large, populous countries with a rising middle class. This represents a marketplace of hundreds of millions of people. Asia will soon have more millionaires and billionaires than any other region. We should look at these Asian markets and find opportunities there, without always relying upon our traditional markets.
We must recognize that the Asian regions hold the future of market opportunities and encourage our entrepreneurs to find these markets. If we take Singapore for an example, 90 percent of its exports are to other countries in the Asian region and only 10 percent to the USA and Europe. Sri Lanka must also make maximum use of these opportunities that are within our region.
The 21st century is recognized as the knowledge centered era. In the future, every economic sector, whether it is agriculture, industries, or the service sector, would be dependent on technology. Due to various factors, we could not reap the benefits of the electronic and computer based development that countries like Japan and South Korea enjoyed after World War II. However, we must make sure that we do not also miss out on the opportunities that are arising from the knowledge-based and modern technological innovations that are the hallmark of the 21st century.
Future growth throughout the world will be led by innovations such as the Internet Of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Biotechnology, Big Data, Robotics, 3D Printing and other cutting edge technologies that are still in their infancy. We must strategically invest in such new technologies, infusing them into our education system and introducing them into each economic sphere.
I know that already in our country various enterprises and a large number of youth are already connected with modern technologies and are providing various services from which they are earning an impressive income. I recently met a young man of about 24 years. He is already a very successful entrepreneur providing information technology services to a number of western countries. I asked him what does a government need to do to create many more entrepreneurs like him and his simple answer was to teach English to the young generation and to provide high speed Internet facilities throughout the country.
This is exactly what other countries in the Asian region are doing. For example, China is laying down a fibre optic cable from Pakistan to the Phillippines, and setting up 5G network connectivity for hundreds of millions of people. Sri Lanka too will benefit greatly from 5G data links that will enable high speed broadband access throughout the country.
Most developing countries have realized this reality and are spending a large amount of money on technology centered investments. China, who has invested about USD 16 billion in Israel has established a Sino-Israeli Technology Innovation Fund to help new entrepreneurs. Technion that is in Tel-Aviv in Israel is a research university dedicated to Artificial Intelligence. The Chinese Ali Baba Group is investing USD 600 million in a tech city in the United Emirates for robotic technology based companies. Japan is also investing millions of dollars to take their already sophisticated industries to the next level of technology innovation. Almost every country in the Asian region are creating an interest on foreign investments. We too need both foreign and local investors’ support of this nature to tap into investments that will lead us to benefit from the 21st century developments.
Foreign Direct Investments across Asia is creating hundreds of thousands of jobs annually in electronics, information technology, automation, real estate and business services, adding value across the economy. This has attracted the global private equity industry to Asia, which has already surpassed Europe as the world’s second highest private equity destination after the United States.
However, what is important here are the policies we need to follow when accruing foreign investments. While strategically encouraging Foreign Direct Investment we must also safeguard our sovereignty, local entrepreneurs and businesses. We need an FDI policy that will attract investments which can transfer technologies and knowledge, and increase our productivity. We need to encourage investments into high tech industries such as Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Internet Of Things and Big Data, for otherwise it would take a long time if we were to develop our own expertise in these areas. By selectively bringing in foreign investments in such spheres, we will be able to leapfrog old technologies and adapt to new technological trends much faster. This will provide us what has been called by some economists, the “second mover advantage”.
The greatest resource we have with us is our future generation. The development of this human resource is the primary responsibility of a government. To make our future generation productive citizens, we must pay special attention to nourish them with the required knowledge and cultivate their skills and talents. Instead of stranding them in the education field, we must broaden their opportunities to receive a higher education or a technical training.
In 2018 alone, about 280,000 students had failed their Ordinary Level and 99,000 had failed their Advanced Level exams. Universities had not been able to accommodate 170,000 even though they were qualified to receive a tertiary education. We cannot be happy with this situation. For a year, only 35,000 students can be accommodated into the 15 State universities and the five degree awarding non-State institutes. Even then, a majority are not following technical subjects.
If we are to face the 21 century that is centered on technology information, then we must make large investments in both our education system and its facilities. At the tertiary level, countries across South and South East Asia are trying to significantly increase university admissions – at times doubling, tripling or even quadrupling it. Sri Lanka should not fall behind this trend. We must establish the required infrastructural facilities for this purpose in a very short space of time. By utilizing the capacities of the State universities and other State higher education institutions efficiently the number of students admitted to tertiary education can be increased. We must also use modern technology to broaden the educational facilities. Distance learning must be promoted by establishing open universities where degree courses can be followed. In this manner students can easily accrue the knowledge and skills needed to engage in jobs such as information technology, management, service sector administration that are essential to the economy. Our closest neighbor, India is implementing this program very successfully.
India’s private education powerhouse NIIT has scaled onsite and online industry linked skills programmes to reach 500,000 students per year. Training is provided to them on demand, with tailored courses being offered to meet the needs of local and global companies. These companies range from oil rigs to tech parks, with curricular offerings expanding to service, insurance, supply chain management, programming and other sectors. Once students complete one assignment, they can return for others. This reflects NIIT’s motto: “the spirit of lifelong learning, without beginning, without end”. This industry linked education model is one that we should follow.
Furthermore, we need to raise the current diploma awarding institutes to degree courses. To do so, new curriculums need to be introduced with proper training given to the lecturers. In line with this thinking we are planning to advance the curriculums in teacher training and nursing schools to degree awarding levels. The inadequacy of degree qualified, well trained teachers is a lacunae that is already keenly felt in this field.
Today there is a great demand in the world for nurses. In Germany alone, there is a vacancy for about 200,000 nurses. A well trained and experienced nurse can easily earn more than Rs. 500,000 from most European countries. By advancing the current three-year diploma training our nurses receive to a four-year degree course and by providing them a proficiency in English, new opportunities can be created for them to work in foreign countries according to international standards. From a country’s perspective, providing skilled workers instead of unskilled labor for foreign employment is far better and more dignified, while also providing the country with an avenue to increase its foreign exchange.
To create employment opportunities for students who have completed their education to only either Ordinary or Advanced Level, we must establish technical and industrial colleges. This will uplift the moral of our young adults whilst providing a much needed skilled workforce to the economy.
We should also bear in mind that Education can also be a foreign exchange earner. Instead of sending Sri Lankan students abroad, we should find ways to attract foreign students to Sri Lanka. There are countries that have pursued such a strategy very successfully. For example, nearly 100,000 Chinese students are enrolled in schools across Australia, making education Australia’s third largest export. Malaysia has started following this model in recent years, and has more than 150,000 international students studying in its higher educational institutes. If we can make the necessary educational reforms, we too can attract foreign students.
We have already adopted a similar model at the Kotelawala Defence University. However, it is very important that we rapidly improve the standards of our other Universities to attract more students. All our State universities should strive to enhance their world rankings. Similarly, we should also encourage the private sector educational institutes in our country to gradually enhance their standards. They should introduce job specific educational programs.
It is important here is to understand the demand that exists for job specific qualifications in local and foreign market. Zoho University in India is following a very successful model. This program provides “coding boot camps” for students who had not completed their secondary education so that they can be eligible for programming jobs. This is a model that can be adopted in Sri Lanka too to provide job specific training.
We must also understand that our opportunities are only confined to the technology field. One of the industries that we can easily develop is our tourism industry. This sector, that earned about USD 4.4 billion in 2018 has the space to grow to generate an income of at least USD 10 billion. To achieve this target, we need to attract seven million tourists. We need to thus double the hotel accommodation capacity as well as build hotels meeting with the highest standards. We would also have to increase the skilled and unskilled workforce to meet the sectors needed to service the tourism industry such as new shopping complexes, domestic flights and other transport facilities. We would also have to identify new services to provide an innovative experience to our tourists.
The construction industry is another key growth sector that has huge potential. The domestic construction industry has already proved engineering capabilities that are on par with international standards.
When planning for our future, an industry that is of vital importance is our agriculture. One third of our people live on agricultural based sectors. We have to uplift the standard of living of this sector. Right now, we earn USD 2.6 billion from our agricultural exports, out of which USD one billion is earned by our tea. When we have a vast array of spices, fruits, vegetables, pulses, fish and many more delectables we should be able to earn much more from our food industry. Even our tea sector, according to the experts in the tea industry, can be developed further to earn an export income of over USD five billion.
If we want to develop our agriculture industry, we need to do more research, and use modern technology. We need to bring in technological solutions such as drip irrigation, vertical agriculture, and organic food production, all of which can generate higher incomes. Instead of using high levels of fertilizer and pesticides, we have to encourage and train our farmers to engage in organic farming for better revenue. It is time for the government and the private sector to work hand in hand to transform our agriculture industry.
The first step should be to reach self sufficiency in product categories where we can minimize or avoid imports of food products. The next step is to turn our farmers into agricultural entrepreneurs, and encourage them to enter global markets and find niche markets where they can thrive. ASEAN exports of meat, fruit, tea and other agricultural goods to the Gulf States has doubled in less than a decade, contributing to their 130 billion dollars in annual trade. This is an opportunity for us to explore.
It is not only in agriculture but we need to focus on value addition in all economic spheres. Instead of exporting raw materials, we need to now promote branded products and goods. We already have success stories like Dilmah Tea in this regard. As the Government, we will need to support by giving direction, appropriate and facilitating marketing.
Environment is the national heritage that we would be passing to the future generations. As such, we are duty bound to protect our environment. We must be conscious to invest in sustainable development that would benefit the generations to come. Therefore, we must be very sensitive to the effects of the decisions we take today. I believe we must explore further into renewable energy that can be used in both the power sector and the transport industry. Even countries that produce the most amount of oil and gas have understood their responsibility to the environment.
Saudi Arabia has planned to initiate seven renewable energy projects in 2019 to attract total investment of USD 1.5 billion US. Saudi Arabia’s ambitious renewable energy plans seek to achieve over 25 gigawatts of wind and solar power generation in the next five years, and close to 60 gigawatts over the next decade. Kazakhstan, another country that produces Oil and Gas is investing about USD 1.2 billion over the next 5 years to generate renewable energy using solar, hydro, wind and biomass.
We must constantly create public awareness on the importance of the management of forest conservation, coast preservation, waste management, sound and energy management while also making these responsibilities part of the national policies. I am of the view that the Government should be the enabler for society to prosper and meet its aspirations. In this context, the regulatory environment should be streamlined, and government administration should be made efficient. The Government should regain its credibility by placing an internationally reputed national procurement system and procedures, a contract management system, and a transparent and accountable public expenditure management system. Undertaking such systemic reforms and institutional strengthening initiatives will enable the private sector, public sector, international lending agencies and investors to make credible and sustainable decisions on economic issues.
Sri Lanka is a democratic country. We were the first country in the Asian continent to obtain universal suffrage. It is through universal suffrage we gain our sovereignty. To protect the sovereignty of the citizens, rule of law becomes vital. Therefore, we have before us the responsibilities such as reviewing the constitution, revamping laws that have got obsolete with time and changing the election laws to meet the needs of today. There can only be one law in a country and that law must be equal to all.
We need the support of domestic and foreign investors to accelerate the nation’s economic development. For this, we need to demonstrate that we have an independent judiciary and an efficient legal system. We should also have properly functioning dispute resolution mechanisms such as arbitration. The role of professionals, civil servants and technocrats in managing foreign relations, national security, law and order, state enterprises and government services will be explicitly recognized and strengthened.
To achieve this goal, attracting professionals to the public sector, and rebuilding confidence and trust in public servants and institutions, must be given priority. Government officials who discharge their duties in good faith and with utmost integrity should be given necessary protection through an improved legal framework. It is paramount to ensure that such a legal framework would prevent officials from being subject to politically motivated witch hunting.
Even in developed countries, clever administrators do not emerge at the same rate as lawmakers. They too spend much time arguing about law, instead of implementing policies. It is thus the responsibility of the politician to understand the need of the people and to include it in to national policies. Those policies must be enacted by the technocrats, who are actually officers with a comprehensive knowledge on the subject and are tasked with the responsibility of administrating that that sector.
We need to marry the virtues of democratic inclusiveness with the effectiveness of technocratic management. Democratic feedback is crucial for governments to ensure that they are on the right track. To strengthen democracy, politicians must be supported by technocrats.
In a country with a well functioning democracy, people are provided with the opportunity to express their opinion of their government through timely elections. After assuming power, the politicians must be mindful in administrative matters. They must get the support of clever administrators who are well versed in their subject area. Failure occurs every time partnership is neglected.
I am convinced that investment and development can be fast tracked if a credible and firm decision making machinery is established within a transparent governance framework. The country has already seen the benefits of such a frame work in many flagship investments in tourism, ports and transportation, urban housing development, waste management, and city beautification during the 2010 -2014 period. We can repeat that speed and effectiveness by picking the right team to deliver the promises of a new Government. I am positive that the private sector will also be determined to contribute its best to help achieving our common objectives.
I love my country, I am proud of my country and I have a vision for my country. I seek your support to achieve that vision. Let us work together to create a prosperous country for our future generations.
May the Noble Triple Gem Bless you all!
*The English version of the speech delivered by me at Viyathmaga Annual Convention 2019.