Speech delivered by President Maithripala Sirisena at the 71st Independence Day celebrations on February 4, 2019

(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) –Speech delivered by President Maithripala Sirisena at the 71st Independence Day celebrations on February 4, 2019

Most Venerable Mahasangha,

Hindu, Islam and Christian Prelates,

President of Maldives who is the Guest of Honor at the71st Independence Day celebrations,

Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Speaker of Parliament, Chief Justice, Your Excellencies representing foreign governments, Ministers and Members of Parliament, Governors, Chief of Armed Forces, Police Officers, Heads of Security Forces, Public Servant, Invited Distinguished Guests, my dear people of Sri Lanka,

We gained independence on 4th February 1948 as a result of the freedom struggle against the colonial forces carried over for a very long time by our heroic patriotic leaders. The spirit of freedom commenced at the moment when we lost freedom in 1815, when Venerable Wariyapola Sumangala Thero brought down the British Flag. The attempts through armed struggles to defeat the foreign forces in 1818 and later in 1848 national freedom struggles were foiled. February 4th is the day our country won freedom. Furthermore, that is a day to recall the fragrance of the lives of all those citizens of Sri Lanka who sacrificed their lives and served with commitment for national independence from 1505 to 1948 as well as the war heroes who defeated the barbaric terrorism during the 30 year conflict.

There are foreign interferences and pressures among the challenges we are faced with. With marked contrast to the armed foreign invasions prior to 1948, these interferences have surfaced with a different face.

The celebrations of the Independence Day is not only symbolizing our place in the world map as a free sovereign nation in the global political affairs. I make this an occasion to pay my respect to all those war heroes who valiantly fought in the battlefield, sacrificed their lives, became disabled, missing in action for safeguarding the freedom of the Nation. The Ministry of Defence has already decided to pay the salaries and allowances to the families of the members security forces – Army, Navy, Air Force, Police, Civil Defence Force – who died during the war and to those who were disabled during their lifetime. This is also applicable to the war heroes and those who were disabled in the Police and Special Task Force that was taken under the Defence Ministry recently.

Freedom is a concept that overrides boundaries and extends to entire time space. That extends from the freedom of geographical space, human freedom, and also the freedom to use facebook in the modern era.

Today we are in the tail end of the second decade of the 21st Century and I called upon all the citizens with respect to make this occasion of commemorating the national independence to understand the meaning of independence in a new angle, with an open mind.

The concept of freedom cannot be measured in a scale or a criterion and today it has become so complex to give a clear interpretation.

This is not the time to describe these national problems or national challenges one by one. However, it is sad to note that the leaders of our history, including us, are responsible for the inability to find a clear political solution that all can agree, although a decade has passed after the end of the 30 year war.

Whatever the reasons and whoever was responsible, we all, as political leaders have failed to bring about the economic development our country and the people expected for decades. The people of the country are no longer ready to continue in an economic recession while experimenting on economic development themes and rectifying errant ways. The political leaders who lead the country should be aware of this. Through that, the school education system, university education system, and fundamental reformations of the vocational and technological education should be made in tune with the international standards of the 21st century.

Especially, the modern economical concepts of the 21st century, which is the economy of knowledge, economy of regeneration, Blue-Green economy, the digital economy and other economic concepts must be operated simultaneously in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The 21st Century has been identified by most economists of the world as the “Century of Asia”. Thus, the development of the Asian region would take place very speedy in this era and its benefits should be derived by all of us by making required preparations to be the centre for supply of skilled work force and competent professionals.

All of us know that in 2015 we formed a National Government joining the major political parties. Through this government we rendered a great service to the country. However, most of the tasks that should have been done by the government were neglected. Also, some acts were done that should not have been done.

Since 2015, I have attempted to enter into a new political journey with novel development experiences. The people have fulfilled their responsibility by changing governments at every time. But, most of the governments which came to power destroyed the aspirations of the people. All of us know that the real supreme institution of the people’s supremacy, the Parliament has tarnished its image. How maliciously the MPs took actions to throw chilli powder at police officers inside the chamber and also to bring a knife into the chamber and to destroy the resources used by the MPs that are maintained by funds of the people. At present the people see the Parliament as a mirror image which shows the deterioration of the society.

The leadership of the country is bestowed upon a certain individual to protect the special sections of the society such as underprivileged, innocents, widows, refugees, disabled children and women, farmers, fishing community and labours from harm and exploitation and to provide them economic, spiritual and intellectual freedom.

Every government spent their time to find solutions for the communal conflict. They gave priority to this issue. They attempted to find solutions. As a result of this, finding solutions for the economic crisis of the country was postponed. All gave priority for the ethnic issue.

Today we don’t have solutions for the unemployment and the debt burden. Both the issues are severe. We did not successfully achieve solutions for the ethnic issue or achieved economic victory.

All of us know that there are more than 6,000 languages spoken in the world today, out of that in our country we have only three languages. We should not forget that all of us are one human race.

I believe that the people in the North lived freely during the last four years, after 35 year. We should understand the gravity of the ethnic issue without ridiculing or slandering the concepts of national unity and reconciliation. We should not forget we are living on a mound of ash, under which lies a simmering fire.

We established provincial councils more that 30 years ago. Today, from annual budget allocations to provincial councils, only 15 percent is left to development and capital funding. Of these, recurrent expenditure and maintenance costs are 85 percent. So, we need to act immediately to transform this upside down situation. I see the failure to hold provincial council elections for the last one and a half years as a challenge to democracy‍. Non Government Organizations do not come forward to talk about that.

There are 1.6 million public servants in this country. According to survey reports, the efficiency of public service is only 30 percent. But it should be 70 percent. I see that the mistake is not of the public servants. They do not have the proper guidance.

I see the proposal about a national government in the media. It is necessary to ask how ethical is to claim the formation of a national government by joining with a political party which has only a single Member of Parliament. I only see that as a attempt to increase the number of ministers and increase in the facilities of the ministers and MPs. From what I have seen in the media, I strongly disagree to the idea of proposed national government.

If the number of ministers is reduced to 25 with a single party running a government, as I believe it, is the wish of the people. Before questioning the duties and responsibilities that should be accomplished by the country for you, it is a necessary to think about the duties that should be accomplished by you on behalf of the country. ‘What will we get?’ or ‘What we will receive?’ are questions asked by most. But everybody knows that the most essential thing is to accomplish the duties and responsibilities on behalf of the nation.

We have understood by now that the path taken by the country for 70 years has not given us proper sustainable and physical development or the human capital. The poverty ratio of the country has been reported as 6.7%. Yet, more than 50% of the population is suffering from relative poverty. The daily wage of this population is reportedly less than Rs.1000 a day. One child out of four is suffering from malnutrition. We know the need for expanding the export earnings that has been decreased. In an era where the world is moving towards a digital economy, we are in a threshold of obtaining the essential knowledge for the nation.

The economic racketeers have already made Sri Lanka a centre of illicit drug smuggling. As I believe the development of a county should not be measured by the massive buildings, highways, or different kinds of market places trading in various consumer goods.

The sustainable development that prioritizes the environmental conservation should be our handbook. We have not identified governance with such a vision as politics in the last seven decades. Instead, we have politics of nepotism and self gain as prime motives. As a result, eradicating corruption and drug smuggling has become a major challenge.

Today, what we need is not fraudulent pretension of serving the people, but a clear and far sighted clean governance. In our common vision, we have to protect our indigenous values and be cable of winning over the challenges of today’s reality of globalization.

In addition, since 2015, we completely removed the fear that was prevalent in the country. We won that situation. How difficult it is to remove corruption? I see a scarcity of honest politicians. Therefore, on the 71st national independent day, we must determine to make Sri Lanka a powerful and prosperous nation in Asia that cannot be undermined. We must be determined to build a prosperous and harmonious nationhood and also build a superior economy in Sri Lanka. Therefore, we need to build a green economy that will contribute to eliminate poverty. We need to introduce a system of checks and balances and a mechanism that strengthens parliament to eliminate political anarchy through a proper election system. Furthermore, introducing the skills required for the state governance is very essential.

The utmost priority should be given to the elimination of corruption and malpractices in the country. For that, we should be totally committed. So, we should defeat the drug trafficking and all the rackets and illegal activities that are causing a black economy in the country.

We must take prompt action to provide technical education, incentives and infrastructure facilities to drive young people of the country to step into the future through new innovations. Our educational reforms need to be done immediately to create an educated nation. It is our duty to safeguard the cultural child and the technical child, I spoke of in 2016. We have top create the conditions for all the people to live under a single flag in a an indivisible country that can never be divided. We must stay together.

I wish to remember once again, the war heroes who made the maximum sacrifice in the 30 year old conflict, the disabled and members of their families. Two Sri Lankan war heroes serving in the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission died last week. I express my condolences over their demise on this occasion and extend the honour of the whole nation.

A free verse written by Kumaratunga Munidasa,

‘Ma Desa Hela Desa, Ma Desa Hela Resa.

Ma Basa Hela Basa, Meya Mage Hisa Mata.’

I believe this is the essence of our future vision.

Finally, I will extend the gratitude to the Ministry officials, including the Minister of Home Affairs, officials of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Police, Heads of the Civil Defence Department, all the public servants and all institutions, including the Ministry of Education for their great contribution in successfully organizing this 71st Independence Day celebration and request all to unite with the aim of conquering all the challenges before the nation.

Thank you.

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