By Sandun Jayawardana   While the government used the two-day adjournment debate on President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Policy Statement to echo his call for all parties to come together to resolve the economic crisis, opposition parties dismissed such calls as insincere, while adding that his statement to Parliament did not reflect the ground situation. President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s [...]


Govt. shores up support for President’s policy statement while opposition shoots it down


By Sandun Jayawardana  

While the government used the two-day adjournment debate on President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Policy Statement to echo his call for all parties to come together to resolve the economic crisis, opposition parties dismissed such calls as insincere, while adding that his statement to Parliament did not reflect the ground situation.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Statement of Government Policy made before Parliament on Wednesday (7) contrasted with the situation on February 2022 and how much the situation had improved from February 2023 up to now.  

Opening the debate on Thursday, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Colombo District MP Madura Withanage said while his party did not support President Wickremesinghe when it was in the opposition, it now had great respect for him after seeing the way he navigated the country through the economic crisis and the way he refused to bow down to the diktats of foreign diplomats. Mr Withanage praised the decision to resolve land ownership issues of over two million Sri Lankans by giving freehold land deeds under the “Urumaya” programme. “The SLPP decided to support and elect him President because we saw him as the best alternative at the time and his record over the past two years proves we were right,” he stressed.

The support extended by the SLPP together with the vision and programme of President Wickremesinghe has enabled the government to rebuild the country to a certain extent, SLPP Gampaha District MP Kokila Gunawardena said, noting that the country is in a far better state today when compared to this time two years ago. She pointed out that the government had taken measures to protect the most vulnerable from the impact of the economic crisis by launching programmes such as “Aswesuma” which covers over 2.4 million families. Ms Gunawardena echoed the call made by the President for all parties to come together to rebuild the country. “As the President said, we can go back to politics and contest separately when the election comes.”

If the government expects the opposition’s support for its efforts, it must treat opposition parties and MPs with respect, Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella said adding this was not the case. He noted the government had stripped opposition MPs of their decentralised funding, which he said had never happened during the 35 years he has been in Parliament.

The President arriving in Parliament on Wednesday to deliver his Policy Statement

“Leaving that aside, we recently held a peaceful protest, which ended up being attacked. We obtained a permit to hold our protest away from the areas we were prohibited from entering by court…but we were still attacked. How shameful is it to attack us and then ask for our support?” he queried from the government. He said that if the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) were to support the government in such a situation, its MPs will not be able to show their faces in their villages. Mr Kiriella stressed that the country needs a new government that has the trust of the people. He said such a government will have a mandate for a year or two to truly rebuild the country.

The opposition’s only target is an election rather than finding solutions to the crisis, State Minister of Finance Ranjith Siyambalapitiya said. “Their sole aim is to come to power. They have no other solution.”

He said the President’s Policy Statement clearly detailed the difficult path the government undertook to bring the country to its current position, and alleged it was something the opposition could not stand to hear. The people however, are wide awake. They noticed how divided the opposition is. While one group left another stayed, he reminded the House.

Many of the decisions the government took to bring the country out of the economic crisis weren’t popular and provided fodder for the opposition, said Mr Siyambalapitiya. The President however, had the courage to follow through with those decisions for the sake of the country. “For example, the number of tax files were earlier reduced from 1.7 million to 500, 000. Increasing the number of tax files again to rectify this situation will never be a popular decision, but it is thanks to the President’s courage in taking such decisions that the country has reached some level of stability,” he stressed.

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa meanwhile, presented a 20-point plan which he said was the SJB’s alternative, practical approach to resolve the economic crisis. He said the SJB’s “middle path” did not subscribe to either far-right neoliberalism or far-left socialism. He said the SJB rejects economic contraction and advocates shifting towards expanding the economy while ensuring inclusive economic growth. He added that the SJB will look to sign a more humane developmental agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) by revising the existing agreement for improved microeconomic and macroeconomic management.

The President may wax eloquent about how much he has turned the economy around, but everyone knows that they are just hollow words, stated Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran. “It is true that there is a semblance of normality that has been restored. With his long experience, one must concede, he has steadied the ship somewhat and we wish to congratulate him on that, but when you have a moratorium on debt repayment, that’s a looming disaster. It gives you immediate relief only to have darker clouds surround the country a little later,” he remarked.

Mr Sumanthiran also reminded that the President, soon after being elected to the post by Parliament, had assured the House that the ethnic conflict will be resolved before the 75th Independence Day celebrations. “Now we have gone past the 76th Independence Day as well and (there has been) not a hum, not a word from the President on that issue.”

Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said the government led by the President was able to go for a “new model” to resolve the economic crisis and that the model adopted by the government was a practical one. He added that the government intended to implement a special programme this year that will provide vocational training to every child who either leaves school or who has to give up schooling for any reason.

He noted that the President expressed confidence before Parliament that the country can achieve economic growth. This shows enormous confidence in the country’s economy. He said the government had achieved trust that the market will be able to maintain and strengthen economic stability in order to attract investors.

The country’s agriculture sector was facing a severe crisis due to the human-elephant conflict, former President and Sri Lanka Freedom Party Leader Maithripala Sirisena said. He said areas such as Dimbulagala and Welikanda in his home district of Polonnaruwa were facing a severe human-elephant conflict. At least two to three people are now either killed or injured in the district every week due to elephant attacks, he claimed. He also questioned how the government’s economic advisors had been unable to provide any solutions to reduce the country’s income disparity.

Parliament reconvenes at 9.30am on February 20.

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