As we move into 2016 today the focus will be on simple week-long celebrations to mark the first anniversary of the people’s silent revolution through which Maithripala Sirisena emerged virtually out of nowhere to be elected as the executive president of Sri Lanka.
Senior Minister and United National Party General Secretary Kabir Hashim told a news conference on Wednesday that in line with the national government policies there would be no wasteful expenditure, luxuries or extravagance in the week-long celebrations to mark the January 8 revolution. Instead all state buildings and even houses were being requested to hoist the national flag, while more importantly every ministry will launch a mega development project during the week in terms of the mid-term economic strategy outlined by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in November. Being launched today as a New Year gift to the nation is the Western province and Megapolis development plan which President Sirisena described on Wednesday as one of the most important projects of the mid-term economic strategy.
The Megapolis Development Plan formulated for the entire Megapolis development in the country including the Western Province was presented to the President on Wednesday at the Presidential Secretariat. The President called on all ministries, state departments, corporations and provincial authorities to corporate in successfully implementing the national government’s biggest development project for 2016. Beautification of the cities and boosting the living standards of the people will be done through this project. The Megapolis Development Plan has identified issues that should be given priority. It has paid attention to traffic congestion, garbage disposal and housing facilities for slum dwellers, drinking water and sanitary facilities. The implementation of the development plan will be carried out under three phases and be completed by 2030. The President said this plan was intended to develop every major city to a similar level and thereby reduce the number of people who were migrating to Colombo, seeking better facilities. Megapolis and Western Province Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka said Sri Lanka would be able to get about USD 30 billion worth of investments within the next 10 years through this Megapolis development project.
As the Daily Mirror mentioned in its 2015 review on Wednesday, the national government has indeed achieved much. The rule of law, judicial independence and the independence of the police are being restored. The landmark event was the approval of the 19th amendment through which the executive powers of the presidency were significantly reduced, an all-party constitutional council setup and about 10 independent commissions to monitor the work in vital areas. The witness and victim protection act was passed by parliament as was the long-delayed legislation to setup the National Medicines Regulatory Authority to provide quality drugs at affordable prices and restore a health service where the well being of the patients is given priority. The long delayed Right to Information bill was also presented as was the draft amendment to the constitution. These two drafts are expected to be debated in parliament this month while the major constitutional amendments will require a two-thirds majority in parliament and approval by the people at a referendum.
While these plus points need to be appreciated there are many minus points also. While the people are able to speak out with freedom and breathe with freedom, there are valid complaints that living standards have not been improved significantly and the cost of living is soaring. For instance the price of green chillies this week had soared to Rs.1000 a kilo. The President and the Prime Minister have acknowledged that the stomach is more sensitive than the head and they are aware of widespread discontent over the failure to improve living standards and reduce the cost of living. But they are also insisting that with a stable National Government in office this is the time to review some of the populist policies such as the free pension scheme for a bloated government sector comprising of about 1.3 million employers. Where the government has failed is to educate and make the people aware that if Sri Lanka goes on with wholesale subsidies or welfare schemes the economy will crash. Instead of doling out charity the government needs to work for justice where there will be a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources and the human dignity of all people will be restored.
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