As Sri Lanka celebrated 72 years of Independence from the British colonizers, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the official National Independence Day celebration in Colombo, yesterday pledged to assure and enhance the political and economic freedom of all citizens of the island nation.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa addressing the nation during Sri Lanka’s 72nd Independence Day celebrations in Colombo yesterday
Pic by Shameera Rajapaksa
He identified poverty, archaic regulations, procedures and systems and arbitrary fee and permit structures that hamper the standard of living of all Sri Lankans, as the real issues that hinder their political and economic freedom and not ethnicity, religion or culture as many would perceive. While starting his brief speech with a strong remark that Sri Lanka is a unitary state, President Rajapaksa stated that he is the president of all Sri Lankans despite their ethnicity, religion or political alliances.
“I’m duty-bound to fulfill the necessities of all Sri Lankans and that is my responsibility and obligation. I do not expect any barriers from the legislature or the judiciary to carry out my duties.
“Not only I respect the freedom of all Sri Lankan citizens, but also I will enhance that freedom to establish political and economic freedom as in any meaningful democracy.”
President Rajapaksa pointed out that freedom of Sri Lankans has been limited by how politics had been evolved in Sri Lanka throughout the years.
“The people are facing numerous difficulties due to laws and regulations that were imposed without proper study, consultation or coordination. As a result, the loss of precious hours, resources and livelihood opportunities are many. Also, these have led to various malpractices and rampant corruption,” he said.
He also urged the immediate need to revisit the permit and licence culture that is imposed upon the citizens, which disrupts them to carry on with their day-to-day lives.
He said to fight malpractices and corruption, the government shouldn’t impose blanket rules on the majority, who are law-abiding citizens and, instead should swiftly implement the law on those few who break the law.
“We should ensure a type of freedom to the people which allows to them to live as law-abiding, disciplined and virtuous citizens. “We should immediately reform the outdated laws, regulations, taxes and fee structures that obstruct people from freely carrying out a business or self-employment,” he said.
As soon as he was elected, President Rajapaksa’s administration introduced sweeping reforms to the country’s personal and corporate tax structures and a credit relief scheme for struggling small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to provide the much needed stimulus to spur economic activities.
However, this move irked rating agencies on concerns of negative implications to the government revenue, which consequently led to the slashing of Sri Lanka’s credit outlook to ‘Negative’ from ‘Stable.’
On the contrary, the government believes that the economic stimulus would enhance economic activities and largely compensate the loss in revenue.
Sri Lanka’s economic growth remained dismal, specially during the last couple of years, as the previous administration was overly-obsessed with managing the country’s debt than stimulating economic activities, which in turn reduces the debt burden. Institute of Policy Studies Executive Director Dr. Dushni Weerakoon last week called for a prudent mix of macro stimulus and pro-growth reforms to address Sri Lanka’s low growth trajectory and expanding the public debt burden.