Seven days ago Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the 7th executive President of the Socialist Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka delivered his policy speech at the fourth session of the eighth Parliament.
He is the first non-parliamentarian and non-politician to have assumed the presidency in this Island Nation and for the first time since gaining independence the Head of State and Government arrived in Parliament devoid of the traditional pomp and pageantry of being escorted by motorcycle outriders, the mounted police and without the usual guard of honour by the armed forces.
These accouterments by and large mean little or nothing other than that of being an ego trip and by doing away with them the President had set another hard-to-follow precedent. It is no secret that government ministers, deputy ministers and state ministers who entertain a false sense of importance by the size of their security detail and the back-up vehicles would have been brought down more than a notch or two by the President`s example.
He arrived in Parliament clad in a dark-coloured suit and after being welcomed by the Speaker and the Prime Minister delivered his policy speech titled, “Visions of Prosperity and Splendour” in which, he underscored his vision and mission for a future Sri Lanka under his stewardship.
In his speech he said the people who elected him to office desired a profound change in the political culture of this country while rejecting political agendas founded on race. “The majority of the people proved that it is no longer possible for anyone to manipulate and control the politics of this country by playing the role of king-maker,” President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said.
He invited politicians concerned to understand this reality and invited all to participate in the national undertaking to develop this country and reject the politics based on petty agendas that have sown division in this country in the past.
“In accordance with our Constitution, I pledge that during my term of office, I will always defend the unitary status of our country, and protect and nurture the Buddha Sasana while safeguarding the right of all citizens to practise a religion of their choice,” the President said. “I have served this nation as an Army Officer for twenty years and as Secretary of Defence for nearly another ten years. Even though I was not actively engaged in politics, I have experienced what service to the people is, from an early age.”
He recalled watching parliamentary proceedings from the public gallery and said the Parliament at that time was exemplary with the political thrust and parry being of a high order.
“The debates were replete with logic and rich arguments. Schoolchildren and adults were eager to come to Parliament to listen to those debates. Members of Parliament always behaved in a way that upheld the dignity of the Parliament and the office they held. The people then had great respect for Parliament and the people’s representatives. Unfortunately, latterly, that respect has gradually waned,” the President said. “This Parliament should once again become an exemplary institution where the real issues of the people are discussed, where matters concerned with national policy are subjected to debate, and where the responsibilities of the legislature are duly fulfilled. The responsibility of ensuring that the Parliament once again becomes an institution winning the respect of the people lies with the Members who are in this House.”
He said there was a social, economic and political crisis in the country today and that even after 70 years of Independence we could not be satisfied with the country’s development.
The President said the primary responsibility of a people’s representative is service to the people and that they would do well to remember that the office they hold is not to do with privileges, but responsibilities.
He said eliminating poverty was a priority of his Government and to do so the causes of poverty must be identified and solutions found to issues such as the lack of proper education or skills, the lack of land for cultivation, or the lack of capital for self-employment.
The foregoing are only a few of the matters he highlighted in his35-minute policy statement, which we hope would not be confined to mere words but be converted into results-oriented meaningful action with tangible benefits for all Sri Lankans.
Incidentally, January 3 was also significant because it was on that day when Parliament met after a month-long prorogation that United National Party (UNP) MP Sajith Premadasa assumed office as the Leader of the Opposition.
We wish the President and the Opposition Leader all the very best in their future endevours.