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President calls on SJB, JVP to collaborate with Govt. (Pics)

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President Ranil Wickremesinghe urged political parties, including the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and Janatha Vimukti Peramuna (JVP), to collaborate with the government in safeguarding the country’s economic stability by ensuring the success of the agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). 

Speaking at the United National Party (UNP) May Day rally in Colombo this evening (01), President Wickremesinghe emphasized the importance of not disrupting the IMF program and preventing the country from regressing to the economic situation of 2022, engaging in traditional political stances. 

Under the theme of “A proud Nation that will never fall again,” this May Day rally saw a significant turnout of party members from various parts of the island, including affiliates of the United National Party. Adding to the event’s significance was the presence of Monaragala District Member of Parliament representing Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Dr. Gayashan Navanandana joined the rally to express his support for the United National Party.

Addressing the gathering, President Ranil Wickremesinghe reiterated that despite some believing the United National Party to be finished, it was instrumental in reviving the previously faltering economy.

Highlighting the significance of today’s May Day rallies nationwide, the President emphasized the democratic and economic resurgence evident in the country. He noted the symbolic return of the opposition leader, previously barred from Galle Face, now holding his party’s May Day rally at Chatham Street.

Additionally, the President pledged to unveil a comprehensive plan aimed at fostering a robust export economy, thereby ensuring a promising future for the nation’s youth.

Addressing the gathering, the President further said:

 ìI want to extend my heartfelt gratitude to all of you who have joined us here at this May Day rally. There were those who believed that the UNP was finished, that it was time to bury the UNP. Yet, in the face of adversity, we have risen to the occasion, breathing new life into an economy that was once buried under the weight of challenges.

In 1956, many believed that the final nail had been hammered into the coffin of the United National Party. Yet, against all odds, the UNP emerged stronger than ever. Similarly, in 1970, there were predictions of the party’s demise, but we went on to govern the country for 17 years. Today, despite declarations of the UNP’s end, we have once again stepped forward to rescue our nation in its time of need.

Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake sought the most auspicious moment to establish the UNP. The significance of holding the meeting in the evening rather than the morning. Similarly, when it came to granting independence to Sri Lanka, he ensured that it was done under the most auspicious moment. Keep in mind that most auspicious moments only belong to the country and the UNP. It is this dedication that has enabled us to uplift our nation from its challenges and setbacks. 

The display of cut outs from various political parties today is a testament to the vibrant democracy in our country. May Day parades are being held across Colombo, showcasing the diversity of political ideologies and voices in our society. From SLPP in Campbell grounds, SJB in Chatham Street, Digambaram in Talawakale, Ceylon Workers’ Congress in Kotagala and JVP in Jaffna, May Day rallies are taking place across the nation. This democratic spirit allows for meetings to be held even on highways and grants individuals the freedom to criticize without fear of reprisal. Such freedoms were not as prevalent in our country just two years ago.

The incident where the leader of the opposition was attacked and expelled from Galle Face was regrettable, but today we uphold democratic principles by allowing him to hold his May Day rally on Chatham Street. This exemplifies the essence of democracy. My assumption in the roles of Prime Minister and President was necessitated by the collapse of the political system in our country. 

Typically, when the Prime Minister resigns in any country, the Leader of the Opposition is appointed to that position. However, in our country, not only did the Leader of the Opposition, but all other parties and their leaders also ran away. The SLPP, which held the majority in Parliament, declared their support for anyone who accepted by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Initially, I reached out to the Leader of the Opposition, but he was unavailable. Additionally, the JVP did not step forward. Consequently, as the leader of a party with only one MP, I assumed leadership of the country. The United National Party has always faced challenges head-on without hesitation. Despite some opposition to this decision, we forged ahead together.

After the President vacated his position that day, rioters tried to take over the Parliament. Many  members of the house ran away. When the army commander approached me to inquire about the situation, I was dismayed to learn that all party leaders had also departed without a decision. I instructed the army commander to safeguard Parliament, emphasizing that it was his duty to do so. It is ironic that those who abandoned Parliament in its time of need now speak about upholding parliamentary democracy. Had that group remained in power, one can only imagine the state of the country today.

Today, May Day rallies are taking place everywhere, with people arriving by busóa stark contrast to two years ago when there was a shortage of fuel to run buses. Now, anyone can easily hop on a bus and attend events across the country. Despite challenges, Sinhala and Tamil New Year celebrations continue to be observed nationwide. Just as we celebrated the New Year with enthusiasm, we now commemorate May Day with equal fervour. In three weeks, Vesak celebrations will commence, once again filling Colombo with bustling crowds. 

Following these celebrations, we will proceed to witness the “Esala Perahara” in Kandy, along with visits to the ìNallur Festivalî and ìDevinuwara Peraharaî. This collective journey has been made possible through the bold steps taken by our government. I express my gratitude to all the parties that supported us in this endeavour. Members from various political entities, including parts of the SLPP, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and Mr. Douglas Devananda, as well as the Ceylon Workers’ Congress, came together in this effort. These alliances transcended party labels, with even segments of the SLPP joining us, while others aligned with the SJB under “Sattambirala”. 

We have reached this point overcoming immense challenges. At the time, many doubted the success of the decisions we made, which were often met with resistance and sabotage. Nevertheless, we persevered and made tough choices to navigate through the difficulties.

During our engagement with the International Monetary Fund, we were informed that printing money cannot be done further. Additionally, borrowing from state banks was prohibited, necessitating the government to rely on revenue generation. As a result, we were compelled to increase taxes to bolster the strength of the rupee. These were difficult decisions, but essential for stabilizing our economy.Despite the challenges, we made that decision. I wonder, what  the responses of the JVP and the SJB were when those decisions were made? Nevertheless, let’s assess the current state of affairs in the country. Today, the rupee has strengthened significantly, standing at around 280 against the dollar. This strengthening of the rupee enhances the purchasing power of the people and improves their financial well-being.

Our country is experiencing an influx of tourists from various countries, and we have achieved a bountiful harvest in the last ìYalaî and ìMahaî seasons. Industries are also making a comeback. To safeguard small and medium-sized enterprises, I have implemented measures to halt the implementation of PARATE laws for a year. Additionally, plans are underway to establish a dedicated department for the security of these industries.

Indeed, the progress we have achieved today has been hard-earned, and it has been safeguarded through our agreement with the International Monetary Fund. Now, we face a crucial decision: whether to protect and advance this progress or regress to the state the country was in back in 2022.

I urge SJB, JVP and other parties to refrain from working against this program and to avoid disrupting our trajectory of development. Instead, I urge them to prioritize the benefit of the people and collaborate with the government to safeguard the current progress. 

It’s crucial for all of us to prioritize the well-being of our country. In 2003, I attended the Tokyo conference and secured USD 3 billion for Sri Lanka, with President George Bush contributing an additional billion dollars, totalling USD 4 billion. However, circumstances shifted in 2004, leading to the withdrawal of these funds. If we retained that USD 4 billion, it could have potentially grown to $10 billion by today. In 2018-2019, we had achieved a primary budget surplus. If we had continued with the program initiated back then, we may have avoided the challenges we currently face. 

It’s imperative to maintain the current arrangement to avoid further risks to our country’s stability. Therefore, I am proposing legislation to Parliament that incorporates the conditions outlined by the International Monetary Fund, as well as the necessary provisions for the rapid development of our nation. I urge all to support this legislation. Specifically, I urge SJB and JVP to come to an agreement and lend their support to this crucial initiative. 

It’s essential not only to safeguard the economic stability of our nation but also to transition towards becoming an export-based economy. While we have made progress, many challenges persist, with a significant portion of our population still facing hardships. Young people, in particular, have struggled to find employment in the past three years. Moreover, the 2019 Easter attack dealt a blow to our economy. To secure a brighter future for our youth, we must embrace change. Relying on the old economy will not suffice. Instead, we need to open up our economy to new investments and opportunities. 

In the past few years, many companies have experienced a decline in profits, posing a challenge to job creation for our youth. It’s crucial that we secure USD 4 to 5 billion to provide employment opportunities and safeguard the future of our young people. Modernizing the rural economy is essential to eradicate poverty and we have initiated programs toward that end. We have taken steps to alleviate the burdens faced by our citizens. Social security benefits have been tripled, with the number of beneficiaries increasing to 2.4 million. Government employees have seen a salary increase of Rs. 10,000, with corresponding raises in the private sector. Additionally, wages for plantation workers have been raised. These measures aim to provide relief to the people and ensure their well-being.

I am putting forth a comprehensive plan aimed at bolstering our export economy and securing a brighter future for our youth. 

In this endeavour, I urge the JVP and the SJB to transcend traditional politics and join hands with us. I call upon the entire country to support our efforts to usher in a new era of economic transformation. Let us work together to propel our country forward while safeguarding its economic stability.

(President’s Media Division)

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SL – Indonesia pledge stronger bilateral ties

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In a significant bilateral meeting during the 10th World Water Summit, President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Indonesian President Joko Widodo reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening the longstanding relationship between their nations. The discussions, which covered a wide range of regional and international issues, underscored the importance of collaboration in addressing global challenges.

President Wickremesinghe, in his opening remarks, highlighted the historical ties between Sri Lanka and Indonesia, dating back to their joint participation in the 1956 Bandung Conference. He expressed appreciation for President Widodo’s leadership in regional, international, and bilateral matters, noting the importance of such summits in fostering global cooperation.

A major topic of discussion was the critical issue of water management. President Wickremesinghe emphasized the importance of the World Water Summit and expressed Sri Lanka’s willingness to participate in the Global Blended Financial Alliance, an initiative aimed at addressing common financial challenges faced by countries in managing water resources. He commended Indonesia for establishing a Secretariat for the Alliance, recognizing its significance for Sri Lanka.

President Widodo, in his remarks, focused on the economic cooperation between the two countries. He stressed the need to finalize the Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) by the first quarter of 2025 to enhance economic ties. Additionally, he highlighted Indonesia’s interest in entering the Sri Lankan vaccine market through Indonesian pharmaceutical companies, and called for the lifting of import restrictions on Indonesian palm oil and related products.

The Indonesian President also showcased Indonesia’s advancements in renewable energy, specifically the country’s largest floating solar power project. He emphasized the importance of hydro diplomacy and political leadership in achieving sustainable water management and development goals. Furthermore, he welcomed Sri Lanka’s leadership in the Indian Ocean Rim Association and its aspirations to become a sectoral dialogue partner.

President Wickremesinghe reiterated the importance of completing the PTA by early 2025, noting Sri Lanka’s existing free trade agreements with India, Singapore, and ongoing negotiations with Thailand, Bangladesh, and Malaysia. He emphasized the potential benefits of joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), suggesting that Sri Lanka’s inclusion could encourage other South Asian countries to follow suit. 

He also mentioned the ongoing removal of import restrictions and assured that Sri Lankan health authorities would address the entry of Indonesian pharmaceuticals into the market.

The discussion also touched upon regional security and economic cooperation in the Indian Ocean. President Wickremesinghe supported ASEAN’s Indo-Pacific outlook and stressed the need for closer bilateral and regional cooperation regarding Indian Ocean affairs. He proposed more frequent meetings between heads of government and a specific bilateral agreement with Indonesia to enhance commercial collaboration in the region.

President Widodo thanked Sri Lanka for co-sponsoring the Global Blended Financial Alliance, emphasizing its role in achieving sustainable development goals. He called for continued collaboration between relevant ministries from both countries to support this initiative. Looking ahead, President Widodo mentioned the upcoming presidential transition in Indonesia and expressed hope that the new administration would continue to strengthen ties with Sri Lanka.

In conclusion, President Wickremesinghe expressed his eagerness to work with Indonesia’s new leadership and extended a personal invitation to President Widodo to visit Sri Lanka after his term ends in October. Both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to enhancing bilateral relations and addressing shared global challenges through continued cooperation.

(President’s Media Division)

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Sri Lanka declares tomorrow a day of mourning

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Sri Lanka has declared tomorrow (May 21) as a day of mourning in view of the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.

The national flag will fly at half mast at all government institutions.

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2 crucial Bills to Parliament on May 22

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Acting Finance Minister Shehan Semasinghe announced plans to introduce two significant bills to Parliament on May 22, aimed at bolstering the country’s economy. 

These bills, the “Economic Transformation Bill” and the “Public Financial Management Bill,” are designed to enhance the management of public finances, thereby safeguarding against future economic downturns. 

Minister Semasinghe made this announcement during a press conference at the Presidential Media Centre today, themed ‘Collective path to a stable country’.

Acting Finance Minister  Shehan Semasinghe, further stated : 

‘The government has scheduled the submission of two significant bills crucial for the country’s economy on May 22. One of these bills is the “Economic Transformation Law,” aimed at preventing future economic collapses. Notably, this legislation stems from the vision of President Ranil Wickremesinghe, rather than being proposed by the International Monetary Fund. The recent stabilization of the economy following previous downturns underscores the importance of preserving this stability going forward.

Additionally, it is necessary to maintain optimal levels of public financial management to avert future economic crises. The “Public Finance Management Bill” is set to be presented to Parliament on the same day, with a focus on enhancing accountability in managing public finances. This legislative initiative aligns with recommendations from a collaborative program with the International Monetary Fund and holds significant importance for the country’s future financial management.

It’s important to underscore the critical significance of both these bills for the country’s future. These drafts contain numerous technical intricacies aimed at bolstering confidence in the economy and maintaining the trajectory of the new economic direction implemented thus far.

Further elaborating on the Economic Transformation Bill, it holds paramount importance for the country’s economic growth. Despite experiencing economic contraction in the second and third quarters of 2023, a notable growth rate of 4.5% was achieved in the fourth quarter. Consequently, the benefits of this economic upturn have started permeating to the grassroots level within the country.

Furthermore, it is imperative to enhance the economic competitiveness of the nation and adapt the economy to confront global challenges while fostering international cooperation and growth. Additionally, this bill addresses necessary changes in various sectors.

Specifically, the legislation encompasses reforms essential for international trade, trade agreements, and climate change mitigation efforts. 

The establishment of a new Economic Commission in Sri Lanka, aimed at attracting investments to enhance competitiveness, fostering a conducive environment for investors, expanding international trade, establishing the National Productivity Commission, and developing export-related institutions, is also outlined in this bill.

Recently, Parliament endorsed the decisions made, particularly regarding economic transformation. In 2022, the public debt ratio stood at 128%, a figure slated to be reduced to less than 95% by 2032. 

Similarly, the fiscal requirement, which was 34.6% of the gross domestic product in 2022, aims to be lowered to below 13% by 2032.

Effective debt servicing is paramount, with efforts focused on establishing Sri Lanka as a debt-sustainable nation capable of meeting its obligations. The aim is to reduce the debt payment ratio from 9.4% in 2022 to below 4.5% by 2027.

A proposed bill will outline specific national goals and actions taken to address economic challenges, providing a roadmap for sustainable economic growth, debt management, agricultural modernization, import-export regulation, and economic governance.

Additionally, considerable attention has been given to the Public Finance Management Bill, aimed at identifying weaknesses in the current legislation and proposing a robust legal framework to meet future needs.

(President’s Media Division)

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