Exactly three years ago to this date the people of Sri Lanka decided to reaffirm their commitment to democracy by giving a mandate for the formation of a National Unity Government based on the principles of Good Governance.This marked a turning point in the country’s history as the two main parties – the UNP and the SLFP - opted to govern together for the first time. Two statesmen deserve the credit for this unprecedented transformation – President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
The National Unity Government has many achievements to its credit, but the main achievement is ending the atmosphere of fear and suspicion.The Government has ensured the freedom of expression, media freedom and the right to live without fear. One of the salient features of good governance was that President Sirisena as pledged in his political manifesto took measures to prune down the powers of the Executive Presidency while the enactment of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution helped re-establish independent commissions which function outside the influence of the Executive and handle key areas of governance like elections, public service, Police, judiciary and others. In addition, the Government fulfilling yet another long felt overdue appointed members to the Constitutional Council. However, as much remains to be done, the incumbent Government which assumed office in August 17, 2015 has taken several praiseworthy initiatives to ensure good governance in the country.
President Sirisena contested for the presidency in January ‘15 elections which would bring political stability to the country and embark on a much-needed reconciliation process among political and ethnic groups. The Government has already achieved remarkable progress when it comes to freedom and good governance. Under the National Unity Government, Sri Lanka has improved many places in the world media freedom index and it was a clear testimony of the democratic space enjoyed by citizens at large. The Government has shown that it is willing to listen to the citizens’ collective on controversial matters. The Government had adopted a tough stance on corruption – a Presidential probe was conducted into the Bond issue while another Presidential Commission is probing SriLankan and Mihin. Special courts were recently established to expedite the hearing of pending corruption cases. An anti-graft campaign is on islandwide.
The Government during its span of three years has been able to make comprehensive constitutional reforms in the country. The enactment of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and Right to Information Bill have facilitated to make significant changes within the country's socio, economic and political fabric.The Parliament adopted the 19th Amendment to the Constitution on April 2015 by two-thirds majority. With the enactment of 19th amendment, the powers of the Executive President were reduced and the task of making key Government appointments was entrusted upon the Constitutional Council. The 19th Amendment ensured an independent judiciary. Under the 19th Amendment, the President cannot dissolve Parliament by using his power. It brought a two-term limit for a President.
The new political culture also created an environment conducive for the journalists to perform their duties in a free and fair manner. State-orchestrated attacks on journalists and white van abductions have come to an end and the journalists have been provided with the opportunity to engage in a balanced media reporting. No journalist has been subjected to harassment since January 2015. This is bolstered by the Right to Information laws that foster a culture of transparency and accountability in public authorities by giving effect to the right of access to information and thereby promoting a society in which the people would be able to more fully participate in public life through combating corruption and promoting accountability and good governance.
The Government has also embarked a massive development drive during the last three years. The government had very rightly decided to continue with the Colombo Port City programme with a new favour as a financial hub. The Hambantota Port and Airport will be developed with overseas assistance. Colombo and the suburbs will soon be connected by a Light Rail Transit (LRT) project under the Megapolis programme. The Central Expressway linking Colombo, Kandy and later Dambulla is nearly complete. The biggest Mahaweli project, the twin Moragahakanda-Kaluganga project was recently commissioned by the President. The Government’s new Grama Shakthi and Gam Peraliya programmes will herald in a rural transformation.
The Government is on track to achieve ethno-religious reconciliation. The minority ethnic groups enjoy freedom compared to the situation under the previous Government when extreme nationalist forces threatened the multi ethnic and multi religious character of our society. There is also an improvement in the field of democratic atmosphere of the country.
The National Unity Government that came to power on January 8, 2015 has taken a genuine interest in achieving reconciliation among all communities and religious groups in the country. Both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have been personally committed to fostering reconciliation among all communities from day one. Both of them have visited the North several times, meeting the ordinary people and solving their problems.
In fact, this Government has taken upon itself the task of implementing most of the LLRC recommendations which were either neglected or ignored by the previous one.Its commitment to reconciliation and lasting peace has never been in doubt. Unity among different communities will be one of the main planks of the new Constitution which is slowly but surely taking shape with the participation of all Members of Parliament and other stakeholders.The Government has allocated vast resources for health and education. In the health sector, the prices of many medicines were reduced, cancer patients get treatment for life, stents and cataract lenses were reduced in price and more facilities were given to all hospitals.
There has also been a dramatic decline in tobacco consumption in the last three years. The Government is allocating more resources to the education sector and there is a programme to provide tabs to senior students. The Government has also done a lot for the country’s labour force and targets one million jobs for the youth, which is likely to end the problem of unemployment.The Government also ended the country’s international isolation, gaining victories at the UN Human Rights Council and fostering good relations with all friendly countries.
The Government is not flawless and there have been disagreements among the two ruling parties from time to time. It is still a new experience for the country, but we must admire the commitment of the President, the Prime Minister and many others who have been unwavering in taking the National Unity Government forward. Politics has often been described as the bane of national growth and development – hence we should strive to continue this political unity for the sake of the nation.