June 27, 2022
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    Rapid strides to fulfill high expectations

    December 20, 2019

    Sugeeswara Senadhira

    President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is a man in a hurry. He knows that the people have placed high expectation on him and he wants to deliver fast. In his first address itself, he referred to high expectations and vowed his intention to build a democratic society, a prosperous economy and uplift the lives of the people of our beloved Motherland.

    As this column is written on the first month anniversary of assuming duties by President Rajapaksa one could review the utterances and actions taken by him during the last 30 days. His policy statements were well within the promises spelt out in his election manifesto. When he addressed the security experts, educationists, technocrats or diplomats, his utterances he did not waiver away from the policies outlined in the manifesto.

    Meeting the media heads, he assured them that he was absolutely committed to media freedom and free expression of opinion. The country now enjoys democratic rights and media freedom to a degree not experienced before. He also said in a lighter vein that a section of the media uses it to malign and slander him. Referring to a section of international media reporting on the alleged abduction of a Sri Lankan national employed in the Swiss Embassy, he said they painted him as the victim.

    There are challenges before the government, the President said and added that raising the standards of living of the people is the top priority. That includes poverty alleviation as well as heralding togetherness and reconciliation among Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Malays, Burghers and others. The foundations have to be created for the people of this country to live as one family.

    New challenges

    The new President’s first challenge was to limit the Cabinet to 16 from among the 225 members of Parliament, which he did without ruffling feathers of seniors who held important Cabinet portfolios in the past. He did that keeping almost everybody contended. Though there are some disgruntled elements, the people have endorsed his decision to keep a small Cabinet of ministers.

    President Rajapaksa assured that the media freedom will not be hindered in any form during his tenure. Opportunity is available for any reasonable criticism, President said adding that he expects every media institute to fulfill its obligation towards the country while engaging in media reporting. Endorsing the ‘watch dog’ role of media, he said that the government welcomes constructive criticism as when media highlights any faults of the government, he could rectify those errant ways.

    Addressing the heads of media institutions, he said, “People of this country elected me to the office of the President with great expectations. Enhancing the efficiency of politicians and public officials, elimination of corruption and the economic development are some of the priorities among them. As such I expect the fullest support and cooperation of media towards achieving these objectives.”

    A positive image of the country is imperative in attracting investments and building economic cooperation at the international level. The media has a wider responsibility in building a good image about the country, President said. While pointing out the bias reporting by a section of the international media, the President expressed appreciation on impartial local media reports on the incident related to the Swiss Embassy employee.

    The President expressed his regret over the attempts by international media channels to give undue and incorrect publicity to this incident and pointed out that media in this country have the ability to counter such false propaganda.

    City beautification projects

    As a person who has set a proud record by ensuring the cleanliness of the cities, towns and villages, the President enlightening the media heads on the city beautification projects and wall painting project currently underway throughout the country. He pointed out that these new developments are not a result of anyone’s request but an artistic trend originated among the youth who love their country. President also emphasized the importance of media to encourage them.

    Displaying that he was not a typical politician, President Rajapaksa gave his frank opinion on the controversial 19th Amendment to the Constitution and the demand for devolution. He pointed out that the 19th A was drafted without proper study of its possible repercussions and it has created certain ambiguity in the government. It was resulted in instability as there were uncertainty and vagueness in dispensation of authority.

    The past experiences have proven that devolution would not happen without a consensus among the majority. Hence, the demand of devolution is a waste of time and as President pointed out what is essential is to develop the economy and ensure every citizen gets equal opportunity irrespective of the area in which they live.

    President Rajapaksa handled the first international issue he faced with finesse. Before meeting the media heads, he held a meeting with Hanspeter Mock, Ambassador of Switzerland in Sri Lanka to brief him on the investigations on the recent incident involving a locally recruited official of the Swiss Embassy.

    “It is very well established by now that the alleged abduction is a total fabrication. Irrefutable evidence such as Uber reports, telephone conversations and CCTV footages point to this fact. The Embassy official must have been compelled by some interested parties to bring myself and my government in to disrepute. It is not clear why the alleged victims acted in such a manner,” President observed.

    Swiss Embassy incident

    At the same time, President Rajapaksa acknowledged that he saw no wrong in the initial reaction by the Swiss Embassy when this incident was first reported. “It is justifiable. If a member of its staff is in trouble, the Embassy has to intervene”.

    President requested the Ambassador to cooperate with the government to conduct the investigation to its end so that the truth would be emerged. Ambassador Mock conveyed warm congratulations to the President over his recent election victory on his and his government’s behalf. He added that he especially appreciated President Rajapaksa’s remark that “he is the President of all Sri Lankans”. “Switzerland is happy that traditional relations with Sri Lanka remain strong and mutually beneficial”. Focusing his attention on recent incident involving a locally recruited official of the Swiss Embassy, the Ambassador stressed that Switzerland harboured no intention to do any harm to Sri Lanka.

    “We wish to work together for the benefit of both countries. Also we need to overcome this situation of tension and to remove any misunderstanding,” the Swiss Ambassador said.

    Although the statement issued in Berne is quite contrary to the Ambassador’s positive remarks, Colombo’s display of diplomatic maturity would ensure that no long-term harm would happen to Sri Lanka’s international image.


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