Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe stressed the government’s financial accountability to Parliament, making it clear that they will only adhere to the instructions and orders of the Parliament in the debt optimization program. He asserted that he is committed to preventing the country from descending into anarchy by avoiding out-dated political practices, and he remains devoted to developing Sri Lanka.
These statements were made during the 29th annual meeting of the Coconut Growers Association, held at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute. At the event, President Ranil Wickremesinghe expressed gratitude for the invitation to attend and acknowledged the historical significance of coconut cultivation for Sri Lankan businesses. He highlighted that until 1970, the Sinhalese people held a significant amount of coconut land, but this changed with the land reform of 1972-73, leading to a decline in the capital of Sinhala businessmen.
He further mentioned that during the presidency of J.R. Jayawardena, efforts were made to develop the coconut industry with assistance from the Asian Development Bank. However, he acknowledged that the coconut industry’s progress over the last 50 years has not been satisfactory, contrasting it with other countries such as Brazil and Vietnam that have rapidly advanced in coconut cultivation.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe emphasized the current situation of coconut farmers in Sri Lanka, with 82% of them owning less than 20 acres of land, while only 18% are engaged in large-scale cultivation. Comparatively, India, which started coconut cultivation with approximately 20 million acres of land in 1950, now has around 45 million acres dedicated to coconuts.
He pointed out the significant difference in coconut yield between Sri Lanka and neighbouring regions like Tamil Nadu, Telangana, and West Bengal. While Sri Lanka’s coconut production stands at 7000 nuts per acre, these regions are achieving much higher yields, such as 11,400 coconuts per acre in Tamil Nadu and 10,000 coconuts per acre in Telangana.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s address at the event indicated his concern for the coconut industry’s development in Sri Lanka and his commitment to fostering progress in the sector to match the advancements seen in other countries.
In the Andhra region, coconut cultivation yields approximately 15,000 coconuts per acre, which is twice the output we achieve here.
A proposal has been put forth to merge three coconut-related institutions, and it seems appropriate to combine the Coconut Research Institute with the Agricultural University, thereby streamlining the process.
The government has already initiated an agriculture modernization program with the aim of creating a highly competitive economy through agriculture. To achieve this, we must also focus on advancing the coconut industry. Increasing coconut production and marketing it effectively are crucial. Relying solely on price control will not lead to successful business development. Instead, the key lies in boosting production and enhancing the value of coconuts.
Investments should be encouraged in the coconut industry. Currently, 55% of total coconut production comes from the Coconut Triangle, and the plan to establish a second coconut triangle in dry areas is a promising step forward.
Despite the country’s financial challenges, the current government possesses the capability to address these issues and move forward. Loan optimization activities are underway, and discussions have taken place with leaders from various countries. The goal is not to default on outstanding loans but to gain more time to repay them while finding ways to pay off debts incurred for necessary imports. This necessitates a shift towards a highly competitive export economy.
The loan optimization work is in progress, with proposals presented in the cabinet and discussions held with the International Monetary Fund and major creditor countries. After parliamentary discussions and amendments, the proposal has been submitted for acceptance. The State Finance Committee of the Parliament has actively participated in this process, working diligently regardless of party differences.
The President expresses gratitude to the State Finance Committee for their support and hopes that the opposition would also back the initiative. Regrettably, internal issues between opposition parties have hindered their support, but the President remains thankful for the backing received from everyone. The aim is to complete the loan optimization work by September or October this year.
Despite not receiving support from the opposition initially, many members from opposition parties later backed the continuation of this program without objection. However, some groups sought to disrupt the program, resorting to street protests, which were ultimately unsuccessful in garnering public support. Now, they are attempting to utilize the court for their political agenda, seeking prohibitory orders.
Halting this program could have negative consequences, as foreign countries might be less inclined to engage in business with us. The country is already facing issues such as fuel pollution and farmers losing access to necessary fertilizers.
The control of public finances lies with the Parliament, and this program has already been approved by it. The Parliament, being the custodian of the sovereign power of the people under Article 04 of the Constitution, exercises all the necessary powers. The government operates within the framework set by the laws of the Parliament, and decisions can only be changed or continued with the Parliament’s notification.
The President emphasizes the need for unity in moving the country forward and warns against the destructive influences of old politics. He is committed to the responsibility of developing the country and works in tandem with the Parliament, particularly in the loan optimization program, where their accountability lies.
Minister Ramesh Pathirana highlighted the significant increase in coconut export income in recent times, driven by the growing demand for various coconut products like milk, substrate, and activated carbon. This year, exports related to coconut products are expected to generate 700 million dollars, and the goal is to achieve a 2 billion dollar export income within the next decade. To support this, a second coconut triangle is planned to be established, covering areas in the Northern Province like Jaffna-Point Pedro, Mannar, and Mullaitivu.
Currently, two-thirds of coconut production is utilized locally, leaving only one-third for exports. The plan is to increase opportunities for exports by altering this situation.
The event was attended by the President of the Coconut Growers Association, Jayantha Samarakoon, Secretary Shakila Wijewardanayana, and many others.