The Government’s policy statement delivered by President Ranil Wickremesinghe during the opening of the 4th session of the 9th Parliament (08.02.2023)

  1. These children and youth are the future generation of our country, who wish to rebuild the nation, without leaving. It is our responsibility to create a country where they can live freely. Therefore, this is your responsibility, the Honorable Members of the House. This is also the responsibility of every Sri Lankan.
  1. We have been able to safely guide Mother Sri Lanka a long way across a challenging course. It was not an easy journey. However, it is not yet over. 
  1. We committed to securing the financial system that was on the verge of collapse. Government expenditure was controlled. Measures were taken to increase tax revenue.
  1. We know that tax revenues decreased due to decisions taken in the past. As at 31st December 2019, 1.6 million businesses, companies and individuals paid taxes. However, by December 2021, the number of tax payers decreased to five hundred thousand. Government tax revenues fell to an all-time low.
  1. Realizing the destruction this caused to the economy of the country, many institutions and organizations requested to revert to the tax system which existed in 2019.
  1. Remember, I’m not here to be popular. I want to rebuild this nation from the crisis situation it has fallen. Yes, I’m ready to make unpopular decisions for the sake of the nation. People will realize the importance of those decisions in two to three years.
  1. Some people say that the primary taxable income should be raised from 100,000 to 200,000 rupees. Others say that the PAYE tax method should be abolished. We did not impose these taxes willingly. However, just doing what we like will not build the nation. Even reluctantly, the right policy should be implemented.
  1. If PAYE tax is abolished, the country will lose 100 billion rupees. If the tax limit is raised to two hundred thousand rupees, the economy will lose 63 billion rupees. The total amount that will be lost is 163 billion rupees. We are presently not in a position to lose this income.
  1. At present, most of the taxes are paid by the general public. Since taxes from individuals and institutions directly liable for taxes are not being properly collected, all Sri Lankans pay huge sums of money as indirect taxes. A large number of people who are not liable to pay taxes, pays it by default. These taxes are called indirect taxes.
  1. In 2021, our direct tax was 21% while indirect was 79%. Therefore, we should take action to rectify this tax divergence. Then the tax burden on the general public will be reduced.
  1. If we continue in this manner, we will be able to give an additional allowance to public servants in the third and fourth quarters of the year.   
  1. Would be able to give concessions to the private sector.  Public would become prosperous, with income sources being increased. The interest rate can be reduced. In another three years, the present income can be increased by 75 per cent.
  1. Despite difficulties, we have taken measures to protect the vulnerable groups suffering due to the economic crisis. This has been fully supported by the World Bank.
  1. However, the welfare system in our country is distorted. Even those with higher incomes are subsidized. We are taking measures to change this situation. Those in absolute poverty are identified. A program is being prepared to finance them directly through a welfare bank account.
  1. I never promise what cannot be delivered, and never lie in seeking power. I am currently implementing all the pledges in the budget speech and the last opening session of the Parliament. Through this, we have been able to create some stability in the economy. It is clear to many that the future cannot be built on falsehood.
  1. We are now moving from a negative economy towards a positive one. By the end of 2023, we can achieve economic growth.
  1. When I first addressed this Parliament as the President, the inflation of the country was 70 percent. Due to the measures we have implemented, it was reduced to 54 percent in January 2023. We will strive to make it a single digit by the end of 2023.
  1. Migrant workers have been extremely supportive to the motherland at this critical juncture. By the end of 2022, their remittance reached USD 4 billion in foreign exchange.
  1. Our entrepreneurs and migrant workers made this commitment in the context of political parties and groups influencing them on diverse fronts. They have proven that they increase export revenues and remit money to Sri Lanka not according to the political party in power, but for the sake of the country. All of them deserve our respect.
  1. We have now been able to increase the foreign reserves which had fallen to zero up to USD 500 million.
  1. We were able to revive the tourism sector. Tourists visited Sri Lanka even in the midst of political street protests. Sri Lanka was designated among the top 10 tourist destinations in the world. The number of tourists who visited Sri Lanka in the month of January is over one hundred thousand, which is a record.
  1. If we continue according to this plan, we can rise out of bankruptcy by 2026. As I have been continuously appealing, if all the parties in this Parliament join the process to build the country, we would be able to extricate from this crisis even earlier.
  1. We left the IMF in 2020. That short-sighted decision has also affected the current situation. Bangladesh was able to obtain IMF assistance early, as they had continued to be in that process. We had to initiate the process from the beginning. However, amidst all the difficulties, we started this journey.
  1. Now we are negotiating debt restructuring with our creditors. The only other way is to get support from the International Monetary Fund, which could be progressed based on negotiations. We have no other way but this process. I request the political parties criticizing our course of action, to please present their alternative solution to this House.
  1. We have now reached the final stage of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund. We were able to reach a basic agreement last September and now there is the debt sustainability program.
  1. India has agreed to debt restructuring and has extended financial assurance.
  1. The Paris Club announced yesterday that they will extend unstinted support for the Agreement with the IMF and debt restructuring. With that announcement, we receive the Paris Club endorsement.
  1. The international support demonstrates that we are on the right path. This is reconfirmed by the pressure on the public becoming less than before.
  1. It is predicted that the harvest will increase in the Maha Season. Financial provisions have been allocated to purchase these crops. A plan has been implemented to process paddy to rice worth 20 billion rupees with its distribution free of charge to low-income families, with 10 kilos of rice being given twice a month.
  1. Sri Lanka’s economy today is severely damaged. Its malaise needs to be immediately diagnosed and treated accordingly. However, people are pointing to the mistakes made by those in-charge and are urging them to be punished first.
  1. We are introducing an Anti-Corruption Bill. We are taking steps to include the “Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative (StAR)” into this Bill, together with the World Bank and the United Nations.
  1. By obtaining the agreement of the IMF, we will be able to stabilize the economy. However, we have more steps to take in moving forward.
  1. With the certification by the IMF, we would be able to receive loan assistance from other international financial institutions such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank etc. Accordingly, the confidence of investors will also be established. Therefore, there will be a tendency for foreign exchange to flow into the country. We should use such financial aid for the development of the country through efficient management.
  1. Also, the economic reforms required for our country should be implemented. We neglected economic reforms for the sake of narrow political agendas. The burden of loss-making government institutions was borne by the people. Last year, the loss of state-owned enterprises was approximately 800 billion rupees. The people have been bearing all that loss for many years. However, they do not realize this situation. They bear the burden of these loss-making government institutions. Even the most destitute have to bear the cost of maintaining these institutions.
  1. Therefore, we should immediately carry out economic reforms. Countries like Thailand and Vietnam that have taken such steps are moving forward day by day. Otherwise it would retard our economic development.
  1. There are many instances where state sector land and buildings are wasted without being used for any productive purpose. We expect to use them productively.
  1. There are a number of fertile lands owned by government institutions, which have become forest land. There are thousands of acres of abandoned paddy lands. We are working towards utilizing all that effectively for agriculture.
  1. Projects based on credit will be implemented in the future only based on an evaluation process. It is imperative to stop the practice of directing public investment for political reasons.
  1. The banks are re-vitalizing.
  1. We expect to use technology to the maximum for increasing production, providing goods and services, industrial and agricultural modernization etc.
  1. Currently, the revenue of the country is 8.15 percent of the GDP. It is our expectation to increase this to 15 percent.
  1. Remember that currently, we are facing an economic crisis which is more decisive than the past conflict in the North and East. Though ethnic groups were divided during that conflict, all Sri Lankans have to cooperate in this current struggle.
  1. If we ignore the problems without a solution, we will lose overcoming this economic catastrophe, and therefore will be dependent economically. Therefore, it is our responsibility to bear the hardships and provide the necessary support to win this economic crisis.
  1. Both Hon. R. Sampanthan and I were elected to Parliament in 1977. We both have a common dream, which is to provide a sustainable solution to the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka while we are both in Parliament.
  1. The conflict in the North and East affected the entire nation and many areas were severely damaged. The Northern Province entirely and several areas in the Eastern and North Central Provinces suffered immensely from the war. We are taking steps to put more weight on the development of these areas. A general plan is being implemented in this regard.
  1. In the Jaffna district, there are 3300 acres of state land including security camps. The extent of 100 acres that had been taken over for the Palali Camp were recently released. A decision has to be made regarding more land to be released for which discussions are being held with the Army and other parties. Discussions have also been initiated regarding the lands around other security camps.
  1. Many village lands were gazetted as forests. Now the conflict is over. Due to the reason of lands owned by the people being gazetted as forests, there has been a great injustice to the community. People from Monaragala to Jaffna are facing this problem.
  2. We are streamlining and expediting the process of tracing missing persons. The mechanism of the Office on Missing Persons will be strengthened.
  1. Our attention has also been focused on the people who have been imprisoned for being involved in terrorist activities. They have been imprisoned for many years without trial. We are taking measures to systematically release these prisoners.
  1. Drafts are being prepared to establish a National Land Council and a National Land Policy.
  1. We envision bringing new laws regarding the implementation of powers of the Provincial Councils in the field education.
  1. Amendment will be introduced to the following Acts in order to regularize and streamline the delegation process.
  1. We expect to establish a modern system for the District Development Councils to streamline the coordination functions between the Provincial Councils and the Central Government.
  1. We expect to determine the boundaries of DIG divisions according to the provinces. There is no change in police powers.
  1. The report of the Presidential Commission to investigate the violation of human rights, serious violations of international human rights laws, has now been received. Its recommendations are currently being studied.
  1. A separate plan is being implemented for the development of the North.
  1. Necessary measures will be taken for the river and water management in the Eastern Province, restoration of Vadamarachchi Lake and lagoon, and accordingly, which will provide water for drinking and agricultural purposes.
  1. The electricity requirement in these areas is expected to be generated through renewable energy.
  1. More opportunities will be created in the tourism sector. Investment zones will be established. The required technology and facilities will be provided for the modernization of agriculture.
  1. The Kankasanthurai Port is being modernized and expanded.
  1. Trincomalee is being developed as a modern international city.
  1. A special development plan is also being launched for the Eastern and North-Central provinces that have suffered economic and social setbacks during the conflict.
  1. Special attention is being paid to the Upcountry Tamil community, who were first brought to Sri Lanka 200 years ago, to develop plantation industry in Sri Lanka.
  1. We know that the Muslim community faces various problems from time to time and they have our full support.
  1. The Sinhalese community is also facing issues of their own which require open discussion. We expect to recognize the communities that are marginalized in society especially due to caste discrimination.
  1. Considering all the facts, we expect to devolve power within a Unitary State. However, I wish to reiterate a fact has been emphasized on many occasions. There will be no division of the country.
  1. In addition, we regulate the Jana Sabha Act for the function of representing public opinion.
  1. The traditional politics that we have followed so far is no longer valid. Deceptions made with lies and illusions for political gains are not suitable for the future.
  1. Some political parties that discuss about system change propose to change others instead of themselves. This is also a part of traditional politics.
  1. If we come, we will change, that’s what they say.
  1. Youth representatives have not still been appointed to Parliamentary Oversight Committees. I request this Parliament to implement this system at the earliest. It is your responsibility in this House to get the maximum benefit from the Parliamentary Oversight Committees.
  1. We will not stop there. Steps are being taken to make all the MPs active stakeholders in the governance.
  1. A Parliamentary Budget Office will be established as a fully independent entity.
  1. A Conduct of MPs and Parliamentary Standards Act will be drafted.
  1. We are working to appoint a Selective Committee on the Election system after discussing this with the Party Leaders. I believe that intellectuals, youth and women should be given adequate space in the envisaged new electoral system.
  1. I will act to appoint a Presidential Commission to look into the Political Parties of Sri Lanka and submit a report regarding the methodology which they should implement.
  1. In order for a better future, new institutions, rules and programs are being introduced.
  1. Therefore, we urge to establish a system of institutions ranging from an institute of journalism to a university for journalists, in order to receive international-level training.
  1. I request all of you to submit proposals on the policies and practices that we should follow in the next 25 years. Submit your ideas whether you are in Sri Lanka or abroad. Join this collective exercise of rebuilding the nation.
  1. I re-emphasize that we all should come together to get rid of this crisis. This unity should commit to implementing one policy with one objective within a certain period of time. A social convention should be established. We all have to change our lifestyles for the sake of the nation.
  1. We expect to establish the Social Justice Commission to implement this social consensus. The new policy framework for the next 25 years will be created based on this social consensus.
  1. We cannot allow our motherland to become an economic or social colony. Anarchy cannot be allowed. No one who truly loves the nation will allow such a situation. We all should stand on the side that supports the nation and not that which is bent to destroy the country.
  1. Let’s not be prisoners of the past, but think about the future. Let’s unite consensually and move forward democratically to support the recovery of the nation from the current crisis. If anyone wishes to have a political agenda, let’s consider it after we rescue the nation.