President Ranil Wickremesinghe says he aims to make Sri Lanka a developed country by 2048.
The President said the youth of the country have been allowed to contribute towards this goal.
The President expressed his views during an interview on the 22nd via Zoom with the youth of the “2048 Youth Platform on the Journey towards a Developed State” programme.
The youth were granted the opportunity to question the President on the social, economic and political issues of the country as well as the problems faced by today’s youth.
Mr President, you always say that for the country to move forward, opportunities must be provided to the youth. Back in 1977, Mr J.R. Jayewardene allowed you to come forward as a young leader to contribute to the development of the country. You aim to make Sri Lanka a developed country by 2048. Have you commenced the process of training youth leaders for it?
First, we are working towards creating a situation where our country can move forward. When I took over the country, the country’s economy had completely collapsed. If we are unable to recover from this predicament, we will have no future. During the agitations in the country recently, I took over this government and initiated measures to resurrect the bankrupt economy. The youth of the country have the opportunity to take part in it. One of the steps that I have proposed is to appoint five young people to every parliamentary oversight committee. The selection of members and chairpersons of the oversight committees has not been completed yet. Similarly, we intend to legalize the youth parliament. There is an opportunity for new youth to come forward through the proposed Jana Sabha. In addition, we have invited the groups that joined the struggle but did not resort to violence, to participate in this process. I hope this move will produce the new leadership we need. I would like to assure you that we are now paving the way for it.
One of the main factors that will contribute to making our country a developed state is to guide the youth towards entrepreneurship. I would like to know what your vision is to bring young people forward as entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs began to emerge following the open economy in 1977. While these measures were initiated during the British era, entrepreneurs emerged in the 19th and early 20th centuries. However, after 1960, the number of entrepreneurs decreased because of the government’s tight economic control. In 1977, we were in a very competitive economic environment in Asia. However, today our economy is not competitive. From 1977 to date, we have not been able to join this program. A good example is the oil tank farm in Trincomalee. For 15-20 years, these tanks were not utilized. If not for LIOC, we would not even have this concession.
Many businesses in the country have gone bankrupt today. Our banking system has been safeguarded with the greatest difficulty. Our priority should be to strengthen our banking system. We should also make our economy competitive. The export economy should be strengthened. Young entrepreneurs can take over these bankrupt businesses and uplift them.
We need to look at how we could provide loans to young entrepreneurs. In a situation like this, if we are to forge ahead, our banking system needs to be strengthened.
If our rules and regulations for receiving foreign investments are further relaxed, the investment opportunities in this country will expand further. Everything needed for the garment industry was outsourced, the only advantage we had was labour. Today we have been able to produce these things locally. We send them abroad. This is how the value increase has been systematically done. It is in this process that youth should look for opportunities.
Is there a special plan to engage the youth of this country for the country’s development, if so, we are eager to hear it?
Why are you waiting to be invited to join the country’s development? There are ample opportunities for it. What the youth should do is utilize this opportunity and contribute towards the country’s development without waiting to be invited to do so.
Former President J.R. Jayewardene also faced the same issue you are facing today. Having been influenced by him, what do you think of the country’s future? Will you follow in his footsteps and continue with the same foreign policy?
Challenges must be faced. No one can escape from these challenges. The biggest challenge facing our country in this century is how to move forward with post-war modernization. We were not prepared for it back then. Even after the war, we held on to that same mentality. That world has now completely collapsed. The reason is that we cannot forge ahead burdened by debt.
We need to act diligently. We have been living in a dream world. Ne must step out of that dream world. Mr J.R. Jayewardene came to power in 1977 and initiated the open economy. Countries such as China, India and Vietnam had an even tighter controlled economy. Back then, China was poorer than India. However, China went ahead with the open economy. India is also heading towards that development.
Vietnam is a country that was destroyed after the war. However, today it is a developed nation. The war in our country ended in 2009. Even when we were in the government in 2019, the people were still not ready for this modernization. As a result of the tax policies implemented in 2019, the country’s economy has completely collapsed. Now the youth of this country are facing its negative effects. Some young people are leaving the country claiming that there is no future.
Another group is waiting to build their future. We must accept that challenge. That is what we have to learn from J.R. Jayewardene and other leaders.
Mr President, we would like to know about the government’s program on food security and what the agriculture policy for the coming year is.
We have already started a program on food security. In addition, the program of providing fertilizer for agriculture has also been implemented. We have received the dollars required to purchase fertilizer. As we have received money from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other countries, we can now purchase fertilizer.
The fertilizer needed for the Maha season is currently available in the country. It will be distributed shortly. If there are any shortcomings, I have advised the authorities to look into them.
We have also taken steps to provide the required fuel for agricultural purposes. We also expect to receive the second batch of fertilizer after the 15th of November.
We plan to commence food production completely within the first three to four months of next year. Currently, there is no problem with paddy production. However, maize cultivation needs to be expanded.
We would like to suggest that a fortnight of agricultural promotion should be designated to discuss issues that could arise about the Maha Season cultivation while a program should be implemented to attract youth to agriculture.
Our agriculture has to be modernized. There are agrarian service centres and several officers are working at the village level but they have not been deployed to duties systematically. Thus, when agriculture is modernized, we have a lot of work to be done.
The brain drain has become one of the most serious issues in the country. Although the country receives foreign exchange through it, the loss of human resources is a problem. We would like to know the action you intend to take to prevent brain drain.
The high rate of brain drain commenced last year. It has increased rapidly this year with the economic crisis. Future uncertainty is the cause of it. I would like to raise two matters in this regard. The first issue is if it is just to leave the country have received free education and get a good job. This situation will last until the middle of next year. Government revenue has dropped to 8.5 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product which should be raised to 14 per cent. The non-taxation in the past is the root cause of this issue. Now, we have got to move forward with the new tax systems.
You have mentioned that you would focus on foreign investments rather than on foreign loans. We would like to know what stance you maintain on foreign investments and your proposals to get the contribution of the youth in this regard.
The countries develop themselves with foreign investments and not with borrowings. China developed with foreign investments and it is ahead of India as the latter was slow to attract foreign investments. Vietnam is also another country that has advanced itself with foreign investments. A country cannot go forward without foreign investments.
Foreign investment creates new business opportunities and increases production. It is the only way we can move forward. Following the war, it attempted to develop the country by taking foreign loans, which proved a failure. In 2015, although I had the opportunity to bring about a solution, the program was not continued and that is the cause of the predicament we are in today.
We have to create a conducive environment for foreign investment and we are working on it. If we impose restrictions and take two to three years to reach decisions, our country will not get investments. Therefore, we have to make drastic changes in the existing system to move the country forward.
Mr President, our attention has been focused on Russia with the issue of crude oil. Discussions are in progress with them to get crude oil on a long-term basis. What is your position in that regard?
Mostly we get crude oil from Middle Eastern countries and there would not be a change in it. However, with the contemporary crisis, Russia has also suggested obtaining credit facilities. Several problems have arisen in that regard. Some restrictions have been imposed on getting fuel from Russia and they are not lifted yet.
Mr President, winter is approaching in Europe. They too are facing the crude oil problem. Under such a situation, people from European countries are awaiting to travel to Eastern countries. I would like to know if Sri Lanka has proposed any tourism promotion program targeting them.
We have a program to promote tourism this year and the result is expected by next year. Europeans have already decided which countries they would travel to and I hope, we can achieve these goals by next year.
Mr President, there were different youth groups in the struggle. There were groups with ulterior motives. There was a group of youth who were devoted to the future of the country. Would not you like to make this an opportunity to invite those youth?
I have already extended my invitation to them. We are always ready to discuss with those groups at any time. In addition, we would like to say that we are ready to discuss with the youth who were misled in the struggle.
We would like to discuss this with both the devoted group and those who were misled by the struggle. The groups who tried to gain their political intentions by way of violent activities in the guise of the struggle too have the opportunity to make a confession and join hands with us if necessary. We should not neglect them, as they must acknowledge that they had caused harm to the country.
Naturally, various measures are being taken by the people of a country when the economy faces a crisis. However, violence in the guise of them should be paid attention to. If there were a group who realized that they resorted to violence and it was wrong, we would discuss it with them as well.
Mr President, have you got the chance to watch a movie or read a book recently?
All my books were burnt so I am unable to read them. Since the 09th of June, I am watching a movie about the country comprising several sequels. Even the first sequel is not completed yet.