A pointer to the future | Daily News

A pointer to the future

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Address to the Nation on Independence Day highlighted several key points about the country’s future direction and endeavours.

Having noted at the very start of his speech that Sri Lanka had to face “religious and ethnic conflicts, racist and terrorist activities, undue external influences, constitutional crises, and many other obstacles” over the last 73 years, he said “the challenges of establishing national security, achieving true reconciliation among various communities of our nation, and building a strong economy that can deliver sustainable economic development and eliminate poverty still lie ahead of us.”

In a subtle nod to certain developments in the international arena that may have an impact on the country, President Rajapaksa said, “Traitorous elements always band together and seek to marshal domestic and foreign forces against a leadership that upholds the indigenous way of life and the country’s sovereignty.” We have to rise collectively against such attempts aimed at eroding our freedoms, in line with the President’s pledge to “protect the nation’s independence, unitary status, territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

We have to overcome one more challenge and subdue an enemy that is unseen and unheard. We have fared better than most developed countries in terms of facing the Coronavirus pandemic – Sri Lanka was recently placed tenth in a global survey of 100 countries conducted by the Australia-based Lowy Institute. This is a testimony to the commitment of our healthcare, Security Forces, Police and other essential services personnel and also to the effectiveness of policy decisions taken by the political leadership.

The President has spearheaded the drive to secure COVID-19 vaccines for all Sri Lankans. In fact, Sri Lanka is among the few developing countries to have a COVID-19 vaccination campaign already underway, when even some developed states such as Japan and Australia have not yet started theirs. This was made possible through our friendly relations with the rest of the world. With Sri Lanka poised to obtain more COVID-19 vaccines from India, China, Russia and WHO/COVAX, the President stressed that the “vaccination programme will be carried out without any disruption.” The vaccination of all eligible citizens this year will be the main pillar of our exit strategy from the current predicament that has disrupted virtually every sector of activity.

Indeed, it is vital to see an end to the pandemic to extricate our economy from the current impasse. However, there are certain steps that can be taken even within the limitations imposed by the pandemic. For more than seven decades, we had an import–driven economy whereby even essentials such as rice were imported despite having a flourishing agricultural economy.

The pandemic showed us that such an approach could have serious consequences at a time of global disruption of trade. As the President suggested in his speech, “an important lesson learnt by all nations faced with the prevailing global crisis has been the need for a strong domestic production base and this experience has further underscored the appropriateness and timeliness of our policy of strengthening domestic agriculture to ensure food security and self-sufficiency.”

The Government has successfully launched an agriculture drive aimed at turning farmers into agricultural entrepreneurs, which will receive a boost with today’s launch of the islandwide “Irrigation Prosperity” programme. The President also spoke of the need to develop the services, industries, construction and SME sectors, apart from the tourism sector which has been dealt a severe blow by the Coronavirus pandemic. The opening of the airports has given this sector a ray of hope.

The President also focused on education, a field in which Sri Lanka has shown excellent indices often on par with those of the developed world. In the face of the pandemic, we face the challenge of getting students back into classrooms and lecture halls. Online lessons can only be accessed by a certain percentage of the population, which poses the danger of leaving others behind.

The President alluded to the fact that educational reforms are essential to forge ahead in the “Knowledge Century.” Indeed, the current mismatch between school/university curricula and job market requirements must be addressed as part of these reforms. While it is gratifying to note the higher intake of university students from this year, the time has come to tailor their courses to reflect the needs of the real world and the global job market.

The President touched on one more very important topic in his speech – deregulation. It is no secret that some laws and regulations that impact our day-to-day lives are more than a century old. They should be updated and changed where necessary. The President recalled that a Presidential Deregulation Commission has been established to change outdated laws and regulations that affect the public and local and foreign companies. Implementing the recommendations of this Commission will provide a significant impetus to future economic development. It is also vital to reform the public service as a parallel exercise. All these efforts are coalescing into a grand vision for a prosperous future, an endeavour which all citizens must support without any reservations.