Terrorism has no place in modern history –
has no place in modern history. It is not an acceptable means of
expressing political dissent. There is no excuse for killing innocent
children, women and men and terrorise innocent civilians, said President
Mahinda Rajapaksa addressing the ODA Committee of the Upper House of the
Japanese Parliament yesterday (10).
Full text of the speech:
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with great pleasure that I address you today in the Diet Building during my first official visit to Japan as the President of Sri Lanka. At the outset, let me express my sincere appreciation to you and the Government of Japan for the warm welcome and hospitality extended to me and my delegation.
Japan and Sri Lanka have enjoyed a long standing friendship since 7th Century AD when a Japanese Buddhist scholar Amoga Vajira visited Sri Lanka to study Buddhism under Sri Lankan Buddhist Monks in our ancient capital of Anuradhapura. Since then, we have remained loyal friends to each other. Our diplomatic relationship itself has now been over 50 years and continues to remain strong. The role played by Japan in the development of our country during this period is unique and commendable. In fact Japan has emerged as our lead partner in development.
Excellencies, at present, Japanese ODA accounts for 60 percent of the bilateral assistance and 40 percent of the total ODA received by Sri Lanka. The Japanese ODA in Sri Lanka has contributed to build up modern infrastructure facilities. They cover wide areas including telecommunications, sea ports and air ports, highways and bridges, power generation and distribution system, water supply and irrigation, hospitals and schools. The construction of our Parliamentary Complex, National Television Network and the National Blood Bank are also landmark contributions made by your government. The ODA has also helped the growth of SMEs, the development of lagging regions, poverty reduction and peace building efforts.
Excellencies, I wish to place on record that Japan was the first to extend its generosity when our country was hit by the unprecedented tsunami disaster in December 2004, which cost us nearly 40,000 lives. I am proud to say that we have now bounced back successfully and wish to extend my sincere gratitude for the unprecedented level of humanity shown towards us by you. The role played by Japan would remain in our minds for many more years to come.
Excellencies, almost after one year of the tsunami disaster, I received a mandate from the people to lead my country as their elected President. Based on the election mandate, my government has now commenced the implementation of "Mahinda Chinthana": A vision towards a New Sri Lanka the Ten Year Development Horizon Framework 2006 - 2016 to create a strong national economy with equal development opportunities to all. The ten year development framework gives the highest priority to develop modern infrastructure consisting of electricity, expressways and national road network, modern irrigation and drinking water facilities, ports and air ports. Equal priority is also given for the development of education and health facilities as well as culture, art and religion recognizing the home grown values of our diverse society.
Excellencies, I strongly believe that the benefits of economic development must reflect at the community level. Our development in the past has been Colombo based and remained lopsided. Many Provinces in the South, East, Central and North have lagged behind. The thrust of my economic policy strategy is to expand the development beyond our capital city and Western Province. We have therefore, given highest consideration for rural development programmes through "Gama Neguma" - a community based development initiative to empower people. I am glad that the Government of Japan through its ODA has recognized such principles and extended financial assistance for SME sector development as well as small and medium scale infrastructure development projects at rural level. The remarkable contribution by Japan to reduce poverty through provision of infrastructure and market facilities for agriculture is amply demonstrated by the Udawalawe Irrigation Project, which will be completed next year with a total investment in excess of 9 billion Yen.
Excellencies, since I assumed office as the President of Sri Lanka, your ODA programme has assisted our government to speed up the implementation of several important infrastructure projects under Randora - the infrastructure initiative of my Government. The development of a four lane Southern Expressway will connect several backward Southern Districts to the commercial hub of our economy. A further support has been granted to build a six lane Outer Circular Road to expand the development boundaries of Western province. The development of a modern terminal building at our international airport has been completed recently and further expansion is being lined up.
The work on the Upper Kotmale Hydro Power Project has been accelerated. This project can be a strong candidate for Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) credit. In line with the commitment to create an environment friendly power generation strategy in the long run, we have requested assistance for LNG based power generation and related infrastructure development. In my 2008 budget speech to the Parliament, I have emphasized the need for environment considerations and outlined new initiatives for environment friendly development in our country which is consistent with the ODA policies of Japan.
The economic development is the key to promote peace and democracy. In the context of our country, development in the lagging regions, whether they are in the South or North can no longer be delayed. I am encouraged that you believe in development as a necessary step towards promoting peace.
In appreciation of such efforts, let me refer to a few ODA initiatives of Japan in our country. The construction of Manampitiya Bridge which connects the Eastern Province was commenced when I was the Prime Minister and Minister of Highways. Very recently, it was completed and I commended it as a "peace bridge". I am encouraged that Japan has commenced the construction of a similar peace bridge in Mannar which is also an area that the government has liberated from terrorists in addition to the East. As you have helped us to build the Kilinochchi Hospital, I am also determined that we will together build the Jaffna Teaching Hospital and complete another peace building project soon.
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me also mention that our Government has successfully commissioned the Jaffna and Trincomalee Court Complexes and initiated the development of Jaffna Water Supply Scheme and several other infrastructure projects with the assistance of other development partners as well for the benefit of people in the North and East who have suffered enough from the LTTE terror and violence.
Excellencies, having given the priority for the development of lagging regions, we have requested from the Government of Japan to fund Moragahakanda Multi Purpose Development Scheme under the 40th Yen Loan Package. This project will divert water to the Eastern Province and boarder areas of North Central Province. An accelerated implementation of this large project will certainly contribute towards achieving peace and development in our country.
Excellencies, since last year, Japanese ODA to Sri Lanka has exceeded 40 billion Yen. We expect this level of assistance each year over the next three years from your Government in support of our ten year development initiative. During last two years, we have improved the project implementation and aid utilization with the cooperation and assistance of the officials of JBIC and JICA and with the able and dynamic leadership of H.E. the Ambassador of Japan to Sri Lanka and commitment of his staff. We value it very much indeed. I also wish to complement the group of Upper House Parliamentarians who visited Sri Lanka in August this year on a ODA review Mission. I am encouraged that the delegation was impressed with what they have seen on the ground and achievement through Japanese aid to Sri Lanka.
Excellencies, my country is confronted with many challenges. The rising oil prices have cost us heavily. Our exports are faced with global competition. Our people have demanded security, liberation from terrorism and economic development and peace. These are their priorities. Our security forces are engaged in providing protection to people and property as well as exerting pressure on the LTTE to give up terrorism. We do not consider military means alone can solve all problems faced by innocent people. We work hard towards formulating a political settlement. We are also engaged in strengthening provincial administration in the East which is already provided under our Constitution.
At the same time, we have designated the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka as a model for reconstruction and development since its liberation by the security forces. The Government has progressed on the resettlement of displaced families and has launched a programme of providing electricity, drinking water, schools, and hospital facilities to provide a decent living. Main roads are being constructed to connect all major townships. Agriculture, livestock, fisheries and tourism have been revitalized. Incentives have been offered for private investments. We are also seeking assistance from our development partners for the reconstruction strategy in the East. All these are formidable challenges, requiring increased resources, time and effort and above all genuine commitment to manage.
Excellencies, we have succeeded in achieving a good progress in our economic performance in spite of all those challenges. In my first year of administration, our economy achieved 7.7 per cent growth - the highest growth in 30 years. This year too we expect near 7 per cent economic growth. Export earnings have increased in excess of 12 per cent. FDI has exceeded US $ 600 million and is on the rise. Foreign reserves are maintained in excess of US $ 3.5 billion. Government revenue has increased to 17 per cent of GDP the highest level of revenue in 7 years.
Defence expenditure is maintained below 3.5 per cent of GDP despite an increased demand for providing much needed security for the people, property and national assets. The budget deficits have been reduced from 10 to 7 per cent of GDP. Unemployment has reduced to 6 per cent and per capita income is expected to reach US $ 1,500 this year. Progress towards achieving millennium development goals (MDGs) and sustaining a higher human development index is on track. However, due to the impact of oil and international commodity prices, our inflation has increased. The government has made a concerted effort to reduce inflation to a single digit level next year.
Excellencies, as you are aware, our country has suffered heavily from terrorism. Several democratic solutions to harmonize the needs of different communities have been attempted by successive Governments. All such attempts have failed due to arrogance of LTTE that believes in only violence and terror. We all, who believe in democracy, agree that terrorism has no place in modern society. It is not an acceptable means of expressing political dissent. There is no excuse for killing innocent children, women and men and terrorize innocent civilians. The government will vigorously counter such terrorist threats.
We are also firmly committed to work with all stakeholders in promoting a political settlement. Our Government has also mobilized all major political parties including Tamil and Muslim parties to formulate a political settlement addressing concerns of minority communities. In this regard the All Party Representative Committee [APRC] has come a long way in it's deliberation and is expected to finalise its proposals soon. In the meantime, the devolved administration enjoyed by the rest of the country under our Constitution will be strengthened in the East and North Provinces systematically. We hope that LTTE will denounce violence and terrorism and cooperate with all these efforts to work out an acceptable solution.
Excellencies, I must also take this opportunity to reassure you that our Government will take all necessary measures to safeguard human rights. In this process of liberating innocent people in the Eastern and Mannar districts from the LTTE clutches, the security forces have been commended for a difficult job well done with absolutely no civilian causalities. However, we have taken serious note of criticisms leveled against us despite the fact that many of them have no basis. We have appointed a Commission of Inquiry to investigate serious concerns of human rights. The work of the Commission is being observed by international observers. This Commission of Inquiry was appointed in consultation with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. My Government appreciates the role played by Prof. Yokota, Japan representative in the deliberation of Commission of Inquiry.
I must also mention our Cabinet has approved a bill on witness and victim protection. We have maintained a policy of open and constructive engagement relating to human rights and have cooperated with all UN human rights mechanisms. Our openness has led us to invite high level of UN officials to our country. This year alone several high level officials have visited Sri Lanka. We appreciated that Japan as a member of the Asian Group of the Human Rights Council has extended its support to Sri Lanka against moves unfairly critical of Sri Lanka, such as the EU sponsored draft resolution. Japan also disregarded a call by the Human Rights Watch to suspend development aid to Sri Lanka. I believe that the denial of development is denial of peace. I wish to express my gratitude to the Government of Japan, its people and the ODA Committee for standing by us in promoting peace through development and understanding of our concerns.
As a major development partner, I also request the Government and the people of Japan to use their goodwill with the global community to exert pressure on the LTTE to give up terrorism and come to negotiations in order to find a lasting political solution which will be beneficial to all Sri Lankans.
Excellencies, before I conclude my speech, permit me to draw your attention to a special project that I have referred to your Government to mark my visit to Japan. I have requested a special grant assistance to build a National Workers' Hospital and Nursing Teaching School in Colombo. This project is dedicated to the upliftment of welfare and productivity of the working population of Sri Lanka. I look forward for your support for this noble venture which will mark a new beginning of our friendship and cooperation between our two nations.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to convey to you and the Government and people of Japan, the heartfelt thanks and the best wishes of the people of Sri Lanka.
May the Noble Triple Gem bless you.
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