February 20, 2020
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    President Rajapaksa’s precise message to fellow citizens

    February 06, 2020
     

    “Sri Lanka is a unitary State.” The very first sentence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s address to the nation at the 72nd Independence Day on February 4 made it absolutely clear about the status of the Sri Lankan state. Having said that, he acknowledged that citizens have individual as well as collective rights and pointed out the task of coordination between the State and the public is integral to this. The public will only achieve true freedom when social and economic inequalities are minimized. All citizens within a unitary State should have equal rights.

    Every citizen living in Sri Lanka has the right to live freely and securely he pointed out and affirmed, “We will always ensure their right to think freely, hold independent opinions, and express themselves without any hindrance. We will always respect the right of any citizen to follow the religion of his or her choice. We consider all these as rights of human beings that no one can challenge.”

    One cannot deny that there are inequalities in development and opportunities. The inequalities are not due to racial or religious reasons and these are common problems that the country faces, he said. “In strengthening the ability for people to live freely, we must first address the economic problems that affect the public. That is why the eradication of poverty is a priority of our Government.”

    Without elaborating the issues related to devolution of power to provincial councils, President Rajapaksa stressed the imperative requirement of a clear consensus on the responsibilities of the central government and decentralized authorities in the devolution of power. In these lights, the responsibilities of the civilian and military establishments need to be clearly understood.

    The 72nd Independence Day ceremony was marked by its solemnity and simplicity. President Rajapaksa set a good example to everybody, especially the younger generation to emulate by paying his respect to his two elder brothers – Minister Chamal and Prime Minister Mahinda – before commencing his ceremonial duties as head of the State.

    National security

    Presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election manifesto listed national security as top priority of the 10 key policies. At the same time it qualified national security with, democratic freedoms of the people. “Our government will adopt new methodologies to safeguard national security without compromising the democratic space available to our people”.

    This policy has been further elaborated in the February 4 speech. “We must refrain from imposing unnecessary restrictions on the majority of the people; instead we must swiftly enforce the law against the minority who transgress it. We must give our people the opportunity and real freedom to live law abiding, disciplined and virtuous lives.”

    At the same time special attention will be paid to strengthening the national security and public security. He vowed that the government would not allow extremist organisations that pave the way for terrorism to further function in the country.

    It is evident that some limitations on the freedoms of the people have arisen because of the way public administration has evolved over time. Those rules and regulations that have been enacted without adequate study and coordination have led to the public facing considerable harassment and inconvenience. This has led to various irregularities and corruption. Losses to the public in terms of time, resources and livelihood opportunities are enormous.

    The need for amendment or replacement of laws and regulations detrimental to freedom of the citizens to economic opportunities was also highlighted. Outdated laws, regulations, taxes and charges that prevent people from freely undertaking self-employment, traditional industries or businesses need to be revised swiftly. “We will work towards removing unnecessary restrictions imposed on the public to better ensure their right to live freely,” the President said.

    The address to the nation also referred to the pillars of democracy –executive, legislature and judiciary and the imperative need for a healthy relationship between the three. A strong executive, a legislature and an independent judiciary is essential for the well-being and advancement of any democratic society, the President said and added that if, for whatever reason, there is a loss of public confidence in any of these key institutions fundamental to the functioning of a country, that can give rise to anarchy within the country. Therefore, all such stakeholders must perform their role with the powers they have been granted for the welfare of the country and for protecting the sovereignty of the people with a national vision, he said.

    Rule of law

    Without directly referring to alleged incidents of interferences in the past, President Rajapaksa said, we must always respect the rule of law. The public will get real freedom only when the law is fairly and equally applied. “My government has taken steps to change the culture of political interference in legal matters,” he assured.

    When a government is committed to working towards fulfilling the needs of the people of the country, it is essential for everybody to extend cooperation. Without mincing words, President Rajapaksa said, “I do not envisage public officials, lawmakers or the judiciary to impede my implementing this commitment.”

    The President reiterated his commitment to media freedom and freedom of speech. “My government is always ready to tolerate and accommodate opposing views. The media has complete freedom today. We have ensured that everyone has the right to freely express themselves.”

    At the same time, without directly referring to certain abuses of freedom by a section of the social media, he pointed out that social media can pose new challenges to democracy. Spending more time online, often with complete strangers, creates situations where people are misled by false information resulting in their swiftly believing the worst of those who bear different views. He appealed to everyone to act in accordance with one’s conscience and always think about the country.

    In conclusion, President Rajapaksa stressed his government’s expectation to create a prosperous nation. Only the present generation can realize this hope on behalf of future generations. He called upon all Sri Lankans to join these efforts to fulfill this responsibility that history has bestowed upon us.

     

     

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