SL and its relations with India - Part II:
Sri Lanka as a home for all its communities
Text of the speech delivered by High Commissioner for Sri Lanka to
India Prasad Kariyawasam, at the Public Forum organised by the Kerala
International Centre on June 13, 2012
The ruthless methods they used included the deployment of child
soldiers and suicide bombers. They killed a Prime Minister of India, a
President of Sri Lanka, a Tamil Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka and many
more Tamil political leaders as well as Sinhalese and Muslims.
High Commissioner for Sri Lanka to
India Prasad Kariyawasam
They completely destroyed the economy and the infrastructure of the
North of the country while inflicting heavy damage on other parts of the
country intermittently. They eliminated the democratic political
leadership of their own Tamil community. A large number of innocent
civilians from all races became victims of their violence. This even
included Muslim and Buddhist civilians at prayer in mosques and temples.
The LTTE also carried out ethnic cleansing raids. All non-Tamils,
including a large number of Muslims who lived in the North were evicted
by the LTTE. For example, in 1989, the entire Muslim population in
Mannar were asked to leave their land, and in 1990, 75,000 Muslims from
Jaffna were given two hours to leave the Northern region. The
ruthlessness of the LTTE and its intransigence resulted in its
proscription by the USA, India, UK, the European Union and Canada.
The many attempts at bringing the LTTE into the democratic path
included amending the constitution as well. This was in the form of the
13th Amendment to the constitution in 1987, which came into effect along
with the Provincial Councils Act, to devolve power to the Provinces. As
you all know, the LTTE would not accept power-sharing and was adamant on
using terror tactics to carve out a separate state that would be under
their complete writ. The Provincial Councils, however, are up and
running. With the military defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, Local
Government and Provincial Council elections which could not be held in
the LTTE held areas for several decades have finally been held. The
people of those areas are now once again electing their own leaders at
free and fair elections.
The constitution of Sri Lanka, through all this, continues to evolve,
responding to the needs of the people. A Parliamentary Select Committee
has been set up to take a fresh look at power sharing, based on our
experience in the past two decades. This exercise is aimed at addressing
the grievances of all communities in terms of administration, governance
and power-sharing. Our aim as a nation is to ensure that all communities
and all groups in the country are able to address all their problems
through democratic means.
The rejection of the LTTE and their sympathizers to follow the path
of the ballot rather than the bullet and rejection of the peace process
by the LTTE led the government of Sri Lanka to take resolute action to
defeat the LTTE militarily, once and for all. The end of conflict has
resulted in rapid economic growth and normalisation of civilian life in
the conflicted affected areas. Inflation is down to single digit;
unemployment is below 5 percent; fiscal deficit is down to 6.8 percent
to 5 percent; malnutrition is down from 35 percent to 13.5 percent; and
poverty is down to 7 percent, the fastest reduction in the world.
Statics-wise, Sri Lanka today has a population of 21 million made up
of 74 percent Sinhalese; 18 percent Tamils consisting of Tamils of
recent Indian origin and Sri Lankan Tamils; 7 percent Muslims, and 1
percent made up of other groups. The main religions practiced are
Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Christianity. The population growth rate
is around 0.9 percent.
Sri Lanka’s social indicators are among the best in Asia. According
to the UNDP Human Development Index, Sri Lanka enjoys the highest
physical quality of life in the South Asian region. Another achievement
is near universal literacy with a very narrow gender gap. The World
Economic Forum has rated Sri Lanka among the top 20 countries in the
world on gender equality. These are the results of sound policies
implemented soon after Independence to provide free healthcare and free
education for all Sri Lankans.
With a per capita income of US $ 2,836, Sri Lanka is now categorised
as a middle income status country by the IMF. We have achieved an
economic growth rate of 8.3 percent this year. Our current aim is
naturally to capitalise on post-conflict opportunities for the
betterment of the people of our country. We are well placed on our path
towards this aim: our workforce is versatile and easily trainable, with
English widely spoken and understood; having ensured that our economy
withstood the 30 year conflict and the impact of the December 2004
tsunami, our workforce can also claim resilience. We have the second
largest pool of UK qualified accountants in the world which helps us
compete in the financial and BPO markets.
Taking into account Sri Lanka’s strategic location on the East-West
maritime route, close to the ocean routes that link Asia to Europe and
the rapidly expanding markets of the Indian sub-continent, our vision in
terms of our overall economy, as laid down in the Government Policy
Document ‘Mahinda Chinthana’ is to become a dynamic hub for the region
to connect with the world as a key link between the East and the West.
Growing trade in the Indian sub-continent and its increasing
integration with the rest of the world have created demand for enhanced
port facilities, giving Sri Lanka the opportunity to increase its
volumes and market-share of trans-shipment traffic. The current
expansion of the Colombo Port (the Colombo South Harbour Project) and
the new Port in Hambantota are expected to significantly boost shipping
activities in the region in the years ahead. The ancient and world
renowned natural harbour in Trincomalee in the East of the country is
envisaged to become an industrial port, in addition to ship refuelling.
The government intends setting up heavy industries in Trincomalee and
the port will be used increasingly for commercial activities including
power generation, cement production, flour milling and oil storage. The
Indian Oil Corporation already operates out of Trincomalee. Shortly,
NTPC, the giant Indian State owned Power Company, will enter into a
Joint Venture with the Ceylon Electricity Board to build a 500MW coal
power plant. In addition to these three ports there are also the ports
in Galle, Oluvil and Kankasanthurai. The Galle Port in the South is
being developed as a commercial and leisure port. The Oluvil Port which
is seen as a catalyst for the growth of the Eastern region is being
developed as a commercial and fisheries harbour. The Kankasanturai Port
in the North is currently being rebuilt with Indian assistance.
With Sri Lanka’s GDP growth rate of about 8 percent, it is expected
that per capita income, by 2016, would reach US $ 4,000. Tourist
arrivals, currently growing at 40 percent, are expected to reach 2.5
million by 2015. IT literacy is expected to increase from the current 35
percent to 75 percent.
As mentioned earlier, our focus is to capitalise on post-conflict
opportunities to ensure a better future for the people of our country.
Our challenges in this respect include consolidating the hard won peace
after 30 years of conflict and taking our nation as a whole towards
greater prosperity and social cohesion. This involves safeguarding Sri
Lanka’s national interests, meeting the aspirations of its people of all
communities, harmonising our multi-ethnic and multi-religious society,
safeguarding our cherished and long standing democracy, and projecting
ourselves as a nation at peace and a venue for secure investment and for
good profitable business.
Since Independence, Sri Lanka’s foreign policy has been guided by
non-alignment. The policy of staying away from great power rivalries
continues to serve Sri Lanka well. This policy is in line with our
national ethos and persistent desire to be an independent nation,
working with friendship towards all and enmity towards none. In this
context, we enjoy close and friendly relations with all Member States of
the UN. However, extra effort is made towards developing closer ties
with countries in our immediate neighbourhood. India, in this respect,
holds a very special place.
To be continued