Independence Day: Reaffirming commitment to rise as a nation | Daily News

Independence Day: Reaffirming commitment to rise as a nation

President’s message to fellow citizens
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa interacts with people during the 8th 'Discussion with the Village" programme near the Kukulkatuwa tank in the Thanamalwila Aluthwewa Grama Niladhari Division, Monaragala last Saturday. Picture courtesy President's Media Division
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa interacts with people during the 8th 'Discussion with the Village" programme near the Kukulkatuwa tank in the Thanamalwila Aluthwewa Grama Niladhari Division, Monaragala last Saturday.
Picture courtesy President's Media Division

Sri Lanka will mark the 73rdIndependence Day today with pomp and pageantry, though in a relatively subdued and simple manner due to enforced social distancing and health guidelines. Seventy-three years ago, Sri Lanka gained independence from colonial powers – Portuguese, Dutch and English - who had ruled Sri Lanka for nearly 400 years.

The attainment of freedom on February 4, 1948 was a momentous occasion in the country’s chequered history. The centuries of foreign domination had undermined the nation’s sovereignty, but could not diminish the people’s willpower as proven by several rebellions, mainly in 1818 and 1848.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, speaking at the Independence Day last year recalled that assurance of national security was top priority of the 10 key policies of his Government as listed in his policy statement, ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’. 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,” he promised. He promised to pay special attention to strengthening 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 and that has been fulfilled during the first year in power.

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.

At his dialogue with the village, Gama Samaga Pilisandarak (Conversation with the Village) President Rajapaksa often instructed the officials to adapt an ‘out of the box’ attitude, rather than restricting their powers to the absurd limits laid out in some outdated regulations and circulars. In the last Independence Day speech he stressed the need for amendment or replacement of laws and regulations detrimental to freedom of the citizens to avail of economic opportunities. 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.

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 once said, “I do not envisage public officials, lawmakers or the judiciary to impede my implementing this commitment.”

When Sri Lanka won independence 73 years ago, the country was on the cusp of a socio-economic revolution spurred by freedom. In fact, even at the time of independence, Sri Lanka was trailing only Japan in Asia in terms of social and economic achievements as reflected by social development indices. Many of the Asian and African countries envied Sri Lanka and wanted to emulate its progress. However, over the years, many Asian countries lagging way behind Sri Lanka made rapid advances, while that development has eluded this country.

Sri Lankan identity

There is no doubt that the single biggest failure faced by Sri Lanka was its inability to forge a truly Sri Lankan identity, rising above parochial considerations such as race, religion and caste. While many other countries in the region have banished these notions, we steadfastly cling on to them. Politics was and is, the other divisive factor.

Hence, President Rajapaksa 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. The Government will always ensure their right to think freely, hold independent opinions, and express themselves without any hindrance. It 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, he pointed out.

Although the armed conflict ended in 2009 with the elimination of terrorism, the wounds of conflict and hatred could not be erased despite many attempts at reconciliation. In 2019, a dastardly terror attacks unleashed by Muslim extremists renewed security fears among the people. However, the Government has taken swift steps during the last year to revitalize the security and law enforcement apparatus and ensured peace and security in the country, a major achievement to highlight at this anniversary of independence and freedom.

COVID-19 pandemic

This is also an occasion to reflect on the ‘One Country, One law’ principle. The people of Sri Lanka must become the citizens of a truly Sri Lankan nation. Now the time has come to ditch all forms of extremism and chauvinism and think of Sri Lanka as one nation, one people. COVID-19 has challenged us as a nation, and it is as one nation that we must rise to that challenge. The vaccination campaign that began last week and it will target all Sri Lankans, wherever they are in this island.

One also must be mindful of the fact that there are attempts by powerful nations to erode our sovereignty and hard-won peace. We will again witness such attempts at the UNHRC sessions in Geneva next month. Unfortunately, such foreign interference can foment division among our own communities at a time when the Government is exploring avenues for a domestic mechanism of reconciliation and accountability. Sri Lanka has rightfully withdrawn from the resolutions co-sponsored by the previous government that would have violated our Constitution, moral principles and above all, attempts at unity among communities.

Since the independence day of 2020, Sri Lanka faced the biggest challenge to the efforts launched for the developing our economy. These efforts have suffered greatly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and global economic recession caused by the pandemic. Because of the resultant economic crisis, the government took steps to increase domestic agricultural production, ramp up exports and minimize the imports of goods, especially goods which can be produced locally in line with the President’s vision. The drive to attract more foreign investments was also accelerated. Towards the end of last year, these steps have yielded good results as evident from the decrease of deficit in imports over exports.

As President Rajapaksa said, we should take the next step forward to make Sri Lanka a developed country. The Government has already outlined several programmes that will take the country in this direction, but the authorities cannot do it alone – all Sri Lankans must participate with vigour and optimism in this exercise. 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.

The Government’s expectation is to create a prosperous nation. Only the present generation can realize this hope on behalf of future generations. The President called upon all Sri Lankans to join these efforts to fulfill this responsibility that history has bestowed upon us.