Viyathmaga Convention 2018:

(Courtesy of The Island)

 

 By Shamindra Ferdinando

                                                      

Mano Sekeram, CEO, 99x Technologies on Sunday warned of dire consequences unless the political leadership took tangible measures to address long standing contentious issues affecting the people.

                             

Sekeram, who is also the Chairman of Lanka Angel Network pointed out that successive governments had neglected their responsibilities much to the disappointment of the people. Sekeram said so at the annual Viyathmaga Convention at Shangrila, Colombo.

                               

The IT industry professional and former director of the Bank of Ceylon (BoC) was among several speakers who dealt with vital subjects ranging from economy to security, on the invitation of former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Chairman of Viyathmaga.

                               

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was the Chief Guest. Former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, former Minister Basil Rajapaksa, former Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva, former presidential secretary Lalith Weeratunga and top businessman Harry Jayawardena were among the invitees.

                             

Sekeram pointed out that Sri Lanka’s three top foreign exchangers earners: foreign remittances from workers, garments and tea depended largely on semi-skilled and unskilled workers. Underscoring that those who struggle to make ends meet contributed tremendously to the national economy, Sekeram called the situation a massive mismatch.

                               

Referring to two southern insurgencies in 1971 and 1987-1990 and the northern conventional military challenge, Sekeram said that he would not be surprised if the youth took up arms again in 20 to 25 years. Sri Lanka brought the northern conflict to an end in May 2009.

                          

Sekeram said that the failure on the part of successive governments to provide higher education to the vast majority of those qualified to enter universities every year was a grave injustice. Sekeram called for complete revamping of education while urging the government to focus on total digitization of the country. Sekeram warned that even the best plans could go awry for deficiency in execution.

                      

Before the commencement of the Convention, Viyathmaga organized several discussions at the same venue where participants deliberated on the economy, education, international relations, rule of law, sustainable development and digitization.

 

Viyathmaga Chairman Gotabhaya Rajapaksa emphasized the pivotal importance of a result oriented strategy to prepare the country for 2030. Asserting that by 2030 China would be the world’s largest economy followed by the US, India, Japan and Indonesia, Rajapaksa said that Sri Lanka still lacked a suitable strategy to face the transformation of world and regional economies. Rajapaksa called for opening of Sri Lanka’s economy to the world while stressing the need to safeguard national interests and cultural values.

                               

Declaring that accelerated economic development was the panacea for problems, Rajapaksa called for a new national economic policy. The former Defence Secretary warned that the situation could get worse unless Sri Lanka took action in that regard soon.

                          

Rajapaksa discussed ways and means of Sri Lanka could achieve desired development goals by setting up strategic industries powered by new technologies, modernization of the agriculture sector and efficient management of state resources etc.

                               

Commenting on Sri Lanka’s failure to attract foreign investment, Rajapaksa said that in the absence of efficient system to encourage foreign investment, the country had suffered. He pointed out that the country couldn’t afford to ignore the need to protect the legitimate rights of foreign investors.

                            

Calling for new Export Processing Zones (EPZs) to be set up in close proximity to ports, Rajapaksa underscored the need to modernize existing EPZs.

                               

The former Defence Secretary briefly addressed several other relevant issues, including the need to tackle corruption in the public sector.

                              

Viyathmaga spokesperson Chaminda Karunaratne said that live internet broadcast of Rajapaksa’s address was repeatedly interrupted. Karunaratne claimed that those fearful of the former Defence Secretary joining the presidential fray interfered with the live web cast.

                               

Vidya Jothi Dr. Bandula Wijeratne emphasized the urgent need to revamp the entire education system to meet present-day requirements. Dr. Wijeratne based his call to revamp the education system here on the basis of the success of the US education at all levels. According to him, Sri Lanka suffered for want of team work beginning from school level.

 

Former Chairman Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Sri Lanka Tourism Dr. Nalaka Godahewa alleged that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration lacked an economic policy whatsoever. Dr. Godahewa dealt with ‘aspirations for a people-centric economy.’

                               

Dr. Godahewa said that the incumbent government couldn’t be compared with any previous administration and was responsible for causing post-war unprecedented instability. Referring to the second lowest growth rate in 28 years and the lowest since 2001, of 3.1 per cent recorded in 2017, Dr. Godahewa briefly discussed different economic strategies/policies adopted since the days of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike that shaped Sri Lanka.

                            

Dr. Godahewa said that in spite of having to wage war against a ruthless enemy, President Rajapaksa was able to achieve rapid economic growth though 52 per cent of the electorate in January 2015 voted him out of office.

                              

On the basis of recent recent Central Bank of Sri Lanka reports and other related data, Dr. Godahewa explained how the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo had plunged the country into turmoil. Dr. Godahewa referred to some specific data to highlight the poor state of the economy, while pointing out the failure on the part of the incumbent government at least to address the garbage problem.

                           

In spite of grandiose plans in the run-up to the last presidential poll, the government couldn’t increase education and health sector budgetary allocations, Dr. Godahewa said. The former top official explained the importance of stability, progress and dignity as the vast majority of people struggled to cope up with difficult economic conditions.

                              

Referring to CBSL data, Dr. Godahewa pointed out that the government having promised one million new employment opportunities, in fact couldn’t sustain the status quo as regards employment. The gathering was told Sri Lanka couldn’t depend on IMF advice

                             

However, social activist Eranda Ginige, in his thought provoking address declared that they should examine past, present and proposed economic strategies. Ginige said that it would be a grave mistake on Sri Lanka’s part to believe that Western style development models or similar models from other regions could solve her problems.

 

Ginige appealed to lawmakers to choose an indigenous system/model of our own suitable to us. Such model should be sensitive to our flaws and capable of meeting future challenges, Ginige said. Pointing out rapid increase in the population in India, Pakistan and Burma, Ginige stressed the need to be self sufficient in food while taking every possible measure to minimize food waste. He said that anyone genuinely interested in economic prosperity couldn’t afford to ignore the need to strengthen renewable energy sources as fuel and coal supplies gradually diminished.

                              

Ginige said Sri Lanka should be prepared to face what he called anti-biotic resistance as it could become a major health issue. Ginige urged lawmakers and the business community to think afresh and adopt forward-looking strategies needed to take the country to the next level.

                            

Dr. Mohammad Ismath Ramzy, senior lecturer, University of Malaya, Malaysia discussed shortcomings in the Sri Lankan education system. Ramzy explained how Sri Lanka’s failure had caused tremendous loss to the national economy due to thousands of Lankans seeking higher education overseas. Malaysia alone was home to 6,000 Sri Lankan students, he said.

                              

Prof. Rohan Gunaratna, in his opening remarks said that the type of audience present produced the fifth executive president of Sri Lanka and they would elect the next executive president. Prof. Gunaratne explained the circumstances leading to Indian intervention here in the wake of President J.R. Jayewardene adopting pro-US foreign policy at the expense of Mrs. Bandaranaike strategy. Recollecting his conversations with top Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) official, Prof. Gunaratne discussed how Sri Lanka dug its own grave.

                         

Prof. Gunaratne said that rehabilitation of 12,000 LTTE personnel, including combatants was a major achievement of the previous administration. The world has followed the Sri Lankan example, Prof. Gunaratne said, citing Pakistan as one that utilized the Sri Lankan experience.

 

Referring to recent violence at Digana directed at the Muslim community, Prof. Gunaratne called for the enactment of punitive laws to deal with those propagating racism.

 

Prof. Gunaratne said that the woman suicide cadre who had assassinated former Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi was among the seventh batch of LTTEers trained by India.

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