Minister Mangala Samaraweera
Following is the speech by Minister of Finance Mangala Samaraweera in
Parliament on 24 April:
Hon. Speaker, this is a time when our nation which was emerging from conflict and beginning to work together for a brighter and more prosperous future for all, has been shaken to its very core. 359 persons have been killed, 45 of them children. Over 500 have been injured.
I offer my condolences to all those who have suffered loss and anguish as a result of the brutal and senseless violence unleashed by terrorists on Easter Sunday at churches and hotels in my country. My thoughts and prayers are with each and every individual who is grieving. And I pray that each one of us – each one of us in this House and each and every citizen of our nation, finds the strength and wisdom required to work with determination to stand together, undeterred by those who seek to divide us, and make us become so consumed by hatred, anger, and vengeance that we lose our resolve to work together to build a reconciled, peaceful, stable, and prosperous nation for all.
Hon. Speaker, in the midst of the tragedy we experienced on Sunday, we have seen many acts of heroism. Parishioners and workers, who risked everything to rescue victims. People who ran to help and rescue victims instead of running away to save their own lives. The ultimate sacrifice paid by brave policemen who acted to prevent more crimes and apprehend perpetrators.
The devotion of health professionals, who faced the unimaginable and unexpected, providing the best support for each person at their most vulnerable, irrespective of race, ethnicity, gender or age.
Goodhearted people who reached out to help those in need in numerous ways, cooperating with law enforcement authorities and conducting themselves with restraint, tolerance and patience.
Journalists, media personnel and media organisations who reported the truth in a responsible manner without engaging in sensationalism; and those committed individuals who painfully went through information especially on social media to separate the truth from the fake and inform the public.
The heart-warming gesture of many people flocking to donate their own precious blood to save the lives of others that were unknown to them – people they have never met or spoken to.
Hon. Speaker, this is the goodness of our nation – our citizen heroes who did not hesitate even for a moment to check who the victim was in order to help. They did not wonder “is my blood from this or that community?” Blood is not Buddhist, or Muslim, or Christian or Hindu! Blood is what reminds us of our common humanity.
Hon. Speaker, in our very lifetime, we have seen the blood of our own horribly spilled, in acts of hate, but in the last few days, we have also seen it generously shared, in an act of love and compassion.
Hon. Speaker, our economy was on a steady path of recovery following a series of natural disasters in the form of droughts and floods in 2016/2017, and a man-made disaster the political crisis of 2018.
We had stabilised the economy as inflation was brought down to 2.9% by March 2019, the trade deficit declined to its lowest level in over 5 years in February, accordingly the rupee has appreciated by 4.5% - the 3rd best performing currency in the world in 2019.
Our foreign reserves stand at US$ 7.7 billion - covering over 4 months of import requirements. Interest rates have declined by over 100 basis points this year as fiscal consolidation delivered results with a 0.6% primary budget surplus in 2018.
It is clear Honourable Speaker that we had laid a sound foundation for the economy to withstand shocks of the nature that we faced on Sunday. Nonetheless, there will be an impact on the tourism sector even though it is now off-season.
Our tourist industry has had long experience of protecting our visitors even through a 30-year war, and there is no doubt the sector will bounce back. We have taken significant measures to support tourism through policy interventions in the budget, and also outside of the budget such as the visa waiver. We will discuss with the industry to identify further measures to support them through this challenging period.
We could also see some stresses in FDI and portfolio investment in the short term. In both instances, I urge investors to focus on the macroeconomic fundamentals which are, as I have outlined, very sound. Sri Lanka’s investment proposition remains very compelling.
We have taken pro-active measures to refinance external debt in the first quarter of this year, and have already completed large external debt repayments in January and April.
Hon. Speaker, this is NOT the time to point fingers. This is NOT the time to score political points and manipulate the emotions of our people by misleading and confusing them.
This is the time to introspect.
Our own citizens, Hon. Speaker, with external assistance and influence, have caused the death and destruction of their brothers and sisters. Though the violence unleashed on Easter Sunday is unprecedented in scale, this is not the first time that our own have killed our own. This is not the first time that our own have taken arms against our own. This is not the first time that our own have caused the shedding of blood of our own. Our nation has seen cycles of violence ever since Independence.
Hon. Speaker, we must indeed investigate how and why there was a failure to act on intelligence reports. Why there was a failure to inform churches and hotels in advance that there were reports of plans to carry out attacks. We must investigate why human beings were placed in harm’s way without making even a single attempt to prevent the attacks from being carried out.
However, Hon. Speaker, it is important that we act with responsibility. It is important to realise that not all problems can be solved with guns and bombs and by changing a few individuals. There is a sense of sophistication that is required to deal with sensitive issues of this nature – countering violent extremism and radicalisation require careful and intelligent approaches.
Hon. Speaker, our nation faces the challenge of how to break the cycles of violence that our nation plunges into every few years since Independence.
We all know the story of ‘Angulimala’. He was an innocent and gentle child. So much so that he was named “Ahimsaka” at birth. Yet, the people he came to associate in society made him a killer. No child is born a killer. No child is born, bearing the objective or ambition of becoming a killer in his or her mind. Therefore, if a child becomes a killer, society cannot claim it has nothing to do with the evolution of an innocent child into a mass murderer. In the globalised world we live in, the influences that one is exposed to are many. Therefore, the need for introspection, the need for collective action, and the need for each individual to act with responsibility becomes far greater.
Citizens must not take the law into their own hands. Yet, each of us as citizens has a duty to preserve the peace. We must take great care to bring to the notice of law enforcement authorities, details of those who may be brainwashed into causing harm. We must learn from other countries that have been dealing with similar situations, regarding best practice, including rehabilitation and counselling, and capacity building among communities for psychological support.
It is also critical, Hon. Speaker, that we look at this in a wider context including education reform. Content of education from pre-school onwards as well as the structure of our schools are worth being revisited. I am no expert. Yet, I cannot help but wonder whether segregated schools in our country may be causing incomprehensible harm. Moreover, the exam-oriented focus of curricula needs to be reconsidered at the earliest possible. Each of our religions has such valuable life lessons to teach us. Lessons that help us cope with the stresses and strains of life. Yet, the way religion is taught in an exam-oriented and compartmentalised way and the lack of emphasis on universal values make it impossible for children to gain real and meaningful benefit for their personal growth, or to understand or respect other religions, practices, beliefs or diversity, and overcome fear.
Lastly, Honourable Speaker, we have ignored for far too long much needed transformational reform and development of the security sector that should have been undertaken soon after the end of the conflict in 2009, to ensure that Sri Lanka gains for itself a respectable and advantageous position in the spheres of national socio-economic development and foreign affairs, ensuring sustainable security through the ‘primacy of law and order’. These include:
review and rationalisation of major security legislation;
review, re-orientation and development of national security and defence sectors; and
review, reorientation and development of the public security and law-enforcement sector.
Hon. Speaker, I hope and pray that at least now, at this time of tragedy, we realise the importance for Sri Lanka to transcend partisan considerations, whether political, administrative or functional, and introduce lasting ‘institutional cohesion’ to its security sector and associated processes. Policies and plans should be geared towards building and maintaining the right security instruments and capabilities – appropriately resourced, specialised and economically focused on their respective tasks without duplication, but with maximum unity of effort.
Hon. Speaker, all problems cannot be resolved through fire-power. Securing our common future – the future of each citizen and individual who lives in this common space that we share and call our home – requires sustained socio-economic development guaranteed through sophisticated strategic cooperation, diplomacy, intelligence, policing and law enforcement, infrastructure protection, territorial surveillance and border management. The primary security instruments of the future, Hon. Speaker, are not firepower or manpower. Sadly, we have not reflected on these aspects with due seriousness and this is what is made most apparent in the tragedy of Easter Sunday. I hope we do this now, without getting bogged down in pointing fingers and conjuring up conspiracy theories.
Hon. Speaker, we must take a clear decision about the society we want to be. The choices are stark. Do we resign ourselves to live in segregated segments, in shreds of society, talking only with those who are similar, hiring only those in our group, befriending only the right kind of person, and creating fear against others? Do we resign ourselves to an uneasy coexistence, or do we aim for the more ambitious goal of reconciliation?
The challenge is to evolve in our nation, a more profound sense of belonging: one in which we do not merely tolerate the other, but we celebrate their differences, their culture, their language, their identities. The challenge is the paradox of being different and profoundly equal: equal in humanity, equal in individual rights, equal in our love to this our Mother Lanka.
That challenge, Hon. Speaker, should be our common, obsessive dream: the promise of a Sri Lanka in which children of all communities play and grow together; one in which no one feels discriminated because of their language, identity, gender or beliefs; one in which everyone feels the pain of another citizen, and lives and grows in compassion and solidarity; where there is absolutely no space for recurrence of violence. Truth-seeking, justice, and reparation become ever more important in this context. We must continue to strengthen our democracy and work on enhancing strategic cooperation with friendly nations in the region and beyond whose support is essential to Sri Lanka’s progress as a peaceful, stable, prosperous and democratic nation where rule of law and fundamental rights of all our citizens are secured.