- When aircraft touch down at Mattala we are able to land development for our country. The value of the corn pods of Wellassa to the sands on the beaches of Magampura will rise because of this airport. The Yala sanctuary will be of more value in the world. This international airport through enhancing the international image of the country will give us added strength to conduct modern sporting events and holding of international conferences, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said.
Inaugurating Sri Lanka’s second international airport in Mattala last morning, the President said those who never expected an airport to be constructed in an area such as this now see their dreams come true.
“We will have critics. The future generation will answer them… Just as the Sri Lankan heroes who carried out dedicated work undergoing great difficulty to build this airport working from a tree house, the expectation of the mothers carrying children and my own is to see our children flying above us... What we all seek is to see our children rise above us in their lives,” the President added.
Following is the full text of the speech:
Today is a significant day for us here at Mattala and the entirety of Sri Lanka. I have been given a very special task today which I will perform at the outset. Accordingly, I hereby declare that this 18 March on which day the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport was handed over to the people in keeping with the commitment of the ‘Mahinda Chinthana’ to make Sri Lanka an aviation hub in Asia as part of the five-fold hubs of development and thereby enhance the service towards the people by inaugurating the first international airport built since independence through our own strength, is declared as Sri Lanka’s Civil Aviation Service Day.
Today we mark a new international airport on the map of the world. What we have built here in Mattala is an airport where even the largest aircraft flying today could land. After aviation was introduced to the country in 1912, aircraft landed at places such as the Colombo Race Course and Ratmalana Airport. Subsequently, due to World War II, the Katunayake Airport was launched in the 1940s. Although 50 years have been completed since elevating Katunayake airport as an international airport, we were so far unable to build our own international airport in the country.
Sri Lanka is a country that believed in the ‘Dandu Monara’ said to have flown thousands of years ago. We saw a depiction of the ‘Dandu Monara’ at the performance of the Ravana story today. We are a nation that had an awareness of flying machines long before others.
However, what we saw in the past decades was to insult that great thinking. During World War II, Colombo and Trincomalee were bombed by air. The Tiger terrorists made repeated attempts to destroy our air power internationally and to stop our aircraft from flying. On several occasions in 1986 and 2001 they carried out bomb attacks on stationary aircraft at Katunayake. Also in 1987 there was a ‘parippu’ drop from the air on Sri Lanka. The LTTE carried out damage costing many millions at Katunayake Airport. In addition the LTTE aircraft bombed Colombo, having come from Iranamadu. At that time there were many warnings from abroad that Sri Lanka was not safe for the stationing of an aircraft, leave alone building an international airport. That was an era when there was so much underestimation of our aviation services that the then leaders of our country even sold our national carrier Air Lanka. We were ridiculed in the aviation sector. I recall how, when I had to be in the country to present a budget, I could not obtain a ticket to fly back to the country. That was the situation we were in. I recall declaring to the whole world, from this my Ruhunu birthplace, that through the 2005 presidential election I would bring an honourable peace to the country. Within a few years we were able to bring this honourable peace to the Motherland. Similarly, through the ‘Mahinda Chinthana – Forward Vision’ we announced that this country would be made a naval, energy, commercial and knowledge hub as well as an aviation hub to make Sri Lanka the ‘Wonder of Asia’. Accordingly, we have taken the correct path and built an international airport to dispel the darkness that prevailed in the air and illuminate the skies.
Friends, this is the first time an airport is being built solely targeting the development of the country. Therefore, when aircraft touch down at Mattala we are able to land development for our country. The value of the corn pods of Wellassa to the sands on the beaches of Magampura will rise because of this airport. The Yala sanctuary will be of more value in the world. This international airport through enhancing the international image of the country will give us added strength to conduct modern sporting events and holding of international conferences. This brings the Pasikudah beach even closer to the world. We are now developing a country where one can travel to Ampara on one side and Nuwara Eliya on the other within a couple of hours from Mattala. I wish to say that when aircraft take to the sky from Mattala, it is not only value of the South and Uva that will rise but that of Sabaragamuwa and the entire country, too. It is not possible to build internationally important development projects such as this solely from internal revenue. It is true that we launch most development projects from the revenue of our own country, but we need international assistance too. Just as the Government of China gave the port, it also assisted in building this beautiful airport. Work on constructing huge reservoirs such as Moragahakanda, Weheregala, Rambukkan Oya and Deduru Oya were begun with this country’s own revenue.
However, we obtained international loans for completion of this work. We had no hesitation about it and will not hesitate to do so. This is a practice followed by other countries too. Even powerful countries do this. It is necessary to obtain loans to build a country. We too obtain such loans and assistance and build many things for the development of the country. Therefore, I express the gratitude of our people and our country to all of you.
You must be aware of the cart roads that carried salt from the salterns at Hambantota to Badulla. I first came to this area with Lakshman Rajapaksa through the forests populated by wild elephants. We came here during the time of last election campaign too. I think the Speaker also spoke about the situation that prevailed at the time. There was no water to drink. There were no proper roads. I think the people who have lived in this harsh climate and are able to withstand it are able to withstand any difficult clime and face up to the most difficult conditions. It is in such a place that we cut the first sod to lay the foundation stone for this airport. That was done at the invitation of the Honourable Speaker who was then the Minister of Ports. I ask whether the value of the land today is the same as it was at that time. We did not take loans purely for consumption, but for works such as this. It is worth considering the income received through projects such as this hundreds and thousands years in the future. Revenue obtained from projects such as this are used to bring relief to the people of this country. We should have more such constructions. Having constructed five ports, the Kerawalapitiya, Norochcholai, Upper Kotmale and Sampoor power stations, expressways, airports and huge irrigation projects the income of these are used for the welfare of the people. We have not forgotten the rural cultivators of this land. I think we give a bag of fertiliser at the lowest price of the world. We also provide free health, free education and pay the salaries for more than 1.4 million public servants of this country through our own revenue. One must understand this reality.
As I said earlier, we are not ready to take these funds for wasteful consumption and mortgage the land. There is much propaganda when development of this nature takes place. It is now being said that Katunayake will be closed and the material at Katunayake will be brought here. I must make one thing clear. It is that we will not close down anything to build something new. What is stated in the ‘Mahinda Chinthana’ is to develop what we already have and build what is new.
Friends, we do not build this country according to development methods followed so far. We have planted a tree for every tree felled to build this airport. The pattern so far has been for villagers to come to the cities because of the absence of facilities such as power, water, roads, employment and education. Such migration to the towns deprives us of the respect and the freedom we enjoy in the village. The Buddha has preached pathiroopa desa vasocha (domicile in a suitable locality). To us the city is not a suitable place to live in. What happened was to leave the respectability of the village to be confined in to a concrete jungle. This is what happened in the name of urbanisation.
We have now brought all facilities in the city to the village. You now have water for drinking, electricity, roads, airport and ports. We have built schools and hospitals. Today you can enjoy the facilities of a city and live with the inherent respect of the village. Wherever we carry out development work in the country spread out in Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Anuradhapura, Trincomalee or Batticaloa, there is only one request we make of you. It is that you protect your freedom, our oneness and our culture. You must protect more and more the ethics and culture that bound us together in our villages. It is my belief that when changes such as this take place in our country we must be aware of new forces that can emerge, and decide to live a qualitative urban livelihood.
Friends, just as we brought cities to the village we must also take values of the village to the city. The trees and greenery and clean environment of village should be taken to the city. Look at the city of Colombo today. We design the village in keeping with the environment. We develop the country in this manner taking the facilities of the city to the village and the values of the village to the city. This is the best service you could provide to those living in cities.
Dream come true
Friends, those who never expected an airport to be constructed in an area such as this now see their dreams come true. We will have critics. The future generation will answer them. This is an area full of people who are friendly and cooperative. I am very familiar of life among the people in this area, of their hardships and their capabilities. We have to carry out major development on our land, sea, and in our skies. The whole world should be brought closer to Sri Lanka. The victories of the people of the world could be made even greater in Sri Lanka.
Friends, although the Air Force camp of the British Government handed over to Sri Lanka in 1950, it was a very small number who could enter the aviation sector. Just as we have built this international airport, there will be several domestic airports built in places including Palaly, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Iranamadu, Ampara. Then the children from areas such as Monaragala, Hambantota, Sabaragamuwa, Jaffna and Kilinochchi will become pilots and fly above us in the sky.
Just as the Sri Lankan heroes who carried out dedicated work undergoing great difficulty to build this airport working from a tree house, the expectation of the mothers carrying children and my own is to see our children flying above us. What we all seek is to see our children rise above us in their lives. My dear daughters and sons, we did all this to achieve that goal. I trust you will make full use of this.
While repeating my gratitude to the Government of China for assisting us in this project and sending a special representative for this event, I also extend my good wishes to the new President of China. I also extend my thanks to all Chinese and Sri Lankan engineers, staff and all workers who assisted in this task and to the Minister in charge. Wish you all a prosperous future.
May the noble Triple Gem bless you!