2019 prez poll: Gotabaya unveils his vision
Posted on September 12th, 2019

Speech by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Viyathmaga Chairman At Viyathmaga Annual Convention 2019,

September 12, 2019, 9:07 pm 

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Foreign Direct Investments across Asia is creating hundreds of thousands of jobs annually in electronics, information technology, automation, real estate and business services, adding value across the economy. This has attracted the global private equity industry to Asia, which has already surpassed Europe as the world’s second highest private equity destination after the United States.

However, what is important here are the policies we need to follow when accruing foreign investments. While strategically encouraging Foreign Direct Investment we must also safeguard our sovereignty, local entrepreneurs and businesses. We need an FDI policy that will attract investments which can transfer technologies and knowledge, and increase our productivity. We need to encourage investments into high tech industries such as Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Internet Of Things and Big Data, for  otherwise it would take a long time if we were to develop our own expertise in these areas. By selectively bringing in foreign investments in such spheres, we will be able to leapfrog old technologies and adapt to new technological trends much faster. This will provide us what has been called by some economists, the “second mover advantage”.

Education 

The greatest resource we have with us is our future generation. The development of this human resource is the primary responsibility of a government. To make our future generation productive citizens, we must pay special attention to nourish them with the required knowledge and cultivate their skills and talents. Instead of stranding them in the education field, we must broaden their opportunities to receive a higher education or a technical training. 

In 2018 alone, about 280,000 students had failed their Ordinary Level and 99,000 had failed their Advanced Level exams. Universities had not been able to accommodate 170,000 even though they were qualified to receive a tertiary education. We cannot be happy with this situation. For a year, only 35,000 students can be accommodated into the 15 State universities and the five degree awarding non-State institutes. Even then, a majority are not following technical subjects. 

If we are to face the 21 century that is centered on technology information, then we must make large investments in both our education system and its facilities. At the tertiary level, countries across South and South East Asia are trying to significantly increase university admissions – at times doubling, tripling or even quadrupling it. Sri Lanka should not fall behind this trend. We must establish the required infrastructural facilities for this purpose in a very short space of time. By utilizing the capacities of the State universities and other State higher education institutions efficiently the number of students admitted to tertiary education can be increased. We must also use modern technology to broaden the educational facilities. Distance learning must be promoted by establishing open universities where degree courses can be followed. In this manner students can easily accrue the knowledge and skills needed to engage in jobs such as information technology, management, service sector administration that are essential to the economy. Our closest neighbor, India is implementing this program very successfully. 

India’s private education powerhouse NIIT has scaled onsite and online industry linked skills programmes to reach 500,000 students per year. Training is provided to them on demand, with tailored courses being offered to meet the needs of local and global companies. These companies range from oil rigs to tech parks, with curricular offerings expanding to service, insurance, supply chain management, programming and other sectors. Once students complete one assignment, they can return for others. This reflects NIIT’s motto: “the spirit of lifelong learning, without beginning, without end”. This industry linked education model is one that we should follow.

Furthermore, we need to raise the current diploma awarding institutes to degree courses. To do so, new curriculums need to be introduced with proper training given to the lecturers. In line with this thinking we are planning to advance the curriculums in teacher training and nursing schools to degree awarding levels. The inadequacy of degree qualified, well trained teachers is a lacunae that is already keenly felt in this field. 

Today there is a great demand in the world for nurses. In Germany alone, there is a vacancy for about 200,000 nurses. A well trained and experienced nurse can easily earn more than Rs. 500,000 from most European countries. By advancing the current three-year diploma training our nurses receive to a four-year degree course and by providing them a proficiency in English, new opportunities can be created for them to work in foreign countries according to international standards. From a country’s perspective, providing skilled workers instead of unskilled labor for foreign employment is far better and more dignified, while also providing the country with an avenue to increase its foreign exchange. 

To create employment opportunities for students who have completed their education to only either Ordinary or Advanced Level, we must establish technical and industrial colleges. This will uplift the moral of our young adults whilst providing a much needed skilled workforce to the economy. 

We should also bear in mind that Education can also be a foreign exchange earner. Instead of sending Sri Lankan students abroad, we should find ways to attract foreign students to Sri Lanka. There are countries that have pursued such a strategy very successfully. For example, nearly 100,000 Chinese students are enrolled in schools across Australia, making education Australia’s third largest export. Malaysia has started following this model in recent years, and has more than 150,000 international students studying in its higher educational institutes. If we can make the necessary educational reforms, we too can attract foreign students. 

We have already adopted a similar model at the Kotelawala Defence University. However, it is very important that we rapidly improve the standards of our other Universities to attract more students. All our State universities should strive to enhance their world rankings. Similarly, we should also encourage the private sector educational institutes in our country to gradually enhance their standards. They should introduce job specific educational programs.

It is important here is to understand the demand that exists for job specific qualifications in local and foreign market. Zoho University in India is following a very successful model.

This program provides “coding boot camps” for students who had not completed their secondary education so that they can be eligible for programming jobs. This is a model that can be adopted in Sri Lanka too to provide job specific training.

Developing Industries 

We must also understand that our opportunities are only confined to the technology field. One of the industries that we can easily develop is our tourism industry. This sector, that earned about USD 4.4 billion in 2018 has the space to grow to generate an income of at least USD 10 billion. To achieve this target, we need to attract seven million tourists. We need to thus double the hotel accommodation capacity as well as build hotels meeting with the highest standards. We would also have to increase the skilled and unskilled workforce to meet the sectors needed to service the tourism industry such as new shopping complexes, domestic flights and other transport facilities. We would also have to identify new services to provide an innovative experience to our tourists.  

The construction industry is another key growth sector that has huge potential. The domestic construction industry has already proved engineering capabilities that are on par with international standards.

When planning for our future, an industry that is of vital importance is our agriculture. One third of our people live on agricultural based sectors. We have to uplift the standard of living of this sector. Right now, we earn USD 2.6 billion from our agricultural exports, out of which USD one billion is earned by our tea. When we have a vast array of spices, fruits, vegetables, pulses, fish and many more delectables we should be able to earn much more from our food industry. Even our tea sector, according to the experts in the tea industry, can be developed further to earn an export income of over USD five billion. 

If we want to develop our agriculture industry, we need to do more research, and use modern technology. We need to bring in technological solutions such as drip irrigation, vertical agriculture, and organic food production, all of which can generate higher incomes. Instead of using high levels of fertilizer and pesticides, we have to encourage and train our farmers to engage in organic farming for better revenue. It is time for the government and the private sector to work hand in hand to transform our agriculture industry.

The first step should be to reach self sufficiency in product categories where we can minimize or avoid imports of food products. The next step is to turn our farmers into agricultural entrepreneurs, and encourage them to enter global markets and find niche markets where they can thrive. ASEAN exports of meat, fruit, tea and other agricultural goods to the Gulf States has doubled in less than a decade, contributing to their 130 billion dollars in annual trade. This is an opportunity for us to explore.

It is not only in agriculture but we need to focus on value addition in all economic spheres. Instead of exporting raw materials, we need to now promote branded products and goods. We already have success stories like Dilmah Tea in this regard. As the Government, we will need to support by giving direction, appropriate and facilitating marketing.

Environment 

Environment is the national heritage that we would be passing to the future generations. As such, we are duty bound to protect our environment. We must be conscious to invest in sustainable development that would benefit the generations to come. Therefore, we must be very sensitive to the effects of the decisions we take today. I believe we must explore further into renewable energy that can be used in both the power sector and the transport industry. Even countries that produce the most amount of oil and gas have understood their responsibility to the environment. 

Saudi Arabia has planned to initiate seven renewable energy projects in 2019 to attract total investment of USD 1.5 billion US. Saudi Arabia’s ambitious renewable energy plans seek to achieve over 25 gigawatts of wind and solar power generation in the next five years, and close to 60 gigawatts over the next decade. Kazakhstan, another country that produces Oil and Gas is investing about USD 1.2 billion over the next 5 years to generate renewable energy using solar, hydro, wind and biomass.

We must constantly create public awareness on the importance of the management of forest conservation, coast preservation, waste management, sound and energy management while also making these responsibilities part of the national policies. I am of the view that the Government should be the enabler for society to prosper and meet its aspirations. In this context, the regulatory environment should be streamlined, and government administration should be made efficient. The Government should regain its credibility by placing an internationally reputed national procurement system and procedures, a contract management system, and a transparent and accountable public expenditure management system. Undertaking such systemic reforms and institutional strengthening initiatives will enable the private sector, public sector, international lending agencies and investors to make credible and sustainable decisions on economic issues.

Democracy 

Sri Lanka is a democratic country. We were the first country in the Asian continent to obtain universal suffrage. It is through universal suffrage we gain our sovereignty. To protect the sovereignty of the citizens, rule of law becomes vital. Therefore, we have before us the responsibilities such as reviewing the constitution, revamping laws that have got obsolete with time and changing the election laws to meet the needs of today. There can only be one law in a country and that law must be equal to all.

Strengthening Democracy 

We need the support of domestic and foreign investors to accelerate the nation’s economic development. For this, we need to demonstrate that we have an independent judiciary and an efficient legal system. We should also have properly functioning dispute resolution mechanisms such as arbitration. The role of professionals, civil servants and technocrats in managing foreign relations, national security, law and order, state enterprises and government services will be explicitly recognized and strengthened.

To achieve this goal, attracting professionals to the public sector, and rebuilding confidence and trust in public servants and institutions, must be given priority. Government officials who discharge their duties in good faith and with utmost integrity should be given necessary protection through an improved legal framework. It is paramount to ensure that such a legal framework would prevent officials from being subject to politically motivated witch hunting.

Even in developed countries, clever administrators do not emerge at the same rate as lawmakers. They too spend much time arguing about law, instead of implementing policies. It is thus the responsibility of the politician to understand the need of the people and to include it in to national policies. Those policies must be enacted by the technocrats, who are actually officers with a comprehensive knowledge on the subject and are tasked with the responsibility of administrating that that sector. 

We need to marry the virtues of democratic inclusiveness with the effectiveness of technocratic management. Democratic feedback is crucial for governments to ensure that they are on the right track. To strengthen democracy, politicians must be supported by technocrats. 

In a country with a well functioning democracy, people are provided with the opportunity to express their opinion of their government through timely elections. After assuming power, the politicians must be mindful in administrative matters. They must get the support of clever administrators who are well versed in their subject area. Failure occurs every time partnership is neglected. 

I am convinced that investment and development can be fast tracked if a credible and firm decision making machinery is established within a transparent governance framework. The country has already seen the benefits of such a frame work in many flagship investments in tourism, ports and transportation, urban housing development, waste management, and city beautification during the 2010 -2014 period. We can repeat that speed and effectiveness by picking the right team to deliver the promises of a new Government. I am positive that the private sector will also be determined to contribute its best to help achieving our common objectives.

I love my country, I am proud of my country and I have a vision for my country. I seek your support to achieve that vision. Let us work together to create a prosperous country for our future generations.

Thank you.

May the Noble Triple Gem Bless you all!

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