Sri Lanka President says Let 2048 be the year of development for Sri Lanka

Ranil Wickremesinghe - President of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe. (BLOOMBERG / Buddhika Weerasinghe)

Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe addressed the United National Party (UNP) May Day celebrations held at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium in Colombo yesterday (May 01) through video technology.

President Wickremesinghe said that the country should not focus on short-term politics; instead, we should think about the future, specifically 2048, and work towards making Sri Lanka a developed country.

He extended an invitation to all UNP members to transform the party into one that breaks free from traditional politics and charts a new path towards progress for the country, the President’s Media Division (PMD) reported.

Following is the full speech delivered by President Ranil Wickremesinghe virtually:

“After assuming the presidency, I have had the opportunity to address the United National Party and all of you who support the party.

When I took office as president, the country was experiencing its worst economic crisis in 30 years. The economy had completely collapsed, and people were suffering from shortages of food and fuel, leading to protests on the streets. Additionally, some individuals attempted to exploit this crisis to undermine the democratic system and the parliament.

Today, the country’s economy has achieved stability, with no shortage of food, and a functional democratic system where the parliament operates without any threats. Furthermore, everyone has the opportunity to carry out their work without hindrance.

Prior to assuming the presidency, I reflected on one thing: the United National Party prioritizes the welfare of the country. The United National Party is a political party that is close to my heart. In fact, in the United National Party’s 2020 election manifesto, we explicitly stated our intention to seek assistance from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, with a goal of securing $7 billion. As a party, we were the only ones who mentioned these critical points. On the other hand, other parties made empty promises they could not fulfil despite knowing the existence of the country’s economic problem.

After honestly sharing our party’s policies, the United National Party ended up in the national list. Our policy is to be transparent with the people, even if it means conveying unpleasant truths. We announced our goals for 2020 and 2021 without hesitation. As the economic crisis deepened in 2022, I met with the former President, Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and recommended that he seek assistance from the International Monetary Fund.

During the discussions on this matter, the former President summoned a meeting of the party leaders in parliament. While other opposition groups refused to attend, I, along with the Tamil National Alliance, actively participated in the discussions.

My motivation was not rooted in politics, but in properly managing the country’s economy and alleviating the burdens on its citizens. For this reason, I took on the role of the presidency, as I had faith in my ability to revive the economy and work alongside supportive ministers to achieve these outcomes.

My self-assuredness stemmed from my previous experience in successfully rebuilding the country’s economy after the government’s collapse in 2001. During that time, I not only managed to revive the economy but also strengthened it. Similarly, in 2015, when the country’s economy faced a setback, I saw an opportunity to bolster it and achieve a primary budget surplus.

With this confidence in mind, I accepted the responsibility to face the current economic crisis head-on. By now, we have been able to stabilize the country’s economy and establish a sense of political stability. The parliament is functioning smoothly, and many individuals are working within the frameworks of democracy and law. I would like to extend my heartfelt appreciation to the ministers, MPs, political parties, organizations, and, most of all, the United National Party who have supported me throughout this process.

Our progress thus far has been made possible through our agreement with the International Monetary Fund, which was recently approved by a majority vote in parliament last Friday. I would like to express my gratitude to MP Wajira Abeywardena, who represented the United National Party, as well as Ministers Harin Fernando and Manusha Nanayakkara, for their unwavering support in this matter. Without their contributions, we would not have been able to move forward.

Our next step is to execute the IMF agreement and put in place the necessary rules and regulations to restore the country’s economy to a stable state by 2024. However, I am not content with just returning to the status quo.

It is imperative that we move beyond our current economic system and establish an economy that can achieve a rapid GDP growth rate of 6% – 7% annually. To illustrate this point, I have two examples: one is from the time of DS Senanayake, where we had the second strongest economy in Asia and were even able to lend to England. The other is from the tenure of JR Jayawardena, where we advanced with an open economy, and Sri Lanka became the second country in Asia to adopt this system. After our success, China followed suit.

Therefore, I am determined to pursue a new economic model that will elevate Sri Lanka’s economy to new heights and foster continued growth and prosperity for our citizens.

Against this backdrop, Sri Lanka must forge ahead once again. It is futile to compete with Afghanistan to determine who has the weakest economy. Instead, we must focus on building a robust and developed economy. Similar to the approach taken by J.R. Jayawardene, we must pursue numerous new projects and embrace the new economy to achieve our goals. Failure to do so will leave us with no future to look forward to.

We must not only consider our own future but also that of our country’s youth. It is our responsibility to ensure that they inherit a prosperous and thriving Sri Lanka. Therefore, let us work together to implement new strategies and policies that will lay the foundation for a thriving economy and a better future for our citizens.

As we approach the centenary of our independence in 2048, our goal should be to become a country with a developed economy, just like India aims to achieve in 2047 and China in 2049. Let 2048 be the year of development for Sri Lanka. We are not only building this economy for the present generation but also for the youth and children of the future. Our economy should be highly competitive, open, and based on social justice. It should incorporate a green and digital economy, as well as a competitive export market. We are making efforts to reach that stage, and we seek the support of everyone to make it a reality.

Do not focus on short-term politics; instead, let us think about the future, specifically 2048, and work towards making Sri Lanka a developed country. We must not repeat the mistake of making false promises to win support for today and tomorrow. Instead, we must adopt a new path towards a competitive, open, green, and digital economy that is socially just, especially focused on the export market, and built for the benefit of today’s youth and children. To achieve this goal, we must break away from the old political system and embrace change. As members of the United National Party, we must become a party of the future, thinking anew and striving to transform Sri Lanka. This is my appeal to all of you.

My intention is to address the ethnic problem in the country while implementing the agreement with the International Monetary Fund. We are currently in discussions and I hope to reach a mutually agreeable solution by the end of this year. It is important for us to move forward while respecting and protecting the rights of all communities including the majority Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, and Burgher minorities without marginalizing anyone. We are all committed to achieving this goal.

Another issue that we need to address is the growing demand for change in our political and economic systems, particularly from the youth. As leaders, it is our responsibility to listen to their voices and take action. To this end, we have decided to appoint five youth representatives to both the Selection Committees and Monitoring Committees of the Parliament, which will be completed by May. Additionally, we plan to submit the Jana Sabha draft to the Parliament, following former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya’s proposal.

Let us work together towards building a new, competitive, and sustainable economy that is inclusive and just for all communities in Sri Lanka. As we strive towards this common goal, we must also move forward with a new constitution that reflects our shared values and aspirations. I call on everyone to join hands and build a better future for our beloved country.

Hence, I urge all members of the United National Party to embark on this new path. During the last election, some MPs from the SJB chose to abstain from voting. We all share the same goal of building an open economy. Therefore, let us unite and work together by forming a parliament and a government.

To the Tamil parties, I say that it is futile to distance oneself from this endeavor. If we are to address the issues faced by the Tamil community in this country, let us collaborate within this system, particularly in the Parliament as part of the government.

After sharing the Cabinet proposals on the new program with the parties and discussing them with the National Councils of the Parliament, we have now achieved a broad consensus on the matter. This twenty-five-year program is an ambitious one, but with the support and cooperation of all, we can move forward without fear. It is our commitment to implement this program and develop our country to its fullest potential. As we embark on this journey, I hope to have the support of all of you.”

United National Party Deputy Leader Presidential Senior Adviser on Climate Change Mr. Ruwan Wijewardene:

“I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to all those who joined us in the UNP May Day celebration to commemorate the Working People’s Day. It is the United National Party that has always fought for and protected the rights of the working people in our country. The UNP established factories and provided job opportunities, enabling the working people to lead a better life. Furthermore, the UNP introduced several measures to ensure professional rights, including the right to education. We created the middle school system to expand the educational horizons of the children of the working people.

While some parties turned the working people into an oppressed class and confined them to agitational struggles, the UNP never arrested the working people for protests. Instead, we aimed to provide them with the necessary privileges to live fulfilling lives.

For the working people to enjoy these privileges, we need a strong economy. Our country should be developed and not remain in the developing stage. However, to achieve this goal, we need to change the traditional political system. In the past, some political parties ruled based on short-term policies, which brought happiness to the people for a short time. If we want long-lasting development, we need to make long-term policies and plans.

This is why President Ranil Wickremesinghe introduced the “Jayagamu 2048” program. Though most of us may not be alive in 2048, we need to give our children the opportunity to live in a developed country. Mr. Wickremesinghe presented this program, and we must support the President to implement it successfully. If we work towards this goal, we can stand amongst developed countries in the future.

To achieve our aim, we must put aside our party differences and work together. President Wickremesinghe will take the lead on this platform, and with your support both now and in the future, we can achieve our goals. I am grateful for your unwavering support and respect.

UNP National Organizer, Senior Advisor to the President on National Security & Chief of Presidential Staff Mr. Sagala Ratnayake

“When we think of May Day, we often imagine hard working labourers drenched in sweat. However, the younger generation sees a different picture – a young person working on a computer or in a modern factory. After gaining independence, UNP leaders focused on industrialization, free healthcare, and industrial parks in the country. It’s important to consider if this progress is still present today, as changing policies with each new government has been a long-standing weakness in the country.

In 2019, when the government changed and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s administration was pushed to the opposition, the policies also changed, leading to a crisis in the country. But when the crisis hit, Mr. Wickremesinghe stepped in as the President and took responsibility for the country. He revamped the tax policy, changing it to a modern policy that takes from the wealthy. Although it was a difficult decision, the President realized the importance of increasing indirect taxes and income tax to stabilize the economy.

Mr. Wickremesinghe also worked to eliminate gas and fuel queues and managed foreign relations properly. Measures were taken to stabilize and reorganize the economy. Fertilizer was provided during the Yala and Maha seasons, resulting in a good harvest. Import restrictions were put in place to protect foreign exchange, but now, with the economy gaining stability, the government is taking steps to relax them. The tourism industry is improving, and the rupee is strengthening.

When Mr. Wickremesinghe took over as President, the inflation rate was at 70 percent. By the end of last month, it had decreased to 50 percent, and the government aims to bring it down to single digits by the end of this year. The foreign reserves, which were previously zero, now stand at 1.3 million US dollars, and commodity prices are decreasing. Due to existing agreements with the International Monetary Fund, the people of the country are already benefiting from these changes.

To achieve the country’s development goals in 2048, we must focus on developing the tourism industry, creating industries, attracting investors, developing renewable energy, and strengthening the economy. Mr. Wickremesinghe has a vision and mission to lead this program, and we must all work together to make it successful.”

United National Party Chairman, Member of Parliament Mr. Wajira Abeywardena:

“As I listened to the President’s important message on May Day, I couldn’t help but feel proud of my party and our commitment to protecting the future of our country. Despite the party’s past struggles, the majority of people in this gathering have continued to believe in our cause.

I believe that President Ranil Wickremesinghe is more than qualified to lead our nation, despite some questioning his qualifications. For nearly thirty years after 1994, foreign and domestic forces were in constant conflict, but Mr. Wickremesinghe has always been a leader who stood strong. His resilience in the face of countless attempts to put him down has been admirable.

Tragically, past leaders of our party who tried to recover the country met untimely deaths, some even on the streets.

Fortunately, Mr. Wickremesinghe, a leader who can save our bankrupt country, has been protected. Thanks to his leadership, people from all over Sri Lanka have come together to Colombo for the May Day celebrations in Colombo. Since taking office as President, he has provided diesel, petrol, and fertilizer without fail. It’s important to support him regardless of caste or religion. Mr. Wickremesinghe is the only leader who can raise Sri Lanka to the top of the world and Asia.

President Wickremesinghe is also working to make the whole parliament a government, just as Mr. D.S. Senanayake brought together all the political parties to win the country’s independence from imperialists. The recent protest that resulted in setting fire to the house of President

Wickremesinghe was a shocking reminder of the risks he faced, but he did not falter. It’s clear that we have no other choice than to support him in achieving the goal of a developed country by 2048 through protecting and strengthening national leadership.

UNP General Secretary Mr. Palitha Range Bandara:

“Today, I am filled with great pride as I stand at Sugathadasa Home Stadium on International Labour Day, under the blessings of Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe. As a political leader, it is my role to take on major challenges and emerge victorious. The United National Party, of which I am a proud member, has always accepted challenges and emerged triumphant.

Throughout history, our party has fearlessly faced challenges, unlike other political parties who have shied away from them. Our founder, Mahamanya Mr.D. S. Senanayake was a true leader who took on the responsibility of freeing our country from imperialism and creating a free motherland without any bloodshed.

Following in his footsteps, Mr. J.R. Jayawardene took over a country that was in shambles and transformed it into a thriving nation that was no longer marginalized on the world stage. Our party has always prioritized leaders who accept and overcome challenges, and this legacy continues to this day.

As a proud citizen of this country, I can attest that there was a time when the people did not elect Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe as their president. However, he never held any animosity towards the people and instead dedicated himself to serving the country.

In 2001, the country’s economy had completely collapsed and Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe took on the role of Prime Minister. Within three months, he transformed the economy from negative growth to a thriving one. Even in 2015, he continued to lead the country with his exceptional management skills as the Prime Minister. And as the President in 2022, he accepted the challenge of bringing the bankrupt state under proper control.

Throughout history, United National Party leaders have always taken on challenges to move the country forward. As a party, our theme is to transform the country into a developed state by 2048, giving the people an opportunity to enjoy and live in a developed nation.

Our leaders have a clear plan to develop the country, and none have shown more vision and sacrifice than Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe. He is the only leader with a vision to build this country and bring it to its full potential. Let us all unite and support the program to achieve the goal of making our country a fully developed state by 2048.”

Mr. Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Deputy Leader of the United National Party:

“Last year, we celebrated May Day in a very difficult time as the United National Party. It was said that the coffin of our party was nailed when we lost the 1956 election. It was said that we were buried in 1970. In 1988 the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna tried to destroy us with the T56. In 1993, the LTTE tried to destroy our former leaders with bombs. In 2020, they split the party into two and tried to destroy us. But today, we have become the party that decides the future of the country.

In the end, the leader of our party became the president of the country. When this country collapsed, none other than Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe took up the challenge.

Today, he is taking this country forward step by step. You all know that he embarked on this journey amid many insults and smear campaigns. Some people said that maybe he would take revenge after becoming the president. But he did not take revenge on anyone. What he did was to make the country internationally recognized at a time when this country had no recognition.

Today, the Opposition is facing a great fivefold tragedy as there are no fuel queues, no power cuts, lower petrol and no gas queues and price hikes, and since the country has received IMF assistance. The opposition used these issues that were affecting the country to further their political aims.

President J.R. Jayawardene became president after he turned 70. He was president twice. And today, President Ranil Wickremesinghe will become the President of this country upon reaching 70. He has made a big change in this country, created a better future for the youth, and is shouldering the program of building a developed country by 2048.”

Former Minister Ravi Karunanayake:

As a former Minister, I understand the significance of May Day. Today, we celebrate it at a crucial juncture. In the past, we had an era of queuing. However, the current leadership has solved those problems and brought the country forward. This issue has impacted not just the working population, but also the country’s investors. It is time for us to think differently. We should no longer fight just for our rights, but also for the country to enter a new era.

We need to create an environment in our country where investors can run their businesses successfully. There should be a peaceful environment in the country where everyone can live and benefit, including the working people. It is important for us to understand this reality. Today, on this May Day, we wake up with a new perspective.

Let’s put the country first and work towards its development. If we work for the country, there will be no need to fight for our rights. Those rights will always reach us.

To strengthen the country’s economy, there must be reconciliation between the working people and the investors. I deliberately used the term “working people” instead of “workers” on purpose. When we think of a worker, we only think of a hired labourer, a farm worker, or a mine worker. However, today’s situation has changed with the universal shift towards digitization. Radical changes have taken place, and that difference is visible today. Therefore, we must work towards enhancing the country’s economy and creating an environment where everyone can benefit.

Minister of Tourism and Lands Mr. Harin Fernando:

“As I listen to the President’s address, I feel an immense sense of joy. This is the President of my political party, and I can’t help but wonder if we could hold a parade to celebrate. The President’s speech had a clear aim and vision, setting us apart from other political parties.

Without a clear direction, no one can make progress, which is why the leadership of Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe, who served as Prime Minister six times, is crucial. Those who shied away from challenges in the past are no longer relevant today. It will take time for our party, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya, to overcome our obstacles, but we are making progress.

The President has given me an important task to lead. As the Minister of Tourism, I am working tirelessly to ensure that our country becomes the number one tourist destination in the world next year. The amount received from the IMF is not as significant as the 2.5 billion that my Ministry, the Ministry of Tourism, and the Ministry of Foreign Employment have generated so far.

If we continue to work towards our goal and make the right changes, building a prosperous country is not impossible. The President’s vision is not just for the present, but for future generations. He wants to save the country for our children and grandchildren, which is why he has set his sights on winning in 2048.

A year ago, we had no oil, and people struggled to feed themselves. Thanks to the efforts of Ranil Wickremesinghe, that period is now behind us. Our May Day theme is “Winning 2048,” which sets us apart from the main opposition, who only want to cause conflict. We want to empower our youth to become entrepreneurs and take ownership of their futures. The President believes that we cannot waste time answering the questions of those who are not invested in our country’s progress.

Instead, we must focus on transforming employees into entrepreneurs who can contribute to our economy.

As a member of the UNP, I know that we are an unbeatable force when we work together. Let’s take the theme of winning in 2048 to every village and junction in the country. Even if we are not alive in 2048, we can create a better tomorrow for our children. Let’s join hands and work towards a brighter future for Sri Lanka.”

The resolution presented by the Minister of Labour and Foreign Employment Mr. Manusha Nanayakkara at the United National Party May Day celebration:

At the United National Party May Day celebration, Minister of Labor and Foreign Employment, Mr. Manusha Nanayakkara presented a resolution that addressed the situation of workers during the economic collapse caused by the last Covid epidemic. He criticized those who used workers as a political tool instead of ensuring their safety and well-being.

“However, as a party that values universal virtues and promotes freedom from narrow frameworks, and having a responsibility towards the future of employees, it was us who established the Employees’ Trust Fund and increased the interest rate given to the Employees’ Provident Fund, making informal employees into regular employees, introduced a compensation formula when dismissing employees, introduced the Labour Disputes Act, and had the Gratuity Act passed. It should be reminded that it was us who took steps towards establishing financial stability and not them.

As a party with universal virtues that won freedom for the country, freed from racist, religious, and narrow frameworks, as well as a party with liberal results, I have submitted the following proposals for the security of human resources for a better tomorrow.

The interest rate provided by the Employees’ Provident Fund. We also aim to formalize informal employees and provide them with regular employee benefits.

In addition, we plan to introduce a compensation formula that would protect the rights of employees when they are dismissed. We aim to bring the Labor Disputes Act into effect to ensure fair resolution of disputes between employers and employees. Finally, we propose to pass the Gratuity Act to ensure that employees receive gratuity payments upon leaving their jobs.

It is important to remember that it was our party that took steps towards establishing financial stability in the country, and not our opponents. As a party that values human resources and their contributions to the economy, we will continue to strive towards providing them with the security they deserve.

The resolution presented proposals for the security of human resources in the future, including:

1. A unified labour legal system that promotes small and medium entrepreneurship, creates a strong entrepreneur, and safeguards labour rights while ensuring the sustainable safety and social security of the worker should be formulated and adopted in the legislature.

2. An active and effective program should be implemented to increase the number of workers who contribute to the Employees’ Provident Fund, increase the number of contributing institutions, and include informal sector employees in the fund.

3. An extensive social security network should be implemented to stabilize the country’s open economic policy. This includes implementing a wide social security network for workers in the unorganized sector, who are not included in formal social security systems, and a contributory unemployment insurance system for employment termination or loss, similar to developed countries.

4. Strategic programs should be implemented to create a human resource suitable for the modern world of work, which aligns with the strategic plan for a developed country in 2048.

5. The labour and foreign employment sectors should be digitized to create an economically productive human resource and ensure the safety and welfare of expatriate workers.

6. Legal provisions should be established to ensure the safety and health of workers in all workplaces, recognizing occupational safety and health as a fundamental right, as recognized by the International Labour Organization.

7. A formal legal framework should be formulated to prevent gender-based discrimination in the workplace, increase women’s labour force participation, and provide maternity benefits to employed women through a social security fund.

8. A program should be created to protect the dignity, professionalism, and rights and welfare of workers in any profession.

9. Steps should be taken to encourage disabled and persons with special needs as human resources.

10. A plantation worker fit for the modern world of work should be created with strong rights and welfare.

11. A national market information system based on private and public labour markets should be implemented to gather big data for policy formulation for future technological changes in the world of work.

(President’s Media Division)