Following the initial turbulence of establishing a so-called national Yahapalanaya (good governance) administration, which to an unassuming observer at one moment seems to teeter on the edge of a precipice with coalition partners turning on each other at the bat of an eyelid, pitting their acid tongued wit against each other and prevailing upon foes and allies alike in the Opposition while maneuvering the political riptide, and at other moments, seemingly united in their efforts to bring about lasting political and economic change within the country, the Government now enters its mid-term.
At present, the talk of the town revolves around the proposed new Constitution and massive economic development plans with promises made, kept or broken. Summarizing the year’s performance by the Government in relation to various aspects and sectors of the country and ideal changes, the Nation spoke to the stakeholders including pro-Government officials, non-partisans, naysayers and the harbingers of doom and even the apathetical villager with a view to obtaining a glimpse into the future.
Civil Society issues clarion call for economic development and the new Constitution
The Civil Society called on the Executive and the Government to put in place an economic development plan to fulfil the requirements of the people, which is the need of the hour of the country.
Addressing the question of political reforms, Civil Society Organizations pointed out that the new Constitution should be created.
The National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ), founded by the late Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera and the Purawesi Balaya (People’s Power) explained that the new Constitution should change the electoral system, establish the rule of law, bring about national reconciliation, strengthen independent commissions and expand the Fundamental Rights Chapter of the Constitution which dealt with human rights.
Member of the Chief Committee of the NMSJ and Co-convener of the Purawesi Balaya, Saman Ratnapriya pointed out that the mechanisms established for dealing with acts of theft, fraud, corruption, thuggery and murder were weak.
“In a recent decision, the Colombo High Court acquitted the suspects in the murder of former MP Nadaraja Raviraj. The Court judgment raises the question of whether Raviraj committed suicide even though it is clearly evident that he was murdered. It is these kinds of verdicts that lead to the breakdown of the faith and trust placed by the people internally in the judiciary and the justice system and strengthens the call for international involvement by way of sitting foreign judges as far as the issue of investigating alleged war crimes is concerned. A proper mechanism is essential,” Ratnapriya explained.
He added that while the Civil Society was not happy with the manner in which the Development (Special Provisions) Bill had been brought, they however acknowledged that there were weaknesses in relation to the institutions entrusted with bringing in investments.
“Such a new Bill is required but it should not be to increase the powers afforded to Ministers. It should have been discussed with the Provincial Councils (PCs). The shortcomings in the Bill must be rectified. A mechanism is required to enable investors to invest. PCs alone cannot engage in development projects. They have to work with the Central Government in this regard. While opposing the Bill on the grounds of pointing out shortcomings is fine, they must not assure the Prime Minister during discussions with him that they will support it after the relevant amendments are made and in turn go back to their Councils and change their minds,” Ratnapriya said.
“Investments and employment opportunities must be generated and incomes must be increased. A proper plan is required for all this development that is expected,” he emphasized.
‘Constitution should promote secularism’ – Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Colombo A Sarveswaran
The major expectation with regard to the Constitutional reforms is that it would promote secularism, said Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Colombo, A Sarveswaran. He further said that Right to Life, recognized in Constitutions of India and Bangladesh should be incorporated into the Sri Lankan Constitution.
He also pointed out that there are no provisions to public litigation for Fundamental Rights violations in the Constitution. “Only people whose rights have been violated can take legal action. Under the circumstances people who are illiterate or people with little understanding of law will be sidelined,” said Sarveswaran.
Sarveswaran also recommended that English should also be conferred official language status. “According to the constitution only Sinhala and Tamil languages have official language status, although English has been an unofficial official language for many decades”, he said and added that if English is made an official language too, any Sinhala speaking person in a majority Tamil speaking locale or vice versa can request for any documentation in English.
Facilitation of judicial review of legislation is another ambitious revision. “Under the current Constitution, the validity of a law can only be questioned while it’s in bill stage. Once the bill is passed its validity cannot be questioned. Post-enactment judicial review must be brought in to change this”, said Sarveswaran.
He suggested that an independent mechanism consisting foreign judges be put in place to conduct inquiries and take decisions regarding impeachment of Supreme Court Justices as opposed to the current scenario in which inquiries are conducted by a Parliamentary Select Committee appointed by politicians.
Introduce a new word instead of unitary or federal to solve National Problem
“Provisions for the merger of the North and East is already afforded by the 13th Amendment, said Sarveswaran. “According to the 13th Amendment, by enacting a law Parliament can merge two or three adjoining provinces into one province with one provincial council. Consequently there is no need to go for a referendum or amend the Constitution because provisions for merger are already in the Constitution.”
Sarveswaran pointed out that although land powers have been devolved as per the 13th Amendment, Provincial Councils do not have full power over state lands. “Provincial Councils can make use of state lands, but state lands are owned by the Central Government. The powers devolved in this case are ambiguous”, Sarveswaran said.
Hydropower generation, catering to power demand and inefficiency in energy consumption are challenges for 2017 – Power and Renewable Energy Ministry
The Ministry of Power and Renewable Energy said that in terms of generation, transmission and distribution, 2017 would pose major challenges from naturally imposed restrictions on hydropower generation owing to the lack of rain, catering to the growing demand and with regard to raising awareness over moving away from the use of appliances and equipment which were inefficient in terms of energy consumption and management.
Director (Development) – Ministry, Sulakshana Jayawardena noted that as per policy targets, the development of renewable energy would be promoted.
The Surya Bala Sangraama programme implemented involving the generation of solar energy has customers having a solar panel on the roofs of their houses and the Ceylon Electricity Board would be purchasing the surplus energy generated. Through a competitive bidding process involving two-wind energy generation projects, the purchasing tariff has been brought down. The studies for the construction of a 100 MW solar power plant in Moneragala have begun. Tenders have been floated for a 300 MW liquefied natural gas power plant and will be finalized by mid year according to Jayawardena who added that the tender process for a 50 MW mobile thermal power plant will be finalized and purchased this year.
“We have extended the distribution system all over the country, including rural areas. It is going to be a challenge to cater to the demand but we intend to continue maintaining 100% electrification and 24 hour power supply,” Jayawardena elaborated.
‘Seven years after war Sri Lanka still imports green gram’ – Colombo University, Economics Department, Prof Amirthalingam
Due to the war, for nearly 30 years the government could not divert sufficient financial resources towards socio economic services. As a result, development of social services such as education and health and economic services such as infrastructure and communication was put in the back burner. The war ended seven years ago and it’s high time that the Sri Lankan public saw some hardcore results.
Colombo University, Economics Department, Professor in Economics, K Amirthalingam explained that a declining role of the agriculture sector in the national economy is a salient feature of development. During the development process the share of agriculture sector in the national economy should decline. “This is happening in Sri Lanka. The contribution of the agricultural sector to national GDP is just 10 per cent. Ninety per cent of the output is from the industrial and services sector. Only 30 per cent of employment opportunities are generated by the agricultural sector”, said Amirthalingam.
Amirthalingam emphasized that the total agricultural output should increase. “For example, the share of the agriculture sector in the US economy is just one per cent of the total GDP, but the US is the prime exporter of wheat flour”, he said.
“We still import a lot of agricultural goods, such as green gram and dry chilli. Despite being an island nation, we’re still importing dry fish. This is due to poor planning.”
Amirthalingam pointed out that Sri Lanka, despite being blessed with natural resources, spends billions of rupees on milk powder imports while dairy farming is neglected.
Amirthalingam emphasized that the government should popularize organic farming and work to reduce chemical use.
He pointed out that Mahaweli river water is allowed to drain to the Trincomalee Bay without being utilized whereas it should be diverted and used to provide irrigation water to the dry zone.
Transportation and logistics professionals predict dire circumstances in 2017
Transport and Logistics Management professionals and academics predicted that 2017 would be a difficult year for cities in the country in terms of transportation, a fact which they attributed to misdirection in Governmental efforts.
Senior Professor at the Department of Transport and Logistics Management of the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Moratuwa, Prof. Amal S. Kumarage said that although monorails, light rail systems and the electrification of the railway system could be supported as concepts, they however fell short on two accounts – one being the fact that they will take several years for implementation at the ground level and the other being that they are economically expensive (the cost of Rs 500 billion being phenomenal). These will only carry 7% of the passengers 7% of the distance.
Financially viable solutions have been proposed. These involve developing the bus sector. Measures such as bus traffic transits, operating corridors and bus ways and lanes which can be operated at and during different times of the day, are low cost solutions put to use in many cities and countries in the world. They have been shunned in favour of more elaborate and expensive measures. These aspects have not been considered according to Prof Kumarage who added that the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development in their Megapolis plan had rejected more feasible concepts.
Studies for light rail service systems have not been done yet, a process which will take one to two years to conduct. The construction of light rail services too will take several more years.
Speaking on the recent imposition of heavy fines on motorists and motorcyclists, Prof Kumarage noted that this was a totally inadequate measure as there had been no drop in accidents.
“Infrastructure is needed. Institutional mechanisms have not been considered,” Prof. Kumarage charged.
He pointed out that there is no solution for traffic congestion. “As of 2015, the average speed for vehicles was 12 kilometers per hour. In 2017, there will be a gridlock situation, meaning that traffic would not move for minutes and eventually for hours”, Prof Kumarage elaborated.
“In 2020, this will come down to six kms. We are heading towards this”, he further explained.
Plastic crates, at no cost to farmers – Media Secretary to the State Minister of Agriculture, Mahesh Keerthirathne
“Under the national food production programme the Ministry is attempting to popularize locally developed high yielding seed varieties and diversify food sources”, said Media Secretary to the State Minister of Agriculture, Mahesh Keerthirathne. “We will be launching a programme to deal with drought from January 2017. We also will look into avenues of value addition.”
He said that they will introduce plastic crates at no cost to farmers to reduce fruit and vegetable post harvest losses. In the Dambulla market, between 30 to 40 per cent of fruits and vegetables are lost due to storage and transport issues.
Attracting FDIs and portfolio investments through divestiture – CSE Chief
The Chief Executive Officer at the Colombo Stock Exchange, Rajeeva Bandaranaike said that the market is hopeful of a recovery by the second quarter of 2017 if the government takes the right decisions and facilitates stabilization of the economy.
He further said that there is an opportunity to attract more Foreign Direct Investments and portfolio investments in the coming year through divestiture where necessary and by addressing matters relating to interest rates.