Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s Recent Speech at Badulla (A Translation)
The Unpaid debt to international lenders amounts to Rs 50,000 per person approximately. We have not paid Rs 116,000 krors. Next year the amount of loans to be repaid is $650 crores. At present the central bank plans not to pay this also. We cannot stop payments like this. Those who have lent money to us will not stay silent. We had to go to the IMF. It tells us that it will talk to our lenders but Sri Lanka has to give an assurance. There are things we can do to address this situation. You have to reduce expenses and increase the income. What has the government done to increase income? It has introduced many taxes. From October 2022, VAT has been increased from 8% to 15%. As a result, the price of all services and goods will increase. In the past, there was a 30% tax for company profits. Exporters had to pay 30% tax. From business Sales (pirivatuma) a 2.5% social security tax was also introduced. Further, the Govt increased the Pay as you go (PAYE) tax. Another tax was introduced in the budget. As a result, the prices of pens, exercise books, pencil, school bags and shoes etc went up. Today the prices of goods and services have gone up to such an extent that people cannot bear it.
High Interest Rates, Impact on Businesses and Job Losses
Next the interest rate has gone up. Last Wednesday, Treasury Bill rate was 33%. They are considered in economics as the most stable deposits. If you go to a bank to get an OT, the interest is 35% or 36%. Banks have stopped giving loans. Bank of Ceylon branch at Badulla owes money to the BOC head office. Bank of Ceylon head office owes money to the government. Total economy is shrinking (Akilemin tibenava). Industries are being destroyed. In the construction industry alone, 600,000 have lost jobs. Textile industry is facing an emergency. Orders have declined by 40%. Small businesses with 30-40 employees are dwindling. No new employment is created. People are losing employment in lakhs. About 300,000 people come to the employment market annually looking for work. Farms are becoming barren. Fisheries industry is destroyed. A decision has been made to increase the electricity bill. All the destructions that can befall a country’s economy are being enforced now.
This is an unusual situation. This is the most dire economic decline in Sri Lanka’s history. But this is not due to a natural cause like floods, storm, or an earth slip. In recent years, this is a decline (Vyasanaya) created by our ruling groups such as Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Cabraal, Lakshman, Attygalle, Father of this destruction is Ranil Wickremesinghe. At the start of his budget speech, he makes a confession. He says, this and this has happened. Anura wanted to rise up and ask was it we who did this?
Follow Old path or an Alternative path
Thus, our people and motherland have been caught up in a long-term decline. What do we have to do now? The question before us is whether we go along this path or change it? I ask parents and brothers in Badulla whether we shall allow this same (destructive) path to continue or we shall change it? We need to change the path. Don’t ever allow this to continue.
Changing Leaders/ Governments with Good Intentions But?
For a long time, our people changed governments with good intentions. No one wanted new governments to engage in theft. No one changed governments asking to protect thieves. They didn’t change governments asking them to put country in a debt trap. People accomplished a significant job in electing Gotabaya Rajapaksa as President in the last election. Many professionals who did not engage in politics such as doctors, engineers, managers, also involved in politics to elect him as the President. Many Buddhist monks also campaigned for his victory. Many businessmen also did so. Why did they do so? People had a good aspiration. As he was a person who did not engage in politics until then, and a new person to the political arena, people expected that he will change the political culture. But it did not happen. The old political culture continued under his rule also.
People thought he will not allow those in the government to steal (Horakam). Instead the friend circle stole from antigen kits, sugar deals, coal deals, hotel accommodation during the pandemic. People expected that he will create a society where rule of law existed. They thought he will halt the spread of drugs. Police officials will be able to perform duties according to their position and the type of stars given to them in a respectful manner. They thought he will stand firm (against vices).
What actually happened after he came to power? Drugs business started to expand. Drug dealers were given protection. Today the drug called Ice is spreading in villages rapidly. People thought he will change the country. They did not expect him to do any wrong. People gave him six months, one year, two years to rule properly but he followed the same old path (Parana Gamana). What happened then? Due to the disappointment experienced (Apeksha Bhangathvaya), people came to the street and expelled the President whom they themselves elected. Most of such people were those who campaigned to elect him. People believed that he will not disappoint them as such.
Even though people changed governments anticipating answers to their problems, they did not get expected answers. Sometimes, governments have actually not changed. He gives an example of a minister who has been a minister since 1994 even though the governments changed. Though governments changed the man has not changed? (laughter from the crowd). During the rule of Gotabaya, a complaint was made by the Japanese government against a minister for demanding a commission of Rs 200 million from a Japanese funded project in the Katunayake airport. Gotabaya asked the minister to resign and the minister obliged. After Ranil became the President, he appointed a committee of inquiry. Chair of the commission was Kusala Sarojani. It was the same minister who actually asked the President to appoint her as the chair. The committee said that there was no such complaint. Thus, the minister was reinstated in his position. For a long time, such things have happened. Thus, even if people wanted to change governments their aspirations have not been fulfilled. I can tell many things which have happened. You know more than me about such things. You know the problems in the kitchen. When your child doesn’t have a job, you know the nature of the problem. When you don’t have enough business, you know the problem. If you have taken a loan to do a small business you know the problem.
What Do We Have to do Now? Elect A People’s Government
We now know enough about what the problem is? What do we have to do now? First, we have to get power back from those who have ruled the country in order to form a People’s government through a new election. We need to make sure it will be a government formed by National People’s Power (NPP). First solution is this. If we go along the old path, nothing will change. If you think now Ranil has corrected his wrongs (hadila), you are wrong. He has been in the parliament for 45 years. He was either a minister, prime Minister or the opposition leader. Not a simple MP. Then he says when he was born Ceylon did better than Japan in terms of the economy but today it is not so. Who is responsible? There are no solutions in the failed old path to our contemporary problems. To get solutions we need a new political change or transformation (parivartanayak).
When we look around the world, economies or states that declined were not renewed by those who made them decline. Only a new movement or power force (balavegaya) can revive a declined economy or country. National People’s power is that new force. Now we have to acquire power. When I look at the faces of you from Badulla seat, it tells me that you are ready to give us a big victory (Crowd is clapping). But we should not under estimate the enemy. They have wealth, power, media power, and the underworld. Enemy is very powerful.
Opponents will not Give Power to us on A Plate
Some people say that Gotabaya invited all (party leaders) to accept the Prime Minister post but only Ranil came forward. He told Anura also to accept it. Actually, he didn’t ask us. They don’t hand over power like that. Will he give power to me knowing that I will send him to prison? We wrote a letter on 11th May where we stated that we are ready to save the country from this downturn if we can appoint a cabinet to our liking. We said we will then solve basic problems in 6 months, will go to an election, then establish a people’s government. We sent the letter on 11th May but Ranil was appointed on the 14th. They don’t give power to us like that. Not only that they will do everything in their power to prevent us acquiring power also.
They have launched a lot of attacks targeting NPP. But don’t get rattled. Enemy is rattled now. (Anura explains how the government brought cows from abroad and a Minister purchased 50 cows at a subsidised rate?) Everywhere politicians are talking about us. They are trying to persuade us to travel on a different path. i.e. to push us to the jungle. Some come to us as friends. Others come as leftists. But we are not willing to do so. Our aim is to organise the people and build a grand peoples’ movement. Some suggests us that we should buy a TV channel. But it is not possible to do so. Our enemies have a couple of TV channels. You can start many thousands of channels if you start talking about the situation in buses, trains in Badulla.
Power Rests with the People: Political Change is for the Good
Many thought that the power rests with them. But it is not so. Recent events have shown that the power rests with the people. Earlier people thought Rajapaksas were an unshakable mountain. People came to temple trees at night and the PM left by helicopter. Then the people thought power rests with the President. People came to his residence and he left through the secret door. Power lies with the people. Same happened to Basil also. When he had to look for a way out of the country he had to travel around the country by air to find an exit. Earlier, people were astonished to see those with power when they come in luxury cars with a security guard. Now the ministers don’t come to villages. Before people were afraid of the ministers. Now the ministers are afraid of the people. It is a good development. Political changes (parivarthana) in our country are desirable. The most important power is the one that is with the people.
Our task is to organise that power. We need to organise Kottasa Sabha in Badulla electorate. Already 23 Kottasa have been organised. Five have yet to be organised. We need to organise Grama Seva Vasam Sabha also. That way we have to unite the people. That is the grand power we will have. We are getting ready to acquire power. To do so we have to win over the consent of the majority. We need to get power and use it to redevelop the country. Our success depends on the extent to which we are able to gather people (to our cause) in places like Badulla. If we can’t, we have to stop here and now.
Today other parties can’t come here including Pohottuwa. When I met a prominent member of Pohottuwa in the parliament, I asked why is it divided now? He tells me that it is scattered like a Pol Mal (Coconut flower) when it is thrashed against the floor. Today there is no leader for Pohottuwa. Ranil is an installed leader. He lost his parliamentary seat also. (Anura is laughing by referring to another leader). We travel to villages and organise people to become the main force. Jathika Vidvath Sanvidhanaya held discussions with businesses, professionals and religious leaders who guide people in the Badulla district. Held discussions in Bandarawela also. For each field we need to gather more people and formulate a great people power in order to acquire governing power.
Need for Elections for New Mandate and Abolition of Privileges to Ministers and Former Presidents
But for this we need an election. For instance, Local government elections are to be held before 20th March 2023. Ranil is contemplating how to postpone it? Why can’t the government hold this election? 1). How can they contest? Do they contest Pohottuwa as a separate party or in combination with the UNP? They can’t contest as two parties while in the government together. Could they contest together? No, because people in the villages will not unite. 2) even if they contest, the result will not be to their liking. Most importantly, if Ranil loses at the local government elections, he will realise the extent of his measure. If they get a poor result, they will not be able to govern the country afterwards. They will have to dissolve the parliament. People ask us whether we have to wait another 2.5 years for an election? No. We will somehow prevent any postponement of local government elections. After the local government elections, we will come to the roads with people for aragalaya seeking a general election.
Accordingly, the main way to resolve this crisis (arbudaya) is to get a new people’s consent and form a new government. A country that is broken cannot be developed by an installed (unelected) President. People will also have to make some sacrifices to restore the country to its normalcy. But for that National People Power will give a signal. We are ready to sacrifice in order to rebuild this country.
Recently the report about the burning of Ranil’s house was presented to the magistrate courts in Colombo. The report says the damage from the burning of house is 204 million (visi koti hatalis lakshayai). Out of this, the damage to his house is 9 million but the damage to his car is 195 million (19 koti panas lakshayai or 1500 lakhs). What is this car? These are government vehicles. The one he used as the Prime Minister. How can Ranil tell people to tighten belts? All ministers (and former Presidents) live in government houses. E.g. Nimal Siripala, Duminda Dissanayake, Mahinda Rajapaksa, Namal Rajapaksa, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Hema Premadasa, Chandrika Kumaratunga, Maithripala Sirisena, Dayasiri Jayasekera. What is happening here? These rulers waste people’s wealth in millions and billions (Koti prakoti ganan valin). We are ready to give an example here by removing all privileges (varadana and varaprasada) offered to the ministers. We will not give houses, not pay their light and water bills.
Rebuilding the Country after an Election with Parliamentary System of Governance
As the country is broken we all have to come together to reconstruct it. That is how we have to rebuild this country. Firstly, we need a new mandate from the people through an election. We have to give power to a new team to govern the country. In that case, people will allow one to two years for the new team to run the country. Because it is a new government, people will be patient for a while. During that period, it will be possible to rebuild the country. Don’t even think about rebuilding without holding an election and getting a new government elected. We need to organise people, win an election and form a government. In short, we unite, win an election and form a government. Secondly, for the reconstruction of the country, we need a new constitution. When the 22nd amendment to the constitution was introduced we proposed an amendment to prevent MPs changing parties. He gives examples. We suggested that an MP will lose his/her seat if the party is changed. But the parliament did not approve it. Because the MPs want to change sides. Some in the opposition are waiting to get Ministerial positions. We will introduce an amendment to the constitution to limit the number of ministers to 25 and deputy ministers to 25. There will be no state ministers or project ministers.
From 1948 to 1979 for about 29 years our country was ruled under the parliamentary system. Since 1977, for about 45 years our country has been governed under the Executive Presidential system. Executive presidency is not a suitable position or system for our country. More suitable is a parliamentary system. Look what happened to those who held the position of executive presidency? Anura goes through the list. When previous Presidents were elected people consumed milk rice (kiribath). But when they leave office they clapped. This tells the story.
We will change the existing constitution and bring a new one. Will change the executive president system. If MPs change parties they will forego their MP positions. We will limit the number of Ministerial positions. There will be a chapter on people’s basic rights. Education will be a fundamental right. If a family does not have a school for their child, or no teachers in a school they can lodge a complaint against the government. Health will be a basic right. If there are no medicines in hospitals, people can lodge complaints against the government.
Rule of law
There has to be a law equally applicable to all citizens. Police officers will be able to perform duties according to their training, laws etc. Is there such a law in our country today? No. For those with wealth and power there is one law. The poor has another law. Disabled also has another law. He cites the example of two university students who have been detained for 3 months without any charge. Why? They are poor (duppath) and impotent(dubalai). On the contrary, one MP is still in the open after committing a murder. Why? He is rich and powerful. There is no just law in the country. Can our police officers work in a just manner? Recently we saw how the OIC at Beliatte talked to a police sergeant. The sergeant had arrested kasippu karayo. OIC asks why did you arrest them? Who told you to do so? Anura mentioned what the powerful MP of the area has told the police? What is this law in our country?
We don’t have any need for protecting criminals. We don’t have criminals on our stage. We will create conditions for the police, judiciary and the attorney general to implement laws properly. To build a country we need discipline. When we go abroad we can see how laws ae implemented? If a person speeds, fines are given. For criminals necessary punishments are given. That is how other countries have developed.
Thirdly we have to become a country accepted by the world (international community). Some people tell us that the NPP is good but you don’t have international relations or you don’t know Suddo (white people). Ranil knows Suddo. For international relations what matters is not whether you know Suddo or not. State to State relations (raja thantrika sambandatha) are the most important thing.
What is the basis of such relations? It is the nature of a country. Recently the Australian high commissioner came to see us. He had a few pages with my background details. That meant he had prepared for the meeting. We are also like that. We also found information about him through Google. We found information about when did he come, where did he work before, which universities he attended, what are his preferred fields? That is how we sit down to talk. When foreigners Google about Ranil, what do they find? Central bank episode. Will they accept him? No. Thus, whether a country is reputable matters in international relations. (He cites other examples of ministers and their reputation problems).
For a country to be recognised by the international community, it has to respect the rule of law including that the criminals are prosecuted well. A country with thieves in government will not be recognised. What do other world leaders say about our country? Last April, Bangladesh gave $ 250 million loan on a short-term basis (money SWAP) or six months. We didn’t pay it back in time. They extended the time again and again but ultimately realising that we don’t pay back the loan increased the interest. At last Bangladesh asked us to payback the loaned money without further delay. This is who we are today. World Bank gave a loan to buy fertiliser. While offering the loan it also said it will send a team to ascertain whether there are measures in place to prevent thefts. There is an international relations committee in the US Senate. It wrote a letter to IMF. It wanted IMF to ensure there is a mechanism to prevent thefts of IMF money.
We don’t have an acceptable image to our country today. Who will recognise it? There are some countries whose citizens even do not require visas. But some countries don’t issue visas for us. Our sportsmen and women went to Commonwealth Sports Games. Ten jumped the ship. Our sports heroes go to world competitions but don’t return. There are TV advertisements warning us not to come by boat.
In short if we are to rebuild this country we need 1) rule of law 2) a new constitution 3) recognised country by the world. We are willing to make this country a recognised one by the world. A country where women and children have the protection. Corrupt and fraudulent people will not rule it. We need to make this an attractive country.
Will Stop Corruption and Fraud
Today ours is a back listed country. Unable to repay loans (Polu thiyala). It is known as a country with those who steal public wealth. Some international investigations reveal Sri Lankans involved in corrupt activities. He cites the name of a person in the US and Kabral connection. Also, the corrupt activities by Jaliya Wickramasuriya when purchasing a building for the embassy in the US. He was the cousin of Mahinda. An American newspaper revealed how Chinese companies gave commissions to a key politician in Lanka? There was another case in Australia. A company providing equipment to Hambantota hospital was involved in corrupt payments. Air bus deal by French company was another example. Kapila Chandrasena was involved. What has happened here?
We will make our image one that glitters around the world. We cannot move forward without rule of law. We will create a country with no corruption and fraud. When I say this you will ask everyone else told the same story before? What was the main reason for defeating Ranil at the last election? It was the central bank fraud. Then we brought Gotabaya. Now we have sent him home and brought Ranil back. Then during the budget Ranil says in the parliament speech that we cannot build the country without eradicating thefts(horakam). He cannot stop thefts. He should go to Welikada voluntarily as an example. He is surrounded by a corrupt circle (Dushitha Valalla).
Remember as much as the economic policy followed by governments until now, the (corrupt) political culture is also responsible for the situation today. There is corruption when importing gas, coal, fuel, diesel. Do you know the way the price of diesel is determined? There is a Singapore flat rate. That is the internationally recognised price. It fluctuates. When tenders are called, bidders say we will provide diesel for Singapore price plus one dollar. Another says I will give diesel for Singapore price plus 2 dollars. In the history, the Singapore price has not gone above its benchmark price plus 4 dollars. Do you know for how much the government bought diesel in recent times? It was for Singapore price plus 30 dollars! In a barrel there are 159 litres. When we pay 30 dollars, for one litre Rs. 68 is added to the price. The reason? Fraud. When people are waiting in the ques (Polim), they take money from the transaction. Same happened when the government ordered antigen kits during COVID. Are they leaders? When citizens were stuck abroad, other countries sent a ship to bring them home. We enacted a rule saying we will not allow them to come back. Later the government said we will allow but they have to stay in a hotel. For 10 days the cost is Rs 140,000. Per day Rs 14,000. Will such people reconstruct the country? When our own citizens were in trouble they were exploited.
We give a guarantee that we will stop corruption and fraud. We will punish those who are corrupt. We know how some politicians bought Benz cars for loved ones. People are suffering. There is no medicine in hospitals. Malnutrition is ripe. No employment for young people. They are postponing marriages. Mothers have to leave the country and children for work abroad. Women are auctioned for prostitution in Oman. Why is all this? Rulers have squandered people’s wealth in millions and billions (Koti prakoti). Don’t we have to punish them? Only the NPP can guarantee punishments for such corrupt rulers. Even Sajith says he will punish. When he says so Rajitha is on the stage. He has a pending court case. Government estimate for leasing fisheries port at Modara was Rs 175,000. But it was given for Rs 25,000 for 25 years. The loss per month to the government is Rs 150,000. Total loss for 25 years is 450 lakhs. They tell before the people that they will put a stop to waste and thefts. For the Housing authority Sajith placed 3000 people. Today they don’t have jobs.
Efficient Public Service, Value Adding for Exports and Future Jobs
We have to make the public service more efficient. Politicians have bloated it by appointing many thousands. We have plans to make it more efficient. You have to be able to get services from Kachcheriya or Pradesheeya lekam Karyalaya. Go and see what happens in the latter on a Wednesday. Most people who come there have come several times before. Work does not get done in time. There are 12000-15000 Sri Lankans working in Maldives. I asked them do they work in the post office or other government offices? No. They work in the private sector establishments. Recently we made our plan for the tourism industry together with Professor Ruwan who is a specialist in the field. We had the highest number of tourists in 2018. 2.4 million (24 lakhs). But our plan is to increase this to 40 lakhs in 4 years. At present our tourism industry brings only RS. 4 billion. We can double this. This is the way to create jobs. But today where they create jobs? In agrarian services (Govi Jana Seva) or in Kachcheriyas. Graduates do not have jobs suitable for their qualifications.
Look at our tea. 78% is sent abroad as bulk tea to Dubai. Only 22% is sent as packets. But Dubai does not have a single tea plant yet it has become the central hub for export. We have to value add for the tea export. Then our tea industry will grow. More employment will be created. Same for our Cinnamon. We may not be able to export to Europe as they are concerned about quality but we can export to African zone. We have to investigate what they want? Then we can produce those items in Badulla or Mahiyanganaya. Jobs will then be created. We need to create a new class of entrepreneurs. We have to give them the necessary capital, new technology and find markets for their products. We have to create new conditions in the economy. Jobs will be created this way. Pradesheeya Lekam karyalaya or Govi Jana Seva karyalaya are not places to provide jobs as such. We need more teachers, nurses and doctors.
We need to develop human resources. It is the best resource we have. We have to create ways people can utilise their knowledge and labour productively. We need to get the whole community (prajava) to back the rebuilding effort. This way we have to bring about an economic revolution. If we collectively work towards the same aim we can rebuild this country in 3-4 years. I am not saying that we will give you a pair of shoes or a fancy dress.
Anura’s Promise – A New Country After Reforms
We will formulate a plan including a new constitution, stop corruption and fraud, rule of law, country glittering before the world, efficient public service, and a new economic policy. It will create jobs for the children, an income and confidence for their future. We will create a new country. People do not have to suffer any longer like today. Look at the people living in other countries. Recently I went to Kuwait. It doesn’t have a single river or creek. But we have many resources. We have a good human resource, beaches, climatic zones and a good history. We have good farming and fisheries communities. We also have a youth community who can advance the country.