I take current crisis as an opportunity to bring about change people expect: President

Address by the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to the newly appointed Ministers after the swearing-in of the new Cabinet:

Today, I am addressing you at a time when the country is facing one of the most difficult and challenging economic, political, and socially decisive time in the history of Sri Lanka.

Today, I have appointed new ministers irrespective of seniority. Ministerial post is not a privilege. It can be considered as a great responsibility. I urge you not to use any additional privileges as a Minister. I expect you to be committed to building an honest, efficient and clean governance.

Furthermore, the institutions under your purview should be transformed into institutions free from corruption and those institutions should deliver an efficient service to the public. At present, many state-owned enterprises are in dire financial crisis. There is a timely need to rectify those inaccuracies. This is one of the main tasks they have to do. We know that when they get these ministerial posts, they are preparing to give jobs in the ministries and institutions they get.

I urge you not to do such acts under these circumstances. What ministries really need to do is create jobs.

Present crisis is a good opportunity to make the system change that the people have demanded. Now you have that opportunity. At the same time, I urge these young people to help in this endevour. 

During the last two and a half years we have had vast challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the debt burden, and some mistakes on our part. They need to be rectified. We have to correct them and move forward. We need to regain the trust of the people.

I believe that we should have gone for a programme with the International Monetary Fund earlier. Also, I think the decision not to provide chemical fertilizers to farmers was an error. We have taken steps to revive that practice.  

Today, people are under an immense pressure due to this economic crisis. I deeply regret about this situation.

The pain, discomfort and anger displayed by the people for having to spend time in queues to get essential items at a high price that cannot be afforded due to cost of living is justified.

Whatever the shortcomings occurred in the past, it is my responsibility as the people-elected President to manage the present challenges and difficulties. I promise the people who have elected me, I will not abdicate that responsibility in the midst of any difficulty or challenge.

Among the various issues faced by the society at present, our priority is to find solutions to the economic crisis. No other problem can be solved without solving it.

Therefore, I have already taken several important decisions necessary to revive the country’s economy.

As its first and most important step I have appointed a new Minister of Finance, a new Governor of the Central Bank with extensive experiences and a new Secretary to the Treasury. 

I have also appointed three economists with international experiences and who have high recognition in the field of economic management to advise the Government and myself on economic management. Also, a team of public and private sector experts has been appointed to assist the government.

Together with this group, we have taken a number of important decisions in the last few days to re-establish the country’s economy.

We must always tell the truth to the people. There is no point in hiding the reality from the people. I kindly request you to inquire intelligently about the information you receive and to understand the facts.

We can only find solutions if we understand the problem. For that, we need the support and consent of all of you.

Today our country is facing a severe foreign exchange deficit and a debt crisis. At this time we have to use the limited foreign exchange we have for the essential needs of the people. Also need to find money for urgent foreign exchange needs.

We have already informed the creditors of our difficulty in repaying short-term foreign loans. Accordingly, a debt restructuring programme has commenced.

My newly appointed Economic Management Team has already begun discussions with our friendly countries, and international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

About a month ago, the government announced that it was interested in joining a programme with the International Monetary Fund. The Minister of Finance and the relevant officials have already gone to the United States to take those discussions forward.

We have received credit facilities from India for the importation of fuel, pharmaceuticals and other essential commodities. In addition, the World Bank has offered to support the import of gas, fertilizer, milk powder and pharmaceuticals.

Although the country is still receiving the fuel and gas required for the people, it has not been properly distributed in recent days. Due to this reason, we are now working to minimize the inconvenience caused to the people.

Another major reason for the shortage of fuel in the market is accumulation of large stocks of fuel by the people who fear that there will be a shortage in the future. Due to this the demand for fuel in the country has increased significantly.

A number of racketeers who are taking advantage of the hardships faced by the people have also emerged. The government is intervening to manage this situation. I urge these people to avoid such attempts in a difficult situation like this.

We have already taken the necessary decisions to manage the fuel and gas shortage issues in the coming weeks. We are implementing these decisions.

The reason for the long power cuts in the recent past was also because of the shortage of fuel available for the power plants. Despite these difficulties, we hope to obtain the required fuel quantities and limit power cuts to at least two hours in the future.

While we are looking for solutions to short-term issues, we must also work to prevent this situation from recurring. No matter how difficult they may be, we have to make some decisions that have been delayed for decades due to political reasons. We have a responsibility to steer the economy in the right direction at least now and build a country that fulfills the aspirations of our future generations.

We need the support of international organisations such as the International Monetary Fund as well as friendly countries to overcome the serious challenge that we are facing today. That support can only be obtained if there is political stability in the country.

I invite all political parties to unite for the betterment of the country. Also, I recently invited all parties to join us in resolving this crisis. They still have the opportunity to accept my invitation and work with us.

I decided to appoint a limited number of Ministers to govern the country and to get the assistance of the international community during these difficult times. Many senior members of the ruling party have voluntarily resigned from the Cabinet, paving way for a young and educated team to be appointed as the new Cabinet.

Sri Lanka is one of the oldest democracies in Asia. The security and freedom of all citizens depends on a democratic system of governance that functions in accordance with the Constitution.

I do not believe that there is anything wrong when the young people, the most active part of the society, express their pressure in their own way.

The youths who are to take reins of the future of the country have complete freedom to express their views, organize protests and agitate today.

I especially appreciate the police, the Armed Forces and all security forces personnel who are performing their duty in a disciplined manner when the protesters carry out their protests creatively.

You are aware that I have granted freedom to conduct protests and demonstrations in the last two and a half years. I did not even take any measure to disperse the protesters who arrived near my office. I believe that the majority of these protesters are young people who truly love their country. I also see their coming forward on behalf of the country as a positive sign for the future.

I believe that most people who love the country, regardless of race, religion or political affiliation, want to rectify the mistakes of the current governing system to build the country, instead of destabilising the country. Therefore, I urge these young people not to allow opportunists to move your democratic protests towards a violent path.

Many people, including the esteemed Maha Sangha, clergy, professionals, artistes, journalists, Sri Lankans living abroad and members of various political groups have commented on the situation in the country and have presented solutions and ideas to me. I listen to all these ideas with great care.

Sixty nine lakhs of people exercised their right to vote and handed over the responsibility to me with great confidence. I am committed to fulfilling those expectations during my tenure. Therefore, I take the current crisis as an opportunity to bring about the change that the people expect.

I have never stolen the funds of the people of this country. My hands are always clean; then and today. I contested for the presidency because of the requests and invitations made by many people and not because I needed power. I have served this country for 20 years as an officer in the Armed Forces. I have served successfully. Also, as the Secretary of Defence, I have successfully served this country. I have also served with dedication as the Secretary to the Ministry of Urban Development.

As the President elected by the people, I have always acted within the Constitution and the framework of democracy.

The legislative power of the country lies with the Parliament. Therefore, there is an opportunity to discuss in Parliament the views expressed by various political parties on the upcoming changes in the Constitution and to approve the necessary amendments. I am ready to extend my full support to Parliament at any time in this regard.

Accordingly, I pledge to respect the supreme Constitution of the country and to make necessary changes in the future and to salvage the country from this crisis. I earnestly request all of you to extend the necessary support in this regard.

I would like to congratulate you once again and urge you to serve the people honestly and efficiently as expected by the people.

May the noble Triple Gem bless you all!

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