Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe with Mahinda Rajapaksa
- Insists achievements were limited to reducing economic competitiveness and increasing corruption
By Ashwin Hemmathagama – Our Lobby Correspondent
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday challenged the Opposition assumption that the former Government had created a ‘golden era’, insisting that it had overseen a time when Sri Lanka’s exports had reduced, its economy lost its competitiveness, and increased debt.
Delivering the concluding remarks of the Budget 2019 Committee Stage Program on the Expenditure Heads of National Policies, Economic Affairs, Resettlement and Rehabilitation, Northern Province Development, Vocational Training & Skills Development and Youth Affairs, Wickremesinghe held that he is unable to understand the reason for the Opposition to use the term ‘golden era’ for a period full of debt and corruption.
“Opposition lawmaker Dr. Bandula Gunawardana refers to the Mahinda Rajapaksa era as the golden period of this country. I understand that he has a good command in the Sinhala language. However, it is doubtful that he knows the meaning of ‘golden era’,” he challenged.
According to the Prime Minister, in 2004 the apparel exports of the country was $2,800 million. In 2015, it increased to $4,600 million.
“By the end of this so-called golden era, the apparel exports have failed to at least double in Sri Lanka. Vietnam has exported $4,900 million in 2004 and in 2015 it has been increased to $27,500 million. In Bangladesh, the apparel exports in 2004 were reported $5700 million and have increased to $25,500 million,” the Prime Minister explained.
“They stopped our GSP plus concession. Bangladesh protected the GSP plus and have managed to increase by 400%. So, that golden era is not here but in Bangladesh. I propose Bangladeshis to erect his statues and pray throughout the day for the export benefit given to them. What Mahinda Rajapaksa gave us was debt, and wanted us to suffer for his decisions. We have paid back with all difficulties with the people of Sri Lanka. We took the blame for him. Having told the reality, we failed in elections,” he added, highlighting the fact that the primary account and the current account of the Government has showed a positive balance after 70 years.
Listing some of the recent initiatives of the Government, which proved positive and would help the country to get back on the track without a delay, the Prime Minister held that the education sector was revolutionised in order to produce the knowledge workers the country needs.
“So, what is the golden era? The era that increased your debt or the period which managed to show an excess in primary account? Looking at the future of the country, allocations for health and education was increased. We have launched smart classrooms and a program to give tablets to students. Tourists have started to come back. On 4th March we started the Bingiriya free trade zone. Already 30 investors have confirmed. The recent investment of $100 million was invested by Smart Shirts. But during the so-called golden era most zones were empty, and we had to fill 60 acres they built in Hambantota,” he added, confirming that the Government will continue to expand the 4,000 acre Hambantota zone to 12,000 acres to house more investments.
Looking at the empty benches of the Opposition, the Prime Minister said: “No wonder the Opposition is not here to listen to this good news. No wonder the Opposition is not here. They are unable to listen. What were you doing during the golden era? Were you scraping coconuts? We will establish the second oil refinery in Sri Lanka after 1967. Now we have hope for the future. We promise to take this country by 2025. We will not give our opportunity to Bangladesh and Vietnam,” he added.