Maithripala Sirisena’s progressive economic reforms attracting foreign investors Sri Lanka on a journey towards economic affluence through revolutionary policies.

John C. Maxwell once said, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way”. Every Nation needs a leader to lead them towards better and eventually towards best. Pallewatte Gamaralalage Maithripala Yapa Sirisena, the president of Sri Lanka is leading the country in a progressive manner to achieve national development and reconciliation. Maithripala Sirisena took charge of Sri Lanka’s Presidency for a six years term, after his landslide victory over his predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa during January 2015 elections. Maithripala Sirisena is an agriculturist and does not belong to Sri Lanka’s ruling elite, yet he held key ministries in the Sri Lankan Parliament.

Despite significant challenges, Sri Lanka’s economic performance remained broadly satisfactory in 2016 and early 2017. The corrective policy measures taken in 2016 following expansionary fiscal and monetary policies implemented in the previous year have led to early signs of stabilization. The construction sector’s rapid recovery supported by strong rebound in investment was able to partially mitigate the impact of weather conditions on real estate sector. It all happened due to the progressive policies and their implementations by the current President of Sri Lanka. Diplomatic relations are very important for extending the economic growth to all spheres. President Maithripala Sirisena in an interview said, “”I believe strongly that this country’s future lies in reconciliation based on good governance policies,” he said here last night in a foreign policy lecture”. He has been able to improve foreign relations in his tenure.

The country regains concessions under the Generalized System of Preferences Plus (GSP+) from the European Union in May 2017. Amendments to the VAT law were introduced in November 2016, advancing on the fiscal consolidation agenda. However, some other vital reforms were lagging behind; these included introduction of the proposed Inland Revenue Law, implementing the One-Stop Shop for FDI, reforms to the investment climate and trade, SOE reforms such as for Sri Lankan Airlines, drafting of a comprehensive public financial management law, progressing on the debt management agenda and passing of the Audit Law. As part of his economic and tourism reforms agenda, President Maithripala Sirisena has designated the years 2017, 2018, and 2019 as the “Years of Tourism and Investment for a Prosperous Sri Lanka”. These years have been declared to ease the planning for next three years to win all challenges in the fields of hotel and tourism in Sri Lanka by 2020. Sirisena made this declaration as the chief guest at the inauguration ceremony of the first Asia Hotel and Tourism Investment Conference (AHTIC) in Colombo. AHTIC is regarded as one of the region’s most influential gatherings for tourism and Hotel industry of the region. With the country becoming ever closer to China while departing from the traditional ally of India, Sirisena said that he will treat key Asian countries, India, China, Pakistan and Japan equally. Under Sirisena’s presidency, Sri Lanka has moved closer to China, especially in terms of naval agreements. India and Sri Lanka in February 2015 signed a nuclear energy deal to improve relationships. In short he is trying to engrave benefits out of all the available resources whereas he is on a commute to develop more opportunities. President Sirisena said that during the last three years, the Government has given priority to the development projects implemented to support and uplift economic standard of low-income families, than the mega development projects. The President also stressed the need of proper financial discipline and financial management when planning the development projects and said that it is the responsibility of officials to give maximum benefits to the public without wasting their money.

He also emphasized on the need of proper financial discipline and financial management when planning the development projects and count it as the responsibility of officials to give maximum benefits to the public without wasting their money. He also instructed the officials to look into the needs of rural people, not only concerning the development of public places including schools hospitals and temples in the city and both sides of the road. He also informed the District Secretaries to implement a special programme in this regard. 50 percent work of this project has been completed.  Presidential Task Force on National Food Production Sri Lanka spends around Rs. 200 billion annually to import main food items including livestock and fisheries products. However, there is a possibility of producing most of the imported food items domestically with high quality and it has been a timely need in order to save the foreign exchange spent on food import. Considering the consumption pattern of Sri Lanka, nutritionists have recommended that a person should consume 200 grams of vegetables and fruits each per day. However, present day consumption level is 100 grams only. Current per capita consumption of sea food including fish is only 40 grams, although the recommended quantity is to be 60 grams per day. Further, a person in Sri Lanka consumes low level of dairy products despite the fact that 100 ml per day is required. This has resulted in low level of nutrition among people in Sri Lanka.

Addressing the First Session of the 8th Parliament, President Maithripala Sirisena noted that we are living in a globalized new world, every country in the world is important to us. There are many things we can learn from them and they can learn from us, and openness and friendship with all will remain as the foundation of our foreign policy, he added. Pointing out that we have entered the Century of Asia, he said, “My Government will pay more attention towards an Asia-centric middle-path foreign policy.” In pursuance of his “Look East” foreign policy right from the start of his President ship, Sirisena paid an official visit to People’s Republic of China on the invitation from the Chinese President, Xi Jinping. This was his first visit to China as the President and that too within three months of holding office. The two leaders engaged in a warm and friendly exchange of views on a broad range of issues of mutual interest covering bilateral political relations; economic cooperation including, inter alia, development cooperation; trade, investment and tourism; cultural cooperation and people-to-people contact.

Sri Lanka is poised to revamp its foreign policy with a diversion towards a more pragmatic Asia-centric middle path. This is an experimental shift from a pro-British past to a socialist tilt, non-alignment to pro-US and pro-West to look-East as well as look Africa, South America and finally getting closer to the Asian giant, China.

President Sirisena briefly spelt out the economic benefits of this policy, stating that, “The 21st century is the century of Asia. It is our fortune that we are geographically situated in a position which helps us to get benefits of the economic opportunities generated in a context where Asia is emerging as the hub of the world economy. Our key responsibility is to make future economic policies, plans and strategies in a way to take maximum benefits from this great opportunity endowed upon us by the nature.”

Moreover, in a move to foster the bilateral ties with the regional powers, President Maithripala Sirisena traveled to Moscow during March 2017, marking the first official tour of a Sri Lankan leader to Russia in four decades. The hallmark achievement of the visit was the signing of agreements with Russia to expand bilateral cooperation in several fields such as, energy, trade and commerce, agriculture, education, judiciary and defence. More importantly, Russia also extended a new credit line of US $ 135 million for the purchase of defence equipment and other Russian products.

Sirisena eyes Tourism as on of the top three foreign exchange earners for Sri Lanka and has taken concrete steps to facilitate the promotion of tourism through successful government policies. During Sirisena’s reign as President, Tourism has emerged as one of Sri Lanka’s leading industries and the hospitality industry is fast becoming a luxury market.  Once a heaven for surfers and backpackers, Sri Lanka’s southern coast is now lined with high-end hotels. In the hilly areas of the country, former tea plantation bungalows have been converted into palatial guesthouses, replete with croquet lawns and infinity pools.

Sri lanka and Pakistan enjoy strong bilateral relationship which grew even stronger after Pakistan helped Sri Lanka in neutralizing the militant outfit, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the country’s North and East. Pakistan has remained key supplier of military equipment to Sri Lanka which has signed an agreement with Pakistan to provide a total of JF 17 Thunder, multi-role combat aircrafts.

Maithripala Sirisena, paid an official visit to Pakistan shortly after becoming the President which demonstrates that he considers Pakistan a key regional ally in South Asia. The visit was marked by great success as the Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif signed various agreements regarding trade and defence cooperation. The joint cooperation includes Pakistan signing an agreement to provide Sri Lanka with civil nuclear technology. This is the first agreement, Pakistan has ever signed with a country in the civil nuclear technology field. The other agreements include: tripling trade, expansion of shipping services, disaster management, education, defence cooperation and sports.

The purpose of the government is to achieve the long-term goal to be recognised as a country exporting quality edible exports in the region. With that vision in mind, they plan to introduce new dry zone agricultural products, agro zones and poultry farming would be introduced to the traditional coconut triangle. The new initiatives would help uplift the economic advantages of the country.  These developments will result in the creation of one million jobs and the expansion of the middle-class. The end goal is prosperity for everyone. Every citizen must enjoy the benefits of living in a wealthier nation. This also includes the realisation of the basic rights of every citizen –housing. This is the first step towards ensuring total social inclusion, followed by measures to promote inclusive involvement in the economy, especially for women, while improving facilities for their social integration into society and pursue their life goals with normalcy.

The vision is to make Sri Lanka a rich country by 2025. The aim is to transform Sri Lanka into the hub of the Indian Ocean, with a knowledge-based, highly competitive, social-market economy. The current president is trying to create an environment where all citizens have the opportunity to achieve higher incomes and better standards of living. To achieve this we must create conditions which will generate economic growth with equity. The structural transformation necessary to achieve this vision is currently underway. The ‘Empowered Sri Lanka’ document laid the foundation for this transformation by identifying the priorities of raising incomes, ensuring employment and housing for all, and improving the quality of life for all citizens.

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Amna Malik
About Amna Malik 48 Articles
Author is the President, Center of Pakistan and International Relations (COPAIR) and Editor-in-Chief of ‘Mélange int’l Magazine’ and ‘ The Asian Telegraph’.