President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Friday said economic development and eradication of poverty were the government’s twin aims as the country emerges from nearly a 30-year separatist war.
Delivering the address on the 63rd Independence Day, Rajapaksa said the government would not delay in its attempt to regain the lost opportunities for economic development.
Rajapaksa delivered the speech in the southern town of Kataragama, some 280 km from Colombo, amid a boycott call given by the main opposition United National Party (UNP) to protest the imprisonment of former army chief, Sarath Fonseka. In his speech, Rajapaksa focused on economic development and what his government was doing in upgrading infrastructure across the country.
``The per capita income in our country had been increased only to USD 1030 through sixty years since attaining Independence. Yet, in the past five years the GDP was increased to USD 2400. Similarly, electricity, supply of water, irrigation and the road network has been expanded throughout the country,’’ he said.
Without specifying, Rajapaksa said his government would have to take ``tough decisions’’ to spurt growth.
“It is the nation's responsibility to take hard and difficult decisions to bring light to the future of our children, rather than take popular decisions that will lead them to darkness ahead,’’ he said, adding: “Whatever the obstacles, we shall not delay to regain the lost opportunities for economic development.”
Rajapaksa, whose government has faced international criticism for alleged human rights violations during the end of the civil war, indicated that the freedom of expression cannot be enjoyed without respecting the country. ``Our commitment towards human rights is the heritage handed down to us from this historic cultural tradition. Similar to the right of all citizens to the freedom of expression, it is also their duty and responsibility to respect the dignity of the motherland in enjoying that freedom,’’ he said.
Rajapaksa has also been criticised for apparently concentrating political and economic power among his close family members – including two powerful brothers -- and ensuring that he would be eligible for election at the end of his second term in 2016.