What is the President Up To?

A brief introduction and socio-economic analysis by Thisuri Wanniarachchi of the President’s National Sustainable Development Initiatives Currently in Progress.

Originally published on Financial Times ()

With party politics, political campaigns and election violence, many have lost sight on the fact that there’re great strides being made in the President’s national development agenda. Those who have been very critical of the                 President during the days leading up to his speech on 14th July, remain quiet in times of progress.  Perhaps they had spoken too much of him in the days leading up to his speech, and since he has decided to remain neutral in the election, maybe there isn’t as much dramatic complaints on him; and where  there is no drama there is no talk. Hence the public silence.

In this silence, you may wonder what the president is really up to. What does he gain out of remaining neutral? Should a politician really remain neutral during a crucial national election? These questions have been common in the political dialogue in Sri Lanka in the past month.   Here’s your answer: Presidents of all democracies are expected to remain neutral during elections, although this has not been the norm in the past.  The country has much to gain from his neutral position. This is the first election in Sri Lankan history that a President has been this adamant on making sure state resources and powers are not exploited by candidates for their campaigns.

So what does the President himself gain from remaining neutral?  Apart from the satisfaction of abiding by the duties and democratic obligations of a President, remaining neutral during the election season gives him much time and space to focus on his National Development Agenda. As he mentioned in his speech on the 14th, whichever party comes to power, it is the agenda that 62 million people voted for on January 8th that he will focus on moving forward in his Presidential term. It is crucial that we, the public know what this agenda is and what part of it is currently in progress. Instead of petty political gossip, this what we ned to be talking about. This agenda has the power to make drastic changes to our country’s future, i.e. our future.billion years old (2)

This article will explore the 4 main sustainable development initiatives of the President’s National Development Agenda that are currently in progress, and how it could help widen and strengthen the middle class.   As of right now, the President’s National Sustainable Development Agenda looks at 3 main national Programs: 1. The Local Food Production Program, 2. The Anti-Narcotics program, and 3. The National Environment Conservation Program. The Chronic Kidney Disease Prevention Program is an initiative causes and outcomes of which affect all three of the above national programs. More importantly, it addresses a national health crisis that needs our utmost attention.These 4 initiatives that are currently in   progress, address 4 of the several extremely humane issues that Sri Lanka faces today.

The Local Food Production Program

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At a recent meeting the President pointed out that his ambition is to stop importation of every food item that can be produced within Sri Lanka and lead the country to a self-sufficient economy.  The President recalled that the country is spending about Rs. 154 billion every year for the importation of food items. He pointed out almost every food item with several exceptions can be produced within our country. This program hopes to subsidize local farmers and cut down food imports. While reducing imports may seem like an extreme protectionist measure, in order to revitalize the poverty stricken farming community and help them climb up to the middle income category, this measure is very important.

This program also looks at ways of increasing food production while efficiently using agricultural lands and the need of implementing a strategy to make it obligatory to cultivate lands that are not being cultivated currently was emphasized during this meeting.


The Main Objectives of the National Food Production Program

  1. To increase the production and productivity of rice other field crops, fruits and vegetables to ensure the food and nutritional security in the country. To reduce the cost for importation of agricultural commodities and enhance the sectoral contribution to the GDP. To Introduce and implement of agro – ecological zonal based crop production program.
  2. To popularize modern technologies, machinery and to facilitate development oriented crop research.
  3. To assure the availability of good quality inputs for producers and to assure availability and safety of food to consumers.
  4. To promote agribusiness and to encourage private public partnerships
  5. To ensure the environmental friendliness of agricultural practices.The foreign currency saved through cutting down food imports could be utilized for imports in the education, healthcare and national security sectors.


 The Environment Conservation Program

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Deforestation, environmental damage, Environmental degradation, Natural Resource Damage, soil erosion, lack of a proper garbage disposal systems are some of the major environmental issues that will be addressed through this program. As of today, Sri Lanka’s forest coverage is 29%, the proposed project is expected to increase the forest coverage to 35% within the first few years.

The program ensures the setup of a proper system for garbage disposal in Sri Lanka. About 7,500 tons of waste is produced in Sri Lanka for a day, of which nearly 1,000 tons of garbage is processed for waste management.  The remaining 6,500 tons of garbage is expected to manage systematically using the new technology.

The Anti- Narcotics Program

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Research shows that 1/3rd of Sri Lanka’s low income families spend a substantial of portion of their monthly income on cigarettes, drugs and alcohol. Also 22% of the national health budget is spent on cigarette- smoking patients. As a result of President Maithripala Sirisena’s anti- narcotics initiative, a law was passed in 2015 to make it compulsory to display advisory images on all packs of cigarettes sold in Sri Lanka.

The programs aims at:

  • An 80% reduction of the production of illegal narcotics by 2020
  • A 25% reduction of the rate of narcotics consumption by 2020
  • A 50% reduction of Tobacco production by 2020
  • A 50% reduction of drunk driving related accidents by 2020
  • Put an end to advertising/social propaganda/ CSR projects of all tobacco and narcotics production companies.
  • To take measures to reduce victims of involuntary/ second-hand smoking.
  • To increase awareness programs on the harmful effects of alcohol, tobacco and narcotics consumption
 The National Strategy for CKD Prevention

About 1,000 Sri Lankans die from CKD annually. There are 40, 680 registered CKD patients as of now.

The lack of access to clean drinking water has been identified as one main reason for kidney disease. Even though the facilities in hospitals throughout the country were improved to treat the kidney patients, the rising number of kidney patients had led to various difficulties. Agro chemicals and chemical residuals, hard metals, Nephrotoxins produced by Blue-Gree Algae, dehydration, heat stress, high fluoride levels in water and hardness of water (high levels of Calcium and Magnesium)

President’s National Strategy to Prevent CKD involves a Presidential Task Force, which includes specialists in the field for research and implementation and Brand Ambassodors Muttiah Muralitharan and T.M Dilshan who will communicate campaign to the public.

The President recently spoke to the diplomatic community of Sri Lanka regarding the need for international support to strengthen this initiative.

The ambassadors expressed their willingness to give their maximum help to Sri Lanka to overcome this crisis, while admiring the humanitarian aspect of the President as a Statesman. The representative of the World Health Organization extended support to further investigate the causes of the illness. The EU representative stated it would increase the donations for the drinking water projects in Sri Lanka.

China will build a 100 million dollar specialized hospital to treat a mysterious kidney disease that is striking mainly rice farmers in Sri Lanka. The Chinese High Commissioner said that water samples form affected areas are now under research at the Chinese Academy of science to identify the actual cause of the disease and that China will continue to collaborate with Sri Lanka to fight CKD.

Indian High Commissioner Y.K. Sinha said the water projects in Polgahawela, Kundasale and Kalutara would be supported by India, while the Japanese Government agreed to make donations for 60,000 kidney patients in Anuradhapura.

The Australian High Commissioner said they would extend the support to launch a drinking water project benefiting to about 100,000 people in the North.

Most victims of CKD belong to low income families. Prevention of CKD is not merely the prevention of a health hazard. It’s also a measure to reduce poverty by strengthening the agricultural industry and families depending on it, which can help widen the middle class.



Author Bio: Thisuri Wanniarachchi is the State Literary Award Winning author of novels Colombo Streets and The Terrorist’s Daughter. She is an undergraduate student of Bennington College studying Political Economy with a focus on Education Reform and is currently interning at the Research and International Media Division of the Presidential Secretariat.


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