Enterprise Development and Investment Promotion Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa is calling for more and more novel methods to improve the infrastructure facilities of post-war Sri Lanka.
The Minister also hopes to fast-track the development work in his home constituency of Kurunegala district under the new UPFA government after the April polls.
Kurunegala district is one of the fastest developing areas in Sri Lanka. It has great potential for future growth, he points out in a recent interview to The Island.
He is looking forward to continue his development role in the new government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The Minister says the President is keen on developing the area as the people displayed their massive support to him in the recent elections. "The Kurunegala district and the entire Wayamba gave a handsome majority to our party and our President," the Minister added.
Asked about the reasons for his political successes in the district since early 90s, the Minister explained: "The thing is that I have been a down-to-earth person in my entire life. I am a villager and I love my village. And I love to work for my village. And I love to work for my people in Kurunegala or any other part of the country. And I like to listen to them. And I believe that I don’t have enemies in my party or other parties."
The people-friendly leader was also actively involved in the work of Kuliyapatiya Lions Club before entering politics in early 90s.
"I am a Lion. I was the chairman of Kuliyapitiya Lions Club. I have been a member of that club for a long period of time. I don’t have time to go and meet my fellow Lions these days. But I still believe the Lion movement does a lot of work for our people in every part of the island," he explains.
"Social service is a good thing for every individual. The Lions movement gathers others to engage in social work in their respective areas," he says.
The Minister played a leading role in strengthening the efforts of Board of Investment in providing the right picture of post-war Sri Lanka to global industrialists and businessmen last year.
He was already the media and information minister, when he took on the Enterprise Development and Investment Promotion Minister early last year.
Explaining his role in investment promotion, he added: "It was like a transition period from conflict period to non-conflict period, during which time I had to give a different picture of the country to investors. And I had to travel to several countries on missions arranged by the BOI to explain ourselves.
"So I went to the US an met American Chamber of Commerce, Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, New York Chamber of Commerce, an went to Thailand and met their counterparts. We also went to Singapore and met the Chamber of Commerce there," he added.
Highlighting the challenging situation Sri Lanka faced last year in defeating terrorism, the Minister said: "We explained the situation prevailing in Sri Lanka at that time. And I believed that they were very positive after seeing a country which had been able to achieve many goals that other countries could not for a long period of time."
The Minister is upbeat about Sri Lanka’s post-war growth under the leadership of President Rajapaksa.
"I can see now there are lots of investment inquiries are being made from us. So we are quite hopeful that things will turnaround even in a bad economic situation prevailing in the world. There are a number of inquiries on various projects to our BOI. And, actually, some are almost completed. They will soon start their businesses here," he says.
"And also, we have discussed many issues pertaining to investors who are already here. We have been able to solve many issues with the help of government," said the Minister.
He says that during a short period at the new ministry, he saw the immense potential Sri Lanka has for investments and job creation. "It was a great opportunity for me to learn all these things," he adds.
"The officials including the BOI chairman have always helped me to achieve the targets set by my predecessors," said the minister.
He also sees tremendous development in the North and the East, as the BOI is set to open an office in Jaffna to strengthen the President’s efforts to boost post-war development.
He adds: "Actually, we have done everything to open an office in Jaffna. We have recruited everyone and found a place. We are ready to do it anytime. The northern districts of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu have also been earmarked for new projects. Future investment opportunities are available for those areas. Agriculture, tourism, fishing and industry – all these sectors can be improved or can have new investors in those fields."
He explained the coastal areas in the North and East are also open now new investment projects such as world-class hotels.
The Minister also rules out any negative impact on impact on Sri Lanka’s bid to attract foreign investment because of issues such as the arrest of Sarath Fonseka.
"In every country, everyone must respect the law and order of the country. Whether he is a big man or a small man, in the eyes of the law, all are equal. So no one can violate these things. If anyone violates the basic principles of democracy in a country, what will happen is the traditions that we have built will collapse within a short period of time," the Minister points out.
He adds: "We have seen Sarath Fonseka as a commander of the army. We have also seen him as a Presidential candidate. We have seen how he acted in those two places.
"And, every person who is charged under any law, has the right to defend himself. If not satisfied with the original verdict, he can appeal against it. So I don’t think this issue gives bad publicity to our country," says the Minister.
Asked about the development activities in the Kurunegala district, the Minister says: "Since 1994, I have been an MP for Kurunegala district. During which time, we have been able to provide electricity to more than 85 per cent of its population. We have been able to do a number of road projects in those areas. We have been able to improve the living conditions of the people, especially farmers."
Speaking further about his vision for the home constituency, the Minister adds: "Actually I believe in the future of those people and their children. Currently, we are living in a free country – we don’t have terrorism or any other movement to destabilise our nation. In that situation, we have a huge plan for the Kurunegala district, not only for development of the area but also for social upliftment of the masses.
"We have to introduce more and more novel methods to improve the infrastructure facilities of the area. We will have to design projects for the development of skills of the youth," he says.
"Investors are keen on our district. In Kurunegala, we have a number of industrial zones. We are living in a preferably good area as far as investments are concerned," the Minister points out.
"We need to make our place more beautiful and lift the standard of living of our people. We must create new employment opportunities for our youth," he says.
He appeals to voters to re-elect the UPFA government with a two-thirds majority to strengthen the President’s efforts to take that nation towards a new era of development.
"We want to have a stable government to give way for new development projects. We need to make changes in many areas – sometimes in the constitution too. We need that kind of majority to achieve these reforms," the Minister explained.
Lanka needs new media culture
Mr Anura Priyadarshana Yapa is widely viewed as a media-friendly politician with a disarming affability and humility.
He was also cabinet spokesman and media and information minister in President Rajapaksa’s (2005-2010) government, also says the Sri Lanka needs a new media culture to strengthen national growth.
He adds: "Media is something that has to be free and fair. And also be informative. That is what is important. Just saying free and fair does not mean anything. It has to be informative. People should know the correct news.
"But unfortunately in Sri Lanka, we have seen that it is not happening most of the time. We have so many private media channels. But correct dissemination of news is not seen most of the time.
"It is high time for us to think back and design ourselves or organize ourselves to have a what do you call a different media culture in the country. Criticism is always not a good thing. You must give priority to the development of the country," says the Minister.
The Minister also rejects opposition claims that the government was trying to impose controls on Web news portals.
He says: I don’t see any censorship. The government is not going to control anything. We want to have institutions where they will serve the people in a good manner. We are not controlling anyone or any institution. We always wanted them to be fair in reporting."
Asked about his views about the preferential voting system, he says: "The preferential system in some way it’s good. In some way, it’s bad.
"In Sri Lanka, people want to have an elected member from their own area. In preferential system, they elect for the district. And it gives a disadvantage to people to get their things done through their representatives because they don’t have a clear representative from their area. Those are the issues we face. Ultimately we have to introduce a better system to meet the aspirations of the people. That is our wish."