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Gotabaya Rajapaksa's Speech On Urban Development


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Gotabaya

What follows is a completely rough and non-authoritative transcript of the speech of Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Urban Development given to SLASSCOM.

We've since gotten the transcript of the speech, which we've reproduced below. In other news, he seems to use a Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone.


I thank the Sri Lanka Association of Software and Service Companies (SLASSCOM) for having invited me to speak at this Executive Briefing. I am aware that SLASSCOM brings together leading companies in the Information Technology and Business Process Outsourcing sectors to one forum, and that it also helps develop these industries in order to promote Sri Lanka as a leading destination for global businesses. Having emerged from a devastating three decades long terrorist conflict less than four years ago, Sri Lanka requires such positive intent from all right thinking citizens. The country suffered countless lost opportunities as a result of the LTTE’s terrorism, and although it is now one of the most stable and peaceful countries in the world, it needs to make up for those lost opportunities and rapidly develop. Associations such as SLASSCOM have a very important role to play in facilitating the growth of important local industries. This will strongly supplement the many other positive developments taking place in the country today.

Tourist arrivals are on the rise, with more and more internationally recognized travel magazines selecting Sri Lanka as one of the top-rated holiday destinations in the world. In keeping with this trend, more than a million tourists arrivals were recorded in the country during 2012. Sri Lanka has also been chosen to host several significant international events, including the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting later this year. Last year, it also hosted the 58th annual Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference and the ICC’s Twenty20 Cricket World Cup. Many leading international companies have decided to invest in Sri Lanka. In the hospitality and real estate sector, these include the Shangri La Hotel chain, Hyatt Hotels, Sheraton Hotels, Indocean Developers and the Krrish Group. Sri Lankan companies too are investing in these sectors, with several conglomerates planning to construct several new mixed developments, hotels and office buildings.

In this context, it is very important that Sri Lankan companies in various other sectors, too, commit to this development drive by promoting new ventures and creating further growth opportunities throughout the country. There are many sectors in which Sri Lanka has tremendous potential. The IT and BPO sectors are two of the best examples. There are already a number of local companies that have made a mark internationally by developing very high standard software products. Most of the software engineers and other professionals who developed these products were educated and trained here, as were the entrepreneurs who created opportunities for them to build strong careers in this field. As the country presses forward, more and more such opportunities need to be exploited. Sri Lanka has extraordinarily talented professionals in many fields, including accountancy, engineering and medicine. They require more avenues in which to make use of their talents. As leading professionals in the IT and BPO sectors, I am sure that many of you can play an important part in creating such opportunities.

For its part, the Government is engaged in a large-scale development drive to create a positive environment for businesses. Urban development is one of the critical areas in this regard. If the standards of the cities are improved, creating a better working environment for professionals and better recreational facilities for families, Sri Lanka will be able to draw in even more foreign and local investment, attract more tourists and encourage more and more expatriates to return to the country. We need to develop clean, green, people friendly cities. The environment needs to be preserved so that people can enjoy the beauty of this country’s natural greenery and abundant waterways. The many projects undertaken over the last three years by the Ministry of Defence & Urban Development have had this objective firmly in view. I will take this opportunity to outline some of these projects.

The Metro Colombo Urban Development Project is a five-year long undertaking financed through a World Bank loan. It addresses several issues that have long troubled Colombo as a result of its rapid, organic and somewhat unregulated growth over many decades. The drainage infrastructure such as the primary and secondary canals and lakes, as well as micro drainage channels within the city will be improved. The Beire Lake, which was virtually neglected for many decades, will be completely rehabilitated. Its gates, tributaries and output channels will be unblocked and improved, and the pollution caused by unauthorised settlements and buildings on its borders will be firmly addressed. Once the project is completed, the Beire Lake will be transformed into a worthy centrepiece for a revitalised city. Improvements will also be made to the Beddegana Park in Kotte under this project. It is important to note that the institutional capacity of the municipal councils and urban councils will be strengthened so that the improved facilities will be maintained properly. A Green Growth Programme will also be carried out to protect the marshy areas in the metro region, enhance its biodiversity parks, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the eco-friendly nature of the city.

The many projects undertaken by the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation to increase and enhance the waterfronts in the city and suburbs are also noteworthy. A number of new lakes have been created in the Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte area, including Rampalawatta, the low-lying areas of Pelawatta, and in Thalawathugoda. The Weras Ganga Basin Storm Water Drainage & Environment Improvement Project involves the dredging of the Weras Ganga as well as improvements to the drainage of the Bolgoda Marsh and the development of several canals. By improving the quality of the water retention areas and waterways, storm water drainage will be improved while the overall beauty and pleasantness of the greater Colombo area will be greatly enhanced. Colombo will once again be able to become the Garden City of the East.

The development of public open spaces is another critical step in the improvement of the urban spaces. In Colombo, the development of such spaces near Independence Square, Water’s Edge, the Japan Sri Lanka Friendship Road, and the Nawala Wetland Park near Nugegoda have proven extremely popular. Thousands of people use and enjoy these walking tracks and bicycle paths on a daily basis. Similar initiatives have already been taken in the Gampaha District, and many more are planned in all the metropolitan areas that are being developed by the Urban Development Authorities. People of all ages and economic backgrounds are able to use these facilities freely. This has greatly improved the standard of living in the urban areas, and it is also felt that these initiatives will help reduce long-term health issues such as diabetes and heart disease amongst the general public.

The development of pavements and walk paths along the city streets is another area that has received a lot of attention in the recent past. The city needs to be made more pedestrian friendly with high quality pavements and other facilities being built. The improvements to pavements have been of great help to pedestrians, and all future road developments in the city will also feature high quality pavements. Steps have been taken to expedite collection of garbage on the streets. This includes the setting up of a separate division within the Police to monitor whether the companies awarded contracts to maintain the cleanliness of streets and public areas are doing their job satisfactorily. Steps are also being taken to rationalise the billboards that are such an eyesore and hide the greenery and the beauty of the urban spaces. Another initiative that helps in this regard is the demolition of walls around public buildings, playgrounds and other public areas, which had kept many of Colombo’s best architectural features hidden from public view for years. These are now open for the public to see and enjoy, and this has contributed to the uplifting of Colombo’s image as a beautiful city.

The restoration and rehabilitation of some of the country’s old buildings is another important initiative. In addition to the ancient historical sites such as those in the Cultural Triangle, Sri Lanka has a very rich architectural heritage from the Colonial times. There are a lot of buildings still standing that date back to the British and the Dutch periods. Some of these buildings have wonderful architectural features and some are in a state of preservation only in Sri Lanka. We want to preserve these important buildings as part of our heritage, and some that were neglected for a long time, including the old Dutch Hospital in Fort and the Colombo Racecourse, have been renovated and transformed into public spaces housing high-end shopping and restaurant facilities. The old Auditor General’s building, which was also a hospital dating back to the Dutch era, is currently in the process of being rehabilitated. These initiatives are also taking place outside Colombo; for example, there are a lot of restorations going on in the Galle Fort, and the Jaffna Fort, which had been damaged by the LTTE during the war, is now being completely renovated.

The assistance given to improve the lives of people in underserved and unauthorised settlements is also worthy of mention. These settlements are mostly on state lands in various parts of Colombo, including on reservations set aside around lakes, canals, roadways and railway tracks. Under the Resettlement of Underserved Settlements Project undertaken by the Urban Development Authority, some 70,000 families living in such settlements will be given housing in high and medium rise buildings designed and constructed to a good standard. These buildings will come up in close proximity to the original homes of these families, so that they do not need to find different jobs or send their children to different schools. Another project to upgrade the housing stock is the redevelopment of dilapidated private houses in areas such as Slave Island and Union Place. The owners of these houses are cooperating with investors through Public Private Partnerships that will establish high quality mixed developments in these up market locations. As a result of these initiatives, more land will be freed within Colombo for the establishment of commercial, residential and recreational spaces.

Outside of Colombo and the suburbs, a lot of effort has also been taken to improve the quality of identified key cities throughout Sri Lanka. A number of regional development programmes are underway and many have already produced impressive results, including in the North and East, and several other areas.

All of these developments have created many opportunities for growth in Sri Lanka. However, for these opportunities to be fully utilized, our business community and our industrialists must also work hard. While developing a world-class capital city is essential, it is also important to accelerate growth outside the Western Province. The quality of life in these larger cities outside Colombo are improving as the urban development of those areas improve, and it is important for established companies to branch out into these areas. Entrepreneurs must come up with innovative new ideas for industries that will further spur economic growth, or come up with new business ideas that will help foster growth in the services sector. As Sri Lanka strives to make up for the lost opportunities it suffered in the past due to the war, all of us must work together and work hard to unlock our country’s true economic potential. If we join hands as Sri Lankans and work hard towards this common cause, I have every confidence that we will be successful.

Thank you.

QUESTIONS

These question are our rough transcription and not official.

Building an IT Park anytime?

THIS IS NOT A QUOTE: Apparently they're making progress on building an IT park in Tripoli Market, near the Elphinstone Theatre and Warehouse Project in Maradana. An audience member commented saying that the project is proceeding with the Navy doing construction and should launch in June.

Schooling

Sanjiva Weerawarana - "One of the limitations is the lack of high quality non-exclusive schooling. If you try in Hambantota area say, people can't go there unless there are high quality schools. "

Gotabaya Rajapaksa: "It's in the overall plan from the Education Ministry. We have thought of that. Not only the school, we're planning to open a facility of the Kotelawa Defence University, and Sports Facilities.

That's why people prefer to be close to Colombo. Still, today most of the best students come from rural areas. Rajapaksa VM produced top scores, in Weeraketiya. Education standards are good in outstation schools.

Transport

Questioner: "One question for you, there are 42,000 light vehicles entering Colombo each day, this will double. What will you do about that?"

GR: Most government offices are moving to Battaramulla. Many of those offices are in Battaramulla. Auditor General's department moved to Battaramulla recently. Also, we're building now the Defence Headquarters for all three services to Akuregoda. At the same time we are discussing with many agencies whether it is possible to build metro link especially from Colombo, connecting bus and rail to Battaramulla. This is something we discuss everyday, taking people out and bringing them back.

We're discussing with the Moratuwa University as well. We've adopted many methods, Park & Ride and other methods. We're building Circular Bypass Road, linking Southern to Katunayake and Kandy. People can then bypass. Now they have to go through Colombo city. Once the bypass comes, traffic can take those bypass routes.

A metro project is one we're discussing with several companies. This is one area where the IT industry can come up with some proposals or analysis.

Then YAMU asked a question about citizenship and foreign residency which has already made the news via LBO. The short answer is that they're reintroducing dual citizenship with a residency option for foreign nationals. You can read more about that here.
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