Minister urges business community to mount pressure on President

Jan 15 (IL) A senior UNF minister has called on the business community to exert pressure on President Chandrika Kumaratunga to undo the damage caused to the economy which was dealt a serious blow by her move to take over three key ministries.

Land Minister Rajitha Senaratne addressing the Panadura Chamber of Commerce, told the business community that the economic downturn which began with the onset of the current political crisis would seriously affect the private sector.

The minister's plea to the business community follows a strong statement from the national business community represented by the J-Biz Forum that both the President and the Prime Minister should think and act like leaders and end the political crisis that had thrown the peace process and the economy into uncertainty.

"Thanks to the Prime Minister's political sagacity, the government could turn around a negative growth economy in a short period.

He did not allow the usual practice of packing government institutions with party henchmen. If such practices were permitted, the government would have been compelled to resort to contingency measures such as printing money in excess, leading to uncontrollable inflation," he said.

The Prime Minister, the minister said, did not seek short-cuts to popularity. Instead, he had been acting as a true statesman in the footsteps of great leaders of Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia who turned their countries into economic tigers.

Despite the challenge from an Executive President and PA-dominated provincial councils, the Prime Minister did not give priority to packing government establishments with political supporters or offering speedy 'patchwork' solutions to urgent national issues. "His first priority was to salvage the economy bogged down in a morass and he managed to turn a 1.4 minus economic growth into a vibrant 5.6 growth in a short period," Dr. Senaratne said.

He said the private sector, which was the engine of growth and which had enjoyed the dividends of the peace in the past two years, should\ make a concerted effort to avert an economic setback and use their good offices to prevail on the President to end the crisis she had created.

Scoffing at parties such as the JVP and the Sihala Urumaya for their double standards, the minister said these parties which opposed and criticized the role of the Norwegians as facilitators of the peace process were now finding fault with Oslo for withdrawing from the peace process.

"The parties which agitated for the abrogation of the ceasefire agreement now blame the government for withdrawing from the process. Both these parties are now in fear of their own fate if the war breaks out again," Dr. Senaratne said.