President Ranil Wickremesinghe today (22) urged all citizens to work together to overcome the current economic crisis and promote reconciliation efforts.
He made the call at Royal College, where, together with prime minister Dinesh Gunawardena, he was honoured by his alma mater.
The president also asked the present generation of Royalists to dedicate themselves to serving the country and transforming it into a place where they would like to reside.
He urged young Royalists to take up the challenge and shape the future of the nation.
Text of the president’s full speech:
“I have come here on the invitation of the Prefects of Royal College to address you. I know that you’re going to stand in the sun. I won’t make my speech long. I myself have stood in the sun like this and said when they will shut up so we can go back to the classroom. And I don’t want that to happen to me. Knowing that the Prime Minister has already said that he will not speak, but he will be the Chief Guest at the prize giving, where you will be under a hall.
Before I start to say a few words, I must thank the principals who moulded me and the Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena. Mr Disa Bandaranayake, Mr H.D. Sugathapala, headmasters of the Royal Primary, Mr Dudley Silva and Mr Bogoda Premanath. We must thank them for all the influence that they and the other masters and lady teachers had on us in moulding our character.
I must also thank another member of the former Royal College Union Council, Mr Dian Pieris, who, together with me, stood up to save the name of Royal College and for all the other members of the Council who supported us. Otherwise, you would have had another name. But we honoured the intention that the country must have a school named after the President.
President Jayawardene in 1978 inaugurated the President’s college in Sri Jayawardanapura, Kote, the new capital. I come here together with the Prime Minister to address you while we have also established another achievement of Royal College, where the President and the Prime Minister are from the same school and from the same class.
Royal’s history in politics goes back to about 1860 onwards. A few years after the Colombo Academy started when some of its outstanding students became members of the Legislative Council. They are, as you see in some of their portraits, C. A. Lorenz, and James De Alvis both of who wanted more power in the council. Sir Richard Morgan, the first Asian to be knighted, member of the Executive Committee, acting Attorney General and also Acting Chief Justice and Sir Muthukumarasami. The four of them dominated the politics of Ceylon for the first few years of our modern history. We have Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, the first member to be elected by the Sri Lankans. His opposing candidate who lost, Sir Marcus Fernando was also a Royalist. It was a question of deciding which Royalists you are going to vote for.
1915 was the turning point in our history when we decided after the 1915 riots that we will become an independent nation. It was Henry Pedris, a young old boy from this school who was executed by the British and we started the whole campaign. Sir Ponnamabam Rahmanathan pleaded for him in the legislative council, since he was also a Royalist. E.W. Perera and Sir James Pieris went to England to plead the cause of the Sinhala Buddhist leaders.
They were also Royalists. Then all the key players on the Sri Lankan side in the 1915 riots were Royalists. After independence, we had Sir John Kotalawala as the first Prime Minister after whom the Defence University is named, and we had President J.R. Jayawardene. It was actually about, I would say nearly 44 years ago when we assembled at the quadrangle to felicitate him.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe shares a light moment with his classmate at Royal College Premier Dinesh Gunawardena.
So, Royal College today has in its records, four Prime Ministers and two Presidents. This is an outstanding record for any school. We also have a Sultan of Maldives who was also a Prime Minister, Muhammad Fareed Didi and the man who modernized the Maldives, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom spent a year or more at Royal College. I think the disease of modernization, he must have gotten from Royal College. Now, we are here as the Royalists from the same class.
There is another record. The first republican constitution was drafted by Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, an old Royalist. The second republican constitution was drafted by J.R. Jayawardene, his classmate. Royalists have done it so well that no one else can change it. Now I think we have equalled that record, when the Prime Minister and I, together with the late Mr Anura Bandaranaike and Mr Malik Samarawickrama established another record. Between us, two of us have held the presidency, some Prime Ministers and one has become the Speaker, two of us have been Leaders of the House and two of us have been Leaders of the Opposition.
So this is what education at Royal has brought us and I hope you will do even better than us. That is my hope. Records are meant to be broken and not to be kept. Are any of you willing to break that record?
So, I have come here to address you at a very difficult time. A situation we have not seen in the last 400 years. A complete collapse of the economy. I won’t talk in general economic terms, but it affects all of you. In all our households, we didn’t have fuel, and electricity and those who were farming didn’t have fertilizer, we have to pay a lot of taxes and prices have gone up, inflation has come and every household has had to face the consequences. There was a total collapse of the country and when I took over the country, Mr Dinesh Gunawardane became Prime Minister, as I mentioned it was our duty to put the country first. I thought that I will take whatever decision that has to be taken to bring the economy back to at least be recognized in the world as no longer being bankrupt, within one year.
It was a tough call, but I did not want it to go on for much longer. I don’t want you all to suffer. We want to start fighting back and we want to have an economic resurrection. So I took all the decisions we had to take and the Prime Minister supported me. I knew the decisions I take are going to be unpalatable. It will make me unpopular. But, without those decisions, the country could not come right. And that’s what I learnt in Royal College, do what is correct and do what is good for your country. Remember that.
Every decision I have taken I have thought twice or thrice on what is the burden it will impose on us. How unpopular should I become? Should I even take this decision? And when I felt that it was in the country’s interest, I took it because my first task and our first task is to bring the economy back in order. We can’t be a bankrupt country. We can’t be a beggar nation, so we have to learn that there are hard decisions to be taken in life and those decisions have to be taken. And I assure you we will by this year, see a very good improvement in our economic condition and then we will set the stage for the economic recovery of this country, not to go back to an old system which brought us down, but to a new system.
When I first came here and I came along, it was not even a ten-minute walk for me to come from there to here and we stood here in the hall, I realized one issue that all of us knew at that time. We thought we were in one of the best countries in the world because when we became independent, we were second to Japan and the London Times said, we will be another Switzerland. So we were here at that time. Today, we are a country which has only Afghanistan below us. We don’t know what the future is. So when we build this future, it’s an economy that must last for 25 years. It must be a new Constitution that must last for 100 years. It must be a society not for us. None of us here are going to live for 25 years. It’s country for you all. Most of you here, in the first row, I don’t think you will be even 45 years old in the next 25 years.
And those in the back rows, the seniors will be around 50-55 years. That is the country you will have to live in and I want you all to decide what country we will live in. Not for us. That is the challenge you must take. I want you all to take that challenge and decide the future of the country. Just as much as President Jayawardane told us in 1977, you’ll decide what your future should be. So, I want you to be there and most of you here are living in a time when young people want to go abroad. They don’t see a future. They want to go away. But, we are Royalists and we must fight back. That’s what we have learnt to do. As you know, we have to fight both alone and with many to uphold the values that we are committed to.
So many of you will go abroad for studies and some of you will stay here. But, you must remember that this school made you a man and come here. I studied at Royal and I could have gone abroad to a university but I didn’t. My father wanted me to go abroad but I stayed here because I valued what I had. And after I passed out I did not go abroad, I stayed here because I owed my education to the state which paid for me and which sentient to the Royal College.
The Prime Minister went abroad and studied there but he remembered his obligation to the country, so he came back. And that is what you have to do. All of you come here to this school and for each of you selected, there were another 100 that were left behind. The country chose you to come here. The school chose you to come here. Then, you have the responsibility to come back to your country or stay in your country and build a new Sri Lanka.
Are you, as Royalists, willing to do that? That is your task, you should come back. You should fight the odds and go ahead because we have two difficult tasks in this country. One is to put the economy into order and the other is reconciliation. We can’t be divided by race or religion. Royalists are not. So let us not do that and let us all get together. For all of you who come back, take your place in society and do your best. Whether you are at the highest level or whether you are running a normal business, that's what you have to do.
So, first I would like to ask all the old Royalists, to forget the differences and join together in bringing this country up. I am in no way telling all those in politics to join me, I am only asking all of them to get together to get over this economic crisis.
I am asking those in the business world, those who are doing a small business, those who are carrying on their agriculture, and those who are in professions to join us to get over this crisis. I am asking those who are in the military services, police, public service and teaching services to join us in getting over the crisis. That is to get over it now.
But, I want you all to come back and ensure that you build the country again to a developed economy in 25 years. That is the task that you have.
I will not speak to you anymore but I would like to conclude with the words which we know of the oath taken by the young men of Athens, which we all had to learn in our days. I don’t know whether you learn it now. But, I would like to repeat the commitment that they gave there which we also have to follow. “We will transmit this city not only, not less but greater, better and more beautiful than when it was transmitted to us.” That is the duty of all Royalists.”
The welcome speech was delivered by the Principal of Royal College R.M.M. Rathnayake while the vote of thanks was delivered by Head Prefect of Royal College Kavisha Ratnayake.
Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Buddha Sasana, Religious and Cultural Affairs Minister Vidura Wickremanayake, Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekara, State Minister of Finance Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, State Minister of Justice and Prison Affairs Anuradha Jayaratne, Members of Parliament Rauf Hakeem, Gevindu Kumarathunga, Priyankara Jayaratne, Duminda Dissanayake, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Dilan Perera, Yadhamini Gunawardena, Kavinda Jayawardena, and Senior Adviser to the President on National Security and Chief of Presidential Staff Sagala Ratnayake, were also among those present on the occasion.