An export economy should be established in other parts of the country as well by taking a cue from Biyagama. The country desperately needs to increase foreign exchange earnings in order to overcome the present debt trap, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said.
The Prime Minister was addressing a meeting after opening the new three storeyed building of the Biyagama Divisional Secretariat at Makola, Sapugaskanda on July 6.
The Prime Minister said that at the time the Government assumed office, the country’s economy was in such a parlous state that it was insufficient to service the enormous debts owed by the country. The government had been able to change this situation by doggedly facing challenges on its path.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe recalled that when he took over the Biyagama electorate as the Chief Organizer, it was the smallest and most underdeveloped electorate in the region. Its total number of votes was around 44,000 with only about 36,000 of them casting their votes at the election.
“Cadjan huts were conspicuous in the area although the petroleum refinery was situated in the electorate. People were mostly engaged in the “Beedi” industry. There was no electricity in the area either and when he stepped into some of the houses he saw people making ‘beedi’ in houses lit with kerosene lamps and as a youthful MP he was deeply shocked about the plight of the people in the area,” the Premier said.
“ I made a firm determination to improve the lot of those innocent people,” the Prime Minister said.
The Prime Minister said he was elected as Member of Parliament for Biyagama at the subsequent election and the J.R.Jayewardene government launched the Greater Colombo Economic Commission which started the first Free Trade Zone in Katunayake.
When he requested J.R.Jayewardene to set up a second Free Trade Zone at Biyagama, he asked as to how the government could find the land for it. When he agreed to find the necessary land, J.R. Jayewardene agreed to proceed with the proposal and gave him all the support.
“This was the manner in which I laid the foundation for the development of Biyagama to its present status,” the Prime Minister said.
The Prime Minister said that late Suranimala Rajapaksha gave him all the support for this endeavour.
“The assistance rendered by Assistant Government Agents Amarasinghe and Ruparatne should also be recalled with gratitude. Today, Biyagama had become an area with an export economy disproving pessimists who predicted the FTZ to be failure,” Prime Minister Wickremeainghe said.
“The Biyagama FTZ alone had about 55 to 60 factories while there were about 90 factories encompassing the whole Biyagama Electorate. People also made a living by maintaining container yards. Other income avenues had also been created for people to maintain three wheelers, shops and indulge in minor vocations. All this happened due to the development undertaken centred on Biyagama,” the Prime Minister added.
“Makola and Spugaskanda which were small villages then had today become urban centres. The entire Biyagama region has now been urbanised owing to the development undertaken there,” the Premier said.
The Prime Minister said that when he subsequently assumed duties as Minister Industries, he set up the Seethawaka Trade Zone launching industrialisation on the Kelani Ganga bank centred on Ranala.
“Subsequently, another FTZ was launched at Koggala. President Premadasa later launched the 200 garment factory programme. The 1977- 1994 era was a period of massive industrialisation which was not carried forward after 1994. Vietnam which only started industrialisation in 1993 has now surpassed us economically by leaps and bounds, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said.
“The Yahapalana Government led by President Maithripala Sirisena which assumed power has once again decided to go in for an export economy. As such, economic development plans should be formulated for other areas by taking Biyagama as an example,” the Prime Minister said.
“The Government’s objective was to take the country towards development under a proper plan. Plans had already been drawn up to set up the biggest Trade Zone at Millaniya, Bandaragama. Plans were underway to set up Industries in Ekala. Ja-Ela, Bingiriya and Mawathgama too. Industrial Zones would also the launched in Hambantota and Matara as well,” Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said.
“Today, the world has gone in for knowledge based technological industries. The government has decided to set up a Higher Education Institute of Technological Studies to facilitate this process. It will be open to Sri Lankans and foreigners who want to undergo higher technological studies,” the Prime Minister said.