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Sunday, 09 October 2016






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Government Gazette

PM clinches wide ranging support from Indian government, business

A day before Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe left for New Delhi for the opening session of the World Economic Summit, he delivered a lecture titled ‘Sri Lanka and its place in the world’ at the main hall of the New Zealand Parliament house.

Apart from the Economic Forum, the Prime Minister was scheduled to meet several top Indian authorities including the country’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In his lecture, the Sri Lankan Prime Minister set the platform for his discussions with Indian leaders, while describing Sri Lanka’s role in the global politics as well as in the South Asian region.

In his comprehensive speech, the Sri Lankan Prime Minister shared his views about a wide range of matters concerning Sri Lanka and its international relations, which went through many different ‘phases’ over the past six decades under successive governments.

However, a key aspect of his speech was the remarks he made about border security – a key concern for India, which has now reached a critical point following India’s recent “surgical strikes” against terrorist targets in Pakistan’s territory.

The rivalry between India and Pakistan also led to the eleventh hour postponement of SAARC, scheduled for November, in Pakistan.

India, firing a diplomatic salvo at Pakistan, said it would not attend SAARC, citing what it called cross-border terrorism – an allegation Pakistan has vehemently rejected.

Issuing a statement, the Foreign Ministry of Pakistan claimed it deplored India’s decision not to attend the summit, blaming its neighbour for “derailing the process of regional cooperation.”

This blame-game, however, created a sense of uncertainty and tension in the South Asian region as the neighbours of India and Pakistan were also dragged into the issue, in many ways. Sri Lanka too, could not turn a blind eye to the issue as it had strong and longstanding ties with both parties involved in the controversy. It was in this context that the Sri Lankan Prime Minister had to meet his Indian counterpart for bilateral discussions.

During his speech at the New Zealand Parliament House, the Prime Minister described how Sri Lanka foresaw this problem in 1985 and raised the need to find lasting solutions. The Prime Minister said, Sri Lanka’s opinion did not drive SAARC in the direction of finding a solution, as there was no common understanding among member nations, at that point.

The Prime Minister said, ‘South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established to promote peace, amity and progress in the region by complementing bilateral and multilateral cooperation. SAARC’s main function is to be a platform for dialogue at the heads of Government level contributing to the improvement of bilateral relations among members.

‘Sri Lanka’s request at the inception of SAARC in 1985, to include cross border terrorism was rejected. At the time, this was considered to be a bilateral issue. Today, cross border terrorism has gatecrashed the SAARC summit. The recent terrorist attack on the Indian military base in Uri resulted in four member states stating their inability to attend the Islamabad Summit meeting in November this year. Sri Lanka which is opposed to terrorism in all its form of manifestation, condemned this incident and has expressed regret that the prevailing environment does not permit the meeting.

‘Yet if SAARC is to play a useful role, the annual summit meetings at heads of Government level must take place. Therefore, this postponement must be utilized by the member countries to reflect on the question of cross border terrorism. The future of the SAARC depends on an outcome acceptable to all members. If not, SAARC’s days are numbered. Then, Sri Lanka will have to look for other options. The future – like in the past - will depend on the ocean.

‘The security and stability of the Indian Ocean is a prerequisite to enable legitimate economic activity to preserve the maritime environment and seabed. These geopolitical realities require that Sri Lanka build strong bilateral relations with its fellow South Asian members and the Bay of Bengal members of ASEAN. The security of the Indian Ocean is a prerequisite to achieve our economic objectives.

‘Our government is also repositioning ourselves to maximise on our bilateral relationships with both our historic and new trading partners. It must not be forgotten that Sri Lanka’s geostrategic position makes us a hub of the Indian Ocean as well as a transshipment port for the Bay of Bengal trade. To fully tap this potential, Sri Lanka will engage in initiatives with regional players who have major economic stakes in the Indian Ocean.’

Wickremesinghe’s speech led many political analysts to believe that his bilateral discussion with the Indian Prime Minister would also be based on the same matters. Sources close to the Prime Minister told the Sunday Observer that the bilateral discussion between the two leaders covered a wide range of issues, including border security, strengthening regional cooperation through SAARC and cementing trade ties between the two countries.

The most important outcome of the meeting, according to Indian media, was the understanding they reached to finalise and sign the ETCA agreement by end of this year. The announcement, however, drew mixed reactions from the country’s business and political circles, as the agreement has been a matter of contention, over the past few months.

When he spoke at the Economic Forum meeting on Thursday, the Prime Minister sounded jovial as he started the address by cracking an unexpected joke. ‘I was told I had three minutes to speak. So I decided to put on my politician’s watch so after three minutes there will be a big signal!’ Wickremesinghe said, showing his bare wrist to the audience.


In his speech at the World Economic Forum, attended by top economists, business and political leaders, the Sri Lankan Prime Minister explained why a comprehensive economic agreement with India would make sense, at this juncture. He said the world was expecting Asia to “bail it out”.

“The world is expecting India to translate potential into action. We are at the threshold of another historic moment. If the pace of reforms (in India) fails to pick up, companies may look elsewhere. But where is elsewhere?” The Prime Minister asked the audience, referring to the regional giant’s rising importance in the global economy.”It has to be India or China; there is no other place to go today. That is the hard reality,” he said.

“(At first) the West wrote the rules of globalisation; we were just supposed to play along. When people here invested in western countries, there were no complaints. But when their (western countries) people started going to Switzerland, they started complaining,” he said, adding that time was ripe for Asian countries to play a bigger role in policy making in the global economic sphere.

“Asia will bailout the world; otherwise we can also create our own system. A very, very stable system,” he said. The Prime Minister’s speech outlined his thinking behind entering into a comprehensive agreement with India, on the trade front. However, before the signing of ETCA, the Sri Lankan authorities have to do a lot of spadework to prepare the ground for the agreement. Finalisation of the national trade policy is one of the most important prerequisites in this regard.

The government has already appointed a seven-member committee to finalise the trade committee, ahead of the agreement.

Economists Dr Ravi Ratnayake, Dr Sarath Rajapathirana, Subhashini Abeysinghe, Additional Secretary of the Development Strategies and International Trade ministry W.D.S. Gunasinghe, Finance Ministry’s Investment and Trade Department Director V. Vimalarajah, Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs Representative, U.G. Ratnasiri and Central Bank Assistant Governor K.D. Ranasinghe serve as members of the committee. Upon finalization, this policy is to be presented to Parliament for approval. While proceeding with the trade policy and other necessary measures related to ETCA, the government also has to deal with the pressure coming from various quarters of the society, including professionals. The government will have to initiate a dialogue with professionals representing various spheres of the economy, allaying their fears over the agreement with India.

The Prime Minister said Sri Lanka - US economic relations were not progressing fast enough, since both sides were waiting for the result of US presidential election.

“We have kept 500 acres of land for a golf course and Trump towers,” the Prime Minister quipped, referring to Republican Party presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Indo-Pakistan issue

During the Sri Lankan Prime Minister’s discussion with his Indian counterpart, another key topic was the current state of affairs in the SAARC region, especially in the wake of the growing hostility between India and Pakistan. The Prime Minister indicated that SAARC should function as a common platform to address issues pertaining to cross-border terrorism – the main reason for the current tension between India and Pakistan.

“The issue of cross-border terrorism is on the table and the heads of states of SAARC will have to address this challenge. SAARC will become irrelevant if cross-border terrorism is not addressed,” Wickremesinghe said, speaking to reporters after the meeting with Modi.

“Cross-border terrorism might worsen if SAARC is thrown away,” he said, while stating war is never an option to address issues of this nature.

“I don’t think war [India-Pakistan] is an option. Your Prime Minister has already taken a lot of steps to defuse tensions.

“For India and for me, this is a crucial phase; a solution needs to be found. Let us see how we can move forward on dealing with this phase,” he said asking for diplomatic measures to resolve the problem.

Apart from the bilateral discussions with the Indian Prime Minister, Wickremesinghe also met the country’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Road Transport and Highways & Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari, and Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan.

Indian assistance

During discussions with Gadkari at the Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi, the Sri Lankan delegation discussed the possibility of building a major road network from Jaffna to Mannar, Mannar to Colombo via Kurunegala and Mannar to Trincomalee via Vavuniya.

The Sri Lankan Prime Minister, according to Indian media, told the Indian Minister that building a road network would help strengthen the relationship between the Northern and Eastern provinces. The Indian Minister, responding to the Sri Lankan delegation, said India possessed the technology to assist Sri Lanka in building such a roadway system and possessed advanced technology to construct extended roadways in a robust and durable manner.

Gadkari also added that when compared with other countries, Indian road development technology was more affordable. The government sources said the discussion with Gadkari was fruitful in terms of drawing India’s support for road development projects.

Meanwhile, at the meeting with India’s Minister for Petroleum and Gas Dharmendra Pradhan on Thursday, the Sri Lankan delegation discussed at length the financial viability of replacing domestic gas cylinders with a pipeline.

In a message posted on the Prime Minister’s official Twitter account, he said; ‘The special focus of this discussion was the process followed by the world with regards to domestic gas consumption, by way of a pipeline gas supply system.’ ‘It was explained that replacing the cylinder system with pipeline gas supply system would prove to be a more financially viable option for producers and consumers alike, and that it would be cheaper for consumers to obtain their domestic gas supply in such a manner.’

The Prime Minister also said that the Indian Petroleum Minister had expressed interest in assisting Sri Lanka with power generation. It was a significant gain for Sri Lanka as the country has already made ambitious plans to boost its power, energy and petroleum sectors.

Silence in the Court

Veteran film director Prasanna Vithanage’s film, ‘Silence in the Court’ was at the centre of a major controversy when the Colombo District Court issued an injunction against the screening of the film, following a lawsuit filed by former judge Lenin Ratnayake.

A day before the injunction order was issued, the film was screened at the Regal Cinema, Colombo, to a selected audience that included politicians, activists, journalists and artistes. ‘Silence in the Court’ was a documentary based on the controversy surrounding Ratnayake, which made headlines in media, in the late 90s, under the Presidency of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.

It was alleged that Ratnayake raped the wife of an accused on the pretext of obtaining a statement about her husband and also to have embezzled funds while functioning as a clerk at the National Insurance Corporation. At the time the allegations surfaced, Ratnayake served as the Magistrate of Mahawa.

The allegations against Ratnayake were first revealed in the Ravaya newspaper, edited by Victor Ivan. After the newspaper published the story, Ratnayake lodged a complaint with the CID against Ravaya newspaper and it ultimately resulted in a prolonged legal battle between the judge and the newspaper.

As the battle progressed, Ivan, a well-known journalist, charged that the Attorney General at the time, former Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva, had allegedly taken steps to prevent the issuance of a report to the President of the Court of Appeal by the CID Director on the investigation and allegedly suppressed documents made available by the CID.

This plunged Ivan into a parallel battle with Sarath N Silva who later headed the country’s judiciary. When Silva was appointed the Chief Justice by the then President, the Ravaya carried an upside down picture of the new Chief Justice on the front page, saying it was the “death of the judiciary”. The controversial front page of the Ravayais considered a landmark in Sri Lanka’s contemporary journalism.

The documentary film was jointly produced by H. D. Premasiri and Prasanna Vithanage. Although the producers decided to release the documentary for a limited audience locally, it was screened at several film festivals including Sakhalin International Film Festival, South Asian Himal Festival – Nepal, San Francisco South Asian Film Festival, Seattle South Asian Film Festival, Ottawa Human Rights Festival, Toronto Human Rights Film Festival and Melbourne Indian International Film Festival.

The injunction order, issued by Colombo District Judge N.U. Gunasekara, barred the screening of the film, until October 18.

In his lawsuit, former District Judge Rathnayake said the film, based on the story of a woman sexually abused by a judge, was causing damage to his character and the reputation of the entire judiciary. He said the allegations against him were baseless, unproven and unfounded and that no legal action had been taken against him, over the matter. The former District Judge, in his lawsuit, said he had also filed a case against a TV programme, for making similar allegations.

The District Court’s injunction order, however, opened up a fresh dialogue, especially in the social media space, over the transparency of the judiciary and the conduct of judges. Many critiques who contributed to the dialogue highlighted the need for independent bodies such as the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) to ensure independence and transparency is the system.

They said the documentary film spoke volumes of the downfall of the system- at large, rather than an isolated incident involving a woman and a judge.

Apart from the dialogue it has opened up over freedom of expression of an artiste vis-à-vis interest of a controversial judge, the incident surrounding the movie pushes the country’s lawmakers to adopt a robust framework to ensure checks and balances in the judicial system, especially at a time when Sri Lanka is moving in the direction of formulating a new constitution.


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