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
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
‘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
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
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
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.
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
“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.
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
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
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
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
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.