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UPFA attracted highest foreign direct investment inflow - Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena

Investment Promotion Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said irrespective of the challenges in the international arena, the UPFA government under President Mahinda Rajapaksa has attracted the highest foreign investment inflow to the country. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said the allegations against Sri Lanka in the international fora would not be a major issue or affect the country’s investments as the Government could face such challenges successfully. Since UNHRC sessions are to be held in Geneva in March, it is obvious that the European Union (EU) and certain Western countries have decided to raise some issues against Sri Lanka.

The Minister said the main reason for these international forces to make these allegations against Sri Lanka is that they have not been able to browbeat the Government. The international community has realised that President Mahinda Rajapaksa is a full-fledged Leader who is dedicated to defend his motherland without yielding to international pressure. The President always makes decisions in keeping with the hopes and aspirations of his people in safeguarding national identity. This is a significant attribute of President Rajapaksa’s leadership.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: President Rajapaksa has in appreciation of your services elevated you to the rank of a Cabinet Minister. How do you feel about it?

A: I hope the President had a very good assessment of work performed by us during the past few years. The President would have considered the fact that I had fulfilled the responsibility entrusted upon me. I hope that this may be the reason which led the President to give me this Cabinet portfolio.

Q: Investments are vital for our economy. There are allegations that due to certain developments such as the impeachment of the former Chief Justice foreign investments could be affected and new investors may be reluctant to come. As the new Minister in charge, how do you respond to this?

A: This kind of baseless allegations were also levelled against the Government during the military operations against the terrorists. The Government under the leadership of President Rajapaksa could successfully face these challenges. Actually such attempts were made by certain Western powers to coax us into their side or to deliberately undermine us.

However, the Government faced these challenges meaningfully. Whatever remarks made by certain sections on investments, the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government from 2006 to 2012 has brought the highest foreign direct investment inflow into the country. When we look at the past performances, all former Governments which had ruled the country from 1978 to 1994 had brought foreign investment worth only US$ 1,026 million. In addition, the foreign direct investment from 1995 to 2005 amounted to US$ 1,752 million only. But the UPFA Government from 2006 up to third quarter of 2012 has brought foreign direct investments worth US$ 5,026 million to the country which is a 64 percent increase compared to the past foreign investment inflow. Directive of the challenges at the international fora, the Government has brought the highest foreign direct investment inflow into the country.

The allegations made in the international fora would not be a major issue or affect the country’s investments as the Government has the ability and strength to face to such challenges. Since UNHRC sessions are to be held in Geneva in March, the European Union (EU) and certain Western countries have decided to raise some issues against Sri Lanka.

The main reason for certain international forces to make allegations against Sri Lanka is that they have not been able to browbeat this Government. If I further elaborate on this, the international community has realised that President Rajapaksa is a full-fledged Leader who is firmly dedicated to defend his motherland without yielding to any international pressure. The President always takes decisions in keeping with the hopes and aspirations of his people by safeguarding the national identity. This is the significant attribute of President’s leadership.

Q: What will be your priorities to increase investments? Will there be greater focus on the North and the East?

A: I am still studying this subject. I have focused on what are the constraints on investments. I have decided to appoint an advisory committee comprising high profile personalities of the private sector. At present some large-scale private companies in Sri Lanka invest in several foreign countries. We should look into what

constraints are there on investments and overcome them. In my capacity as the Investment Promotion Minister, I hope to hold a progress review meeting once a month and also set up ‘one-stop shop’.

This would help sort out the problems at my level. If there are problems which cannot be resolved at my level it will be taken up with the President at a discussion to be held once a month or two. All existing problems could be discussed at this forum.

Q: You were earlier handling the subject of economic development as Deputy Minister. How would you carry over that experience to this new challenge, which is closely linked to economic development?

A: I have some experience on this subject. There are several factors which are directly connected to the economy. The investments in the tourism sector are vital for our country. I know certainly in what areas the tourism sector investments should be increased. We should set up a promotional campaign to increase the tourism sector investments. We have eight Industrial Zones and four Industrial Parks.

We should ascertain what are the abandoned factories in these Industrial Zones and bring investors to recommence them. Attention should also be focused to bring foreign investors to set up new industries in bare lands. At present, the Southern Expressway has been extended to Galle. This has helped develop Galle and Koggala. A new harbour and a port have been constructed at Hambantota. Hambantota will be gazetted as a new industrial zone in the near future. Even today it functions as an industrial zone. We should

develop this zone further. The Ministry would also increase the investments in the North and the East. Several garment factories have already been opened in the Eastern province. Industries set up in the North and the East will be further developed.

Q: There are allegations that the Government is borrowing heavily for infrastructure projects that will in turn increase the national debt. As Investment Promotion Minister what is your view on this?

A: Infrastructure is the major component for investment promotion. During the regime of President J.R. Jayewardene, the debt ratio exceeded hundred percent compared to the national income. At present the Government has been able to maintain the debt ratio within the range of 80 percent. The Government has also repaid loans on time.

If we have the ability to repay the loans on due dates and maintain the debt ratio at this percentage, there is no problem of obtaining loans. A massive transformation has taken place in the country during the recent past due to the Government developing infrastructure facilities. We can see the significant changes in Colombo city and its suburbs. The Southern Expressway has immensely helped the people to save time. People appreciate the efforts by the Government to construct this new expressway. Therefore, this kind of infrastructure projects are important. The Government should identify its priorities.

Q: Have you already drawn up a comprehensive program to attract foreign investments?

A: Now I am formulating in collaboration with my advisory committee a one year promotion plan to bring more investments to Sri Lanka. Major part of its promotional aspect will be handled by my Deputy Minister. I will help him with information relating to Middle East and some other countries to carry out our investment promotion campaign. This would help foreign investors to obtain a background knowledge about our investment sector.

Q: It has been observed in the past that there are certain obstacles and restrictions in promoting foreign investment since your Ministry has to work in collaboration with other Ministries and state institutions. How do you hope to tackle this problem?

A: In order to overcome this situation, we have decided to establish a ‘one-stop shop’m with which ministries can directly deal. The officials ought to submit to me a report on the constraints faced by them so that I could sort them out.

Q: Do you plan to get the expertise and investments from members of the Tamil diaspora especially for the North and the East?

A: We have to concentrate on the Indian factor. We also have to strengthen our ties with India, China and other Asian countries to get their assistance to develop the West and the East. In the near future, a flagship project will be setup in Sampur. This would help transform the Sampur area. As the first step it has been decided to sign agreements for two key investments next week.

Q: Three US Deputy Assistant Secretaries who came to Sri Lanka to look into the implementation of LLRC recommendations have clearly stated that they are going to table a procedural resolution at the UNHRC sessions in March. What is the Government’s stand on this?

A: This challenge is always before us. As I told you earlier, the main reason for this challenge is that the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government is entirely based on national identity and national agenda.

We would not allow any foreign country to interfere in our internal affairs or take decisions on behalf of us. When a UNHRC session is going to be held, this kind of alleged human rights issues are taken up by the EU and certain Western countries.

The Government has already responded to certain issues mentioned in the LLRC report. Any foreign delegate who comes to Sri Lanka can witness the resettlement process in the North. Some Tamil political parties have attempted to impress such delegations that our resettlement process has been delayed.

The Government takes pride to show to foreign delegations the success of our resettlement process compared to many other countries. While we are responding to certain allegations against us, an opinion has to be created against such allegations with the countries which are in favour of Sri Lanka. This has become an annual ritual against Sri Lanka at UNHRC sessions. As it has become a common spectacle we should get ready for it.

Q: The so-called human rights violations in Sri Lanka are one of the key issues according to some Western powers. How does the Government hope to respond to these unfounded allegations?

A: These alleged human rights violations were levelled against the Government during the war against terrorists and thereafter. Those who had spoken against Sri Lanka have realised themselves that no severe human rights violations had taken place to warrant allegations against Sri Lanka at international fora. We have asked what are the human rights violations committed by us? They don’t have enough evidence to prove any human rights violations by us.

Q: Fears have been expressed that Sri Lanka may lose the chance of hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) due to human rights and other issues. What is your view on that?

A: Certain sections may attempt to create such an opinion. But we are confident that we would be able to host the CHOGM in Sri Lanka. Hosting the CHOGM in Sri Lanka will be decided in the near future.

Q: With several new Cabinet Ministers, other Deputy and Project Ministers appointed, the Opposition says that a jumbo cabinet has been created and that it takes billions of rupees to maintain it. The Government says it is necessary given the development and post-conflict challenges. What is your response?

A: During the UNP regime, a Paddy Research and Development Minister was appointed. The UNP told the country that this Minister was appointed as the country’s paddy cultivation had deteriorated. But the UNP could not achieve the desired goal through the new Ministry. With the provision of fertiliser subsidy, the UPFA Government had successfully increased the paddy production.

At present only 25 percent of sugar requirement is produced locally and 75 percent is imported. That is why steps were taken to appoint a Sugar Industries Minister.

If our local sugar production can be increased, the salaries and other expenditure of that Ministry would be even less than one percent. If the Ministers are dedicated to fulfill the responsibilities entrusted to them, the people would decide whether the Government has done something right or wrong by increasing the number of its Cabinet. If the Government could deliver goods to the people the increase of the number of Ministers or Deputy Ministers would not be a big issue in the country. At present the Government through the increase of paddy and maize production has passed the benefit to the people. The coconut production has gone up due to a new Coconut Development Minister being appointed. A new Ministry needs at least two years to show its results. The elections are scheduled to be held in 2015 or 2016. By that time, the people would decide on these Ministers on the results shown by them.

Q: The President and the Speaker have advocated the need to change the Constitution especially to strengthen the role of Parliament. What are the key changes as far as you know? Has the Government decided to repeal the 13th Amendment? Will there be a widespread dialogue on these constitutional changes or will it be rushed through in the coming weeks?

A: Amendments have to be made to the Constitution as there are certain complicated clauses in it.

Before amendments are made, it should be discussed with all political parties and at the Government Parliamentary Group meeting as well. Then the Government in consultation with other political parties can make amendments only suitable to the country. It is entirely up to the President and the Cabinet to discuss such matters. Various people can express different views by highlighting what sections of the Constitution should be amended. The final decision has to be taken by Parliament. Before it comes to Parliament, the Government would hold discussions with legal luminaries and other intellectuals. The Government has not taken any decision to repeal the 13th Amendment. If the 13th Amendment is abolished, we should be able to give a more meaningful solution to the 13th Amendment and it should be passed by two thirds majority in Parliament. Its a long procedure. This 13th Amendment was introduced following discussions with India.

As a result of the 13th Amendment, the Provincial Council system was established in Sri Lanka. If a new system is to be introduced to replace the Provincial Councils, the people should be educated on the grounds which led to introduce the new system. The Government will not take any decision to repeal the 13th Amendment haphazardly. The President will do the most appropriate thing in the interest of the country.

Q: There is a talk about an early election and some sections of the Opposition are already talking about a regime change in 2014 ? Is there any such possibility?

A: This is a joke. To make a regime change, first the main Opposition UNP should properly organise itself. There should be a strong Opposition in the country. At present there is no such Opposition and the present Opposition has been split into various factions. In this situation, how could they effect a regime change? Even when the Leader and the Deputy Leader of the UNP do not work together to promote their party, it would be only a dream to talk about a regime change. This is just only an attempt by the UNP to embrace their partymen. This is not a practical move.

Q: Some have also called for a people’s uprising similar to the Arab Spring in Sri Lanka to topple this democratically elected Government. Given the fate of countries which have undergone this process like Egypt, Libya and even Syria, do you think there is an external involvement in such moves to topple the Government?

A: We have to act with circumspection as some international forces are attempting to destabilise the Government. At present peace has been restored in the country. Under these circumstances, some international conspirators may try to create various divisions among the people based on religion and ethnicity. Some INGOs and their funds may be active behind these conspiracies.

Therefore, our people should look at these issues intelligently. It is the responsibility of the people not to be a party to these conspiracies hatched by the extremist forces. The Government alone cannot prevent this through laws. It is solely the responsibility of the people to safeguard the hard-earned peace.

Q: The Opposition and certain sections attempt to highlight that there is no media freedom in the country. How do you respond to this allegation?

A: I categorically deny it. Today there is no restriction on the media. Any person who look at with an open mind can see that no difficulty has been faced by the media personnel in performing their duties. During the past few months, no restrictions have been imposed on journalists or on any media institution.

The media has the full freedom to report. When we look at the newspapers, we can clearly see this. How many newspapers, television and radio channels carry various news items against the Government? What more media freedom could be expected?

 

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