While the top level Sri Lankan delegation is working out economic and foreign investment agreements with business tycoons at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, critics are pointing out various discrepancies in the processes.
Unfortunately this has been the pattern since independence in 1948. The major Opposition party has often opposed Government plans or policies apparently on the basis of party interest and not the common good or national interest. It has been a case of party or personal interest being put before that country’s interest and this has brought about catastrophic consequences including a 30-year-war and two youth insurrections.
Now, for the first time, the two major parties—the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) -are working together in a national Government, though there are differences of opinion and disputes. President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have repeatedly stressed that the national unity government would continue at least till 2020 and perhaps even beyond to bring about reconciliation, lasting peace and sustainable economic development, which will be eco-friendly and all-inclusive.
However, the Joint Opposition critics in recent weeks have been pointing out mainly about the General Scheme of Preferences (GSP) Plus concessions, which the European Union is expected to restore to Sri Lanka within the next two to four months. In practical terms this will mean that Sri Lanka could export some 7,200 value added items tax free, to the 28 countries in the EU.
The GSP Plus concessions given in 2005 following the tsunami catastrophe were withdrawn in 2010 during the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime on the basis that Sri Lank was not implementing and ratifying international treaties in relation to civil, human and political rights.
The EU on Wednesday issued a statement saying that implementation of 27 international conventions by the Sri Lankan Government was the only criteria for the European Commission to recommend restoring the GSP Plus tariff concession to Sri Lanka. “The EU wishes to reiterate that the ratification and implementation of 27 international conventions signed by a successive Sri Lankan Governments, are the only criteria on which the Government of Sri Lanka’s application to re-join the GSP+ is assessed,” the EU said. These conventions relate to international human rights, labour rights, environmental standards and good governance.
“Benefitting from GSP Plus requires the Government to undertake to make further progress in implementing the conventions and to cooperate with the EU to monitor implementation and address shortcomings,” The statement added. “More generally, the EU supports the leadership shown by this Government in committing to address historic and long-standing problems that have caused conflict and negatively affected the lives and living standards of all Sri Lankans.”
Last week President Sirisena publicly expressed deep concern that some Opposition groups were spreading rumours that the Government had promised to allow federalism in exchange for GSP Plus concessions.
Another rumour being circulated is that homosexuality or gay marriage is to be legalised. Government leaders have explained that what was proposed was only a decriminalization of people with different sexual orientations. But in view of protests even by some Ministers this provision also seems to have been shelved.
In 1978, then President J. R. Jayewardene proposed sweeping economic reforms, which could have put Sri Lanka on par with Singapore and other countries in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). But the war and the second youth insurrection prevented the implementation of these economic reforms. Now with the war over, we hope all parties and people will cooperate in the sustainable economic strategy, which if it works well, will provide hundreds of thousands of new and creative job opportunities while going a long way towards poverty alleviation.