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Missed to use Lord Naseby’s point: Mahinda Samarasinghe

2018-07-17 00:15:12
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The Daily mirror  sat with Ports and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe to discuss the progress of controversial Sri Lanka – China deal entered into developing Hambantota Port, Chinese investments in Sri Lanka, issues affecting the country in the global and domestic forums and politics.

Excerpts:


 Q What is the progress that has been made in the Hambantota Port Development Project since the signing of the ‘Concession Agreement’ to entrust the management of the port to two Sri Lankan and Chinese companies in last December?


Let me put your question in context. Hambantota Port is managed by two Sri Lankan companies under the name of Hambantota International Port Group (HIPG) / Hambantota International Port Service (HIPS) with Sri Lanka Ports Authority and China Merchants Port being the shareholders. After the Concession Agreement was concluded, volumes handled in the port have increased significantly. Besides I have been informed that discussions are on to set up industries within the Ports Complex which is a sine-qua-non to accelerate port development.

 

We have consistently taken up the position that the UNHRC should not be a vehicle for some countries to achieve their geopolitical strategic objectives by selectively targeting some countries and not others who allegedly violate international HR norms. Since 2015, we have increased our levels of cooperation by engaging more closely with the Council than previously. To answer your question, the US presence or otherwise in that body will not affect the Sri Lankan Government’s position on its constructive engagement with the UNHRC

 


 Q  The Joint Opposition says that the deal was a sell-out of a strategically important and valuable national asset. Your comments?


These are political comments. However, the port concession was the only solution to relieve the debt burden and to commercialize the port.


 Q The JO also charges that the Government is to sell vast swathes of lands in Hambantota to the Chinese for the proposed Investment Zone dirt cheap. What have you to say about this allegation?


The matter that you referred to doesn’t come within my purview.


 Q  Are you content with the USD 1.4 billion paid to Sri Lanka by China for the Hambantota Port?

It was a decision taken prior to my assuming duties as the Minister in charge of the subject, through a Framework Agreement concluded in 2016 consequent to Cabinet Approval.

 

I am certain that those in the Government who are responsible will use Lord Naseby’s research, observations and conclusions appropriately and at the opportune time

 


 Q There is a public perception that Sri Lanka failed to take full advantage of the well-researched statement made in the House of Lords by Lord Naseby in October 2017 on Sri Lanka’s civil war. Do you agree?


While we appreciate Lord Naseby’s support for the truth about Sri Lanka’s conflict, we should avail ourselves of his findings at the correct juncture. The Government is committed to several processes in this connection not least the Resolution of the UN Human Rights Council and its follow up. I am certain that those in Government who are responsible will use Lord Naseby’s research, observations and conclusions appropriately and at the opportune time.

 

  • Should avail ourselves of his findings at the correct juncture
  • Unfortunately failed to convince LTTE to become productive partners in building a brighter future for every Sri Lankan
  • Voters more knowledgeable; will not make PC elections a referendum on cost of living


 Q  Is Sri Lanka still facing allegations of the war crime, violation of human rights and violation of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and if so, where is the escape route?


Well, we knew soon after the conclusion of the conflict that the rump of the defeated LTTE, both locally and internationally, would try to undermine reconciliation and a lasting peace for all Sri Lankans. The allegations that are still to be made in some quarters is a continuation of those intentions. It is unfortunate that the advances made after 2009 and the sea-change we experienced in governance since January 2015 have failed to convince them to become productive partners in building a brighter, more prosperous future for each and every Sri Lankan. The allegations levelled only reveal their desperation to destroy that better future. We have no fear and will face every allegation if and when we are called on to do so. We have demonstrated our commitment to genuine reconciliation and are working with all relevant parties to take that march to genuine peace and reconciliation forward.

 

It is unfortunate that the advances made after 2009 and the sea-change we experienced in governance since January 2015 has failed to convince them to become productive partners in building
a brighter, more prosperous and secured future for each and every Sri Lankan

 


 Q  Are you confident that Sri Lanka could escape its huge debt-trap running into over three trillion rupees by 2020 as forecast by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe?


The Management of overall public debt is beyond my purview as Minister of Ports and Shipping. The question should be addressed to the relevant authorities. That said, however, as individual Ministers, we were all committed to ensuring higher levels of growth in our activities and fulfilling our ambitions of economic advancement, development with equity and prosperity for all Sri Lankans.


 Q  Why did the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) refuse to reinstate 466 employees, who lost their jobs after the winding up of the Magampura Port Management Company to hand over the management to two new companies, HIPG and HIPS?


In keeping with the Concession Agreement whilst the employees were given an option of joining the Hambantota Port based on their qualifications and skills, others were offered employment at Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) and some took the compensation package, which was far above the industry  norm.

 


  How do you see the SLPP victory and SLFP and UNP defeat at the LG polls?

I think it was an eye-opener for many people and their parties. In a way, it is proof that there is a vibrant and thriving democracy in Sri Lanka. It is up to the various parties in the fray to communicate their message more clearly based on their own platforms and principles as well as pledges made at presidential and parliamentary elections.

 

We knew soon after the conclusion of the conflict that the rump of the defeated LTTE, both locally and internationally, would try to undermine reconciliation and a lasting peace for all Sri Lankans


 Q  Don’t you think the split in the Joint Opposition, SLFP and SLPP would be advantageous to the UNP at the forthcoming PC, Presidential and Parliamentary polls?


That is not an outcome that I wish to speculate on. We can only hope for continued free and fair elections based on multi-party democracy that truly reflects the view of the Sri Lankan people, based on a choice among policies, programmes and the several parties’ electoral platform.


 Q  The steady increase in the price of essential commodities will no doubt play a key role in the voting pattern of the PC polls scheduled for this year. How is the Government going to tackle this problem?


The cost of living is always a matter that concerns any Government looking forward towards future polls. That said, the Sri Lankan public are a little more mature, aware and sensitive in their reaction to domestic and international developments that may impact commodity prices. For our part, we can only promote greater efficiency and productivity that will boost national economic growth. I think Sri Lankan voters are more knowledgeable than that to make the forthcoming elections a referendum on cost of living alone.

 

While we appreciate Lord Naseby’s support for the truth about Sri Lanka’s conflict, we should avail ourselves of his findings at the correct juncture. The Government is committed to several processes in this connection not least the Resolution of the UN Human Rights Council and its follow up

 


 Q  Experts on US foreign policy say that whatever is reportedly said or not by outgoing US ambassador Atul Keshap, it is likely that the US State Department would not let Gotabaya Rajapaksa renounce US citizenship until he is cleared from the alleged war crime charges against him. Your comments?


Your question requires me to speculate on future US action that is based on their own assessment of several factors. I cannot predict the US’ policy or actions based on any future events or situations that may or may not arise at some time.


 Q  Do you think the US withdrawal from the UNHRC would be advantageous to Sri Lanka and if so how?


The United States policy on engagement with multilateral human rights bodies is wholly consistent with their policy prior to President Obama’s election to office in 2008. Their stance on engagement is a matter for the Administration in office. It is their internal matter. It was then (in 2008) that it decided to become more active in the HR Council. Sri Lanka has taken a principled stance on its own engagement with these bodies culminating in the October 2015 UNHRC Resolution and its follow up.


The Council is made up of 47 sovereign member nations of the UN. We have consistently taken up the position that the UNHRC should not be a vehicle for some countries to achieve their geopolitical strategic objectives by selectively targeting some countries and not others who allegedly violate international HR norms. Since 2015, we have increased our levels of cooperation by engaging more closely with the Council than previously.

 

The allegations levelled only reveal their desperation to destroy that better future. We have no fear and will face every allegation if and when we are called on to do so. We have demonstrated our
commitment to genuine reconciliation and are working with all relevant parties to take that march to genuine peace and reconciliation forward


To answer your question, the US presence or otherwise in that body will not affect the Sri Lankan Government’s position on its constructive engagement with the UNHRC.

 

 

 


  Comments - 1

  • Norman Sunday, 22 July 2018 15:23

    Lord Naseby is in MR's pay list.

    Reply : 0       1

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