Outgoing US Ambassador Atul Keshap has said his country wants to walk hand-in-hand with all Sri Lankans to see the dream of a brighter future coming true.
“As you look at the UN process, as you look at the American partnership, we want to walk with Sri Lanka hand-in-hand, with all of the people of Sri Lanka, to see that there is a brighter future," Ambassador Keshup said in an interview with TV Derana.
"The reconciliation process in the country should be Sri Lankan-led and a Sri Lankan-driven process that would lead to healing and a brighter future," Mr. Keshap said.
He said he applaud the Sri Lankan Government for the leadership that they showed in 2015 and again in 2017 in joining hands with the US and with well-intending international partners including the UN, to co-sponsor a resolution that talked about the bright vision of the voters of the country for a reconciled, peaceful and happy Sri Lanka.
"We applaud it, we support it, we have invested heavily trying to see that our relationship expands. Because, we want Sri Lanka to succeed and the government is taking steps, there are certainly many more steps that need to be taken, but it should be a Sri Lankan led and a Sri Lankan driven process that I am confident would lead to healing and a brighter future,” he said at the interview.
When asked about his views on repealing the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), the ambassador said, the PTA was something that not only the US but other like-minded partners and the Sri Lankan government, had committed to through the UN process.
“We do think that as Sri Lanka gets into a post-war phase and while strengthening its democracy, it is up to Sri Lanka to move along these things that it is committed to do. We like to see more steps taken and we think as the Geneva Framework moves forward, not only would US walk in full partnership with the people of Sri Lanka, but we are certain as that happens, there will be a very important process of healing that will be good for the people and will take this country to a brighter future,” he said.
The Ambassador said he was one of the people privileged to be present at the Independence Day celebrations in 2016 after his appointment as ambassador.
“I saw grown-ups, weeping to see the national anthem sung not just in Sinhalese, but for the first time in Tamil as well at a state function, in almost fifty years. That is the power of reconciliation, that is the power of healing after so much trauma and tragedy. I look at the OMP, RTI all these initiatives to enhance democracy, to enhance transparency, to empower the citizen, to ensure the freedom of media and to ensure the rule of law. These things are important,” he said.
Responding to divided opinions about the US within Sri Lanka, he said the US had a very positive relationship with Sri Lanka and continued to stick with that relationship.
“We are setting up a programme that will ensure that the young people in this country are empowered to develop a brighter future through entrepreneurship. We are going to set up offices in Kandy, Hambantota and Jaffna for young people to get the tools they need to empower themselves and create new businesses. We just launched a daily programme to boost dairy production in the whole country. We have a programme to help rural economic growth and job growth all around the rural areas of this country.
"Our aim is very much at the grassroots, we believe in empowering people to help themselves and this builds on a strong legacy of aid that was in infrastructure, health care, irrigation and so many other places that have helped build the modern and relatively prosperous country of Sri Lanka today. We think very carefully about how we engage. We do it respectfully and with full collaboration and partnership with the government of Sri Lanka and the people of Sri Lanka. We are good friends, we don't ask for anything back,” he said.
Commenting on the challenges faced by foreign investors when investing in Sri Lanka, the Ambassador said US companies bring world-class values of transparency, of ethics, of environmental responsibility, of managerial excellence, technological and design innovation.
“Our companies are subject to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Our companies make sure that they do not engage in any untoward activity and when they look around the world with all of the money that they have to expand their operations to mutually profitable expansions, they look for business ecosystems that are high trust, very clear rules, quick arbitration and impartial arbitration of disputes that have a degree of stability, a degree of predictability, that have an ethical ecosystem, where there isn’t any favouritism outside the deal. Because these scare our companies off, they go where they feel that there is a level and fair playing field where they can operate within the very strict parameters of ethics that are required of them by the American government, by their stake holders and the American public.
"When an American company settles into a country, they bring these high standards and they lift the standards of the entire economy. There are world class US companies here, and I like to see more of that happen, I would like to see those standards. More could be done in Sri Lanka. We like to see the government strengthening the rule of law, enhancing a level playing-field for business people,” he said.
“All we are asking for is a level playing field. We have been in the Indo-Pacific region for a long time. We believe in a free and open Indo-Pacific, we believe in a global operating system that is beneficial to all. I win you win, everybody wins. The US government, American tax payers, even the US navy and the sea lanes of the Indian Ocean are helping to ensure and open an operating system that is accessible. We believe in peaceful resolution of disputes, we believe in rule-based order. We believe in a bright future for all of humanity, based on all sharing the burden of sustaining this global operating system. If US companies can be a part of a fair and transparent system, they do very well,” Ambassador Keshup said.