Newly-appointed Foreign Affairs Minister Ravi Karunanayake, in an interview with Dailymirror, charged that someone envious of his success story as the Finance Minister was behind his transfer to a new portfolio. Also, he said he would introduce commercial diplomacy to the foreign policy as a prioritized matter. Excerpts:
QFinance has been your passion right throughout. All of a sudden, you were given a different portfolio. What do you feel?
I am sure they would have seen that, within a short time the world recognized and adjudged me the best Finance Minister of Asia. I am sure the President and the PM would have thought the same thing that was badly needed for foreign affairs as well. Otherwise, there could be no other reason that could be attributed. The economy was malfunctioning and in doldrums. We managed to increase revenue from 10. 1% of the GDP to 16. 2% last year. This kind of significant increase has never happened anywhere in the world. That may be the reason that I have been given this different portfolio now.
QDoes it mean that your predecessor Mangala Samaraweera fared badly in foreign affairs...
He did very well, particularly in the human rights aspect. It is a tribute to him to ensure that an inclusive approach is made.
QEarlier, you had commented that a Minister who entered Parliament from the National List was behind your removal. How do you respond to it now?
There are black sheep in any family. The party too has such. Such people are not happy when somebody is going forward. I have said before that such crooked, cranky people would be highlighted in the future. I will ensure correct movement at the correct time. It will be done so.
We have been in Parliament for 23 years. People who cannot get elected feel threatened by people with popular votes. They do these types of things as a result. If we are part of inefficiency or controllable by them, this would not have arisen. We had the courage of conviction to stand up. The party is wonderful. The leader is good. The President is good. We must make use of this unity between the UNP and the SLFP for the greater good of the country.
Q This particular Minister seems to be so powerful. Otherwise, he could not have influenced the President and the PM to remove you. How long could you be with him in the same government in such a circumstance?
Well, I find the President and the PM have been very responsible. They have been speaking to me. Obviously on issues such as this, this particular person would have prevailed. It is a situation which is vexed. Before long, those dancing with masks will be unveiled.
QWhat do you mean by saying so?
Time will tell.
Q In certain web reports, we found that you threatened to expose those behind the Bond scam. How true is it?
It is a pre-fabricated myth among your media. Your papers seem to be seriously having a credibility gap. Earlier, it was thought to be a well responsible media, but now going to be a bit of rag. It is targeting one or two efficient people – the President, the PM and me. You bloat people who are basically rhetoric and wishfully think that they can run the economy.
QActually, we read this news item in a website, not in the mainstream media as such...
Never mind. Your paper is no different to these types of websites, to be very frank. It is scurrilous, baseless. It is just media sensationalism.
QWho are the ones we bloat in your view?
You must be knowing. Empty vessels make a big noise.
Q Is it possible for you to name one at least...
I am able to take the blunt on my side. Time will basically reveal all these. I am a team player. The biggest strength I have is backbenchers and general people, who are aghast today that there is a change. The President and the PM absolutely have a right to change. I do not dispute it. But, there must be some valid reason. The only reason is what I spelled.
There were certain people who thought that they had a bounden duty because their father owned the party, and it came down. Today you can see. When they are given the opportunity, they prove otherwise. They are unable even to walk the talk. People have realized that there is a requirement in the country.
Q These backbenchers are large in number. Do you expect them to propel you to the leadership of
I have a very good leader in Ranil Wickremesinghe. Until and such time, he can lead it for whatever time, there is no threat. Unlike others who make use of vacuum to do so, my job is to ensure whatever period he wants. Afterwards, actually, people and my party would decide.
QAfter the reshuffle, we read reports that you were contacted by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. It has given rise to speculation that you would team up with him. What is your response?
I think those are preposterous. Yet, it is human for some people to act in this manner when they think that it is unfair. Then, the leaders of the political parties see what it is. The call was obvious, and I appreciate that. We do not have personal acrimonious politics. People see through what is fair and unfair.
QThere is a criticism by some Cabinet Ministers against the placement of the two Lottery Boards under you as Foreign Affairs Minister. Why did you stake a claim for it?
There is no reason. What was given to me is not what I asked. There may be other things that are coming in. People who get the allocated items are unable to perform. Our Sri Lankan society is full of jealousy. They want to see what the other guys are doing, rather than performing. That is the difference between me and others. That is a handful of guys from the alliance partner. Majority of them lost the election. They were appointed on the National List.
I must tell them. When the Development Lottery Board was established, it was basically under the then Defence Minister, the late Lalith Athulathmudali. Next it was under National Planning. Then, it was under the Science and Technology Ministry. It has been in many places. It was one person in our alliance party making such a big noise. There was corruption that was going on. There was one person who, for 12 or 14 years, was giving fabricated information. When we came in, we eradicated corruption. We dared to challenge the system. This was an era where the printing cost of one ticket was roughly about 35 or 40 cents more than the actual rate. When that was eradicated, he got excited and went on. He was obviously connected to this female head who was running the printing company concerned. That is the reason for bellyaching.
Q When talking about foreign policy, your predecessor played a role in the UNHRC process. He even co-sponsored two resolutions. How about your task?
We run a government. It is not just taking individual action. My predecessor did what the government expected had expected of him. We are being questioned today on what the previous government promised. There was only uttering, no performing. The new government has to navigate through all these. Then, you came to a win-win approach. There are certain things to be done. Many had looked at it positively. Every moment, national interests will be first. Every community should be able to live harmoniously in this beautiful fabric of Sri Lankan identity.
Q How do you prioritize the implementations of the provisions of the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka in terms of truth-seeking mechanism, reparations and transitional justice?
Diplomacy is not something new to me. But, certainly foreign affairs, with new attributions, are new. These are professional areas that need guidance. I do not think I should basically give a statement. I should consult the President, the PM, and put forward a proposal to the Cabinet. Ours is not a government that tells one thing on one day and backtracks on the other day. I must tell one thing. We have protected the three forces. It was Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe who did not sign the Rome Statute. All those who feared that they would be electrocuted were saved simply because of his sagacity of them. If not for the people of this country electing us, Sri Lanka would have had bad sanctions. That is for us to see how we should navigate through those turbulent times. Also, we have to remember that we went through terrorism for 30 years. The three greatest evils in the world - terrorism, separatisms and extremism - must be wiped out from this earth. None of them contribute to human decency.
Today, you find British Premier Theresa May saying various options have to be looked at in the context of terrorist attacks even at the expense of human rights. They basically profess that. Today, President Donald Trump is reflecting on certain things. All these are leaders of advanced stage. Though we are a small nation, we have absolutely sovereign rights on many matters. We will basically do it without sacrificing anybody. That is to the maximum acceptance of everybody.
QDo you subscribe to the viewpoint expressed by Theresa May?
I am only reflecting on statements uttered by them. I do not utter anything without knowing the substance. These are the areas warranting professional guidance. I want to fashion the Foreign Ministry with the ability to build a bridge between Sri Lankan and the rest of the world in such a manner that it would be a shining example.
QAre you going to rationalize our missions abroad?
Yes, we have 63 missions, we are looking at the foreign policy as to how commercial diplomacy plays a huge role. My predecessor did an excellent job in terms of the human rights aspect. It is clear. We only have to deliver. Yet, there is a huge void there for commercial diplomacy. Today’s world is commercial diplomacy. There is no point in having an embassy if they are unable to get an investor. I believe we extricated ourselves of a time bomb of public debt. Trade should replace aid. That is the way forward. We have a fantastic geographical location. It is the exact location of global supply chain.
QWould you be changing the Ambassadors and the High Commissioners?
I do not need to make any flamboyant statement. Any inefficiency will be rooted out. Then, with the President and the PM, we will formulate policies. I must say there is degradation in all areas. Certainly, there has to be a dramatic change. We need resourceful people. You cannot hand over medical service to a carpenter.
QHowever, a whole lot of political appointments have been made even under the present government. What are your views on this?
Political appointments are not bad as long as they are efficient. If they are inefficient, door will be open for them to leave. I do not want to have an inefficient diplomacy with political appointments. That has been told very clearly by the President and the PM. It has to be a success story. Actually, reporting on what is happening at missions is not good. They do not report even once in three months. We want to ensure that there is a new reporting structure. Progressive activities should be made to known to the reporting desk at least once a day. The desk will report to back to the minister once a day, if it is important.
Q You undertook an official visit to India. Actually, what is the latest position regarding the implementation of MoU signed in terms of development of the Trincomalee Oil Tank farm and others?
The MoU was signed by the PM, approved by the Cabinet. What is outlined has to be implemented. That will be put with a timeline. There are 83 MoUs signed in this manner. We want to see that everything is achieved on a timeline. There is no point in signing if it does not see the light of day.
What we discussed there basically cannot be revealed. I am happy that I was accorded a visit on behalf of the government. Within eight or nine days after assuming office, I was able to meet the Indian PM, the External Affairs Minister and the Foreign Secretary. I am hoping to go to China, the USA and Japan. I also want to ensure that a meaningful role is played. It is just not flying from one country to another.
QOnce the Chinese Ambassador here was critical of you in public. How do you strike a balance in our foreign relations with India and China?
This is the issue. Your paper picks only what you like to hear. The same ambassador basically complimented and said something. He was an excellent ambassador who was doing his due share for his country. That is the type of ambassadors required by Sri Lanka. Anybody who basically represents Sri Lanka has to represent his country; not the interests of the host nation. That is what he reflects. That was history. After that, we have had wonderful relations. Now that there is no conflict, now it is my job to ensure that we follow the “friend with all, enemy with none” policy.
Q How do you look at China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ project?
One belt has been there for more than 3,000 years. It is a revival of something that was left out. We are definitely taking part in that. Sri Lanka is in a pivotal point. Japan and India have also fallen in line. We go forward, there will be a lot of negativism highlighted pitting one against the other. People have parochial interests fearing that they would lose their hubs prevailing at the moment. You have to look at the geographical location.
QEconomically, how advantageous is it for Sri Lanka?
It is very advantageous for Sri Lanka. We want to be to India as what Hong Kong is to China. There is a critical role in bringing investment and trade. All the countries are looking at us. Singapore is a small country emulated by many. They have taken maximum advantage of their location. We are 100 times better located than them. Though 30 year aberration of peace kept us out, we will make a comeback. We will even invite Singapore into the system. Nobody should feel threatened.
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