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CHOGM converted itself into a cheap holiday on government money

30 November 2013 08:24 am - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


The United National Party (UNP) parliamentarian Ravi Karunananayake, recently spoke to Daily Mirror expressing his views on the budget
discussions, the aftermath of Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and the current political and economical situation of the country. Karunanayake who has been a member of  Parliament for 19 years was also the former Cabinet Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. This is the continuation of the interview which was published in the Daily Mirror on November  21,  2013.

Q: We saw wide infrastructure development efforts prior to CHOGM, which have gained mixed responses. What are your thoughts on this?
We appreciate the development efforts we saw in Colombo in preparation for the CHOGM. However, the problem is that development has not spread beyond the City of Colombo. You travel half a kilometre out of Colombo and you see slums which have not even seen a shadow of development.

I think we should have shown the true image of our situation rather than showing a glossy image to the world. They spent a massive 15.8 billion rupees on the Colombo beautification process. With this money the government could have cut down the exorbitant electricity prices. They could have created 400,000 jobs. The petrol bill could have been reduced in half.

And the other question is, if they could do it in Colombo, why not develop all areas of the country? And why did the government have to wait until CHOGM came to Sri Lanka to take on urban development and infrastructure projects? Why not do it all along?

In Hambantota, there is an airport where no foreign dignitaries landed, a port where no containers come, a cricket stadium and a convention centre. This is over-captalising of one area. So all we can do is to ensure that this type of benefit is spread throughout the country. You have gross over-duplication of capital expenditure, which is not having a decent return for the investment that has been put in.

Q: In reality, who will bear the cost of CHOGM beautification and how will these costs translate to the upcoming budget?
People will have increases through gas prices, petroleum prices, electricity prices, levies. Already the onion, potato prices are increasing. These are the prices you pay for closing your eyes and ears and thinking development is coming into your pockets.

Q: Would you say CHOGM was a success?
We wanted the benefit of CHOGM to come into the country where 54 heads of state came here and for the country to gain the maximum advantage of it. However, only 21 heads of government came. Finally CHOGM converted itself into a cheap holiday on government money.
The reciprocal benefit will be seen in the time to come. The people will pay higher taxes and no investments will come to the country. Not even five top class businessmen attended the CHOGM business forum.

Q: Only 21 Heads of Government attended the CHOGM conference. Why do you think that was and what is the implication of it?
Well I think it is a strong blow to the government. The foreign minister must be personally held responsible. He was globe-trotting to all the African and Asian countries and marketing himself in the process instead of the country. At the end of the day what did he deliver? He couldn’t even get the Indian prime minister to come here. He couldn’t get the top countries to attend. At the end of the day it was an exercise that clearly showed that Sri Lanka didn’t have a foreign policy. We have made enemies of all and friends with none, when it should be friends with all and enemies of none.

This government has antagonized the US, the EU and the Indians, ridiculed the Japanese and is trying to live with the countries that are internationally isolated. They feel very comfortable with dictatorial governments.

The government has to be held responsible for spending so much on CHOGM and making a mess  of it. The reason as I said is bad foreign policy. There were many countries that have been friendly in the past but did not attend CHOGM. Mauritius has even decided to forego hosting the CHOGM in protest at Sri Lanka’s track record. Because of the government’s actions, an element of doubt has been cast in the minds of the international community that this government is not sincere in what it utters. It is affecting Sri Lanka’s credibility.

Q: Many are of the opinion that President Rajapakse’s unwavering and strong stance and his refusal to bow down to international pressures are commendable. Do you agree?
I salute him as well. But when you have opened up your foreign policy and promised to take certain actions and then renegade on that, you only put the people of the country to jeopardy; that is foolhardiness.

I agree and strongly believe that there should be no external influences on internal affairs. But if you expose yourself to vulnerability and then try to defend yourself, it is no good at all. This is exactly what this government has done; it has closed the doors and opened the windows.

Q: What are your views about David Cameron’s deadline and how it should be handled?
It is this government that has given deadlines and ultimatums to show their machoism and fill their vote-bags. The government of Sri Lanka, through LLRC and through Geneva meetings has given certain promises to the world. G.L. Peries have assured the Indians a certain way forward. Mahinda Rajapakse himself gave a certain guarantee to Ban ki-Moon.

 Cameron has observed constitutional violations, certain promises given to the world which had not been fulfilled and the non-performance, leading the country to this situation. We must question as to why the government have such a timeline put in by these strong nations. When you are in an international team, you have to play by the international rules. Why are you blaming the international arena when it is the Sri Lankan leaders who have done the damage? You make a mockery out of the international systems and then you tell them not to interfere.

As the opposition we ask the government to give us an explanation. We will be taking this as the first debate in Parliament. We don’t relish the situation but we were put into it by this government so this government is answerable to the country. We urge the government to prevent sanctions from coming into the country. As the opposition, our job is to protect and defend the Sri Lankans, not the Mahinda Rajapakse government.

Q: The opposition boycotted the CHOGM. Do you believe that this was the best course of action under current circumstances?
We were planning on attending the CHOGM until the UNP was assaulted by Defence personnel who were paid by the government. We knew this was a organised crime by the government; there was strong evidence. It was a collective decision of the party that we should show the world that the Opposition had a spine. The world leaders and foreign journalists saw what was going on. If we as the Opposition went ahead with all that was being done to us, the foreign visitors would have wondered whether there was an opposition in this country at all.

In any case we had our meetings with the key countries that came here. All countries that wanted to meet us, the British, the Indians, the Australians, the African nations, the Asian partners, met us. We explained to them what was going on - that the UNP only got an invitation to the CHOGM six days before and that we were assaulted two days before. When we were being attacked the police did nothing to stop it, in fact they were no where there. They attacked the UNP and then went to courts and get an injunction not to have any protest thereafter.

There is no right to dissent and the media has been stymied – they are hypnotized on one end and attacked on the other. There is basically no freedom of information, the judiciary is hapless and basically there is no good governance in the country. All these were clearly visible to the foreign leaders and the foreign journalists.

Q: What do you think of the way that the Channel 4 situation was handled?
I think it was very immaturely handled. The government is the one which issued the visa to the Channel 4 journalists. If they allow them to come to the country, they should have the ramifications that come thereafter. These journalists are not like some of the Sri Lankan journalists who ask the President what to report. They are free to ask the questions and get their answers.

Who invited them to come here? The UNP did not ask them to come, it was the government that allowed them to come. If you allow them to come, then face the consequences.

Q: So you think they shouldn’t have been allowed to come here at all?
They should have been allowed to come and they should have been granted the right to ask their questions. If you have nothing to hide, why worry? Press conferences do not need to be cancelled. And if the government felt that their being here was injurious to the country, they should not have been allowed to come.

Q: Do you think it was injurious to the country to have allowed the Channel 4 journalists to come to Sri Lanka?
Well, I think with the atmosphere that had been created by the government, it was injurious for them to be allowed here. The government said that Channel 4 was giving wrong information. I believe that too. But then, why didn’t the government take Channel 4 to the courts and sue it? Why did you allow such reporters to come to the country?

If the Channel 4 reporting was inaccurate the government should have proven to the world that the reporting was concocted and such atrocities did not take place in the country.

Q: President Rajapakse is the current chairman of the Commonwealth. How do you think he should handle his position?
If he displays the style of running of Sri Lanka into the Commonwealth, there will be not be a Commonwealth left by the end of the next CHOGM. He will have to adopt a style that he is not used to, which is accepting world principles and collective responsibilities and fulfilling a united role. So it will be a hard, walk-the-talk situation.
For the sake of Sri Lanka and the Commonwealth he’d better rise up to the challenge and do it. Otherwise he might not have a Sri Lanka and a Commonwealth. I hope the attitudes changes and we move to better and not a worst state.  

Q: Maldives, a very close neighbouring country has elected Yameen Abdul Gayoom as the president after much turmoil. What are your thoughts on this?
I am happy to see a professional, a strategist and a visionary has got elected. And more than that, a very dear friend of mine who nobody thought would win has got elected. Everybody expected Nasheed to win but the Maldivians have thought otherwise. The country has been taken to economic chaos and good governance is non-existent. I hope Yameen will salvage the country and get it to shine. Then people who aspire to be the Wonder of Asia will see how smaller nations have surpassed them with a more professional leadership. I wish him all the best.

Q: Anything else you would like to add?
When the younger generation today is desperate to leave Sri Lanka to any country, even to the extent that they risk their lives on boats, it shows that they have lost confidence in the country. Today two million people work overseas. Why can’t they come and put that effort into Sri Lanka? Sri Lanka pays foreign experts millions. Why can’t we pay the innocent Sri Lankans the wages that they deserve? Why can’t you create the appetite for jobs here?

So I urge the government to open your eyes and ears and ensure that the country has a vibrant democracy and a robust economy.

Pix by Waruna Wanniarachchi

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  • Gem bureau Sunday, 01 December 2013 03:53 AM

    Very true...

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