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All parties Sticking to IMF pact vital to see Lanka out of woods - British HC Andrew Patrick

6 March 2024 03:57 am - 8     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Sri Lanka has come a long way. It has made some very significant  progress over the past year though it caused a lot of hardship for  people.

 

  • Better to go back to the situation before 2019 when the UNHRC Resolution was consensual
  • I am optimistic about Sri Lanka in general 

 

 

British High Commissioner Andrew Patrick, in an exclusive interview with Daily Mirror, shared his views on bilateral ties and the way forward to strengthen bonds. 
He spoke to Daily Mirror in the wake of the two countries celebrating 75 years of diplomatic relations.  
Excerpts 


Q   In recent times, we saw the two countries engaging with each other in a number of ways. So what is the new direction on bilateral relations between the UK and Sri Lanka?

Well, I am not sure of a new direction in bilateral relations. However, we’ve had very strong bonds for many years enabling both countries to celebrate 75 years of diplomatic relations recently.
There are so many links between Sri Lankans living and studying in the UK.  It’s not so much about a new direction, but rather the Covid and the economic crisis which made us realize how important relations are. The UK played a major role in supporting Sri Lanka to come out of the crises.
I’m very pleased about that.  So I don’t think there’s really a new direction other than strengthening ties. 


Q   When it comes to bilateral relations, Sri Lankans talk a lot about the UNHRC process.   The UK is a co-sponsor of the Resolution. Sri has always expressed its displeasure over international intervention while taking its own steps to bring about reconciliation. Does the UK recognize the latest steps taken by Sri Lanka as far as reconciliation is concerned? 

It’s true that we’re part of the core group. The Resolution on Sri Lanka was lead by the United States, Canada, Malawi and a number of other countries.
I’m a bit concerned about the way this is presented sometimes, as if the international community is interfering in the affairs of Sri Lanka.  


If you talk to human rights experts and activists in Sri Lanka, they are interested in the UNHRC’s role in supporting reforms and addressing the legacy of the war. It’s not the international community that’s imposing its views on Sri Lanka.
If you read the last statement that the core group made in Geneva in September, it recognizes that the government here is making progress, but it also notes that there’s more to be done.  


The other thing I would say is that human rights is a very important issue in the relationship, but it’s not the only issue. I spoke a while ago on the support extended by the UK to help Sri Lanka get over the economic crisis. The UK is working closely with the Sri Lankan authorities to address the crisis.
Of course there will be differences and issues arising in bilateral relations.
I hope we could go back to the situation that existed under the Sri Lankan government before 2019, when the UNHRC Resolution was consensual.

 

There are different views on the 13th Amendment. There are diverse views on what exactly is devolution of power. But I have not seen any debate about a separate state in Sri Lanka

 


Q   There are certain steps taken by Sri Lanka, especially the process of setting up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  What are your views on it? 

We welcome the initial steps taken by the government. I’ve been in Sri Lanka only for six months. So it is new to me.
However, if I talk to people from the human rights community in Sri Lanka who’ve worked on this for a number of years, and if you look at the letter that the Human Rights Commission in Sri Lanka wrote to the government, there’s a concern that this process has not been consulted adequately. 


They also say that there have been other committees in the past which looked at the issues. Either the results of the committees  haven’t been published or there hasn’t been a follow-up.
They say that’s why there’s some doubt in the community whether these efforts would be successful.
This is how I understand it as someone new to the picture. While I acknowledge the steps taken by the government what I gather having spoken to a  wide spectrum of people here is that it’s not yet receiving widespread support. 


Q   You have been in Sri Lanka for the past six months.  What is your assessment of the ground situation?

My assessment reflects the views of the people I have spoken to during my short stay in Sri Lanka. 
There are those who welcome the steps taken by the government. But clearly there are issues remaining - issues around the legacy of the war which have not been addressed, concerns about land and the Prevention of Terrorism Act.  The international community had a number of concerns about the Online Safety Bill. 


Q   The government said it had accommodated the views of all those concerned. What is your take on the latest version of the Bill?  

I would have to come back to you on that later because the Supreme Court has issued its judgment on the Bill. We haven’t had the chance to study that in depth.
So, I don’t want to give you a detailed answer before I’ve had the chance to look at that. 

 

I think there are several ways in which we’re able to contribute.  We are a shareholder of the IMF (International Monetary Fund). So the money that the IMF is lending to Sri Lanka is partly British money

 

 


Q   You stated that Sri Lanka’s human rights activists, civil society organizations welcome the Resolution. However, it is the government that has the authority to implement anything. They don’t support this Resolution. How does the UK respond to that?  

We had a frank discussion with the government on the issues. As I said, in the past, when the current President was the Prime Minister, this was a consensual process.
It was one where the international community and the government worked together on the Resolution. It seemed to me that was a very good process, although now the government says that it doesn’t want to return to that at the moment. 


We’re not doing this to have confrontations but  because the UK, along with a number of other countries that we work with support human rights activists in any part of the world.
Sri Lanka is not the only country in which we play this role.  


Q   When you talk about the Sri Lankan reconciliation process, we find two extremes. One extreme is within the country. They are even against the least amount of power devolution. The other extreme is the Tamil diaspora that is asking for a separate state.   Can the UK help strike the right balance between the two?

I think the first thing I would say is that talking to people in Sri Lanka, I don’t think I’ve heard anyone speaking about a separate state. There are different views on the 13th Amendment. There are diverse views on what exactly is devolution of power. But I have not seen any debate about a separate state in Sri Lanka.
I think the position of the international community including India, the UK, Europe, the US is that the future lies in having a single state with a certain amount of devolution implied by the 13th Amendment.

 

There needs to be an agreement with the private sector bondholders. And that’s not something which we as the British government get involved in

 


Q   How can the UK help Sri Lanka recover from the current economic crisis? 

I think there are several ways in which we’re able to contribute.  We are a shareholder of the IMF (International Monetary Fund). So the money that the IMF is lending to Sri Lanka is partly British money.  
 I think there is much more than that. The UK is the second largest export market of Sri Lanka. So that helps the economy.


And we’re doing more on that because we have the Developing Countries Trading Scheme, which was launched the year before, to  help countries, including Sri Lanka to export more to the UK by reducing tariffs.  We’re working with a number of enterprises here to show them how to make the best of the system. 


The other area is education, where we have over 35 British universities partnering with Sri Lankan institutions to improve skills students need to survive in the modern economy. I think that will be in the long term a major contribution to the economic growth of Sri Lanka.


The final area is tourism where I’m very pleased to see that we have a real resurgence in the number of British tourists coming to Sri Lanka. I think there were over 130,000 last year. We are number three, I think, after India and Russia. So that’s a major contribution to revive the economy.


Q   The UK is also a member of the Paris Club.   President Ranil Wickremesinghe is hopeful that Sri Lanka will be able to reach an agreement in April. As a member of the Paris Club, how hopeful are you?  

There are two parts to the debt issue. One is on sovereign debt. 
There is an agreement in principle between the Official Creditor Committee (Paris Club + India), and one with China. The technicalities of that are being worked out.
There needs to be an agreement with the private sector bondholders. And that’s not something which we as the British government get involved in.


That’s a negotiation between the Sri Lankan authorities and the bondholders. That’s still going on. But I’m hopeful that you will manage to reach an agreement. 
So I’m an optimist about Sri Lanka in general. And I’m an optimist on this issue in particular.


Q   How do you look at Sri Lanka as an investment destination for the UK taking into account Sri Lanka’s geostrategic and geopolitical position in the region?

Despite the economic crisis having an impact on investment in the short term, we had some major companies here. As you know, we have De La Rue, which has been printing and exporting currency to over 30 countries. That’s a high-tech manufacturing company here. It’s a joint venture between the Ministry of Finance.  So that’s a great success story.


The London Stock Exchange has a significant presence in Sri Lanka. Having its  IT hub here the Exchange supports a large number of transactions worldwide through the use of technology and the industry experts in Sri Lanka. So, in the past, there’s been significant investment.
Due to the economic crisis and the credit rating issue economic revival has been a daunting task.
However, I’m certain in the medium term, there will be significant British investments. 

 

It was one where the international community and the government worked together on the Resolution. It seemed to me that was a very good process, although now the government says that it doesn’t want to return to that at the moment


Q   How do you look at Sri Lanka partnering with the UK and the US in the Red Sea operations? 

Well, I think you’ve got to sort out a number of issues here.  
First of all, there’s the issue of the Gaza conflict, with diverse views on it. You don’t need to take the same view as the UK on the conflict to agree that there has to be freedom of navigation in the seas. That’s particularly important for a country like Sri Lanka, which has a major port, a salient part of your economy.
And then the steps taken by the UK and US against the Houthis.
Finally, there’s this global coalition of ships that are trying to maintain freedom of navigation in the Red Sea. It’s important to make a distinction of all these aspects.
Sri Lanka is joining a  broad international coalition, by agreeing to deploy a ship to the Red Sea which is an important gesture in support of the principle of freedom of navigation. 
If the Red Sea crisis continues it would no doubt have an impact on Sri Lanka’s ports.  


Q   The UK is a key member of the IMF. How significant is it for Sri Lanka to continue with the IMF programme for economic recovery? 

I know it’s a debated issue here, whether the government should have entered into an IMF deal and what would be the outcome of the deal.
As Sri Lanka approaches an election, I’m sure there will be candidates who will say that they don’t need to have this deal. It’s very difficult. Or they will say that they have a different way out, suggesting that renegotiations are easy.
I’m very pleased that all major parties have recognized that an IMF deal is essential. If I was a voter here and  had a politician telling me that he could provide an easy way out to the crisis without the IMF, I would think twice about its accuracy.


Q   Will you be making a request to the major parties to continue the pact? 

It’s left for the Sri Lankans to decide their future. We don’t take a stance on which party should be elected. All the major parties have said they’re committed to an IMF deal.
 I welcome that because it is essential, however difficult it is. Sri Lanka has come a long way. It has made some very significant progress over the past year though it caused a lot of hardship for people. However,  there’s a long way to go. 
The message from the international community is that Sri Lanka should stick to the IMF pact, even though it will be challenging.


Q   Actually, some of the leaders say they will renegotiate the IMF deal. Is it possible to renegotiate the terms and conditions?

That is a discussion with the IMF. The IMF deal is about bringing Sri Lanka’s debt back onto a sustainable level.
It is  essentially about on what money is spent, how much money you raise and which reforms are implemented.
I think that a radical renegotiation would be very difficult. But every democratically elected government might attempt to talk to the IMF about changing the programme. That’s perfectly natural. I think all of the parties will probably want to say that that’s what they’re going to do.


Q   Do you have something to say about dealing with China and getting it on board?

It is important that all creditors engage in a timely and constructive manner. I talked earlier about agreements in principle with sovereign creditors, including China. It is important that we continue to work with other creditors, multilateral institutions and the Sri Lankan government to support Sri Lanka’s economic recovery.

 


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  Comments - 8

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  • ANNECUNT Wednesday, 06 March 2024 03:19 PM

    we cannot stick to imf pact because , part of all money comming to sri-lanka must be diverted to our private bank accounts we did that even for the tseunami relief fund money

    M Fernando Thursday, 07 March 2024 05:09 PM

    Sir, can we have a free boat or some other bang-bang toy for our president please? The Americans have given one and he seems thrilled to bits Even second-hand, no problem as long as it comes from the West. In return, We will do whatever you ask, bend over backwards (or forwards) if you prefer.

    FredSnR Monday, 11 March 2024 04:36 AM

    The way I see it we are exporting our youth as cheap labour to foreign countries(encouraging it_ while inviting foreign countries to come here and invest and develop our resources when we should be doing the opposite because Self Reliance is the key to any strategy without that at the centre it is bound to fail it will help the multinationationals and foreign interests not the country Currently there is also a debt to be managed with IMF prescriptions

    Kappa Monday, 18 March 2024 09:30 PM

    Why don't you Brits worry about the problems in your country than meddle in others.

    sss Wednesday, 27 March 2024 06:36 AM

    And allow me and my friends to engage in corruption, not small but colossal as we wish

    Chamee Sunday, 07 April 2024 05:36 AM

    Absolutely correct !!! Britain is on the verge of collapse and here they are telling us how to run our lives. What Cock

    Tom Wednesday, 27 March 2024 04:20 PM

    Good points high commissioner!

    Nuwan Friday, 29 March 2024 05:02 AM

    Here is the deal. What did IMF tell? It told SL that you are in a lot of debt. You will have to renegotiate and pay them back. To pay debts increase income and reduce expenditure. That's it. It's up to SL to do it one way the other.


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