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Politics

 


GSP+ extension and Bogol’s blunders
  • Question mark on GSP + to SL
  • SL to sue British T.V. Channel 4
  • Stage set for Joint Opposition Alliance
  • FM & FM Ministry on the mat

Whether the European Union will further extend the GSP+ (Generalised System of Preferences plus) concession granted to Sri Lanka, has become a moot point of discussion in political circles today.
Sri Lanka earns an annual income of US $ 3.3 billion from exports of its locally made garments and porcelainware to EU countries under duty free concessions. This income while accounting for a significant contribution to the country’s overall national revenue, goes a long way in strengthening its foreign exchange reserves.

This one year extension is due to expire in another three months. The concession is imperative for at least another three years to help the ongoing process of economic recovery. Judging by their conduct, EU countries such as Great Britain, Norway, and Sweden appear to be looking on Sri Lanka as an enemy nation. When the EU met to discuss granting a further extension of the facility to Sri Lanka, these countries had made a strong objection to the move. Therefore, it is apparent, that Sri Lanka is facing the risk of losing the vital concession.

When the period for which this facility was granted had expired by the end of last year, certain European countries made a collective effort to stop extending it for a further period, charging that Sri Lanka did not deserve it as she was responsible for the Tamil civilians being killed in military operations in the North. In fact, there was a bid to send a team of officials from European countries to inquire into allegations relating to conscription of child combatants and human rights violations in general as a precondition for extending the concession. Sri Lanka government refused to allow such a probe by a foreign team. The EU, meanwhile, decided to extend the facility for another one year.

This one year extension is due to expire in another three months. The concession is imperative for at least another three years to help the ongoing process of economic recovery. Judging by their conduct, EU countries such as Great Britain, Norway, and Sweden appear to be looking on Sri Lanka as an enemy nation. When the EU met to discuss granting a further extension of the facility to Sri Lanka, these countries had made a strong objection to the move. Therefore, it is apparent, that Sri Lanka is facing the risk of losing the vital concession.

It is relevant in this context to recall that the countries who are opposed to granting the GSP + to Sri Lanka are the ones that tried hard due to pressures by Tamil Diaspora to persuade Sri Lanka government to agree to a ceasefire in an obvious bid to rescue LTTE Supreme Prabhakaran and other terrorist leaders from imminent annihilation. President Mahinda Rajapaksa regardless of the pressures mounted by these Western countries went ahead with the military operations to wipe out the terrorist outfit. This was a slap on the face of some EU countries who wanted to throw about their weight in their dealings with Sri Lanka. They appear to think that their turn to hit back at Sri Lanka has come. They obviously are bent on dealing a severe blow at our economy by holding back the GSP + facility.

Channel 4

Sri Lanka government is now required to uphold 27 international covenants specific to the Charter of Rights of Labor, Sustainable Development, Good Governance and Human Rights, and get the Parliament to enact legislation to give effect to these covenants if she is to qualify for the GSP+ concession.

It was while the issue over the granting of GSP+ to Sri Lanka was taking centre-stage, the British Channel 4 had considered it appropriate to televise a fake video tape showing Sri Lanka army personnel executing some Tamil civilians. Re-airing this video footage by a number of other TV channels including BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera set the stage for a well orchestrated campaign to vilify the Sri Lanka government. Sri Lanka did not passively look on. It proved beyond doubt, through a series of scientific and technological tests that the video tape is a fake. However, Channel 4 is yet to carry a correction or any comment in this regard.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Mohan Peiris left for London last weekend to hold consultations with a legal firm there with a view to filing a lawsuit against the TV Channel 4, Justice Ministry sources said.

It is relevant in this context to recall that the countries who are opposed to granting the GSP + to Sri Lanka are the ones that tried hard due to pressures by Tamil Diaspora to persuade Sri Lanka government to agree to a ceasefire in an obvious bid to rescue LTTE Supreme Prabhakaran and other terrorist leaders from imminent annihilation, President Mahinda Rajapaksa regardless of the pressures mounted by these Western countries went ahead with the military operations to wipe out the terrorist outfit. This was a slap on the face of some EU countries who wanted to throw about their weight in their dealings with Sri Lanka. They appear to think that their turn to hit back at Sri Lanka has come. They obviously are bent on dealing a severe blow at our economy by holding back the GSP + facility

Ministerial Committee on GSP +

The four-member Ministerial Committee comprising Ministers G.L.Peiris, Rohitha Bogollagama, Mahinda Samarasinghe and Milinda Moragoda appointed by President Rajapaksa to set the groundwork for securing a further extension of the GSP + concession, has now begun their work.

Certain EU countries and INGOs determined to deprive Sri Lanka of the GSP + concession has begun blowing out of proportions the issue of the displaced persons now living in Menik Farm and other relief villages in Vavuniya. They are pressing that government that these IDPs numbering about 250,000 be resettled in their original homes without delay. They allege that the basic human rights of these people are being violated by being confined to refugee camps. However, it was no secret that these countries and INGOs were wearing blinkers when the LTTE was leading the same civilians like a herd of cattle from Mannar to Pudukuduiruppu at the height of hostilities using them as a human shield. They did not see such a brutal act as a violation of human rights.

Government, using heavy machinery imported for the purpose is currently carrying out a massive de-mining exercise in the areas battles raged to ensure the safety of the displaced civilians who are to be resettled. Obviously resettling the IDPs is not possible before de-mining their villages, renovating their homes and reconstructing the roads. If people are resettled before their areas are cleared of land mines, they would become victims of mine blasts. In such an eventuality, the countries and INGOs now vociferous over the resettlement issue are sure to blame the government again!

LTTEers among refugees

Meanwhile, over 10,000 from among the refugees have been identified as LTTE cadres.
There could easily be hundreds of suicide bombers and hard core terrorists among them. National intelligence has unearthed a great deal of vital information on numerous atrocities committed by Tigers through interrogation of the identified Tiger cadres from relief camps. Who can give a guarantee that these Tiger cadres would not go into action again to resurrect the terrorist movement once they are released along with other civilians?

It is under such a situation, that the EU is requiring Sri Lanka government to get its Parliament to pass legislation to give effect to provisions of international covenants and conventions on civil and political rights, children’s rights, torture and cruel treatment if they were to consider granting the concession after ascertaining whether such new laws are effectively enforced. Sri Lanka is to get the concession once proven that the laws are enforced to their satisfaction!

The Ministerial team appointed to secure the GSP+ for a further period is expected to visit the EU countries shortly to answer all allegations against the government and impress on them the urgent need to grant the GSP + concession. A group of Sri Lankan entrepreneurs including several garment manufacturers will accompany the Ministerial envoys on these visits.

Joint Opposition Alliance

The stage is set for launching the Joint Opposition Alliance formed on the initiative of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and SLFP(M) leader Mangala Samaraweera, UNP sources said.
A 10 point-charter on the proposed alliance titled `Dasa Raja Pratipattiya’ (10-point Policy on Governance) is due to be launched at a function to be held at Vihara Maha Devi Park, Colombo on September 27. The leaders of the constituent parties, UNP, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, Democratic people’s Front and SLFP(M) will sign the agreement on this occasion.

A special discussion on the formation of the alliance was held at the Cambridge Terrace office of the Opposition leader last Tuesday. Karu Jayasuriya, Tissa Attanayake, Rauf Hakeem, Mangala Samaraweera and Mano Ganesan participated in this discussion chaired by UNP leader Wickremesinghe.
The first clause of the Dasa Raja Pratipattiya says that the signatories to the document agree to the abolition of the Executive Presidency.

Dasa Raja Pratipattiya

It is noteworthy that SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem who had been holding a brief for the Executive Presidency from the very outset has made a `U’ turn joining the alliance chorus calling for its abolition.
However, the UNP Working Committee has yet to approve the formation of the Joint Opposition Alliance and the Dasa Raja Pratipattiya which is to serve as the roadmap of the proposed alliance. The party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has now directed the party’s General Secretary Tissa Attanayake to call a meeting of the Working Committee to obtain the formal sanction for both the document and the alliance.

UNP National organiser S.B.Dissanayake, however, sounded a discordant note when he told a media briefing last week that the party’s Working Committee had approved only the formation of a common consensus with the other opposition political parties. The joint opposition alliance proposal earlier came in for flak from a large majority of members of the Working Committee, who took up the position that teaming up with a few political parties or groupings with hardly any popular base, served no purpose at all. The party’s rebel group fighting for reforms in the party including Parliamentarians Johnston Fernando, Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena, Lakshman Seneviratne, and Talata Atukorale was very articulate in their opposition to the joint alliance proposal. Given this rift in the party, the next meeting of the Working Committee could turn stormy, according to informed political sources.

Ranil Wickremesinghe had presented two proposals at the Cambridge Terrace office meeting he had with the representatives of the constituents of the proposed alliance last week. The first proposal was that all alliance candidates should contest the upcoming Parliamentary general elections under the `elephant’ symbol and the second proposal was that come a Presidential election first, the candidate picked by the UNP should be the candidate of the joint opposition alliance. The other parties had agreed to both proposals. The participants also had also decided to appoint Ranil Wickremesinghe as the leader of the alliance and Mangala Samaraweera as its General Secretary. They had also decided to appoint a panel of secretaries and a presidium for the proposed alliance and to call on the Elections Commissioner to seek due recognition as a registered political party after wrapping up the legal formalities

Foreign Ministry, Minister tasked

The Foreign Ministry has become the butt of much media and public criticism these days. The main allegation against this Ministry is that it has miserably failed in its duty in ably countering the charges and attacks made on the country by foreign elements. The Foreign Minister, in fact, has come in for much criticism for squandering public funds for his personal comforts that go with an extravagant lifestyle, taking family members on official tours and appointing personal friends to high posts in the foreign service.
President Rajapaksa had been watching the Minister’s conduct quietly but closely for the last four years. However, a much concerned President found that he could no longer tolerate the Minister’s irresponsible conduct and for the first time he gave vent to his anger at the Cabinet meeting held last Wednesday.

Diplomatic faux pas at Narita airport

The immediate provocation for President Rajapaksa to let off his steam was the incident where Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake was held up for over one hour at the Narita airport in Japan, subjecting him to much embarrassment. The failure on the part of the Foreign Ministry to expose the international conspiracies being hatched against the country and thwart attempts to sully the image of the government and the country had already greatly angered the President.

“A big conspiracy against our country is now taking place at the international level. This started only after we won the war on terrorism. There is a conspiracy being hatched now to arraign us before the International Court of Justice after labeling us as war criminals. There are allegations that we are violating human rights. There is a misinformation campaign being carried out worldwide saying that we are using Police and security forces to suppress the people. The opposition is also a party to this devious plot. What has the Foreign Ministry done to counter the international machinations against the government? The Foreign Ministry does not appear to be doing any of its functions properly,” an angry President had lashed out at Minister Rohitha Bogollagama.
The President continued: “You have messed up the entire foreign service. You carry out official dealings with other officials bypassing the Ministry secretary. You have, in fact, sidelined the Ministry secretary. When the Ministry secretary returns after attending the UN general assembly, you should work in co-operation with him.”
After giving this stern warning to Minister Bogollagama, the President added: “Some officials in the Foreign Ministry appear to be under the impression that they are above the President and the Prime Minister. Such is their arrogance.”

Recalling the Narita airport incident, the President said: “The Prime Minister had to face a very embarrassing situation on his recent visit to Japan. Our ambassador did not turn up at the airport because he was elsewhere attending his daughter’s convocation. He had thought attending the convocation was more important than the Prime Minister’s visit.”

The President also charged that the Foreign Ministry had teamed up with the NGO officials who were working against the country. “I understand that some ladies attached to the Ministry are also working for the NGOs as well. What is the use of a Foreign Ministry like this?” he asked.

“I will issue instructions to officials to set things right,” replied the Minister
“Giving instructions alone is not sufficient. You should go round this country in between your visits abroad to see for yourself what is really happening in the country. There is a foreign delegation now on a visit here. Basil escorted this delegation to Jaffna. You must make it a point to accompany such delegations,” the President told the Minister.