The weekly political review
President ready to disseminate information
- President addresses legal confab
- SL enjoys EU access
- Govt to present better bill
- Editors commend assurance
- by Our Political Correspondent
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Anura Priyadharshana Yapa, Karu Jayasuriya,
President Mahinda Rajapaksa called on the developed world last week
to uphold the interests of the developing world as far as their
economies are concerned.
He made theses observations inaugurating the annual sessions of the 50th
Asian-African Legal Consultative Organisation held in Colombo last
President Rajapaksa’s remarks are quite appropriate since Sri Lanka has
made a tremendous progress as an emerging economy in the Asia region,
especially after the conclusion of the separatist war. It is natural in
such circumstances for the developed world to make things difficult for
such emerging economies and do whatever possible to keep them at bay.
“The use of substantial subsidies by Treasuries and Reserve Banks to
support agricultural production in the developed world and other forms
of protectionism, cause serious distortion of interplay of market
forces,” he said outlining Sri Lanka’s case.
These measures, President Rajapaksa added, would reduce greatly the
ability of farmers in our countries to access international markets.
The concerns of the President are quite understandable where the bigger
economies worldwide have built well-fortified barriers protecting their
economies making it hard for the new entrants or the emerging Third
World economies to penetrate and compete in the existing markets.
However, what we have conveniently forgotten is the fact that there have
been some sort of concessions granted to the developing world by the
European Union through the GSP+ (Generalised System of Preferences),
though agricultural products did not take prominent place in the list.
In the year 2008, Export Development Ministry Secretary S. Rannuge is on
record saying that we use the GSP+ facility for the export of
agricultural products too.
“We are exporting vegetables like gherkins into Europe using the GSP+.
We are also exporting fish, like tuna. In addition, we are also
exporting things like gems and jewellery.”
Sri Lanka lost the GSP+ by the end of last year owing to conditions
imposed by the European Union to which Sri Lanka could not accede to as
a sovereign nation. This was the position taken by the government during
the negotiations which lasted for many months.
Nevertheless, the European Union had this to say before taking a final
decision to temporarily deny the GSP+ to Sri Lanka.
“Under GSP+, the EU provides additional preferences – beyond standard
GSP treatment – to economically vulnerable developing countries which
have ratified and effectively implemented 27 international conventions
in the fields of human and labour rights, sustainable development and
good governance and which voluntarily apply for GSP+ benefits and accept
the associated conditions. Sri Lanka is a current beneficiary of GSP+,
along with 14 other developing countries. Like all other GSP+
beneficiaries, Sri Lanka committed to maintain its ratification and
effective implementation of the 27 conventions when it applied for the
“The decision to withdraw GSP+ from Sri Lanka is based on the findings
of an exhaustive commission investigation launched in October 2008 and
completed in October 2009. This investigation relied heavily on reports
and statements by UN Special Rapporteurs and Representatives, other UN
bodies and reputable human rights NGOs and identified significant
shortcomings in respect of Sri Lanka’s implementation of three UN human
rights conventions – the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights (ICCPR), the Convention against Torture (CAT) and the Convention
on the Rights of the Child (CRC) – effective implementation of which
forms part of the substantive qualifying criteria for GSP+.
“GSP+ relies on beneficiary countries’ continuing to respect the
substantive eligibility criteria for the scheme. If this no longer is
the case, the relevant EC Regulation foresees that the Commission should
undertake an investigation to clarify the situation, and then in the
light of its findings, take appropriate action either to confirm the
continuation of GSP+ benefits or to propose to EU Member States in the
Council that they be temporarily withdrawn. In light of the findings of
the investigation, the European Commission proposed a temporary
withdrawal of Sri Lanka’s benefits under GSP+, a measure which EU Member
States in the Council agreed to put in place.”
“Sri Lanka is a major beneficiary of the trading opportunities offered
by GSP+. In 2008, EU imports from Sri Lanka under GSP+ totalled EUR 1.24
billion. The most important import products benefiting from these trade
preferences were T-shirts and other clothing items, as well as fisheries
products. After temporary withdrawal takes effect, EU imports from Sri
Lanka will instead be subject to standard GSP preferential treatment,
under which Sri Lanka would still enjoy preferential access to the EU
market for its key export items such as clothing that is at least as
generous as it presently enjoys in other major developed country
The Sri Lankan envoy in\n Brussels said in a statement that Sri Lanka
values its long-standing relations with the EU, and has, and will
continue to engage with the European institutions in order to address
the remaining issues of concern, in a manner that does not compromise
Sri Lanka’s national interest.
However, such engagement needs to be on terms respectful of one another
and with sincerity and purposefulness by both parties. Sri Lanka expects
the EU to do the same. There should be no setting of unattainable
targets, no shifting of goal posts and no attempt to use Sri Lanka-EU
relations to serve domestic political agendas.
Now once again Sri Lanka wants to enter the competitive markets as an
emerging economy, the government’s main task after the separatist war
was to rebuild the economy. The President and the government had
realised this position and hence the remarks of the President at the
Asian-African Legal Consultative Organisation.
It is now time again to explore competitive markets in the West, if Sri
Lanka is keen to build the economy at a rapid pace as expected. However,
as the President had outlined in his speech, merchants of terror who had
transferred their activities to the field of international scene are
making all efforts to obstruct the path to recovery which is a
disconcerting factor as far as Sri Lanka is concerned.
In this respect, Sri Lanka as a vibrant South Asian democracy has to
take many politically prudent steps for the outer world to respect our
thinking and the vision as an emerging economy.
A political solution for the ethnic issue that plagued the country for
nearly three decades is essential to take the country forward and for
the world community to recognise our efforts in healing the scars of the
conflict that has left behind a trail of destruction.
Rebuilding the economy means reshaping the society in keeping with the
latest trends accepted globally as inherent rights of the people. In
that context, Sri Lanka as a country is unable to ignore salient
democratic practices which the other countries have adopted to enhance
the scope of people’s rights.
Enshrining the rights of the people and their obligations by the state
is the basic law accepted by all, all over the world as the constitution
of a country. Most of the democracies in the world, including Sri Lanka,
had embedded the rights of the people in the Constitution.
In Sri Lanka, the Constitution so devised in 1978 by the then UNP regime
reflects on the rights of the people and has recognised the right to
have access to official information though it is not explicitly
expressed in the provisions of the Constitution. In the circumstances it
is difficult for any democratic form of government to deny the right of
the people to have access to official information.
On Tuesday, President Rajapaksa has specifically told the media heads
who he met for a routine discussion on the affairs of the State that he
was ready to give away any information other than what is covered by the
Official Secrets Act and what is detrimental to national security. The
President’s move was commended by most of the Editors who were present
and the others in the media had the utmost confidence in the President
when he said that he was ready to disseminate any information the
However, the President was saying something contrary to what Minister
Anura Priyadharshana Yapa announced last week when queried by
journalists as to why the Right to Information Bill presented by UNP
Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya was rejected. The Minster said that the
government would present a comprehensive law covering all aspects of it
shortly. He said that Jayasuriya’s Private Member’s Bill was rejected
since the party leaders failed to reach consensus on the matter. But
Jayasuriya maintained that it was presented with the consent of the
Right to Information Bill
When this was pointed out to the President at the meeting of the media
heads, the President queried the Media Minister who answered in the
affirmative and said that the matter was discussed. Nevertheless, the
indications were that the President was not keen in introducing
legislation but only giving verbal assurances to the journalists.
As for stemming corruption the President had said that the government
has strengthened the teeth of the bribery laws and anybody could go
before the Bribery Commission with any complaint if they could
substantiate the same.
Nevertheless, the problem the people have is quite different and the
Right to Information Act will give access not only to the journalists
but to any peasant in a faraway remote village who has the right to ask
the government as to how they are spending the tax money levied from the
citizens and about the problems they are facing in their day-to-day
The journalists could place their confidence in the government and the
President that they would not do anything untoward to ask embarrassing
questions about public spending and so forth, could this be applied to a
future government in the same form, can any future President give the
same assurance as President Rajapaksa who has assured the Editors that
any information barring sensitive matters pertaining to national
security be disseminated? This is the problem the society is facing
today and only a few things could be done taking people into full
Could Sri Lanka be governed without a basic law depending on conventions
and traditions as in the case of Britain? Laws will only compel stubborn
rulers to act according to the aspirations of the people. In the absence
of a law where could the people go from here, to whom should they appeal
and tell their woes?
Assurances are good and would stimulate the society into action but
there is no legal binding or basis to those assurances, they could be
given in good faith but there is nothing the people could do about it if
they are not honoured, in the circumstances the thinking of the
intelligentsia is that under the circumstances people should agitate
through various democratic means pressing the government to bring
necessary legislation to include the right to information in the statute
book, and it is the duty of the government to grant the people what they
ask for within their legitimate rights to restore good governance and
transparency which is key for future development as far as the country
The future development of the country and the economy are always linked
to good financial discipline and good governance. Without those twin
aspects in place it would be difficult for the country to progress in
the modern world where people’s rights take precedence over material
development. In the circumstances ignoring and rejecting important laws
which would enhance the rights of the people will not augur well for a
country which is trying to explore avenues of economic development. As
it was mentioned earlier the GSP + facility too was linked to Human
Rights and good governance. The right to Information bill which was
presented in Parliament was a good opportunity for the government to
show the world that the government has no hesitation in enacting
people-friendly laws which will give leeway to probe corruption and
mismanagement in a different form altogether.