Sri Lanka to tell United Nations We will do it our way
By Sugeeswara Senadhira
Sri Lanka is gradually asserting itself to tell the international community that solving the internal issues of the country and its citizens is our duty and responsibility, and although we expect and welcome the support of the world, we would find our own solutions at our own pace.
At the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September, President Maithripala Sirisena will announce a set of new proposals for consideration at the March 2019 Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). He will also submit these proposals to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, as well as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet. The President expects to meet both of them in New York, in two weeks time.
Addressing Media Heads at the President’s House in Colombo last Friday, President Sirisena said that he would discuss his new proposals with Bachelet.
After assuming duties, Bachelet, in her first address in Geneva said, “Good governance is based on identifying and amending gaps in access to justice, dignity, and equality, so that all can live in more respectful and harmonious societies, and enjoy development that is more dynamic and sustainable.”President Sirisena, in his media briefing last week, said the UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s recent statement on Sri Lanka was a balanced one.
Bachelet, a Chilian human rights activist, who was imprisoned during the dictatorial regime of President Pinochet, told the UNHRC about her deep commitment to human rights. In her speech, she briefly talked about Sri Lanka. “In Sri Lanka, although the authorities have moved too slowly towards meaningful implementation of the transitional justice agenda, the Office of Missing Persons has now begun consultations and institutional capacity-building to fulfil its mandate. We look to that Office to work quickly, to begin to provide answers to the families of the disappeared. Legislation establishing an Office for Reparations is also underway. More progress in advancing accountability and truth-seeking could have great weight in the long-term stability and prosperity of the Nation. Recurrent incidents of racist and inter-communal violence are disturbing, as are announced plans to resume use of the death penalty,” she said.
When a journalist pointed out that the new High Commissioner said the progress was slow in Sri Lanka, the President was quick to admit the process was slow, but steady. He pointed out that such vexed issues cannot be tackled quickly, as many sensitivities have to be balanced. In any country that faced prolonged conflicts, the solutions took a very long time, and Sri Lanka is no exception.
President Sirisena further said that certain pro-LTTE non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are making various allegations regarding human rights violations. He stated that the Government was able to avoid Sri Lanka’s isolation in the UN Human Rights Council, which had prevailed before it came to power, and succeeded in fostering friendship.
The President said the proposals he will submit to the UN are aimed at solving issues and provide relief without causing harm to the pride of the security forces and safeguard independence, sovereignty, and national security. Furthermore, these proposals will facilitate harmonious solutions for remaining issues, with regard to alleged acts of both sides during the conflict.
“There is positive recognition for the Sri Lankan armed forces internationally, as a disciplined Army, and that is evident from the fact that United Nations Peacekeeping Forces recruit increased number of Army personnel from Sri Lanka,” he pointed out.
The President will lead Sri Lanka’s delegation to the 73rd United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. The 73rd UNGA will begin on 18 September at UN Headquarters, New York, while the General Debate will be held from 25 September to 1 October. The President will address the 73rd Session of the high-level General Debate of the UN General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York on 25 September.
Sri Lanka’s decision to submit a fresh set of proposals this year is indeed a fulfilment of a long felt need. Last September, addressing the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, President Sirisena emphasized the Government was tackling issues, while “we protect our independence and sovereignty.” He urged the international community to support “the slow, but steady forward march to achieve our targets in order to find sustainable solutions for the allegations levelled against us.” It was a very clear message to the West, that we will not implement any of the clauses that could infringe on our sovereignty. “Some extremist groups are expecting a high speed. Some extremist groups want radical solutions.
However, as a country that has faced a three decade long war, where deep divisions have existed, I request the support of all of you to promote peace and fraternity, so that my beloved country and its people can rise from the current situation. That is why I emphasize that it is for a slow and a successful journey that we need the support,” he said.
At the same time, he pointed out that, “as a government, we are paying serious attention to the aforementioned allegations, and to find solutions to them as a matter of priority. Mainly, my government has performed well in terms of strengthening democracy and protecting human rights. I must mention here that the Government will continue to ensure their progress in the future.”
The 73rd UNGA is an important occasion for the President to brief the international community about Sri Lanka’s domestic issues, and the imperative need for local solutions for them. This time, he will be able to explain his proposals to the international community and gain its support.
Sri Lanka has been a member of the United Nations for 63 years. Sri Lanka has always been a country that has respected its treaties and conventions, agreements and rules and regulations, while acting to improve these relations further. Now, all that Sri Lanka is asking for is the support of the international community to continue on a slow, but steady path to find a lasting solution that will ensure communal harmony, as well as the unity, independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity
IOR architecture must recognise intrinsic role of littoral states – PM
The following is the text of the speech made by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at the 3rd Indian Ocean Conference in HanoiVietnamon August 27.
“It is indeed a great pleasure to be back in Vietnam - a country steeped in a rich history of defiance of spirit, an unbreakable will, and a strong and resilient people.”
“Vietnam in ancient times was a bustling trading hub, deeply connected with the outside world. It was also integral to the creation of crosscurrents of people, goods, and ideas across the Asian lands and seas.”
“The UNESCO World Heritage site ‘My Son Sanctuary’, which dates back from 4-13 Century CE, located in central Vietnam close to the ancient port city of Hoi An, is an exceptional example of cultural interchange, with an indigenous society adapting to external cultural influences, notably the Hindu art, religion and architecture of the Indian sub-continent. Historical texts also reveal that the Funan Kingdom which is said to have comprised parts of Cambodia, Vietnam, the Malaya Peninsular and Thailand stood as one of the most powerful kingdoms of Southeast Asia ruled by Kaudinya, a Hindu Brahmin King, and Queen Soma.”
“There are parallels we can draw with the Indian Ocean Region. This region has for many decades resisted domination by a single power. It has been the lifeline of ancient trading routes. It has also continued to remain a melting pot of civilisations, religions, and cultures whilst retaining its essentially multipolar character. It is only appropriate therefore, that the third edition of the Indian Ocean Conference- IOC 2018- be held here.”
“The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is set to define the destiny of the planet in the 21st century. At the centre of this geopolitical turn of events, is the Indian Ocean - an ocean which is increasingly being defined as the Ocean of the Future.”
“In addition, the linkages between the Indian and Pacific Oceans are envisaged to create a maritime super highway that can bring prosperity to all.”
“Those who traversed this great ocean for millennia, the traders, the explorers, the philosophers and religious teachers left behind ideas - ideas that were merged with our own thinking and began to take a uniquely Indian Ocean character. In the littorals you will find therefore, the harmonious blend of Eastern and Western thinking, systems and approaches. It is in this milieu that a new world order is beginning to take shape. The littorals, by geographic design, are integral partners in this process.”
Five global trends
“I want to highlight five main global trends that I believe are critical turning points. These turning points will dictate how economic prosperity and development will be disbursed globally. It will also determine the new world order.”
“Firstly, the world order has become more fragile, polarised and unpredictable. Multilateral frameworks are increasingly under pressure. The ability of the collective to manage interdependence effectively is at risk. The weakening of state structures and the diffusion of power to non-state actors is creating a complex international environment. The multilateral system’s ability to deliver development and growth is being questioned. Movement in multilateral trade negotiations in particular has faced significant challenges.”
“However, for small countries, there is great value in the idea of the sovereign equality of states. It allows us to have a voice in how the world should be shaped. It also allows us to derive benefits from a system of trade and governance for the welfare of our people. The multilateral system advocates temperance, a quality on which the world governance system has effectively functioned in the past few decades. Therefore, the challenges facing a more fragile multilateral system can be highlighted as the first turning point.”
“Secondly, we are seeing a pushback against globalisation. Trade tensions between economic giants pose significant risk to global trade. The challenges facing the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the renegotiation of NAFTA and Brexit negotiations to name but a few. The question is – are these signs of a retreat from closer integration?”
“Globalisation and closer economic integration has helped countries across the globe to develop and prosper. Without such integration and market access, it would be difficult for small nations like my own, which follow open market policies, to survive.”
“This turning point is closely interlinked to the future of the multilateral system. For instance, the success or failure of the Doha Development Agenda will demonstrate whether countries continue to value common rules and standards and are willing to remain engaged in such a process.”
“Thirdly, there is growing strategic rivalry and military buildup across the globe spilling on to the ocean space. This is the space in which the next great game will take place. There is competition to build spheres of influence and create overarching architectures and a new strategic order appears to be in the offing. There is an abiding interest in maintaining the safety and security of the sea lanes of communication. In the ocean space you see force posture, buildup of naval and air facilities, and the establishment of military bases. The expansion of military presence of major and middle powers in the ocean space highlights the centrality of the oceans to future development. With such developments, these players stand poised to take advantage of strategic opportunities or step into any perceived power vacuums.”
“The geopolitical revolution of the rise of Asia, in both political and economic terms can be termed the fourth turning point. The global economy, hitherto dominated by the West will be driven by new actors. China is projected to be the largest economy in the world by 2050 accounting for 20 percent of world GDP, with India in second place and Indonesia in fourth. In the period 2016-2050 Vietnam, India and Bangladesh have been identified as the three of the world’s fastest-growing economies.”
“Economic cooperation has become another area of Indian Ocean geopolitics. Nevertheless, what many see as competition in the development field, host countries treat as complementary. It is important to identify complementariness from the host countries’ perception as to their own needs for economic infrastructure, FDI and trade access. A better way to meet these needs is to welcome such initiatives for economic cooperation as important drivers of Asian Growth. Furthermore, the ongoing discussions between ADB, AIIB, BRICS, on building synergies for growth is an important development. The activation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will also serve as a catalyst for economic integration in Asia. It would be important for BIMSTEC and IORA to have a closer engagement with ASEAN on the Bay of Bengal Trade Development. Deepening interactions and integration with the Gulf and East African states are equally important.”
“The fifth turning point is the rise of multilayered regionalism differing in range of scale, scope and membership in the Indo-Pacific. These frameworks are attempting to create large economic areas, with multiple new regional leaders driving these processes, giving rise to a truly multipolar world. The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the Free Trade Area of the Asia and the Pacific (FTAAP), BRICS and the Belt and Road Initiative to name but a few.”
“There is renewed interest in regional constructs that go beyond economic interests and spill over to the political, defence, security, and strategic domains. Hitherto, regional constructs have tended to steer clear from directly engaging and grappling with these issues, focusing instead on improving trade connectivity, people-to-people contacts, and social and cultural ties. There is renewed acknowledgement of the intrinsic linkage between economic prosperity and security and stability. Another important aspect of these multilayered frameworks is the rise of maritime regionalism.”
“The multilayered regionalism of the future should push for inclusivity rather than exclusivity and be built amongst countries unrestrained by geographic or other constraints. The multipolar world of the future would be anchored by multilayered regionalism and be built on common understandings, alliances and institutions that are currently taking shape. Maritime Asia and the Indian Ocean Region are central to the rise of multilayered regionalism.”
“These five global trends will have a significant impact on how the world will be shaped in the years to come.”
“Peace and Stability in the Indian Ocean Region is our mutual interest. This region has enormous economic potential and is the lifeline of global trade. Given its geo-strategic and geo-economic significance, the region is constantly being defined and redefined along sub-regional, pan-regional and super-regional lines.”
Free and open Indo-Pacific
“The concept of the Indo-Pacific is a case in point. The Indo-Pacific does not as yet have an accepted identification of its territorial limits with the economic and military rise of Asia. Common geopolitical issues have arisen. The Indian Ocean trade is vital to both. For the United States, the Indo-Pacific stretches from the west coast of the United States to the west coast of India and is a combined economic and security vision. Prime Minister Modi described the Indo-Pacific concept recently as a natural region, with ASEAN countries as the main connect between the two oceans in both geographic and civilisational sense. He also stressed that the Indo-Pacific should stand for a free, open, inclusive region that encompasses those that are located geographically in the region and those that have a stake in it. Both Japan and Australia have also spoken in terms of a free and open Indo-Pacific. The Belt and Road Initiative spearheaded by China is also gathering momentum. In this context of super regional constructs, what is the role of the Indian Ocean littorals? Where do we stand and in fact, do we need to take a stand? Both constructs offer opportunities for development for littoral states.”
“Super regional constructs should not compel the littorals states to choose or take sides. Such constructs should be inclusive and open. They should also be conscious of the aspirations and preferences of the region’s own approaches when being consolidated. The littoral states and the stakeholders must participate in deciding any new regional architecture being proposed. The role of the littoral states in managing great power rivalry and competition is an important one. Within any new construct being proposed, including the Indo-Pacific, the Indian Ocean must maintain its own distinct identity. Even during World War II, there were two commands –South East Asia with British accepting the surrender and the Pacific command with America accepting the surrender. The commands however did not work in isolation.”
“It is our view that in order to uphold order, mechanisms for cooperation need to be explored. Certain cooperation constructs have emerged such as the QUAD which is weighted towards the Pacific and has no input from littoral states. The other option is to strive at an arrangement where littoral states can actively participate and contribute. For example arrangements such as the CGPCS and the CMF worked well to suppress Somali Piracy. IONS, Shangri-La Dialogue, naval exercises, trilateral maritime security cooperation between India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives and our own Galle Dialogue are important fora which provide opportunities for networking of the security communities at strategic and operational levels.”
“We also believe that there is a significant need for enhanced Indian Ocean Region regionalism that focuses on augmenting cooperation across the maritime domain. Such regionalism should strive to create closer linkages between ASEAN, IORA and BIMSTEC given the rising imperative for cooperation that spans the entire Indian Ocean Region.”
“China’s economic expansion has led to a specific focus on the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean sea routes are vital to the economic interests of China. USA has been in the Indian Ocean since Diego Garcia and has been a key stakeholder. A free and open ocean is vital to Japan and its economy. India is the territorial power with a direct stake in the Indian Ocean. Security and economic challenges arise from both complimentary and competing interests of these large stakeholders as they interact with each other in the Indian Ocean Region. The geopolitics of the Gulf can also spillover and impact on Indian Ocean trade. Littoral states, especially the smaller states oppose domination of the Indian Ocean by the great powers. Such states have an important role to play in managing great power competition. Regional constructs that exist, were constituted prior to these new developments and therefore lack the capacity to respond to this situation. The preference is for a rules-based order in the Indian Ocean that benefits all”.
Sri Lanka’s interest in IOR
“Sri Lanka has been deeply involved in developing ocean governance processes since the time of negotiation of the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Located as we are, at the centre of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka has significant interest in actively contributing to events that are currently unfolding in the region. Our geostrategic location includes Trincomalee, one of the finest deep-sea harbours in the world. Trincomalee is also the second largest natural harbour in the world, with a 500 metre-wide entrance channel. Historical incidents have demonstrated that Sri Lanka’s location can impact on the security not only of the Indian Ocean but also other area such as South East Asia, Middle East, Eastern Coast of Africa and even the Pacific.”
“Sri Lanka’s initiative on Freedom of Navigation in the Indian Ocean is primarily aimed at maintaining a rules-based order. Our aim is not to draft a new code but to initiate a process. Our purpose is to create a platform for dialogue where Indian Ocean littoral states and major maritime users are able to convene and discuss issues of mutual interest and concern. It is always important to anticipate challenges and work towards practical solutions based on UNCLOS which continues to serve as the Constitution of the Seas.”
“Towards this end, we will be hosting a track 1.5 dialogue in Colombo on October 11 and 12, 2018, on the theme “The Indian Ocean: Defining Our Future.” This track 1.5 dialogue is a lead up to a multilateral diplomatic conference which we hope to hold in 2019 with the aim of developing a common understanding amongst Indian Ocean littoral states and major maritime users. We look to forward to your support for Sri Lanka’s initiative.”
“Resolving issues concerned will speed up the process of multi-stakeholder dialogue in the Indian Ocean Region. As we progress through these for a, let’s aim for deeper discussion which would ultimately facilitate a common understanding and decision making amongst the multi-stakeholders with an interest in the Indian Ocean Region. It is important for the Indian Ocean littorals to take the lead in this process.”
“I see all these developments, including the Indian Ocean Conferences that have been held thus far in Singapore and Sri Lanka, and the one being held today in Vietnam, as important forerunners and complimentary exercises. The fourth Indian Ocean Conference can be one where we endeavour to move from generalisation to specific modalities of cooperation.”
‘Ocean of the Future’
“The Indian Ocean is the Ocean of the Future. It constitutes cultures emanating from ocean-based civilisations and colonial era systems, practices and values which are compatible with international standards and norms. Regional institutions as presently constituted lack capacity to effectively respond to the geopolitical developments of the region. Any new regional architecture envisaged should be multilayered and must recognise the distinct identity of the Indian Ocean Region and the intrinsic role of the littoral states. The new regional architecture must also be multi-stakeholder and therefore include the littoral states and those with an interest in the region. It should discuss and resolve issues pertaining to the Freedom of Navigation and also seek to engage with ASEAN as the link to the Pacific.”
“To my mind this is a critical juncture in global history. International relations of the future will be determined in a more maritime and Asia-centric world. The rise of the East also foretells a unique opportunity for Asia to introduce its own model of international relations underpinned by maritime salience of the Indian Ocean Region, its civilisational traditions and historical circumstances. Indian Ocean trade networks date back at least 4,000 years and the people of Asia were connected by seagoing commerce centuries before the arrival of the Europeans.”
“These robust trade routes with ships plying were unique in that neither nationality, race, religion nor culture were an issue when it came to trade. Voyagers across the Indian Ocean went to the Southeast Asia and the Far East and westwards to the African, European and Mediterranean regions. There were no obstacles to travel or trade. These ancient trade routes clearly epitomised the idea of freedom of navigation and rules-based order. Recreating the open and free spirit of trade and commerce that existed in ancient times across the Indian Ocean would be of benefit for global trade and maritime Asia in particular. Should this not be our unique contribution to the new global order? The spirit of maritime trade and commerce that is inclusive, plurilateral, stabilising and rules-based, and one which empowers the littorals and gives them their due place as direct stakeholders.”
“We are living in transformational times. The future generations depend on us to make the right choices. We can create a world where strategic mistrust and competition is allowed to reign. Alternatively, we can rise above rivalry and antagonism and work together, recognising that when we do so, we can derive greater benefits for the welfare of our people. Before us is a unique opportunity to create a fair, equitable and prosperous world that leaves no one behind. We should seize this moment.”
Sri Lankan government’s most ambitious, Rs. 60 billion ‘Enterprise Sri Lanka initiative’, an ideal platform to create an enabling environment with fair and equal opportunities for the budding local entrepreneurs to contribute to the country’s development has received an overwhelming response from aspiring entrepreneurs across the country since its launch in last month.
Having understood the need of a new breed of young entrepreneurs, the government has put in place the necessary financial framework to support them by introducing16 concessionary loans which include11 interest subsidy loan schemes, three refinancing loan schemes inclusive of two financial and non-financial schemes.
he program has been implemented by the Ministry of Finance and Mass Media in association with the state and private sector banks, foreign financial institutions and the other participatory institutes.The primary objective of the project is to create a minimum of 100,000 entrepreneurs by 2020 through these concessional loan schemes. The especial feature of the project is that the government has focused on empowering female entrepreneurs by providing additional incentives and with that, the government expects a transformational change in the economy in years ahead.
Minister of Finance and Mass Media, Mangala Samaraweera recently said that as per the government’s ‘2025 Vision’ plan, the government believes that engaging with aspiring entrepreneurs to provide better access to market information, necessary skills and a conducive environment for new enterprises is the best way forward to achieve inclusive and sustainable development.
“Our responsibility is to identify the persons who have entrepreneurial skills, support them in developing their entrepreneurial skills thus providing them with the ability to positively contribute towards the economy. The Enterprise Sri Lanka program is all about that”, the Minister said.Minister Samaraweera also said that the government has already allocated a sum of Rs 5.25 billion to this end.
Meanwhile, Senior Deputy General Manager (Business Banking) at People’s Bank Rasitha Gunawardana said that People’s bank has given Rs 3.5 billion in funding for 2,000 selected applicants since last year.“Another 500 selected applications are pending for loan approval. The bank is active in 12 loan schemes at the moment.” Gunawardana said.
“This particular project was introduced in last year budget. Soon after the budget, we started this loan scheme. By this time, we have worked on this for almost one year. The government thought the banking sector progress its own is not satisfactory. So, the government wanted to give proper publicity to this project by launching it in July, this year.”
The bank has already established a separate window for Enterprise Sri Lanka program at its all the branches across the country and is handled by an employee who has the knowledge of the loan system. Gunawardana said.“The government believes that the private sector is the engine of the growth and entrepreneurship skills are critical to create the jobs of the future,” he said.
“The basic idea is to give a helping hand to up and coming entrepreneurs by providing necessary funding for their projects. The government recently came up with the idea that 60 % of our funding should be given to new entrepreneurs while only 40 should be given to established entrepreneurs in the country for their enhancement.”
In the meantime, National Savings Bank sources told Daily News Business that it has received 11,000 loan applications under the Sonduru Piyasa loan scheme, of which 11,000 applications, the bank has given over Rs 275 million in funding for 1,400 applicants so far.
In addition, it has received close to 100 loan applications so far for Rivi Bala Savi loan scheme.The bank is currently conducting a series of programs to create awareness among the general public on the Enterprise Sri Lanka program particularly in Ratnapura, Galle, Kandy, Kurunagala, Jaffna, Matara and Hambantota and etc.
Regional Development Bank (RDB), another partnering bank of the project said that its Ran Aswenna loan scheme has received the highest number of applications, followed by Govi Nawoda scheme.Accordingly, RDB has disbursed over Rs 810 million in funding under Ran Aswenna and Rs 77 million for 200 selected applicants under Govi Nawoda program so far.Furthermore, RDB is currently looking at the possibility of introducing Arambuma, Riya Shakthi and Maadya Aruna loan schemes in the near future.To take the message of Enterprise Sri Lanka program, particularly to the rural masses, RDB has established a separate window at its all the branches, across the country.
State Minister of Finance, Eran Wickramaratne speaking on Enterprise Sri Lanka program said that total entrepreneurs accounts for mere 2% or 230,000 of the working population in Sri Lanka where as total entrepreneurs in Thailand and China accounts for 20% and 7.5% respectively, in comparison to their total population.
“Entrepreneurship is in our DNA. It’s a well known fact that we had such a strong entrepreneurship culture in Sri Lanka. During the pre and post colonial period, Sri Lanka’s had maintained robust global trade and entrepreneurial engagement with the rest of the world. But it is really disappointing that things have changed drastically due to various circumstances.” He said, “We believe that development activities should not be implemented on the pretext of achieving petty political mileage. The development has no colour or party politics.”
Enterprise Sri Lanka, the government’s loan programme launched on June 22, is designed for young entrepreneurs in the country. The Gamperaliya scheme, implemented in accordance with Enterprise Sri Lanka in the country’s poorest regions, is one of the government’s primary focuses over the next two years.
Enterprise Sri Lanka is meant to be accessible for all districts, rich and poor, most and least-developed. Finance and Mass Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera inaugurated the first exhibition on the Gamperaliya scheme last week, while an exhibition on Enterprise Sri Lanka had been planned to be held between August 29 and 31, in the Moneragala district. More would follow in the Anuradhapura and Jaffna districts as well.
The exhibitions display the sweeping objectives of Enterprise Sri Lanka and Gamperaliya: raising the per capita income to USD 5,000, creating one million new jobs, doubling exports, and sustaining GDP growth at five percent. In its current iteration, more than a dozen loan schemes are expected to develop Small-Medium Enterprises (SMEs), promote green energy, empower farmers, reduce poverty, empower youth and women, as well as to promote tourism, exports and supply chain development.
Through these programmes, the government seeks to address the development of the nation as a whole, but is it feasible? In many districts, issues of indebtedness and unemployment had crippled local economies. Would the programme be accessible to them? Government officials from the Northern and Eastern provinces said it would. Enterprise Sri Lanka offers collateral-free concessionary loan schemes for 16 different categories of entrepreneurs: farmers and fisherman, owners of houses less than 1,000 square feet, journalists, young graduates, middle-income youth wishing to purchase a house for the first time, to name a few. The government’s stated purpose is to diversify economic growth and create 100,000 entrepreneurs by 2020.
Enterprise Sri Lanka would establish a new relationship between banks and Sri Lankans, to better serve the people. The scheme works in conjunction with all national banks: Bank of Ceylon, People’s Bank, as well as a number of private banks. Under Enterprise Sri Lanka, loans are provided through the banking system. “All Sri Lankans can access these loans,” Finance Ministry Development Finance Department Director Manjula Hettiarachchi said, “They have to pay interest rates. Most of these loans are subsidised by the government.”
Most of the schemes offer between 50 to 70 percent subsidies on interest rates. In some cases, under schemes designed for recent graduates and journalists, loans are given without interest. Sri Lanka had experienced economic growth during the last decade, characterised globally as a Middle-Income Economy, especially in the domestic sector. In 2015, the Census and Statistics Department, in onjunction with the World Bank, issued a report that the poverty rate was below 15 percent for a large part of the country.
“A majority of Divisional Secretariat divisions in the Colombo and Gampaha districts, as well as sizeable parts of the Kalutara and Polonnaruwa districts, are particularly well-off, with estimated poverty rates below five percent. In contrast, high poverty incidence concentrates in the Mannar, Mullaitivu, Batticaloa and Monegerala districts.” For the wealthiest districts in the country, the government’s Enterprise Sri Lanka loan programme is a way of expanding and stimulating further development of already-developed regions. In the poorest districts, the government is using the programme to develop under-developed areas.
In the past, the same financial programmes had not served poorer districts as they did in more developed regions. In the North and East for example, the government’s post-war reconstruction strategy focused on expanding credit and building infrastructure. With the sudden introduction of banks all over these war-affected areas, people unaccustomed and ill-equipped to strategically repay their loans, fell into deep indebtedness.Highlighting the topic, Hettiarachchi said, “Sri Lanka faces a debt crisis with microfinance, and it seen especially in the North and East. We will provide relief for people facing such issues, as well as those affected by droughts.”
One of the most meaningful aspects of Enterprise Sri Lanka, is its debt relief packages which pay off debts of up to Rs.100,000.Whether or not the relief packages go far enough in relieving debt, remains to be seen. When discussions on Enterprise Sri Lanka began sometime in 2017, the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) had its own loan programme, which specifically addressed the needs of entrepreneurs in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Since the government’s national programme came into being, however, the ONUR’s loan scheme was dissolved. If Enterprise Sri Lanka is to be successful in the North and East, it would have to provide what the ONUR loan scheme did and more.
ONUR Deputy Directors Somasiri Ekanayake and Suduth Jayasinghe said that the ONUR’s mandate under Enterprise Sri Lanka, is to act as a coordinating body between the government and district officials. Jayasinghe said, “Enterprise Sri Lanka is accessible. There is a debt trap, and people are waiting for their guarantees by the government.”
Jayasinghe and Ekayanake highlighted how Enterprise Sri Lanka works in conjunction withGamperaliya, to provide basic infrastructure for people to succeed. According to Ekanayake,Gamperaliya, theoretically, would address basic requirements of young entrepreneurs attempting to run businesses, such as functioning roads and water tanks.Addressing the issue of loans in the North and East, Ekanayake said, “The critical problem is not an accounting one, but attaining two guarantees from government officers.”
In order for entrepreneurs to receive these loans, they need to have assurances from government officials that they are equipped to manage it. Under the ONUR loan scheme, those regulations were relaxed so all that was required of an applicant was submitting the support of two or three other bank account holders, such as other entrepreneurs from their village. It fostered a spirit of cooperative community development, at least in the process of receiving loans. But ONUR officials were unsure whether or not their recommendation had made it into the final draft of Enterprise Sri Lanka.
“We highlighted this requirement during meetings. It is a barrier for the development of the Northern and Eastern provinces. We stressed the provision of concessional loans,” Ekanayake added. The Jaffna District Secretariat Deputy Director said, “Enterprise Sri Lanka is accessible to everyone…I feel that it will be helpful for the people in the Jaffna district.” He was not alone; the Mullaitivu District Secretariat Director of Planning said, “It is a good scheme…Entrepreneurs willing to expand their business will benefit from this programme.”
If Enterprise Sri Lanka succeeds, it may help alleviate economic stagnation in years to come. When Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera announced Enterprise Sri Lanka on May 31, he said, “Prior to 2015, government revenue dropped for decades and reached one of the lowest in the world. Debt servicing exceeded the total government revenue. The effects of previous debts will be felt more in future. More than 75 percent of government debt servicing during 2019 and 2022, will be due to the maturing or bunching of debt obtained prior to 2015.”
If the Finance Minister’s economic forecast is correct, stimulating domestic investment through loan schemes such as Enterprise Sri Lanka is important now more than ever. The government assesses that it would create jobs and propel innovation that would have a multiplicative effect on the expansion of the economy.
Three years is not a long period in the history of a nation with a proud record of a 25 centuries old civilization. However, it is a fairly significant segment of Sri Lanka’s post independent era of seven decades. The last three year period of our country is best known for good governance, which is a widely used term for proper exercise of authority in managing the resources of a country committed to basic principles of democracy. The good governance is all about making sure that this exercise of power helps improve quality of life enjoyed by all citizens.
The good governance verdict of the people, given on January 8, 2015 and endorsed exactly three years on August 17, 2015 was considered at that time as the most important requirement of the nation as the then government was not providing the quality of life that you think you and your fellow citizens deserve.
The key components of good governance are accountability, effectiveness and fair and equitable justice. Any democratically elected government should be accountable to the people. All citizens should be able to keep track of whether governments followed through its promises made during elections, where the money is coming from, where it goes, who is responsible for carrying out the government functions and last but not the least, is this information available to public.
Another key aspect is to see, if the government delivering services such as education, and health care to citizens in accordance with the needs and if the collecting of revenues is conducted honestly, investing those resources wisely and managing public properties for the benefit of all.
The citizens expect from a government of good governance to be truthful and trustworthy.The government should act in a way so that the people could trust the government, its institutions and the individuals who run them. They have to be fair, reliable, stable, accountable, free of corruption and build trust between citizens and the government.
Restoration of democracy and strengthening of democratic institutions is the most important achievement of the government since 2015. With the establishment of Constitution Council and all the required Commissions, the Government has largely succeeded in restoring public confidence in state institutions including the judiciary and the police. This was concluded during the first 100 days of the government by enacting the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which was one of the key election pledges. It set Presidential term limits, pruned certain powers of the Executive Presidency and transferred them to Parliament and restored the independence of government institutions. The government delivered on its core promises.
Delivering the promise on accountability, the Right to Information Act was adopted to ensure transparency of the government. The government has gone a long way in fulfilling the promise on national reconciliation. Release of large segment of military occupied land in the North and East and the establishment of Office of Missing Persons are two such major steps.
One of the allegations against the government in the first three years was that the development benefits were slow to reach the people. However, that accusation is not much heard now as the major development activities have started to produce results. The Grama Shakthi village empowerment movement unleashed by President Maithripala Sirisena has yielded much benefits to the people at grass-roots level. The Public-Private Sectors and the People (PPP) involvement at village level small cottage industries have brought much benefits to the people with buy-back arrangements with major private companies. Recently the Grama Shakthi project received a boost from the complimentary ‘Gamperaliya’ programme initiated by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to develop villages.
The homeless in the North and East have vastly benefited from the 50,000 houses distributed in those two provinces. The government has also pledged to establish 2,500 Uda Gammana villages by 2020 to address the housing needs of the people and the results so far show it is well on course to achieve it.
One of the significant milestones of long term development activity was the construction of the biggest reservoir of multipurpose Mahaweli Project at Moragahakanda – Kalu Ganga to irrigate parched dry lands in faraway Vanni in the Northern Province on one side and Rajarata, Wayamba, Central and Eastern Provinces on the other as well as to generate hydropower.
It is no easy task to sustain a unity government of two major political parties, who were at each others’ throats for over six decades. Considering the non-cooperative political culture penetrated deeply into the activists of political parties, it is almost a miracle to function together for a period of over three years. President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe deserve the credit for bringing the two parties together and maintaining that unity despite differences of policies and principles.
There were serious differences on major economic policy planning and the two leaders managed to keep the rocking boat of Yahapalanaya steady in these troubled waters. The efforts as well as the magnanimity displaced by the two leaders regarding reestablishment of an economic policy making body last year is highly praiseworthy.
Overall, the three years of Yahapalanaya government was not a bed of roses. However it has succeeded in overcoming massive challenges and taking strides in stabilizing the economy and ushering in steady development that would bring beneficial returns to the people.
What is equally important is for President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe to build on the firm foundation laid during the last three years to show solid results during the next two years before facing the people’s mandate once again.
The Government of National Unity reached its third year mark last week, with a mixed scorecard. But where it has show unambiguous progress and real political will these past three years, has been in the realm of democratic reform, one of the keystones of the January 8, 2015 platform that propelled President Maithripala Sirisena and subsequently Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to power three years ago.
The Government’s singular achievement in this respect came only months into its term, with the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. The 19A, as it is called, repealed the draconian 18th Amendment which removed a two term limit on the presidency and brought previously independent commissions under the jackboot of the executive, was probably one of the most progressive pieces of legislation passed in the history of the republic. In addition to slashing the powers of the Presidency and the de-politicisation of state institutions, which was a central pledge of President Sirisena’s election campaign in January 2015, the 19A enshrined the Right to Information as a fundamental right in Sri Lanka’s constitution. The amendment restored independence to major commissions including the National Police Commission, the Human Rights Commission, the Bribery Commission, Elections Commission and the Public Service Commission after their long winter of being rubber-stamping authorities or appendages to an all powerful executive, especially during the tenure of the former Rajapaksa regime.
Independent Commissions were first introduced through the 17th amendment to the constitution in 2001 to reduce unfettered executive discretion in respect of the functioning of these bodies in the public sector.One year after the passage of the 19A, the Government made another historic move to enact the Right to Information Act with the objective of making people more accessible to information that may affect them in some way and in a step towards democratisation and reducing corruption.
“Whereas the Constitution guarantees the right of access to information in Article 14A thereof and there exists a need to foster a culture of transparency and accountability in public authorities by giving effect to the right of access to information and thereby promote a society in which the people of Sri Lanka would be able to more fully participate in public life through combating corruption and promoting accountability and good governance,” the preamble of the RTI act says.
Speaking of the successful application of the Right to Information Act and how it has impacted the rights of the people attorney at law, Kishali Pinto- Jayawardena who is a commissioner at the RTI Commission told the Sunday Observer that the thrust of this legislation had always been to privilege people.“The basis for this is that the state is far more powerful. When structuring the RTI all along the objective was to privilege the citizens make it as easy as possible for citizens to get information,” she said.Transparency International Sri Lanka calculates that the RTI commission has had a 90 percent success rate.
However, further calling for systemic protection for the independent Commissions legal expert and Commissioner Kishali Pinto Jayawardene went on to state that it has become evident that the success of these commissions is more dependent on the individuals who drive it, which should not be the case.“This means consequentially once the individual leaves the body collapses. This systemic protection is not given to the commissions even from 2015,” she said.There is also the need to ensure that the commissions are given sufficient financial independence. A sufficient financial resource is paramount. In fact most of the commissions have complained about this.
The Bribery Commission has also been unfettered and enjoyed the fruits of independence, as it cracks down indiscriminately on corruption within the state sector. Earlier this year, the Commission bagged a prize catch, when it apprehended the Chief of Staff to President Sirisena in the act of obtaining a bribe amounting to Rs. 20 million. Commission officials said they had been able to carry out their investigation and sting operation without fear or fervor, and with no interference from the highest levels.
Another legislative victory that the government bagged within the three years is the passing of the Office of Missing Persons Act, with a lot of drama and unfounded opposition.The Office of Missing Persons has had successful discussions around the country especially based in the south and the north. It will be issuing its first interim report by August 30.
In its efforts of reconciliation the government has been steadily and in a meaningful way is reducing the military footprint in the North. In keeping with the government’s pledge according to Army statistics the it has released over 80 percent of the lands that were under the military control including over 90% of the private land in Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya, Mannar, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara, which were given back to the original owners.
Exactly three years ago to this date the people of Sri Lanka decided to reaffirm their commitment to democracy by giving a mandate for the formation of a National Unity Government based on the principles of Good Governance.This marked a turning point in the country’s history as the two main parties – the UNP and the SLFP - opted to govern together for the first time. Two statesmen deserve the credit for this unprecedented transformation – President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
The National Unity Government has many achievements to its credit, but the main achievement is ending the atmosphere of fear and suspicion.The Government has ensured the freedom of expression, media freedom and the right to live without fear. One of the salient features of good governance was that President Sirisena as pledged in his political manifesto took measures to prune down the powers of the Executive Presidency while the enactment of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution helped re-establish independent commissions which function outside the influence of the Executive and handle key areas of governance like elections, public service, Police, judiciary and others. In addition, the Government fulfilling yet another long felt overdue appointed members to the Constitutional Council. However, as much remains to be done, the incumbent Government which assumed office in August 17, 2015 has taken several praiseworthy initiatives to ensure good governance in the country.
President Sirisena contested for the presidency in January ‘15 elections which would bring political stability to the country and embark on a much-needed reconciliation process among political and ethnic groups. The Government has already achieved remarkable progress when it comes to freedom and good governance. Under the National Unity Government, Sri Lanka has improved many places in the world media freedom index and it was a clear testimony of the democratic space enjoyed by citizens at large. The Government has shown that it is willing to listen to the citizens’ collective on controversial matters. The Government had adopted a tough stance on corruption – a Presidential probe was conducted into the Bond issue while another Presidential Commission is probing SriLankan and Mihin. Special courts were recently established to expedite the hearing of pending corruption cases. An anti-graft campaign is on islandwide.
The Government during its span of three years has been able to make comprehensive constitutional reforms in the country. The enactment of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and Right to Information Bill have facilitated to make significant changes within the country's socio, economic and political fabric.The Parliament adopted the 19th Amendment to the Constitution on April 2015 by two-thirds majority. With the enactment of 19th amendment, the powers of the Executive President were reduced and the task of making key Government appointments was entrusted upon the Constitutional Council. The 19th Amendment ensured an independent judiciary. Under the 19th Amendment, the President cannot dissolve Parliament by using his power. It brought a two-term limit for a President.
The new political culture also created an environment conducive for the journalists to perform their duties in a free and fair manner. State-orchestrated attacks on journalists and white van abductions have come to an end and the journalists have been provided with the opportunity to engage in a balanced media reporting. No journalist has been subjected to harassment since January 2015. This is bolstered by the Right to Information laws that foster a culture of transparency and accountability in public authorities by giving effect to the right of access to information and thereby promoting a society in which the people would be able to more fully participate in public life through combating corruption and promoting accountability and good governance.
The Government has also embarked a massive development drive during the last three years. The government had very rightly decided to continue with the Colombo Port City programme with a new favour as a financial hub. The Hambantota Port and Airport will be developed with overseas assistance. Colombo and the suburbs will soon be connected by a Light Rail Transit (LRT) project under the Megapolis programme. The Central Expressway linking Colombo, Kandy and later Dambulla is nearly complete. The biggest Mahaweli project, the twin Moragahakanda-Kaluganga project was recently commissioned by the President. The Government’s new Grama Shakthi and Gam Peraliya programmes will herald in a rural transformation.
The Government is on track to achieve ethno-religious reconciliation. The minority ethnic groups enjoy freedom compared to the situation under the previous Government when extreme nationalist forces threatened the multi ethnic and multi religious character of our society. There is also an improvement in the field of democratic atmosphere of the country.
The National Unity Government that came to power on January 8, 2015 has taken a genuine interest in achieving reconciliation among all communities and religious groups in the country. Both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have been personally committed to fostering reconciliation among all communities from day one. Both of them have visited the North several times, meeting the ordinary people and solving their problems.
In fact, this Government has taken upon itself the task of implementing most of the LLRC recommendations which were either neglected or ignored by the previous one.Its commitment to reconciliation and lasting peace has never been in doubt. Unity among different communities will be one of the main planks of the new Constitution which is slowly but surely taking shape with the participation of all Members of Parliament and other stakeholders.The Government has allocated vast resources for health and education. In the health sector, the prices of many medicines were reduced, cancer patients get treatment for life, stents and cataract lenses were reduced in price and more facilities were given to all hospitals.
There has also been a dramatic decline in tobacco consumption in the last three years. The Government is allocating more resources to the education sector and there is a programme to provide tabs to senior students. The Government has also done a lot for the country’s labour force and targets one million jobs for the youth, which is likely to end the problem of unemployment.The Government also ended the country’s international isolation, gaining victories at the UN Human Rights Council and fostering good relations with all friendly countries.
The Government is not flawless and there have been disagreements among the two ruling parties from time to time. It is still a new experience for the country, but we must admire the commitment of the President, the Prime Minister and many others who have been unwavering in taking the National Unity Government forward. Politics has often been described as the bane of national growth and development – hence we should strive to continue this political unity for the sake of the nation.