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Economic and Political reforms must go hand in hand: Samantha Power

By Asiri Fernando

  • Says a transparent reforms implementation plan is important
  • Political reforms will help public accept austerity measures
  • Calls on China to corporate openly and an on comparable terms on debt restructuring

Political reforms and accountability should progress in parallel to economic reforms, visiting head of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Samantha Power said today (11).

Addressing a press conference, the Administrator of USAID, said that she had discussed with President Ranil Wickremesinghe the need for Sri Lanka to move ahead with governance and political reforms while much needed economic reforms are also carried out.

Power’s remarks came following the announcement of an additional $ 20 million in emergency assistance for Sri Lankans battling hunger and malnutrition. The additional funding came a day after the US Aid head announced that they will contribute $ 40 million to help nearly one million farmers get fertilizer before the next cultivation season begins.

“..But assistance alone will not put an end to this country’s woes. I stressed to the Sri Lankan president during my meeting with him earlier today, that political reforms and accountability must go hand in hand with the economic reforms and the economic accountability. Sri Lanka’s vibrant civil society must have the space needed to raise their voices and hold the government accountable. This is not in tension with economic stability. It is the means by which the government obtains insights into what is working and not working at grassroots level. International investor confidence will increase when the government tackles corruption and proceeds with long sought governance reforms” Power said, adding that efforts to introduce political reforms by the government may give the public the confidence they need to support tough austerity measures which will likely be introduced in the coming months.

When asked about the outcome of the meeting with the president, Power stated that the president reaffirmed the government’s stance on repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), that the civil society will have the space it needs and will ensure that authorities who breach such will be held accountable.

“I think the challenge will be full, the government has not yet been filled. It is important that both reform agenda’s move forward in parallel. The ambassador and myself were fairly detailed as to when particular milestones will be met, when particular pieces of legislation will be introduced. And what we stressed is on the importance of being transparent about that roadmap and such intentions…” Power explained, adding that governance and economic reforms will encourage supporters of Sri Lanka to inform the international community that the situation in Sri Lanka is changing for the better.

She stressed that if reforms were only limited to the economic domain, and the lack of unity between government and opposition persisted, the divisiveness would make it harder for Sri Lanka to attract investment and perpetuate the impression of instability. Power also pointed out that a transparent reforms implementation plan by the government would help increase credibility locally and overseas.

Commenting on the need for Sri Lanka to restructure its debt, Power said that while the US stands ready to support Sri Lanka as a creditor and a member of the Paris Club, it was imperative all creditors, notably China, should cooperate openly and on comparable terms with each other.

When asked about her views on the UNHRC sessions in Geneva and Sri Lanka’s commitments, Power said; “The oversight mechanism, the jurisdiction of the UN Human Rights Commission being established for Sri Lanka. I know that there is fatigue by some here (Sri Lanka) to see Sri Lanka be able to go its own way and for the United Nations role to recede, but I think it’s also very clear on the ground that the aspirations of those who survived a really difficult conflict over many years, to seek justice and even to secure basic facts and truths or to obtain knowledge of missing persons, those processes where there have been multiple attempts to generate progress, have not yielded the truths, facts and justice that so many Sri Lankans crave.”

Power added that the core group on Sri Lanka recognises that the mechanisms are most needed in Sri Lanka and there is  technical support and expert assistance that the international community can bring to bear if necessary. She called for institutions such as the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and the Office of Missing Persons to be strengthened and given the independence they need to carry out their work.

Responding to a question, Power said that the US financial assistance will be utilized under a strict compliance program via trusted partners with a grass root level presence to ensure that the aid reaches the targeted communities, and that they are not misused or misappropriated

Power, who is on a two-day official visit to Colombo met with senior government and opposition members and is said to have highlighted the need for unity in the political arena to assist Sri Lanka’s recovery efforts. She also met with farmers, growers, and civil society leaders.

“Speaking as a long-time supporter of Sri Lanka’s democracy and its economic development, I must confess I have also found it heart-breaking to be back and see a country with such dynamism and talent, a people who have endured so much, over and over again, so many blows to the economic development of this country, now confronting hardships like they have never seen before. I must say how sorry I am for the grave challenges Sri Lankan people are facing.” Power said.