Focus/Spotlight

Government grapples with infighting and fuel prices 

  • President to meet MPs tomorrow as SLPP G-10 leaders spar with Basil faction 

  • SJB no-faith motion focuses on Gammanpila, ignores collective responsibility 

  • President to make way for Namal as he’s set to ‘inherit’ Viyathmaga 

  • India refocuses on 13th Amendment while GSP+ hangs by a thread 

 

While pressure continues to mount on the Government led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa from all possible sides, the worst of it is now the explosion of the cold war that had been brewing for several months between several factions of the governing Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) alliance. 

The recent increase in local fuel prices ranging between Rs. 7 and Rs. 23 per litre that was carried out after 21 months, brought to the surface the internal battle between several SLPP alliance partners and the faction loyal to SLPP National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa. 

Soon after the announcement of the fuel price hikes, SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam, issuing a statement on a party letterhead with Party Leader Prime Minister Rajapaksa’s picture, called on the Energy Minister to take responsibility for the fuel price hikes and demanded that he steps down from his post. 

He stated that the party had a reasonable doubt over whether such decisions were made on purpose to discredit the SLPP and its leaders, adding that the Government had to face this critical situation, as the subject Minister had failed to take correct decisions at the right time. 

According to Kariyawasam, the SLPP was of the opinion that people who were badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic should not be further burdened by increasing fuel prices, and the situation therefore needed to be changed. 

This statement disturbed a hornet’s nest with even senior government ministers first questioning the authenticity of the statement. After receiving confirmation that the statement was indeed issued by Kariyawasam, the next question was on whose authority the SLPP General Secretary had issued such a statement. The party’s decision-making bodies had not been privy to the fact that such a release was to be made public.

It was later learnt that Kariyawasam’s statement was an action initiated following a Zoom discussion that was held at the SLPP head office in Nelum Mawatha after the announcement of the fuel price hikes.

However, Kariyawasam’s statement gathered heavy criticism from senior ministers of the Government. 

It is learnt that Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardana and Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage, who are also members of the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Cost of Living, along with several other ministers, have contacted Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila and expressed their displeasure at the statement and had offered their support.

The Group of 10 (G-10) SLPP alliance parties led by National Freedom Front (NFF) Leader Minister Wimal Weerawansa, Gammanpila, and several others, believed that Kariyawasam’s statement was released with Basil’s blessings. 

Some of the senior ministers who had contacted Gammanpila had even criticised Basil’s alleged role in getting Kariyawasam to issue such a statement. 

A fuel price increase is in fact an increase in the tax currently levied by the Government on a litre of fuel, and interestingly enough, the subject of taxation falls under the purview of Prime Minister Rajapaksa in his capacity as the Minister of Finance. 

It is learnt that when it was finally decided that Gammanpila should announce the price hikes, he had stated: “I will have to bear the brunt of this.”  

It was evident that all members of the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Cost of Living knew very well the fallout of the price hikes amidst a third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

However, other ministers who had attended the meeting including Minister Namal Rajapaksa had assured Gammanpila that it was a collective decision reached through consensus and was not therefore the sole responsibility of the Energy Minister. 

Following Kariyawasam’s statement, senior government ministers had requested Prime Minister Rajapaksa, who is also the SLPP Leader, to seriously consider the repercussions of the General Secretary’s actions as well as the source of the high powers wielded by him. 

Pressure also started to mount on Kariyawasam from a majority of the SLPP members including ministers to withdraw the statement. 

However, Kariyawasam, addressing the media last Wednesday (16), dismissed reports of the SLPP facing any internal issues following his statement and added that both he and the party continue to stand by its contents. 

“We are a party that came to power with the help of the people. When such decisions are taken that deliberately make the people more helpless, we will take a stand against it,” Kariyawasam had told the media. 

When reporters had questioned whether there are any secret discussions going on between some members of the party, Kariyawasam had denied such discussions. 

“We have always been transparent with the public and we will continue to do so while acting in the citizens’ favour,” he had added. 

 

Basil loyalists 

It is in this backdrop that several governing party members loyal to Basil made public statements noting that Basil would never have allowed the fuel price hike had he been involved in the decision-making process. 

The first to make a public statement was State Minister Nimal Lanza, who claimed that Basil would not have allowed the fuel price increase if he was in the country. 

“This is not the time to increase fuel prices. If Basil Rajapaksa was there in the country, he would not have allowed increasing fuel prices. He was sure to intervene in this matter. We request the Energy Minister to mediate in reducing fuel prices. We do not mind whoever the Energy Minister is. People are helpless,” he had been quoted as saying. 

State Minister Dr. Sudharshini Fernandopulle had also sided with Basil last week. 

Several other Basil loyalists in the Government have also made similar statements during the week. 

However, members of the Opposition hit back at these statements questioning how Basil would have prevented the price hike since he was not a minister or even a parliamentarian and didn’t even hold a binding official position on the matter. 

Furthermore, several Opposition members have also charged that Basil cannot feign innocence on the issue of fuel price hikes since he has been stated to be engaged in decision-making work of the Government via Zoom while in the US as well as the fact that approval for the hikes were given by his two brothers, President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Rajapaksa. 

Meanwhile, a group of backbench MPs of the SLPP had met last week to discuss the crisis over the fuel price hikes as well as the actions of the G-10 SLPP alliance parties. The group that consists around 23 backbenchers has discussed for hours the strategy to be adopted to strike against the G-10 leaders. 

According to several government sources, the actions of Kariyawasam and the Basil loyalists seem to be the enactment of a drama scripted by Basil. These government members believe that Basil and his loyalists want to build a state of chaos in the country that would eventually result in calls for Basil to return to the fold and clear the path for him to emerge as the saviour of the nation. 

 

Prez to meet MPs 

Since the internal clashes intensified, the President has remained the silent peacekeeper, trying to ensure that there will not be further public damage caused by the whole saga. 

However, the President has decided to address the governing party parliamentary group this week by calling for the convening of the parliamentary group meeting at the President’s official residence. The meeting was initially scheduled to be held at the Presidential Secretariat. SLPP MPs have now been asked to attend the meeting at the President’s House at 6 p.m. tomorrow (21). 

President Rajapaksa did not attend last week’s cabinet meeting and the issue of increased fuel prices was also not taken up for discussion during the meeting despite much speculation that the issue would dominate the meeting. 

 

No stabilisation fund

The recent price hikes resulted in many questions being posed towards the Government, and key among them was the fate of the Fuel Price Stabilisation Fund that was reportedly set up in April 2020 to ensure that local retail fuel prices remain unaffected by global oil price fluctuations. 

Top sources at the Ministry of Energy have been quoted as telling The Morning that the said fund, which had accumulated between Rs. 18 and Rs. 20 billion at one point, is currently empty.  

The fund had been used to settle outstanding payments owed by the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) to the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the relevant amount had been used by the CPC to settle a loan due to the Bank of Ceylon (BoC) and People’s Bank. 

“Due to these loan repayments, the expected objectives of setting up the fund could not be achieved,” ministry sources have been quoted as saying. 

It is in this backdrop that Gammanpila had explained that the said fund was with the Finance Ministry and never with the Energy Ministry. He further noted that a cabinet paper presented by him to set up a price stabilisation fund is yet to receive cabinet approval. 

With the Central Bank of Sri Lanka pointing to the country’s depleting foreign reserves and ensuing economic issues including pressure on the rupee, the Government, it seems, had no way out but to increase the fuel prices. 

 

Gammanpila strikes back 

The day after Kariyawasam issued his statement, Gammanpila decided to convene a “tell all” media briefing at his Ministry last Sunday (13) at 2 p.m. He said the increase of fuel prices was a collective decision by the President, Prime Minister, and the entire Government.  

“A fuel price revision is determined by the global prices and the exchange, and not by the Energy Minister,” Gammanpila said.  

He explained that from November 2020, in tandem with a spike in global prices, as the Energy Minister, he was involved in negotiations to reduce taxes and levies on local fuel thrice.  

“It was only after the Treasury was unable to further reduce that I, as Energy Minister, in February updated the Cabinet on the impending crisis and issues faced by the CPC. Thereafter, the matter was assigned to the Cabinet Sub-Committee comprising Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa,” Gammanpila explained.  

Members of the Sub-Committee include Ministers Douglas Devananda, Wimal Weerawansa, Dullas Alahapperuma, Prasanna Ranatunga, and Rohitha Abeygunawardena in addition to the Energy Minister.  

“After three rounds of meetings, it was decided to revise fuel prices, and I was entrusted to recommend the same to the President. Thereafter, several more discussions were held, and in May, it was decided to refer the matter to the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Cost of Living, chaired by the Prime Minister,” he further explained.  

At the Cost of Living Committee’s meeting on 9 June, it was decided to revise prices. “The President was also present at this meeting,” Gammanpila said, adding that Trade Minister Gunawardana, Agriculture Minister Aluthgamage, Power Minister Alahapperuma, Youth and Sports Affairs Minister Rajapaksa, State Minister of Money and Capital Market and Public Enterprise Reform Ajith Nivard Cabraal, and State Minister of Consumer Affairs Lasantha Alagiyawanna were also present at the meeting. 

“This meeting also discussed alternative ways to cushion the fuel price hike’s impact on the cost of living. On 10 June, the Prime Minister, as Finance Minister, agreed in writing to revise fuel prices. It was after this that I, as Energy Minister, announced the decision by the President, Prime Minister, and Government to increase fuel prices,” Gammanpila claimed.  

He further noted that the press conference where the fuel price hikes were announced was also attended by Cabraal as the Finance Minister’s representative. 

According to Gammanpila, he had volunteered to make the announcement, as it would have placed the President and Prime Minister in a difficult spot had they been called to make the statement. 

“If you look at past instances when fuel prices were increased, it has always been the Finance Minister who has made the announcement. Since the Prime Minister is the Finance Minister, and understanding the difficulty he would face in making this announcement at the present time, I volunteered to make the statement and Cabraal sat with me as the Finance Minister’s representative,” Gammanpila added. 

He then went on to call for the resignation of the ruling party’s General Secretary, saying given how the entire saga had unfolded, he (Gammanpila) was not in the wrong and hence it was Kariyawasam who had to tender his resignation. 

He also challenged Kariyawasam for an open debate on the price hikes issue.  

 

President justifies 

A few hours after Gammanpila’s press conference, the President’s Media Division (PMD) issued a statement under the President’s name, justifying the fuel price hike, stating that the move was warranted and that it would also help achieve other beneficial broader socio-economic goals. 

The statement noted that the price increase was only one key factor in a common strategy that is required to strengthen the local economy.

“It aims to strengthen the country’s banking system, maintain low interest rates, reduce foreign exchange spending, and strengthen the exchange rate. Furthermore, it is a decision taken to safeguard the health and welfare of the people and to transform the import-dependent consumer economy into an investment and consumer economy dependent on domestic production,” the statement noted.  

The statement further noted that the Cost of Living Committee, chaired by the President and convened with the participation of the Prime Minister and ministers in charge of key subjects, focused on a number of main reasons for the need to increase fuel prices. 

The President’s statement also pointed out that one of the main reasons for the local fuel price hike was the continuous rise in global crude oil prices over the past few months. At present, the price of a barrel of crude oil is over $ 70, and market trends indicate that it will continue to rise. 

The President’s statement added that Sri Lanka has become a country that not only spends a large amount of foreign exchange on fuel imports, but also a country where its transport services, power generation, and the function of some of the factories are based on these imports. 

 

Meeting at Wimal’s 

Meanwhile, the G-10 leaders of the SLPP alliance met at Weerawansa’s residence last Sunday morning to discuss the attack on one of its leaders – Gammanpila – by the Basil faction in the alliance. 

The meeting was attended by MPs Weerawansa, Gammanpila, Tiran Alles, Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, and Dr. Weerasinghe. Members of the Cost of Living Committee, Aluthgamage and Gunawardana had also attended the meeting. 

All participants at the meeting had agreed that they would continue to support Gammanpila since the decision to increase fuel prices was a collective one and not a decision reached by Gammanpila alone. 

The party leaders had also discussed the need to issue a statement condemning the one issued by Kariyawasam targeting Gammanpila. 

The meeting had concluded after reaching a decision to propose to the Government to provide some form of relief to the communities most affected by the fuel price hike. 

Accordingly, the SLPP alliance leaders issued a joint statement signed by eight alliance partners, pointing out that Kariyawasam was trying to hold Gammanpila solely responsible for the price hikes despite it being a government decision taken with the participation of President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Rajapaksa. 

The statement was signed by Nanayakkara of the Democratic Left Front, Weerawansa of the NFF, MP Ven. Rathana Thera of Our Power of People’s Party, MP A.L.M. Athaullaha of the National Congress, MP Prof. Tissa Vitarana of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), MP W. Weerasinghe of the Communist Party, MP Alles of the Eksath Mahajana Party, and MP Asanka Navaratne of the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party. 

The statement noted that the Government and the people were in the grip of a crisis triggered by the pandemic and in such a context, any government would be compelled to take some unpopular decisions and in this instance, the fuel price hike was one of them. 

The statement also emphasised the need to provide redress to the low-income groups under these circumstances and the party leaders stated that they unequivocally condemned the move to blame the price revision on the subject minister. 

They added that the SLPP General Secretary had created doubts in the minds of people about factionalism of the Government by releasing such a statement. 

 

President calls for ceasefire 

However, with the intervention of the President, what seems like a temporary ceasefire has been brought about. 

As a first step, the press conference that was to be convened last Monday by Kariyawasam to respond to Gammanpila’s charges was called off. 

The press conference was to be chaired by Kariyawasam. 

The President had explained to the fighting factions the need to stand united at a time when the country was faced with many challenges. 

However, while the G-10 leaders and the Basil faction stopped personal attacks on one another, both groups continue to stand their respective grounds.  

 

No-confidence motion 

Meanwhile, the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) on Friday (18) handed over a no-confidence motion against Gammanpila to Parliament. 

The no-confidence motion by the SJB is based on 10 points pertaining to the recent decision to increase fuel prices.  

It is, however, interesting that the SJB has decided to target the subject minister, Gammanpila, for a collective decision of the Government. 

The no-confidence motion was signed by SJB MPs at the Opposition Leader’s office last Wednesday. 

According to the no-confidence motion, although the Government had promised to grant the people the benefit of the decline in global oil prices through essential commodities, the people have not received such a benefit.  

It had noted that Gammanpila had failed to fulfil his promise to the people not to increase fuel prices for two years due to the reduction of oil prices in the world market and that Gammanpila had not informed Parliament of what became of the Fuel Price Stabilisation Fund established in the wake of the reduction in world oil prices.  

The SJB had further noted that the Minister had also failed to fulfil the promise made to repay the loans of the CPC that are due to the state banks by utilising the profits made through the drop in the world oil prices.  

According to the no-confidence motion, the people would be rendered further helpless in the context of the current Covid-19 pandemic situation, as prices of all essential commodities will see an increase due to the fuel price hikes. 

However, Gammanpila had dismissed the move saying that he had received a copy of the no-confidence motion soon after the SJB MPs started to sign it and therefore, it was more of a no-faith motion by the Opposition. 

 

Namal to run Viyathmaga 

Meanwhile, the Viyathmaga professionals’ forum headed by President Rajapaksa, which played a key role in the 2019 presidential election campaign of the President, has been handed over to Youth and Sports Affairs Minister Namal Rajapaksa. 

It is learnt that President Rajapaksa has informed the Viyathmaga Executive Committee of his desire to hand over the reins to his nephew, Namal. 

However, several senior members of Viyathmaga had explained to the President that it was not the wisest move to announce the transferring of power of the Viyathamaga chair to Namal. They have proposed that President Rajapaksa continue to remain as the leader of the forum, at least in name, while Namal will engage in the running of the organisation. 

There are 32 members in the Viyathmaga Executive Committee. A group of 12 members of the Viyathmaga Executive Committee had met the previous week at the organisation’s headquarters to discuss the handing over of power to Namal. 

A prominent figure of the Viyathmaga organisation, State Minister Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, was a notable absentee at the decisive meeting. 

It was finally decided that Namal would henceforth run the organisation while the President would remain as the figurehead leader. 

Viyathmaga General Secretary Anura Fernando is to remain in his post at present.  

A majority of the members have opined that the transition should be kept under wraps for the time being and should be carried out smoothly to avoid any unwanted issues. 

However, Fernando had informed Namal that he would remain as the General Secretary until Namal is settled in as the head of the organisation. Fernando had asked Namal to inform him when he was prepared to appoint a new general secretary and he would gladly move out. 

 

India focuses on 13A 

While the Government is engaged in internal battles, pressure continues to mount from the international community on several fronts. 

It is in this backdrop that India has once again focused on several key issues related to the country’s reconciliation including power devolution and the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (13A). 

These matters among others were taken up for discussion when a five-member Tamil National Alliance (TNA) delegation led by R. Sampanthan, called on India’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Gopal Baglay at India House on Thursday (17).

The High Commission’s official Twitter handle stated that the prescheduled meeting saw discussions on the development of the North and East of Sri Lanka and improving connectivity between the two countries in the post-Covid period. 

The tweets further stated that the High Commissioner had stressed India’s longstanding commitment towards creating social infrastructure such as housing in Sri Lanka, that enabled all Sri Lankans including the people from the Northern and Eastern Provinces to enjoy the fruits of peace.  

The High Commissioner had reiterated Indian support for rehabilitation and development in areas such as connectivity, health, and education.  

According to the Indian High Commission’s social media posts, various aspects of devolution and developmental aspirations of the people from the North and East were also discussed and the TNA delegation apprised the High Commissioner on progress regarding provincial council elections which constitutes an integral part of Sri Lankan polity and the Constitution.  

The High Commissioner had also reiterated India’s support for devolution within the framework of a united Sri Lanka on the basis of the full implementation of the 13A, which would be in line with Tamil aspirations for equality, justice, peace, and reconciliation, which would further strengthen Sri Lanka. 

Ilangai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) Leader Mavai Senathirajah and TNA MPs Dharmalingam Sithadthan, Selvam Adaikkalanathan, and M.A. Sumanthiran were present during the meeting while the High Commissioner was assisted by Deputy High Commissioner Vinod K. Jacob and Political Counsellor Banu Prakash.  

It is in this backdrop that The Print had stated, quoting multiple sources, that India is looking at a “recalibration” of its bilateral ties with Sri Lanka as China is gaining massive inroads in the Indian Ocean island nation.   

According to the report, New Delhi, which aimed at resetting bilateral ties with Colombo following the return of the Rajapaksa regime, now believes that Sri Lanka has taken a firm decision on “completely aligning” with China, even if that means doing away with the balancing act with India, sources have said. 

According to one source, with the Colombo Port City coming up and coupled with what happened in the Hambantota Port (where there is speculation that Colombo is looking to extend the 99-year lease to Beijing), Sri Lanka has now “completely come under China’s control” and this will pose a challenge for all future governments there while posing a security threat to India. 

“Ties between India and Sri Lanka began plummeting in February when Colombo scrapped the strategically important East Container Terminal (ECT) at Colombo Port, which was a tripartite pact with Japan. It instead offered India the West Container Terminal (WCT) as a private deal unlike the previous government-to-government agreement.  

“It is now clear that the initial bonhomie between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Rajapaksa brothers – President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa – and Sri Lanka’s adherence to an ‘India-first’ policy are now ‘fast fading away’, said another source. This has happened because Beijing has ‘worked towards’ drifting the island nation away from India so that it can maintain its presence in the Indian Ocean region as the Indo-Pacific strategic construct takes shape, sources said,” The Print had noted.  

The news report had further stated that India is now planning to put greater focus on pushing ahead with the decades-old Sri Lankan Tamil cause by way of making the Rajapaksa Government implement the 13A, which is aimed at facilitating the reconciliation of the Tamil minority by giving them greater representation, the sources quoted above had said.

The issue had been raised by India with the Rajapaksa brothers several times since they came to power in 2019.  

The report had further stated that Modi had raised this issue with Gotabaya Rajapaksa as well as with Mahinda Rajapaksa during a virtual summit meeting last year.

Even at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) meeting in Geneva in February, India had stressed on Sri Lanka implementing the 13A.  

Veteran diplomat and former Indian Envoy to Sri Lanka Gurjit Singh had expressed belief that there is “not much resonance left between what we want from Sri Lanka and what they can give us”.  

“The Rajapaksas and the Chinese are really thick. They are trying to reduce our leverage. Their behaviour has become quite provocative,” Singh had told The Print. “The Chinese saw that we won back Bangladesh, we won back the Maldives, so they wanted to take away one more friendly neighbour from us and Sri Lanka came easy.

“As far as the Tamil issue is concerned, it is futile to even think that they will accommodate their cause. The provincial councils are now allowed to languish,” he had added.  

On the Colombo Port City issue, Singh had stressed that the common citizens of Sri Lanka are “not quite content” with the project backed by China.  

“They all believe that this is an outcome of some sort of a deal being worked out between the Chinese and the Rajapaksa brothers. This is the reason why there is not much transparency about this new Port City,” he had been quoted as saying. “They have created an administrative board for the Port City but have kept it out of the reach of the Colombo Municipal Council.”  

 

GSP+ concerns 

Meanwhile, the European Union’s (EU’s) Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) trade concessions enjoyed by Sri Lanka is under the spotlight following the recent resolution adopted by the EU Parliament underlying the deteriorating rights issues in the country and the need to review the GSP+ concessions. 

However, the main Opposition SJB last week expressed its readiness to support the Government in amending the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and thereby saving the GSP+ concessions from the EU.  

“We have decided after seeing the Sri Lanka Law Commission’s draft on protecting National Security, which is concise and effective, that could be a starting point (for reforms); and in Parliament, we will support the Government in taking this discourse forward,” SJB MP Eran Wickramaratne told the media. 

According to Wickramaratne, the SJB was of the view that a robust and effective national security framework can be developed without compromising human rights and democracy.   

He had further noted that the shrinking democratic space, deteriorating human rights situation, and the failure to repeal the PTA in the country had spurred the EU parliamentary resolution.  

The resolution has called on the EU Commission to “carefully assess whether there is sufficient reason, as a last resort, to initiate a procedure for the temporary withdrawal of Sri Lanka’s GSP+ status and to report to Parliament on this matter as soon as possible.” 

“Out of the 705 members in the European Parliament, 648 members voted for a resolution, I would say, against Sri Lanka. That is 90% of the members,” Wickramaratne had said, adding that it is a big blow to the Government. 

“The garments industry and fisheries industry were direct beneficiaries of the GSP+ concessions. The ceramics and rubber industries also benefited,” Wickramaratne had noted. 

It is important to note that both the EU and the US are Sri Lanka’s main export markets.  

Meanwhile, United National Party (UNP) Leader and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had noted that Sri Lanka is facing the grave risk of the rupee hitting 300 against the US dollar if the GSP+ tax concession is revoked at a time when only the tea and garment industries are able to earn foreign exchange for the country. 

“Our tourism industry is at risk at this time due to the Covid-19 pandemic. With the sinking of the X-Press Pearl, issues have arisen for our fishing industry as well. The number of people going abroad for employment has decreased. Therefore, our foreign exchange has fallen. 

“In such a case, we are reliant on the GSP+. If this tax relief is lost, the rupee will depreciate further and we will have to pay around Rs. 300 per dollar. It will also lead to the loss of thousands of jobs. 

“In the face of the danger that has arisen, the GSP+ must not be politicised. The Government should take immediate action to protect the concession. Do not add any more weight to the heavy economic burden that the people are carrying. I urge the Government not to destroy the country,” Wickremesinghe had noted. 

Meanwhile, the Export Development Board (EDB) had also expressed concern on the EU Parliament’s resolution that has placed the GSP+ trade concession in the balance. 

 

Government responds 

In response to the adoption of a resolution on Sri Lanka in the European Parliament on 10 June 2021, the Foreign Ministry had expressed that the said resolution contains factual inaccuracies, and does not take cognisance of the multifaceted progress made by Sri Lanka in reconciliation and development. 

Addressing concerns raised regarding the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), the Ministry had stated that it was invoked to address heinous acts of terrorism committed on Sri Lanka’s people, and recalled that the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks of 2019 resulted in significant loss of life, including of several EU nationals. 

It was also noted that the Government of Sri Lanka maintains a regular, vibrant, and cordial dialogue with the EU, covering all aspects of bilateral relations. 

“The engagement is sustained through the close and cordial dialogue maintained with the European Commission, the Council, and the Parliament by the Sri Lanka Mission in Brussels; and with the EU delegation and EU Ambassadors in Colombo by senior interlocutors of Government,” the Foreign Ministry had stated. 

As part of this process, the Ministry had noted that Sri Lanka had constructive engagement with the European Commission on the review of its EU GSP+ compliance with the 27 core international conventions. Towards this end, the Ministry had stated that the Third Cycle of Review of the EU GSP+ Monitoring Process for 2020-2021 is ongoing. 

With regard to salient points referred to in the resolution, the Ministry had submitted the following observations with a view to correction. 

“The Government has, in accordance with its constitutional mandate and international obligations, taken steps to protect the rights of all its citizens. Specific provision in terms of Article 12 (1) of Sri Lanka’s Constitution ensures that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law. Article 12 (2) of the Constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth, or any such grounds. 

“The Government is in the process of revisiting provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, in keeping with its commitments, as has been communicated to the EU. Towards this endeavour, the Government is studying existing legislation to propose necessary amendments, and will also draw on international best practices adopted by other jurisdictions. The Government rejects the claim that the PTA has been systematically used for arbitrary arrests and the detention of Muslim or other minority groups in Sri Lanka. 

“It is observed that the 20th Amendment was enacted in full compliance with the procedure set out in the Constitution with a two-thirds majority of the Members of Parliament voting in its favour. With regard to such legislation, a number of in-built safeguards relating to transparency and judicial review aimed at preventing the passage of bills that are inconsistent with the Constitution, including its Fundamental Rights chapter, have been adhered to. 

“The Government has regularly updated the Human Rights Council as well as EU interlocutors on the measures undertaken to address issues of accountability, and to achieve continued progress in reconciliation. Mechanisms in place in this regard include the Presidential Commission of Inquiry headed by a Justice of the Supreme Court; the Office of Missing Persons; the Office of Reparations, the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation; the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka; and related institutional reforms aimed at non-recurrence and other confidence building measures. With regard to sustainable development, the Inter-Ministerial Committee headed by the Prime Minister to steer SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) implementation is of significance. 

“Sri Lanka’s labour rights, including health and safety conditions, are in compliance with ILO (International Labour Organisation) standards.  Sri Lanka’s high labour standards maintained in production, have led to better quality products, and high value-added exports, as reflected in the apparel sector. The higher demand for ‘ethical’ products from Sri Lanka has led to increased production, subsequent investment, and improvement of the human capital in Sri Lanka. The EU GSP+ concessions have contributed significantly towards this process, thus benefiting the Sri Lankan economy, as well as the EU market. Similarly, the fishery sector is a notable growth sector which has benefited from EU GSP+ concessions. 

“Sri Lanka, as one of the oldest parliamentary democracies in Asia, has a longstanding vibrant democracy. The country’s robust foreign policy is based on the principles of neutrality, non-alignment, and friendship. The Government is committed to further strengthening its democratic institutions. As asserted by the Spokesperson of the sixth EU Election Observation Mission to Sri Lanka in November 2019, which comprised Members of the EU Parliament, the peaceful environment in which the election unfolded ‘confirms the stability of the (country’s) democratic institutions.’ These remarks remain valid. 

“The Covid-19 pandemic continues to have a devastating impact globally, placing drastic limitations upon the right to safety, health, economic security, and even the right to life of millions of people across the globe. Sri Lanka continues to face challenges in spite of consistent and concerted efforts by the Government to safeguard its entire population against the pandemic, and to provide equitable access to vaccines. In this backdrop, the Government appreciates the commitment of global multilateral institutions and UN agencies to uphold the economic, social, and cultural rights of all peoples, which are intrinsically linked to civil and political rights. Sri Lanka’s commitment to upholding human rights continues in tandem with its current priorities of inoculating its targeted population, providing healthcare, and economic revival,” the Foreign Ministry had stated. 

The Ministry had further highlighted that Sri Lanka should be supported in safeguarding the rights of its people, while taking cognisance of demonstrated progress on the ground and that the Government looks forward to continuing its partnership with the EU on a broad range of issues, and reassures the EU of its continued commitment to engage proactively and productively on areas of mutual interest.