It was reported that Aung San Suu Kyi, who met British Prime Minister David Cameron in London, said at a news conference in response to a question whether Cameron should attend CHOGM that he should go there and engage with all those who are involved, all the other stakeholders not just the Government.
Cameron agreed and responded that he should go there and would engage with a tough conversation with the Government of Sri Lanka about their human rights record and post conflict behaviour. Justifying his participation in the Colombo summit, he further said: “No one is going to be listening to the British Foreign Secretary and the British Prime Minister if we’re not there.”
Will CHOGM be beneficial?
There are debates going on whether CHOGM would be beneficial to the citizens of Sri Lanka. Most of the liberal intellectuals are of the view that taking into consideration of the human rights record of the Government and the behaviour of the Government institutions including the Judiciary in comparison with the values adored by the Commonwealth, in the first place CHOGM would not have been held in Sri Lanka, let alone the benefits. It was pointed out that mass scale deceiving process is going on, whitewashing the sins of the Government.
For example, although ahead of UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay’s visit the Government announced the reopening of the case of 17 aid workers in Muttur and arrested 12 security forces persons for the killing of five boys in Trincomalee, after the departure of Pillay, the progress of the cases is very slow. It is also suggested that hurried process of the murder case of British tourist would have a similar fate after CHOGM.
Suppliers of goods and services to the Government experience the firsthand benefits of CHOGM these days by indefinite delays of Government payments from almost all the Government departments and affiliated institutions. Payments by the Government are delayed usually but at present all Government departments cite the reason as expenses on CHOGM for delaying of payments.
We were told that with the attendance of several delegates and business leaders of the respective countries the country should be able to solicit a
large amount of Foreign Direct Investment. Some of the business writers suggest that we should concentrate on tourism in line with CHOGM, citing the examples of Lonely Planet naming Sri Lanka as the number one destination in the world to visit in year 2013 and National Geographic listing Sri Lanka at No. 2 of the 25 best new trips for 2010 .
Tourist arrivals did not increase as expected although there was an improvement. The reason can be given in the form of an example. There was a travel advisory in the UK against Sri Lanka citing that the country was unsafe. The country has done very little about the killing of a British tourist and raping his companion by a political goon. Therefore, the real issue boils down to governance and absence of law and order.
The Government has to invite international casino moguls to the country with excessive tax concessions hitherto unprecedented in any other country since the expected investors in industry are not coming. At this juncture foreign investment is much needed to turn the wheels of the Government, whether it is black or white. Therefore if the desired investors are not coming, the Government will have to invite any one even by selling the soul of the ordinary public of the country for survival.
The Government of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike prohibited betting on horse races, resulting in the closing down of race courses in Colombo and Nuwara Eliya. This was done since betting was against basic principles of Buddhism. However, the Government is trying to go against all these values and bring foreign investments.
Why aren’t foreign investors coming here at expected levels despite the bold statements of the Government? One reason may be the prolonged recession experienced in the West. However, the real issue is nothing else but governance. Investors would invest money if there is mechanism to safeguard their investments. There should be a reliable Judiciary of which the members should be respected independent persons rather than puppets.
The system of maintaining law and order including the Police should be free of influence of political goons. The Government should have a consistent policy. They should not nationalise the private ventures based on political interests while asking for foreign investments, giving confusing signals to the investors. Investors will not come to strengthen the Government.
We should note that it is with international pressure especially from India that the Northern Provincial Council election was held prior to CHOGM without amending the Constitution to dilute the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
It is with international pressure that the country is able to keep the Sinhala extremists at bay and as a result ethnic harmony is budding to emerge. It is with international pressure that the Government implements law and order even with whitewashing tactics. It is with international pressure that we do the basic things any wise statesman do.
By having CHOGM here this international pressure can be kept on the Government consistently. It would be like appointing the naughty boy the monitor of the classroom.
At this point I would like to quote Gene Sharp in relation to foreign intervention from his landmark book, ‘From Dictatorship to Democracy’: “…but there are grave problems with the reliance on an outside saviour. Such confidence may be totally misplaced. Usually no foreign saviours are coming and if a foreign state does intervene, it probably should not be trusted… International pressures can be very useful, however, when they are supporting a powerful internal resistance movement.” Therefore it is the duty of Opposition and the civil society to build up a powerful non-violent resistance movement against the unwanted behaviour of the Government.
Leaders of the Government are obsessed with having some sort of international event here. We should be happy that the country missed the Commonwealth Games sometime back, which would have been a massive loss to the country if held in Sri Lanka although the economic pundits of the Government – who were also of the view that there would be no loss to the country if we were to lose GSP+ facility from European Union but were proved wrong by the recent acknowledgement of the Government – tried hard to get it. As discussed, CHOGM would be beneficial since compared to any other event it would have potential to keep the Government at watch.
Engagement over abandonment
As Cameron and Suu Kyi pointed out, engagement is more recommended than abandoning. If abandoned by the civilised world, as signalled by the President himself with his series of foreign visits to the international rascals which raised many eyebrows, the country would be aligned with an evil axis, probably with the blessing of the so-called Sinhala Buddhists.
Therefore from the point of view of the ordinary masses of this country, irrespective of their ethnicity or religion, holding CHOGM here is better for the country even with a massive cost.
(The writer is a Chartered Accountant by profession and holds a Master of Business Administration degree awarded by the Postgraduate Institute of Management of University of Sri Jayewardenepura.)