- US contributed $ 5.6 million to aid SL COVID-19 efforts
- 100 new ventilators donated by US to arrive in coming weeks, 200 promised
- Shares concerns about new PTFs, says civilian rule is hallmark of democracy
By Asiri Fernando
The United States will support a strong and sustainable economic recovery for Sri Lanka in what has been a challenging year, the US Ambassador in Colombo Alaina B. Teplitz said yesterday.
Addressing a round table discussion with journalists, Ambassador Teplitz said that how the Sri Lankan economy recovers from the pandemic and a combination of shocks, including the Easter Sunday bombings of last year, will be key in the coming months. «At the end of the day, in spite a lot of the noise that ends up in the public space, we remain a steadfast partner, we have contributed more than $ 5 million to Sri Lanka›s COVID-19 efforts,» Teplitz stated, pointing out that the US had over the last few decades contributed close to $ 26 million for health-related programs in Sri Lanka.
The US Ambassador revealed that a consignment of 100 new ventilators out of 200 promised will likely arrive in Sri Lanka in the coming weeks, and commended the Government on efficiently managing the COVID-19 outbreak, pointing out that Sri Lanka was one country which still has not had community spreading, while some countries across the world were struggling with a second wave of COVID-19.
Teplitz downplayed the impact of the United States threatening to cut funding to the World Health Organisation (WHO), following allegations by President Trump regarding the WHO and China. The US Ambassador stressed that the US was committed to their international obligations. Commenting on the incident regarding a US diplomat and PCR testing at the BIA, Teplitz stressed that the US Embassy did not turned down a request for PCR tests, but followed the advice given by the Sri Lankan authorities. The procedure regarding diplomats and COVID-19 testing has since been revised by the Health Ministry.
Responding to a question regarding the incident, and the subsequent Police action against a demonstration near the US Embassy, Teplitz stated that both incidents have not soured relations between the two countries. «The US absolutely supports the right to expression and peaceful protest,» Teplitz said, stressing that the mission did not seek to have the demonstration stopped by the Government. The US Ambassador reflected on the widespread protests in her country, saying that it is timely to have a frank and robust conversation on how security forces use and abuse their powers and accountability, in both the US and Sri Lanka.
Commenting on the recently-appointed Presidential Task Forces and their composition, Ambassador Teplitz said that she shares some of the concerns expressed locally about the broad mandate and composition of the Task Forces, opining that civilian rule is a hallmark of democracy. «I have some of the same questions that some Sri Lankans have – why, for an example, an archaeological Task Force would have been set up for a particular area and yet not reflect the population of that place, the mandate of the virtue TF not appearing to have a strong role for communities or the Judiciary in the process,» explained Teplitz.
Reflecting on the upcoming General Elections, Ambassador Teplitz said that Sri Lanka has a long history of democracy and that the US supports the deepening and strengthening of its democratic institutions.
«I don›t think it›s the role of the United States to tell SL what to put and not put into its constitution, absent of course are those overarching agreements that both our countries have joined, for example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,» Ambassador Teplitz said, responding to a question regarding the possible repeal of the 19th Amendment post-election. The Sri Lankan public will have to consider the merits of the 19 Amendment, including its independent institutions like the Human Rights Commission of SL and the Office of Missing Persons, and division of power, and decide what contributes to a healthy democracy, Teplitz opined.
The US and Sri Lanka has a strong relationship and there will be areas where there may be disagreements and discussion, however the United States will be continuing to work closely with the Government of Sri Lanka while expressing any concerns respectfully, the top US diplomat in Colombo said, pointing out that the US was ready to work constructively with a future Government post-elections.
The US will continue to support vocational training, SMEs and an increase in women›s involvement in policymaking and economic activity, to empower Sri Lanka to find more sustainable and stronger economic recovery, while being committed to strengthening democracy in the region, Teplitz added.