By Paneetha Ameresekere - Business Editor
The local press recently quoted an External Affairs Ministry statement which said that Japan was willing to enter into a free trade agreement (FTA) with Sri Lanka.
This was in response to a request made by Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa and External Affairs Minister Professor G.L. Peiris to Masayuki Naoshima, Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry whom they met in Tokyo, the release said.
A few days earlier Finance Ministry Secretary Dr. P.B.Jayasundera was critical of the Japanese, ADB and the World Bank. Speaking at a public function, Jayasundera said that he had told these agencies to “go” if they cannot fund rural development banks.
The inference of Jayasundera using the word “go” is that they can leave the country.
Not the best of diplomatic etiquette to be used, especially in the context where a few days later President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s younger brother Basil accompanied by External Affairs Minister Peiris do a trek to Tokyo and make a request for an FTA with Japan. Japan is known to be a polite nation and their officials are known to be circumspect in the use of their choice of words in international forums. That may be natural when considering the fact that Japan has a 6,000 year old civilization behind them. But if Sri Lanka needs its aid, this time in the form of an FTA, Sri Lanka’s Finance Ministry Secretary criticizing that country in a public forum may not be best way to go.
Japan is one country, unlike the West, which has shown a seemingly consistent immensity of goodwill, in good times and bad, to this island since 1977.
Real proof of such is the state owned Rupavahini Corporation, the Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital, the Southern Expressway, Samanalawewa and Kukule Ganga hydro electric power projects (HEPPs), not least the ongoing Upper Kotmale HEPP and the Parliament, a few of the infrastructure development projects funded by Japan, either in the form of grant aid or as concessionary loans, carrying very low interest rates and payable over several years, sometimes running into decades.
The words of peace and for forgiveness, preached by the then Finance Minister of this country, J.R. Jayewardene, at the San Francisco Conference in 1951, when the former Soviet Union and its satellites were demanding their pound of flesh from Japan as war reparations, but which speech finally won the day for this Land of the Rising Sun, has not been forgotten by them to this day.
Japan unleashed the flood gates of aid to the island no sooner Jayewardene was elected to power and soon became Sri Lanka’s number one aid donor.
Japanese officials sent for service here, are still debriefed by their superiors, of what took place in San Francisco some 59 years ago. Therefore it may do a world of good if Sri Lanka’s key public officials, probably beginning with the President, be a little more circumspect when speaking about our traditional friends, the West and Japan, which, incidentally are, still, cumulatively our biggest donors as well as our largest export and tourism markets.
Otherwise all the seeming good work done by Rajapaksa (jnr.) and Peiris may be undone due to words of criticism spoken in haste. Incidentally Jayasundera is also the Economic Development Ministry Secretary, thereby being the Secretary to two ministries that come under those two brothers-Finance-under the President and Economic Development under Basil.
When considering Jayasundera’s public criticism of donor agencies, there appears to be a lack of cohesiveness in Government. That is a dangerous situation. The Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) needs to speak with one voice, and not be seen to be pulling in different directions.
The Economic Development Minister saying or doing something else and his Secretary making speeches to the contrary will not work. What Sri Lanka has to fight against, is the LTTE propaganda machinery, and not her friends. As was pointed out by a garment industry source to these pages last week, the suspension of the GSP + duty free regime in exports to the EU was not a battle fought and lost by GoSL against the EU, but a battle fought and lost against the LTTE. GoSL needs to go back to the drawing boards and find out who its real enemy is. This is where professionals need to be allowed to do their work, not the brothers nor amateurs or sycophants.
Otherwise the loss of the GSP+ economic battle may well be the start of the loss of several other economic battles in the future. What point is it if GoSL loses its economic war, though having had won its military war?