Sri Lanka president meets top commonwealth official, diaspora group amid opposition criticism

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ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe met the Commonwealth Secretary General and a group of Sri Lankan expats even as his visit to the UK to attend Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral was questioned in the island nation’s parliament.

A statement from the president’s media division (PMD) said on Tuesday September 20 that President Wickremesinghe met Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland that afternoon, a day after he met a Sri Lankan diaspora group.

Wickremesinghe also met King Charles III on Sunday September 18.

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The PMD wasn’t forthcoming with details on the meeting with the commonwealth secretary, but a statement said Wickremesinghe’s meeting with the diaspora group was attended by businessmen, investors and professionals of Sri Lankan origin, whom he had invited to invest in the country.

Sri Lanka is going through a crippling currency crisis, the worst in the history of the country’s central bank.

“As I am meeting the Commonwealth Secretary-General tomorrow (20), we were talking amongst ourselves how we are going to function. We want the Commonwealth to be strong, to go ahead. The UK has been a friend and ally for a long time. We have been under the rule of UK and we have been an independent country having relations with UK (sp),” an official transcript of a speech he had made at the meeting said.

“It goes back a long time. There are times we have agreed with the UK and there are times we have disagreed with the UK. So those are bonds that we have, whether it be Labour or Conservative or coalition and we want to maintain those relations,” he said.

Just a week prior, on September 12, the UK handed over a new draft resolution to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that analysts say is the toughest resolution on Sri Lanka yet.

However, political analysts say President Wickremesinghe has been looking to improve Sri Lanka’s relations with the West, as the country finds itself between the proverbial rock and a hard place vis-à-vis China and India.

“It’s not a secret that we are all broke as a country. We have to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. We have already started discussions with the [International Monetary Fund] and staff level agreement is there. We have to talk to India, China and Japan and to the private creditors. While we look at our issues of debt, we also have to repay what we have borrowed. This means we need 25 years from now to 2048. Then we will be 100, by then [we[ will be a prosperous society,” he was quoted as saying.

Wickremesinghe, who has come under fire for his response to Sri Lanka’s youth-led Aragalaya (Struggle) protests, said establishing rule of law was important, and spoke of the need to address Sri Lanka’s ethnic question.

He also spoke of a proposed Diaspora Office Project.

“500,000 people of Sri Lankan origin identifying themselves as first or second generation live here. People of Sri Lankan origin living overseas are called the Diaspora. We are working on a project called the Diaspora Office Project and the Foreign Ministry is working on it and it shall be under the President’s Office. But after some time it will come under the Foreign Ministry as it will take over international trade. But we want this office to succeed. We want everyone to get involved. People of every ethnicity in the North. Not only in the North, they can also invest in the South. Some of you may have relations in the South or the East who you may want to help. No problem. See how you can help Sri Lanka (sp),” he said.

Meanwhile, the president’s visit to the UK amid a foreign exchange crisis to attend Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral was criticised by ‘independent’ MP Wimal Weerawansa who claimed the president was evading the country’s internal crisis.

“If you want to make the economic crisis an opportunity, decisions must be made on behalf of Sri Lanka’s producers. But we aren’t solving them,” said Weerawansa speaking in parliament on Tuesday.

The MP, who was Industries Minister in the cabinet of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa before he was sacked, made disparaging remarks about a recent import ban imposed by the government ostensibly to “save forex”.

“Without solving these issues, our president is paying his last respects to the queen at Buckingham Palace. For that we have dollars,” said Weerawansa.

The ban has been reversed for some items, however.

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Sri Lanka President relaxes import ban on over 150 items

“Not even our neighboring country’s leader went to the funeral. He sent his secretary as far as I know. But our country’s leader [made a personal visit],” said Weerawansa.

Weerawansa also recalled Sri Lanka’s colonisation by the British.

“Our country is run by a leader who doesn’t know the history of Sri Lanka. How will we overcome a crisis? The chances of economic recovery are low.

“If the Queen’s death is bigger than the country’s economic situation… that’s an outdated way of thinking,” he said, urging for a new way of thinking for Sri Lanka to emerge out of the crisis.

Weerawansa also warned that the next wave of violence will be due to the rising cost of living and high food prices. Sri Lanka was ranked the fourth highest in the world for food inflation by the World Bank, with nominal inflation being 91 percent.

“The people will come out to the streets in hunger. We need plan to overcome the food shortage. As we all know, people came out to the streets previously when there were long hours or power cuts, no gas and no fuel,” he said. (Colombo/Sep20/2022)

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