ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe has met the Commonwealth Secretary General and a group of Sri Lankan expats even as his visit to the UK to attend the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II has been questioned in parliament of the island nation.
A statement from the President’s Media Division (PMD) on Tuesday, September 20 said President Wickremesinghe met Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland that afternoon, a day after meeting with a diaspora group Sri Lankan.
Wickremesinghe also met King Charles III on Sunday September 18.
Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe meets King Charles III
The PMD did not provide details of the meeting with the Commonwealth Secretary, but a statement said Wickremesinghe’s meeting with the Diaspora group brought together ethnic Sri Lankan businessmen, investors and professionals. -Lankan, whom he had invited to invest in the country.
Sri Lanka is going through a crippling currency crisis, the worst in the country’s central bank history.
“As I meet the Commonwealth Secretary General tomorrow (20), we were talking among ourselves about how we were going to operate. We want the Commonwealth to be strong, to move forward. The UK is a long-time friend and ally. We have been under UK rule and we have been an independent country with UK (sp) relations,” said an official transcript of a speech he gave at the meeting.
“It goes back a long time. There are times when we have agreed with the UK and there are times when we have disagreed with the UK. So those are the connections we have, whether it’s Labour, Conservative or coalitions and we want to maintain those relationships,” he said.
Just a week earlier, on September 12, the UK delivered a new draft resolution to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) which analysts say is the toughest resolution to date on Sri Lanka.
However, political analysts say President Wickremesinghe has sought to improve Sri Lanka’s relations with the West, as the country finds itself between the proverbial rock and anvil vis-à-vis China and the EU. India.
“It’s no secret that we are all broke as a country. We have to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps. We have already started discussions with the [International Monetary Fund] and the personnel agreement is there. We need to talk to India, China and Japan and private creditors. As we work through our debt issues, we also need to pay back what we have borrowed. That means we need 25 years by 2048. Then we’ll 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.
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 the colonization of Sri Lanka by the British.
“Our country is run by a leader who does not know the history of Sri Lanka. How are we going to overcome a crisis? The chances of economic recovery are low.
“If the queen’s death is more important than the economic situation of the country… that is an outdated way of thinking,” he said, calling for a new way of thinking to get Sri Lanka 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 has been ranked fourth in the world for food inflation by the World Bank, with headline inflation at 91%.
“People will come out into the streets hungry. We need a plan to overcome the food shortage. As we all know, people used to go out on the streets before when there were long hours or power cuts, without gas or fuel,” he said. (Colombo/September 20, 2022)