Britain’s debt-relief package
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s vow to carry on with rehabilitation regardless of Britain’s decision to suspend debt relief has cast doubt on whether the Britain-Sri Lanka consultation on future funding would continue, informed sources say.
President Rajapaksa’s remarks to Sri Lankan editors last week came after a British minister unexpectedly made a public announcement of the suspension of the debt relief arrangement during a Commons debate on Sri Lanka earlier this month.
Discussion on the issue, which revolves round Britain’s concerns over Sri Lanka’s increased military spending, instigation of hostilities and human rights record, might now be stalled if Sri Lanka feels that it is not worth quibbling over some US$3 million and is prepared to go ahead with rehabilitation on its own.
If Colombo feels pressured it might well delay or even abandon replying to the latest letter of concern presented to the Sri Lanka government three weeks ago through the British High Commission, these sources said.
In that case it could end the rest of the debt relief initiative which in total amounts to £41 million over a 10- year period.
The ball is now in Sri Lanka’s court as British High Commissioner Dominic Chilcott is said to have already raised these issues with Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama.
In early March when Bogollagama met Gareth Thomas, a minister in the Department of International Aid in charge of Asia, he is reported to have told Mr Bogollagama that Britain was still studying Sri Lanka’s response to an earlier letter of concern by his minister Hilary Benn.
Questions are being asked here whether the most recent letter sent by the Department for International Development shortly before the Common’s debate on Sri Lanka was timed to enable Gareth Thomas, detailed to wind up the adjournment debate, to make an announcement from the floor of the Commons about the suspension of the next tranche on debt relief.
The British letter sent at the end of April was in reply to one sent by Sri Lanka’s Treasury Secretary P. B. Jayasundera on February 27.
Questions are also being asked here whether the under secretary of state for international development Gareth Thomas breached protocol and ethics of government-to-government communications by his statement in the House when the issue had up till then been dealt largely by letters between the two sides or at meetings between the two sides.Mr. Thomas’ comment came in response to an intervention by another Labour MP.
But whether he should have publicly disclosed it when discussions were on-going following an exchange of letters between Hilary Benn and Treasury Secretary Jayasundera calls into question the wisdom of the Thomas announcement, observers here say.