ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday March 16, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 42
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Neocolonialism, but what's our option?

The Government has referred the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), an international agreement that it has signed, to the Supreme Court for a determination. What this means is that the Government wants the country's apex court to tell it whether local laws exist that give legal effect to what is contained in this UN-sponsored convention.

In short, the Government has conveniently passed the buck to the Supreme Court to check on something it should be doing by itself, but then 'outsourcing' good governance to the Judiciary has been a recent practice of the Executive. The Government's move coincides with the advent of the burning issue of the GSP (Generalised System of Preferences) Plus -- a system of preferential market access to developing countries -- with the European Union (EU).

However much the hotheads in the Government may shout about not caring two hoots for what the outside world has to say about 'good governance' in Sri Lanka, the reality seems to have finally dawned on this Government that though we are an Independent and Sovereign Republic, it is wishful thinking to hope to be treated as equals in the comity of nations. Sixty years of political independence we may have, but thanks to a combination of factors ranging from the shortsightedness of our leaders, to corruption, waste and mismanagement, economic independence has eluded us.

Take a snapshot look at our economy, and one will see that the four major foreign exchange earners are garment exports, foreign remittances mainly from our workers in Arab states, tea and tourism - all heavily dependent on the world outside. Foreign aid from donor countries funds the balance. There's arguably no such thing as a free market today.

The free market, or the capitalist system of goods chasing people, and not people chasing goods, which was attributed to the controlled economies of socialist countries of yesteryear, is today a myth.

The free market of the capitalist West is very much a controlled market, and that is why we have the Minister of Export Development and International Trade of the Republic of Sri Lanka this week in Brussels, the headquarters of the EU, grovelling before the EU Trade Commissioner, pleading for concessions under the GSP Plus scheme. This, so that items produced in Sri Lanka, especially garments, can enter European countries duty free (so they will be cheaper than goods imported from other countries), and thousands of humble Sri Lankan workers will have jobs and money in hand.

The Sri Lankan Minister has to explain to the EU Trade Commissioner what a good government he represents, that elections were held in the Eastern Province, and that the international conventions they have signed and solemnly pledged to implement will be done immediately in order to qualify for GSP Plus facilities.

A Supreme Court ruling determined that Sri Lanka must pass domestic laws to give legal effect to international conventions it has signed. There seems to be little argument on that, but the question that has to be posed is what the Government was doing since that judgment, known as the Singarasa Case, was delivered in 2006. Instead of rectifying this anomaly, the Government opted to tell the world to go to hell, but when crunch time comes, as it has come with the EU now, and we find our financial apron-strings firmly attached to the world outside, one is forced to sing a different tune.

The EU is breathing heavily down the Government's neck and panic buttons are being pressed as exporters are being asked to form contracts and fix prices. We are told that the Government is now, and only now, fast-forwarding the preparation of documentation to show that existing law conforms to a string of international conventions that the EU wants Sri Lanka to ratify - and implement by 2009, the latest.

But if one is to take the example of the Bribery and Corruption Commission, as the domestic law that gives effect to the UN Convention against Corruption, which Sri Lanka signed in 2004, the summary transfer of the Director General of that Commission without rhyme or reason is a poor example to show. The upshot therefore, is that good governance must emanate from within this country, like medicine is best taken at the early stages at home before a doctor has to prescribe powerful drugs later. It must come naturally to our political elite and no amount of chest-thumping works when the harsh reality of how the world works today has to be stomached. Now, good governance is being forced down our throats.

The Government recently rushed to accept the re-energising of the 13th Amendment because it vacillated in bringing about its homegrown proposals for devolution. The Commission of Inquiry into disappearances had to be appointed, and is now under the searchlight of the world. It was necessitated because of the lethargy with which the Government probed those alleged human rights violations. Now it's breaking its back to implement the international conventions, which it ought to have been doing anyway a long time ago before the EU began using its carrot and stick approach to 'disciplining' Sri Lanka. This is neo-colonialism in every sense, but then we seem to be asking for it.

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