ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday March 23, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 43


SAARC: Please don’t use my money for bloated egos to wine and dine

We understand that in excess of Rs. 2.5 billion will be spent on hosting the SAARC Summit in Colombo soon. Naturally, VVIPs in this country - some whose egos are soaring higher than the cost of living- would love to be in the limelight. However, since all this money being spent is eventually yours and mine, we probably cannot be faulted for asking a few questions. Now that we have had SAARC summits here and elsewhere in the capitals of the region at enormous cost, has there been a return on this incredible expenditure? Has Sri Lanka benefited by exporting more to the non-traditional buyers in the region? Or for that matter, have we exported more to the giants India and Pakistan?

The Free Trade Agreement between India and this country has recorded larger volumes than before but an expert comment from an EDB analyst recently seems to doubt if there has been a net gain to Sri Lanka by the Indo-Lankan Free Trade cooperation at all. There is much talk about the need to encourage free movement of citizens of member countries and even an Indian-sponsored rail link covering the region all aimed "to strengthen friendship and create better understanding in the region". But how come the Sri Lankan government has not been able to persuade India to allow us the visa courtesies we have allowed their citizens for years now? All that we have from India in this regard are lame excuses about the potential danger of LTTErs and Pakistani terrorists misusing the facility of "visa on arrival". Surely India – much more resourceful than little Sri Lanka – must be having an army of able and sharp visa officers at all their points of entry. These men must have the professional capability of distinguishing between an ordinary Sri Lankan and a potential Pakistan terrorist.

As to the LTTErs, it is well known that Indian authorities have files on almost all of them – and certainly have a strange breed of men call "trainers" in their RAW outfit who have knowledge of who a militant is and who is a harmless citizen. So who is fooling whom?

In spite of SAARC, the Kashmir problem is probably worse than before; India has problems with Nepal on many issues; the Indo-Bangladesh problem too has deepened. How many disputes in member states has SAARC settled since her inception? The very inclusion of the Clause that SAARC members should not include in their agenda acrimonious issues between member countries has removed all validity in this grouping.

The idea between any bilateral group should be to use the goodwill of the membership to solve existing problems within them and not to pretend differences do not exist. If you ask me SAARC has been a terrible failure and should be disbanded forthwith altogether.

If the hidden idea of the exercise is for politicians in the SAARC countries to dominate the TV screen, have a good time in wining and dining – this is fine with me. But for God's sake, don't use my money for this. This Rs. 2.5 billion can be used to reduce the price of cooking gas, electricity or fuel all of which are virtually killing our people.

S. Rajaratnam
Colombo 6

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