Deputy Leader of the UNP Karu Jayasuriya yesterday appealed to the government to act immediately in utmost seriousness and realize the drastic consequences of the withdrawal of GSP + to the economy and to the people of this country.
“Even at this late stage the Government must realize how serious the consequences of its actions are going to be for the people of this country. Today more than a million, direct and indirect jobs are in jeopardy because the European Union is considering the withdrawal of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Plus concessions to Sri Lanka,” Mr. Jayasuriya said in a statement.
He said Sri Lanka was facing severe criticism from the democratic world and appealed to the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration to realize that alienating the world would lead Sri Lanka to isolation among the civilized nations and cause immense hardships and misery to all its people.
“The people of Sri Lanka need to understand that this government has long since perfected the art of propaganda and spin doctoring. Each and every adverse statement or action emanating from outside our shores and particularly from the West is being construed as a grand conspiracy against our tiny nation, orchestrated by terrorists and terror sympathizers,” he said.
Mr. Jayasuriya said this government should bear in mind that every country in the world was expected to maintain a minimum standard of conduct in state affairs if it wished to be accepted as a civilized member of the global community.
“A nation or a government that allows its citizens to be abducted, tortured and killed arbitrarily with impunity, victims of LTTE terrorism kept behind barbed-wire fences, kills journalists, intimidates its detractors and opponents and clamps down on every form of dissent simply does not fall in to the category of responsible and civilized states among the community of nations.
“What the democratic world is asking of us is the restoration of democratic rights in Sri Lanka. This is nothing new for a country which is one of Asia’s oldest democracies and in fact, democratic ideals were something President Rajapaksa himself as a young opposition MP in the late 1980s agitated for extremely vocally,” the UNP deputy leader said.
He said the UNP believed the implementation of the 17th amendment to the Constitution would resolve a bulk of the problems that had dragged Sri Lanka into a group of countries considered to be having a dictatorial regime.
“With the appointment of a newly constituted Constitutional Council, public service commission, national police commission and elections commission, the country could at least demonstrate that initial steps have been taken towards restoring democracy and the rule of law in the aftermath of a 30 year conflict.”
Mr. Jayasuriya also called on the government to ensure press freedom even at this late stage and begin immediate investigations into the deaths of 11 journalists and 30-odd assaults on media personnel during the past three years.
“The absence of proper police inquiries, leaves the government vulnerable and liable in the eyes of the people and the rest of the world.
“We demand that the exclusive use of state media for government propaganda and the character assassination of the UNP and its leadership be ceased immediately. It must be stated that during the previous SLFP and PA regimes, we never saw the abuse that we now witness on what are essentially national television, radio channels as well as newspapers paid for by the Sri Lankan tax payer. The opposition views are not reflected at all, other than when there is an attempt to insult or vilify opposition parties or their representatives.”
Mr. Jayasuriya said authorities must realize that the travel restrictions on opposition members barring them from proceeding beyond Medawachchiya, leave alone visiting the IDP camps, was a serious violation of the rights of the peoples’ representatives.
“It is a shame to note that such restrictions on movement in one’s own land only prevail in dictatorial regimes such as in North Korea, or when the north and east lay in the iron grip of the LTTE.
“Such draconian measures designed to silence a legitimate opposition have, no doubt, contributed to Sri Lankas image abroad being tarnished as an undemocratic country governed by a totalitarian regime.
“The argument that these are internal matters which does not concern the outside world does not hold water when there is such a blatant breakdown of the law and order situation in a country. By allowing gross human rights violations to continue unabated, the Government is opening the doors for foreign intervention in Sri Lanka.
“A world which is determined to prevent human rights violations of the like witnessed in Rwanda, Cambodia and the Balkans in the latter part of the 20th century will not stand idly by while such excesses are being reported in Sri Lanka or elsewhere.
“Merely labelling the democratic world as ‘terrorists and LTTE supporters’ when they speak of the need to ensure human rights, democracy and press freedom in Sri Lanka will not save our citizens from what will be their tragic fate should the trade concessions be lost.
“If the government fails to proceed with corrective action, then this administration should also assume full responsibility for the loss of jobs and income to a total of 1.5 to 2 million Sri Lankan whose livelihoods depend on the apparel industry’s success,” Mr. Jayasuriya said.
He said Sri Lankas apparel industry had reached a level of competitive excellence through the tireless efforts of many, especially the likes of President Ranasinghe Premadasa, whose vision saw apparel becoming the country’s largest export to the world and its biggest foreign exchange earner within two decades.
“It will be a tragedy indeed if all this hard work that has gone into nurturing this industry which not only provides employment for hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans but is also now the backbone of the country’s economy should crumble due to the inability of the current regime to comprehend the realities of the modern world and desist from undemocratic actions,” he said.
Mr. Jayasuriya said the UNP had always stood for the national interest and would support all initiatives to stop the withdrawal of the GSP+ through all democratic means.
“As a responsible opposition, the UNP does not wish to see all our people suffer the consequences of the sins of a few. It is in this spirit that we have appealed to the EU recently to reconsider before withdrawing the trade concessions to Sri Lanka since more than a million of our poorest people will be affected by such an action while the perpetrators of violence who are responsible for our predicament will be largely untouched,” he said.