ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, October 08, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 19
Financial Times

Cautious welcome from business

By Feizal Samath

Sri Lanka’s business community on Friday greeted the historic coming-together between the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the main opposition United National Party (UNP) with cautious optimism and urged both sides to make sure it works.

Singer Chairman Hemaka Amarasuriya said the ‘talks’ were a good sign and will certainly strengthen business confidence in the short term.

But he added: “It is up to the two parties once they cement the relationship to make it sustainable because if it fails, we would fall back to square one.” Apart from the rare sight of both parties sitting together for a national purpose without the usual rancour, the speedy search for a consensus solution to several national questions surprised many political and business analysts. In just over a month and four meetings, both sides clinched a deal and set a date for the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding in probably the quickest ‘peace’ pact in recent times.

There was also predictable skepticism over the deal. “Let’s wait and see whether something really happens to be happy about,” said one business analyst, adding that given the bitterness between the two sides it was a ‘hard-to-believe’ agreement. Amarasuriya said the LTTE should also support this initiative because the southern consensus is what they have been complaining about and now there has been some agreement in the south.

“All other parties including the JVP should also come into the picture to make it a truly national initiative,” he said.

Deva Rodrigo, former chairman of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, said he was yet to see the terms and conditions of the agreement but noted that it was a good sign and the “two statements by the Prime Minister and UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya augurs well for the country.”

He was however not in favour of a national government made up of the two parties as the best solution as it would isolate the JVP.

“The northeast conflict is the paramount issue; if the two parties can come together on finding a solution this alone would bring about the security all communities look for, quickly resettle the displaced persons and elevate the suffering of those presently affected by the conflict. The other issues such as good governance, law and order the economic development and education reforms could be addressed at the same time while settling the ethnic conflict,” he said.

Nawaz Rajabdeen, President of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka (FCCISL), believed it was ‘better late than never’ for such a deal to be worked out.

“Never before have the two major parties come to an agreement or proposed to come together in the interest of peace and development. If the same move was taken years ago when President Chandrika Kumaratunga invited then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe we would have gone far in peace and development. However it is better late than never,” he said.

He said some of the UNP supporters have at last realised the need to support the ruling party in the interest of peace and development. “Now the peace process can fall into place with the two major parties coming together. We can expect positive results from the other negotiating party as well. We feel that the politicians are now thinking aloud craving for peace for the unborn generations,” he added, observing that Karu Jayasuriya should be congratulated on his bold move and “…the leadership of the opposition should definitely change or we will be fighting for another 40 years.” John Keells Holdings Chairman Susantha Ratnayake also said it was a better-late-than never agreement that “we at John Keells are happy about.” He said this is one of the best things to happen and the business community would look forward to an era where both sides would work together on national issues irrespective of party politics.

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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.