As the day on which the EU is expected to make a final decision on Sri Lanka`s GSP Plus draws nearer, the government has stepped up efforts to retain it, though it is not as desperate as it was a few months ago because Sri Lanka`s economy has improved to a considerable extent.
The resilience of Sri Lanka`s export sector has been remarkable. Time was when the prime lending rate went up to 20 per cent inflation shot up to 28 per cent foreign reserves dwindled, quota system was abolished and the world oil prices soared. During the past several months, the rupee appreciated aggravating exporters` woes tremendously. The cumulative adverse impact of these factors on Sri Lankan exports to EU in monetary terms was much more than the gains from GSP Plus benefit (a six per cent tax deduction).
Today, the prime lending rate has come down to 13 per cent the rupee has depreciated, inflation has plummeted to about one per cent bringing down the cost of production, foreign reserves have improved and crude oil prices have come down. In other words, Sri Lanka`s export sector has gained hugely, especially during the past few months, and is in a position to absorb a shock, if push comes to shove where GSP Plus is concerned. In any case, that concession is not going to last forever and sooner or later it is bound to be terminated causing a loss of about 20 billion rupees to Sri Lanka. So, the question is whether we must compromise Sri Lanka s sovereignty and subjugate national security interests to the whims and fancies of pro-LTTE elements in the EU just for 20 billion rupees.
The EU is, no doubt, under pressure from both internal and external forces hostile to Sri Lanka to scrap the GSP Plus concession on the grounds of human rights so as to give a boost for their campaign to press war crimes charges against Sri Lanka in retaliation for the elimination of the LTTE leadership last May and to effect a regime change to facilitate the revival of secessionist forces with the help of a puppet government. If their campaign against GSP Plus reached fruition, they would be able to conjure up the spectre of Sri Lanka`s `international isolation` again in time for the crucial elections to be held within the next few months.
The EU is in a quandary over Sri Lanka`s GSP Plus in that however desirous it may be of discontinuing it, it is not in a position to do so without its decision being challenged as an act of discrimination, unless it deprives the other countries with far worse human rights records than Sri Lanka`s of that facility. The top EU bureaucrats handling GSP, who have succumbed to pressure from anti-Sri Lankan forces, will not be able to defend their decision sans a semblance of justice and fair play in case of Sri Lanka being victimised. The British retailers have, it may be recalled, already favoured an extension of Sri Lanka`s GSP Plus.
The biggest problem besetting the EU bureaucrats bent on discontinuing Sri Lanka`s GSP Plus is the absence of transparency. Their probe into Sri Lanka s human rights record has all the trappings of a Gestapo witch-hunt. Transparency is said to be the cornerstone of any EU policy but unfortunately it is blinded by its anti-Sri Lankan frenzy so much that it has even stopped acknowledging receipt of letters from the media inquiring about certain vital aspects of its GSP probe. The absence of transparency in an investigation always precedes an abominable travesty of justice.
The Rajapaksa government has turned the EU`s hideously secretive probe to its advantage in domestic politics. It is holding the Opposition and some NGOs responsible for the EU`s moves to discontinue Lanka s GSP Plus. On Friday, Minister Dinesh Gunawardena wrong-footed Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was asked in Parliament pointblank if he could state that neither he nor his party had made representations to the EU against the renewal of GSP Plus for Sri Lanka. The Opposition Leader answered in the negative but his reply punctuated by pauses, ers etc. has provided a great deal of ammunition to the government propagandists. Interestingly, he spiced up his reply with a `revelation` that once he and Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva (then in the Opposition) had sunk their differences after an international forum in Uruguay, where he defended a UNP government against a host of allegations levelled by the then Opposition represented by de Silva, and enjoyed a cabaret together! Thanks to the Opposition Leader we now know why our politicians are more abroad than here!
One may wonder whether the best way to bring about the much needed co-operation between the government and the Opposition is to have cabarets on a daily basis by the Diyawanna Oya.
Politicians` cabaret visits remind us of one of the charges being levelled against Sri Lanka in support of the abolition of GSP Plus. The Sunday Island political correspondent has pointed out in his latest column that `one of the grounds on which the EU interim report relating to GSP Plus renewal has found Sri Lanka to be in violation of the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights is that consensual sex between adult members of the same sex is a criminal offence in Sri Lanka (page 116) . Nothing could be more absurd and ludicrous than this!
(We thought this country had already recognised sodomy, as evident from the government`s bizarre acceptance of some western diplomats` homosexual partners as their spouses! A high ranking male envoy, when invited to State functions, attends them with his same sex partner boldly calling themselves `husband` and `wife` in breach of protocol, whereas the Attorney General of Sri Lanka is denied VIP treatment, summoned for visa interviews and fingerprinted.)
What is most striking about the unfolding GSP Plus drama is the unspeakable level to which some EU member states are ready to stoop to in penalising a smaller nation for having acted in defiance of their diktats and defeated terrorism.