Ravi Karunanayake, the best finance minister in South Asia is now entrusted fully with diplomatic duties. Mangala Samaraweera was highly commended for his foreign policy during the period he was the foreign minister.
What are your plans?
Minister Samaraweera very successfully led the foreign policy. We now have the GSP plus concession. We successfully faced the human rights issue too. I hope to effectively carry on with that work. Here, an important thing is commercial diplomacy, which I hope to implement with success.
What is commercial diplomacy?
We have to think more and more about investment. It is a method to unite Sri Lanka with the rest of the world. This is an invaluable opportunity. We have had 64 diplomatic missions the world over. Some are closed. Others are developed. The final objective is to raise the number of the missions to around 70. As a country it is better to shape up with trade which brings net profits, rather than obtaining loans. A loan has to be repaid. Taxpayers’ money goes to repay the loans. The advantage from direct investments is better. Exports increase. Jobs increase. Balance of payment can be reduced. We are searching for solutions for all these.
Are you saying that steps will be taken to secure more direct investments?
Yes. More investments will benefit us. If we are to unite with the world, we have to expand investment opportunities.
But, the other thing is that the country’s land and resources are going to be sold. Already we can see this issue has arisen over the port, oil storage complex and port city?
Take the oil storage complex in Trincomalee. The tanks built before the war remain without any use for 60 to 70 years. If it can be cleared up and used for the re-exportation of oil, how much of loading will take place? How many jobs will be created? But, some say ‘this is a national asset. It had not been used for 70 years and therefore let’s keep it that way for 700 years.’ How childish are those arguments? The ability to take this country forward has been lost due to board-holding protestors. This is what we should change. Everything is not going to be sold. Take Sri Lanka Telecom. It took around one and a half months to obtain a telephone line previously. Now, it takes only 10 minutes. That is how we can join the world.
ECTA agreement too, was similarly argued. Intellectuals noted that we had no national policy for such a leap forward. Now, you are talking about a commercial diplomacy. In the end, it is an opening of doors for foreigners for direct investment. Here, agreements have to be reached at diplomatic level. A country without a clear policy can face problems if doors are opened for investment?
We do have a policy to follow. You know how I revived the treasury. A country cannot be developed by working like frogs in the well. We do not have a policy to sell the country’s resources. We have told the people where the country should be by 2020. There will be no harm done whatsoever.
A country that has been unable to resolve the SAITM issue is talking about uniting with the world?
SAITM is not our creation. We have to shoulder the sins of the Rajapaksas. They are so bankrupt that they are now demanding the closure of SAITM which they created. Our higher education and health ministers are making maximum efforts to resolve it. We cannot work according to what everybody says. They cannot expect the pound of flesh. Best thing is to reach agreement. Those who speak against private educational institutions have some family members who have gone to SLIIT, to SriLankan Airlines. That shows their conduct. They think they are know-alls. But, they cannot do a job if given. Those should change.
Their argument is that if private education is allowed, state education will collapse?
How can they say so? We have not rejected free education. We do a great deal of work for government schools, universities etc. A handful of saboteurs are creating those problems. We got to know that the faculties of two universities have decided to abandon the protests and start academic activities. What a good decision! These cannot be solved by protesting on the streets. Could they do so during the Rajapaksa regime? We have given democracy. But, that cannot be seen as the freedom of the wild ass.
We heard you saying on many occasions that democracy is not the freedom of the wild ass. Is that a warning?
We do not want to warn anyone. As a good governance government, we have given everybody the opportunity to express opinion. But, that freedom should not be abused. We had many challenges when we took over. The Rajapaksa family and the thieves had ruined the country. That is why we were given custody of the country. Now, we need the support of everyone to do our work. That means no unnecessary disruptions. But, if sabotage continues, we will have to take decisions according to the law.
Another serious matter is the Colombo garbage issue. You are a leader of the district. We believe you too, have a responsibility in this matter. Why is it allowed to stagnate?
Really, this has become a big problem. There are political tugs-of-war within. That should be said clearly. There are institutions that mediate with responsibility. The government has funded them. It is now clear what has happened. But, we will not inconvenience the people. We will solve all the problems.
Interviewed by Ashika Brahmana
Pictures by Nishantha Priyadarshana