Govt on track to get second IMF tranche – Ali Sabry | Sunday Observer

Govt on track to get second IMF tranche – Ali Sabry

25 June, 2023

Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Sabry, PC said the Government is very confident that it would get the second tranche of the IMF. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said of the 32 indicators laid down by the IMF, the Government has already fulfilled 29 and it is working on the remaining three indicators as well.

The Government will also submit its debt restructuring program and plan. Minister Sabry said they are on the right track for the Government to continue. “Of course like other parties, there are differences of opinion and that is common just like in many families. But if you look at it carefully, most of the parliamentarians other than those who have already defected to the Opposition have stood by the Government and voted with the Government. That is how we have managed and passed most of the laws without an issue.”

Excerpts of the interview

Q: There have been lots of allegations that unqualified and unsuitable appointments have been made to key foreign capitals. What are the actions being taken to appoint more career service diplomats and more eminent personalities as ambassadors and other officials of the foreign service?

A: Mainly, whatever the appointments we have made are basically career officers. If you look at last year, after we took over in September, we appointed nearly 16 diplomats and of them 13 were career officers. There has always been some part that has been appointed from the eminent persons outside the career officers. We don’t have numbers to appoint all the capital’s career officers but some of the non-career officers do a very good job. So, most of the countries are like that. So, we are trying to have a fair balance because we also need good senior officers here in Colombo also to maintain important divisions.

Q: What are the steps being taken to repair the damaged relationship with certain countries like Japan?

A: I think we have made lots of positive overtures with regard to Japan. The President has visited Japan twice. The Japanese Foreign Minister is also supposed to visit Sri Lanka. They have taken a lead in debt restructuring. They are also looking at resuming the Light Rail Transit (LRT) project as well. I think a lot of work has been done with Japan. Therefore, we should be able to make a lot of progress on that relationship.

Q: Several countries such as the USA and Canada have placed sanctions and travel bans on some former Sri Lankan political leaders and military leaders. Has the Government taken any action to counter such adverse decisions by a few western countries?

A: What we can do practically within our parametres, we have always gone and made the presentation and brought into their notices. These are internal procedures that they do. So, these are very challenging issues. But wherever possible, we have always countered and our diplomats have been making overtures, responses and representation. However, it is going to be a challenging task even going forward but we will continue to engage.

Q: The Opposition says that Sri Lanka might lose the GSP Plus concession due to what they call suppression of media and public civic rights. Is there any such possibility?

A: We are hopeful and we are fully in engagement with the European Union. We are hopeful we would be able to get the GSP Plus by the end of this year. I won’t see a great danger in that. Of course, some of the concerns have been expressed to us and we are working to resolve them.

Q: The Opposition is also alleging that the Government might not get the next tranche of the IMF loan due to not fulfilling certain conditions laid down by the IMF. Is the Government on track to get the second tranche of the IMF loan?

A: Yes. I feel that of 32 indicators, we have already fulfilled 29. We are working on the remaining three indicators as well. We will also submit the debt restricting program and the plan.

Of course, we are very confident that we would be able to get the second tranche of the IMF as well.

Q: President Ranil Wickremesinghe has always had a good international stature and during the short period as the President he has been invited to many countries in an official capacity. He will be visiting India next month for talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other leaders. What is the significance of this visit?

A: The relationship with India is very important for us. So, we need to build on that. We need to build trust and mutual respect for each other. So, the President’s visit will help us to get that done.

Q: Geopolitically Sri Lanka is sandwiched between India and China and also other military alliances in the Indian Ocean region. How can Sri Lanka balance these concerns and retain its neutrality?

A: Actually, these are common in an increasingly globalised world. What we want to do is to work with everybody and have multiple engagements with all the countries without putting any country into jeopardy or risk. Then we don’t want to be a part of any camp in the big power rivalry. So, we will continue to work with everybody and promote the Indian Ocean as a peace zone.

Q: Even after 75 years of independence, Sri Lankans can visit only a very few countries without a visa and the Sri Lankan passport is ranked around 100 in the Henley and Partners Index. Is Sri Lanka negotiating with more countries for visa free travel and to make the passport more powerful?

A: No. It won’t happen through negotiations. It has to happen in terms of our economic power and the chances of our people going and not returning. Hundreds and thousands of people go illegally and stay there and claim for refugee status. Some of those who go for training are also not coming back. As a Government alone cannot do anything on those issues. Overall we have to see the Sri Lankan living standards go up and create more opportunities and a better economic status here. So, you can’t do it overnight.

Q: Many Muslim countries were dissatisfied with Sri Lanka’s decision during the previous Government not to permit the burial of Muslim Covid-19 dead persons and may have been a factor for our defeat at UNHRC last time. How is the Government reaching out to the Muslim world to repair this relationship?

A: We have had lots of interaction with the Muslim world. I have been meeting them at the UN and other sidelines. I also visited Saudi Arabia recently. Hopefully I will also visit Iran shortly. Now things have improved from what they used to be. If you look at last year, of 307,000 Sri Lankans who went abroad, 258,000 went to Gulf countries. So, all in all we have a much better relationship than it used to be. I am confident that we should be able to strengthen it further.

Q: With a decisive meeting of the Government parliamentary group scheduled for June 28, speculation is rife that the Government is preparing to hold a General or a Presidential Election. Will there be a UNP-SLPP alliance for such an election and do you also have any idea about the Presidential candidate of the SLPP in that case?

A: I cannot speculate on that. But the June 28 discussion is not about the election or anything. It is about the future course of the IMF process and debt restructuring process. That is to educate the Parliament and everybody about our strategies on that. So, that has nothing to do with elections.

Q: The SLPP seems to be divided into several factions. Do you think this will affect the chances of the SLPP in a future national election?

A: I don’t think so. Of course like other parties, there are differences of opinion and that is common just like in many families. But if you look at it carefully, most of the Parliamentarians other than those who have already defected to the Opposition have stood by the Government and voted with the Government. That is how we have been able to manage and pass most of the laws without an issue. Last time, we had to get more than 113 votes to remove the Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) but we managed to get more than 125 votes. So, I think we are on the right track for the Government to continue.

Q: There is a lot of talk on a predicted crossover from the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) to the Government but so far this has not materialised. When do you think such defections will take place to strengthen the Government?

A: I cannot really say but I am sure of one thing that lots of SJB MPs are very keen and happy to work with President Ranil Wickremesinghe. So, there is a possibility that could happen.