Lanka’s Diaspora can breathe life into ailing economy | Sunday Observer

Lanka’s Diaspora can breathe life into ailing economy

24 April, 2022
Dr. Rohan Gunaratna
Dr. Rohan Gunaratna

The Sri Lankan Government should immediately offer an attractive scheme that can attract investment and talent of some three million Sri Lankans living overseas to overcome the current economic hardships faced by the country says Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, Director General, Institute of National Security Studies told the Sunday Observer in an interview.

This special scheme should be built in the model of the Overseas Citizen of India scheme, he said but cautioned against choosing the TNA as a middle man. “The TNA is a proxy of a defeated terrorist group, trying to play politics even at a time of a grave crisis. It will be a fatal mistake,” he said responding to a query if it was a good idea to go through the Tamil political party to tap Diaspora funds, Dr. Gunaratne is also an Honorary Professor at the Sir John Kotalawala Defence University and a Senior Advisor to its Department of Defence and Strategic Studies.

Excerpts of the full interview:

Q: The Tamil Diaspora has shown interest in helping the Government to overcome the unprecedented forex crisis it is facing today. Do you think this is a positive development?

A: Sri Lanka’s greatest untapped resource is its expatriate community. Over three million Sri Lankans reside overseas mostly in North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the Gulf, Southeast Asia and in India. If they contribute US$ 1000 each, can you imagine the thrust it will have on our economy? We will not only recover but move towards economic prosperity!

We should create a special scheme and invite all Sri Lankans to contribute to our country in this hour of great need. To facilitate harnessing the amazing Sri Lankan talent worldwide, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should create, at lightning speed, an ‘Overseas Citizen of Sri Lanka’ scheme. Our best and brightest leaders at a time of crisis should work day and night and launch this scheme to attract Sri Lankan resources and talent. Imagine the impact on Sri Lanka if three million Sri Lankans share their experience and expertise and also contribute to the economy.

Q: The TNA at the all party conference offered to be a bridge between the Diaspora and the Government, but has put forward a condition that Tamil issues should be addressed first before such a program can be implemented. Given that the TNA had earlier endorsed the brutal LTTE, do you believe they are interested in genuine issues of the people and should the Government welcome this offer?

A: The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is a proxy of a defeated terrorist group. The TNA statement that the Government should address Tamil issues first before being a bridge between the Tamils overseas and Sri Lanka, demonstrates their racist mindset.

The TNA is placing politics before the nation even at a time of grave crisis. The quality of thinking of the TNA leadership is poor and they will remain separatists until their death. It will be a fatal mistake for the Sri Lankan Government to go through the TNA to enlist the support of Sri Lankans living overseas.

First, Sri Lankans overseas have already invested to a modest extent in Sri Lanka. Second, Sri Lankan foreign missions and expatriate associations overseas and the ministry itself can enhance their investments by engaging and enlisting Sri Lankans overseas. Third, the Sri Lankan Government should very quickly look at the ‘Overseas Citizen of India’ scheme and build a similar ‘Overseas Citizen of Sri Lanka’ scheme. The Sri Lankan Government leaders should be decisive in building a scheme better than what the Indian leaders have offered in reaching out and forging a bridge but with incentives that attract the best and the brightest minds.

Q: The severe forex crisis has crippled the country’s entire administration, causing public protests. This is a time of emergency. But such funding sources could jeopardise national security in the long run. What is your take on that?

A: National security is the foundation of social harmony, political stability and economic prosperity. We already witnessed how the neglect of national security led to a catastrophic Easter Sunday attack by the Islamic State that devastated our economy. If the Easter attack taught Sri Lanka a lesson, it is that no Government, current or future, should ever compromise national security for personal or political gain.

The Sinhala anarchists, Tamil separatists and Muslim extremists are exploiting the economic, social, and political crisis. The TNA’s statement clearly reflects that it wishes to exploit the crisis to promote ultra Tamil nationalism, the precursor to secession. If we are interested in a united Sri Lanka, we must all stand against Tamil separatism, which is the shadow and spirit of the TNA and Muslim extremism which is promoted by divisive Muslim sects. The Government should also control ultra Sinhala Buddhist nationalism. These three detrimental forces have equally damaged the unity of this nation.

Q: The BOI has been asked to devise proposals for special incentives for Sri Lankans with other nationalities. Is this a move in the right direction?

A: The BOI should move rapidly as Sri Lanka is at the bottom of the investment index. The BOI was a great institution at its creation. The BOI desperately needs a new vision, a new way of thinking and doing things. The BOI officers should take the file of the investor and get the 20 Sri Lankan institutions to provide approvals.

The BOI staff should work long hours and if necessary the weekends to fast track the investments. Within one week, they should clear the investments if they are serious about changing the sad state of affairs. Neither Sri Lankan expatriates nor foreigners are going to stay in a queue getting approvals. It is not a secret that the red tape in these twenty institutions has driven away the investors.

It is also not a secret that no investor will come to Sri Lanka to waste their time or pay bribes. I have personally witnessed hundreds of investors attracted by the beauty of Sri Lanka but repelled by the bureaucracy that has eventually destroyed the economy. The Sri Lankan mindset should change - without deregulation, no investor will come to Sri Lanka.

Q: There is fear that with the acute dollar crisis, the LTTE Diaspora might try different tactics to win their separate state demand funding Sri Lanka to overcome the dollar crisis being one.

A: The Sri Lankan Tamil community is no longer interested in separatism. They have witnessed the effects of the 30-year terrorist battle. The third and fourth generation of Tamils are not interested in promoting racism. Third and fourth generations raised or born overseas have no memory of the war except a few who are exposed to distorted propaganda.

Well integrated and assimilated, most Tamils are no longer attracted by gatherings to indoctrinate them. Attempts to coach, force and compel by LTTE fronts to attend LTTE events glorifying terrorist crimes and suicide bombers have failed. Elderly Tamils who remember the pre-1983 Sri Lanka are grateful to the Sri Lankan Government, especially its security forces for ending a 30 year vicious terrorist conflict in three years.

The Sri Lankan Government should be cautious of LTTE fronts overseas that are proscribed under UNSCR 1373 and who wish to be delisted. As it did during the previous Yahapalanaya Government the TNA aspires that the Sri Lanka Government would remove the proscription of the LTTE and their fronts. This should never be done by the present or successive Sri Lankan Governments even if a billion dollars are pledged or given.

Q: What is your take on the strength of LTTE and their international network today? Is it still capable of criminal activity and does it pose a threat to national and global security?

A: Today, the Sri Lankan Government maintains a credible security and intelligence platform especially in the North and East. The Sri Lankan authorities have detected and disrupted 16 plots by LTTE operators and supporters in Canada and Europe. Most of these plots have been discovered by the Tamils who want peace. Those opposed to violence includes rehabilitated LTTE members who repented their role in one of the most brutal terrorist groups. Unfortunately, a few Western Governments have permitted LTTE financiers of the past to continue with their support of terrorist activities on their soil.

The Sri Lankan Government should work with their foreign counterparts to dismantle the LTTE international network that is still functional.

While the Sri Lankan security and intelligence community is capable of tackling terrorism, the Government has a whole, needs to counter the separatist ideology promoted by the TNA and other separatist parties. This needs a new generation of Sri Lankan national security practitioners who understand how to regulate the ethnic space by shaping the geographic, educational and media domains.