SL’s fate hangs on tough lobbying in US-Lalith

 FRIDAY, 14 FEBRUARY 2014 04:18

– US will present resolution regardless of what we say or do

– Need time to replace Chief Secretary in Northern Province
– Hate speech legislation worked out by legal draftsman

Amidst proposed moves by the US Congress and the US government to bring in a resolution against Sri Lanka at the upcoming UNHRC sessions, Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga said ‘the most significant factor when it comes to the power of lobbying, solely depends on the choice of lobbying groups one has access to in the US’.

He said the US had more than 800 key lobbying groups of which the LTTE-sympathising fronts were using some of the most influential groups among them for lobbying purposes.
Mr. Weeratunga said the Sri Lankan government would also have to gain access to some powerful lobbying groups to counter opposition that’s mounting against it in the international arena.
Speaking to a group of Newspaper Editors Mr. Weeratunga who toured several western countries recently and briefed Permanent Representatives to the United Nations in Geneva and Senators and Congressmen in US on ‘Progress in the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka’, said the Sri Lankan government has done all that was humanly possible to implement the recommendations of the National Plan of Action on the implementation of the LLRC, since its approval by the Cabinet of Ministers in July 2012.
Speaking about the forthcoming resolution, that is to be presented before the UNHRC session in March, Mr. Weeratunga said the US and other allied countries will go ahead with the proposed resolution on Sri Lanka.
“Yes they will go ahead with that, we cannot stop it, whatever we have done, the resolution would be tabled as scheduled. But I would like to say that we are continuing with our work related to the reconciliation. We need more time, that’s what we need. ”
Speaking further about the lobbying groups, Mr. Weeratunga said, “I must say that the LTTE has hired a lobbying company, which is one of the strongest groups and is already in the White House. Its head is one of the closest associates of President Obama, so they are well placed. And the Sri Lankan government has not been able to reach that level,” he said.
When embassies ask for appointments with those lobbying groups they let their chiefs of staff but some of them are unaware about the ground reality in Sri Lanka and the relevant issues, he said.
When asked whether Sri Lanka was powerless against US lobbying groups, he said not only Sri Lanka but all the small countries are virtually powerless. “They just don’t give us a hearing, unless we go with someone they know,” he said.
“Lobbying is what you need to be keeping congressmen and senators fully briefed of what we are doing,” he said.
“One congressman told me that when he opened his email inbox he has some fifty emails castigating the government of Sri Lanka and he says there was not a single from our government,” he said.
When asked it was the failure on the part of the foreign mission of Sri Lanka, Mr. Weeratunga said he believed it was not.
“I used to think so, but when you see the reality and realise the fact that you can only go through these people, I know how expensive the game is. But I am not saying if you have embassies which are very robust all the time looking at things that are happening around, then they need to be staffed very well. You should engage with these people but it is so difficult.”
Commenting on the issue related to the Chief Secretary to the Northern Province, Mr. Weeratunga said although the government had understood the situation there, they cannot remove the current Chief Secretary soon.
The Northern Chief Minister requested us to appoint a retired person as the Chief Secretary to the north. That retired person was the former Chief Secretary. Unfortunately we cannot do that, because none of the current Chief Secretaries in the country are retired as they are all within the service age below 6o years.
But we understand the situation we have a new administration for the north, we agreed. We will be able to change this person over a period of time, but we can’t take her out immediately. We must find a replacement for her. If you take this particular lady and her counterparts in the rest of the country, she is much junior.
That problem is evident of all of the north and east. We do not have sufficient senior people to handle ground level work and because of that there is lack of progress and this is also one reason which the international communities should understand.
He also revealed that the Hate Speech legislation is promoted by Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara and now it was with the Legal Draftsman.
Commenting on the military presence in the north, Mr. Weeratunga said the total number of military presence in the north province has been reduced by 30 percent from 2009 to October 2013. (Sunil Jayasiri)
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