Sri Lanka will be refashioned, remoulded and relaunched as a country which stands for human rights, democratic values with an economy that promotes growth in the coming years.
We now have a chance under our current President Ranil Wickremesinghe to refashion, remould and relaunch one of the oldest countries in the world, one of the most literate countries in the world, one of the countries that fed South India and Bay of Bengal for thousands of years and to create a country which stands for human rights, democratic values and an economy that promotes growth in the coming years.
During President Wickremesinghe’s current tenure, he has successfully implemented a series of impactful economic reforms that have yielded positive outcomes.
When he became President a year ago, inflation was 70 percent and food inflation was even more. Today, it is just 8 percent and going down. Interest rate was 36 percent. Today, it is around 12 percent. Then the tourists coming to Sri Lanka could be counted on one’s fingers. Today, we are getting nearly one million tourists and year end projections are for 1.5 million. The hotels, including five-star ones, which were empty then are filling up now. There are no food queues, no petrol or fuel queues and there are no power cuts. The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) first tranche was received and the second tranche is being given. Things started going right simply because he knows what to do.
He has been Prime Minister six times. He was a Cabinet Minister at the age of just 26. He is now 74. For all his life, he has known how to use the instruments of governance to get the country on its feet and that is what he is doing now.
He recently came back from Beijing, China, having signed a US$ 1.5 billion investment into Colombo with the Chinese. Last year, amidst the economic crisis, he persuaded the Indians to give Sri Lanka US$ 4 billion to overcome the difficult conditions. He is on friendly terms with all countries, East and West.
President Wickremesinghe has worked very hard to bring all the communities of Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims together in a very positive way to create one nation because we are one nation.
For 2,500 years, Sri Lanka has been one nation and we must never allow anyone to divide us again. There shall be no divisions on ethnic and religious lines.
We have to remember that all these things happened even in an environment where the country was declared bankrupt, having been unable to pay back its foreign debt.
But we are going to overcome that and become a key country in agribusiness, in internet and software and coding and digitised economy, in ports and logistics, in transport, in financial and banking servicing the Indian subcontinent, and further afield.
The British and indeed, entrepreneurs from all Western countries must consider investing in Sri Lanka as the nation gradually recovers from the recent economic turmoil.
Sri Lanka needs investments. She does not need lectures. The British and Western role should be to lead the investment promotion of Sri Lanka as an opportunity to service the vast 1.4 billion Indian market.
There is a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the small island and the huge 1.4 billion Indian market, which is not being used as much as we would like it to be.
We need to use that. And the British companies need to come to Sri Lanka, particularly in the service sector, banks, insurance companies, financial services, and other things, to promote the vast emerging middle class of India from Sri Lanka because Sri Lanka can give better tax rates, even no tax in some places like the Colombo Port City.
New business friendly programs are in place that will assist British companies to access the Indian market and promote services to India. This is a huge opportunity for them.
The strategic location of Sri Lanka, nestled in the heart of vital sea routes, facilitates strong diplomatic ties with neighboring and distant nations alike, making it a crucial player in regional and international affairs.
Sri Lanka’s position in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) makes her punch far above her weight, not only because of the ports, not only because of the undersea cables that link the entire financial world together and link all the financial messages that go through, only six kilometres away from the seashore, not only because of the size of the seabed that Sri Lanka owns, which is 28 times the size of the country going all the way to Antarctica, not only because she’s a hub between Africa and China, not only because she is a hub between the East and the West.
Sri Lanka’s location is why the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British came here. They came because it was geographically important and that importance has grown immeasurably as Asia has become the engine of world development.
Hence, British interests should be promoted around the world and particularly in Sri Lanka. We must position Sri Lanka as a primary friend of Britain in the IOR and make that hub relationship the primary relationship to promote British and Sri Lankan commercial and trade interests in the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) countries. Incidentally, Sri Lanka will be heading the IORA for the next couple of years.
When the United Kingdom (UK) Brexited, we left a market of 500 million people to embrace a market of 65 million people and now we need to fight back to achieve that global position we once had.
A few years ago, we were the fourth richest country in the world. Now we are the eighth. A long time ago, the British endeavours left the world with the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth is neglected now in London. The British of today have forgotten what potential it has. We have forgotten because we are scared of the behaviour of imperialist long dead, whose behaviour was utterly reprehensible but is not our doing.
Today’s Britain is not remotely anything like the Britain that was then. Imperial Britain did not have as a Conservative Prime Minister a Hindu British Indian in Downing Street.
Yet we are frightened to accept that things have changed and pick up the challenge to create a new Commonwealth.
The Indian Diaspora will play a crucial role in the present context, acting as a bridge between cultures, fostering economic partnerships, and contributing significantly to the global exchange of ideas and expertise and that their diverse talents and experiences will undoubtedly shape and enrich the socio-economic landscape of many countries.
Of the 2.4 billion people in the Commonwealth of 56 countries, 1.4 billion are Indians and 60 percent of the Commonwealth is Indian. The Indian Diaspora in the United States, might even have an Indian President one day.
We certainly have an Indian origin Vice President in the United States now. So the Indian Diaspora, which is a part of this Commonwealth is incredibly powerful.
Our British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is a part of that. The richest people in the UK are the Indian Diaspora. Jaguar and Land Rover are now owned by Indian companies and so is British Steel – it is now actually Indian Steel.
All the steel companies are owned by Indians. Pharmaceuticals, the retail industry, the IT industry are all Indian. This Indian Diaspora is going to be a huge asset to Britain and to Sri Lanka. So let us all get together and march forward, Britain included.
Based on a speech delivered by the writer, a former British MP and MEP of the European Parliament and now Presidential Envoy of Sri Lanka at the dinner hosted by the British Sri Lankan Association (BRISLA) during its Annual Awards Ceremony