Diaspora Investments Not to Come Soon

M S M Ayub | 20 August 2022
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The highest number of organizations and individuals were listed during the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government on February 28 last year. It was 577 individuals and 18 entities

 More importantly, the de-listing of entities and individuals has taken place only under the governments headed by Ranil Wickremesinghe, first time as Prime Minister and now as the President

 The government’s move to remove some of the overseas Sri Lankan Tamil organizations and individuals from its previous list of organizations and individuals supporting terrorist activities is somewhat perplexing. One reason is that some of these organizations have been alternately banned and unbanned several times since 2014.

For instance, Tamil diaspora organizations such as the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) were included in the list of entities supporting terrorism and banned in 2014. They were removed from the list in 2015 after which they were again included on the same grounds last year. Now, again the ban on them has been lifted.

According to a statement issued by the President’s Media Division on Wednesday “a committee consisting of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Attorney General’s Department, intelligence agencies, law enforcement agencies and the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, in accordance with the relevant orders of the competent authority, conducted a study on the activities of individuals and organizations involved in providing financial support to terrorism in the past few years and the listing or delisting is done based on evidence.”

Thus, 16 outfits and 424 individuals were listed on March 21,2014 of which 8 outfits and 269 persons were delisted on November 20, 2015. The Yahapalana government removed another 69 persons on November 9, 2016. No changes were made in the lists in 2017. Only the number of individuals rose from 88 to 100 with the changes made on June 20, 2018 and two other changes were made in 2019 in the lists increasing the number of designated organizations to 11 and the individuals to 188 during the Yahapalana government itself.  

The highest number of organizations and individuals were listed during the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government on February 28 last year. It was 577 individuals and 18 entities. Now, the Wickremesinghe government has delisted 6 organisations and 316 individuals, leaving another 15 outfits and 316 individuals in the lists.

However, alternately banning and unbanning of same organizations several times is incomprehensible, whatever one’s stance on the matter might be. And interestingly, the ban on some organizations has been lifted twice in about 18 months, not “few years,” after it was imposed on them. More importantly, the de-listing of entities and individuals has taken place only under the governments headed by Ranil Wickremesinghe, first time as Prime Minister and now as the President.

It is a well known fact that the terms such as reconciliation and Tamil diaspora have been anathema to Rajapaksa’s and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) whereas Mr.Wickremesinghe’s stance on them has been a far cry from it and inclusive. The SLPP and the southern nationalists never saw any difference between any of the overseas Sri Lankan Tamil organizations and the LTTE. Despite the seeming reservations of the SLPP towards the delisting of Tamil organizations now, they are maintaining an eerie silence about it. No doubt, the SLPP might have been embarrassed by the move. When the Yahapalana government did the same in 2015 they made a huge fuss. But this time the decision has been taken by the President they have elected in the Parliament.

The only political party that came out with considerable opposition was the National Freedom Front (NFF). Its Parliamentarian Mohamed Muzammil raised several questions during a media briefing including whether those organizations have given up their agitation for a UNHRC investigation into war crimes allegedly committed by Sri Lankan armed forces. He seems to have forgotten that even the TNA and other north based political parties also have been demanding such an investigation since the end of the war. The Sunday Times in its last issue reported that Tamil parties are preparing for a concerted effort in this regard at the next month’s UNHRC session as well.

On the other hand, during the Yahapalana government, apart from delisting 8 main Tamil diaspora organizations, the then foreign Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera planned to hold a diaspora festival in Sri Lanka in late 2015. However, the plan was postponed due to opposition from within the government itself. The idea was never raised thereafter. Now President Wickremesinghe is planning to open a diaspora office in Sri Lanka.

In spite of the SLPP always having demonized the Tamil diaspora, former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa told the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres and the 76th UN General Assembly in September last year that he is planning to initiate talks with the diaspora groups with a view to find a solution to the “internal problem.” However, after about a month the government seemed to have a second thought and the then Foreign Affairs Minister Professor G.L.Peiris told the daily Mirror that the government was not prepared to talk to proscribed organizations.  

Not all Sri Lankan overseas Tamil groups are clamouring for a separate Tamil State within the territory of Sri Lanka. The TNA which is campaigning for devolution within an undivided indivisible country since the end of the war in 2009 has a considerable support base in many Western countries while there are elements that are still promoting the Tamil Eelam concept. It was such a group that stormed into a meeting in Toronto, Canada attended by TNA Parliamentarians M.A.Sumanthiran and Shanakkiyan Rasamanikkam and forced them to leave the place on November 20, last year.  

Tamil leaders, without suspecting any ulterior motives, wholeheartedly welcomed the decision by the Yahapalana government to unban Tamil diaspora organizations and individuals in 2015.

However, while welcoming the move, they suspect such motives this time when the same leader does the same. The reason may be that last time they were working very closely with Mr. Wickremesinghe but this time he is running a government with the Rajapaksa’s whom they abhor.

They appear to believe that the government has delisted some organizations and individuals with a view to project a positive image of it at the next month’s 51 st session of the UNHRC where the government is expected to be censured for the highhanded suppression of peaceful protesters at Galle Face Green on July 22.

Some Tamil leaders are of the view that the motive behind the delisting is to persuade the diaspora groups to invest in Sri Lanka at this economically critical time. This seems to be a realistic and strong view. For the past several months, Tamil leaders have been pointing out the possibility of attracting diaspora investments, but in lieu of political reciprocity. Sumanthiran attempted to sell this idea at the so-called All Party Conference convened by former President Gotabaya Rajapakssa on March 23 this year. In a statement Tamil Peoples National Alliance (TPNA) leader and former Chief Minister of the Northern Province C.V.Wigneswaran had said that during a meeting with him on August 10

President Ranil Wickemesinghe wanted him to share a document which outlines proposals on how money could be channeled into the country from 

the diaspora.

Addressing the OPA annual conference and awards ceremony in Colombo on August 16 the President said “We must sort out the problems among the ethnic groups as this has gone on for too long as the war was over in 2009 and there is no need to fight again. Let’s be as Sri Lankans and we are also looking at the diaspora . It’s a strength and a source of investment. So I have decided to set up a diaspora office which will deal with the diaspora separately and the groups that they have.” Engaging with the Tamil diaspora is essential when it comes to finding a solution to the ethnic issue, apart from attracting investments, as they wield a huge influence over the local Tamils’ political thinking. A stronger economic bond between them and at least the northern Tamils through investments might make the reconciliation efforts easier. However, they are a highly nationalistic lot and hence providing a security assurance to their investments would need some sort of tougher political will.

M S M Ayub, Columnist.  

This article was originally published on Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka.
Views in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect CGS policy.