Friday, August 26, 2011

Private sector hails lifting of emergency

The country’s private sector yesterday hailed the Government’s decision to lift the emergency saying it was a positive signal to the world.

Premier private sector lobby group the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce in a statement said, “After many decades of conflict, the lifting of the emergency is a clear indication of return to normalcy and the business community welcomes it as a positive signal for businesses to prosper.”

The Chamber also said it was a positive step which provides confidence to the International community to invest in Sri Lanka, which in turn would increase FDIs to the country.

Tourist Hotels Association Chairman Anura Lokuhetty described the move as “excellent” and noted the Government was on the correct path.

“Lifting the emergency will boost confidence in the minds of people who intend to visit Sri Lanka and will also help tour operators promoting Sri Lanka globally,” he said.

Lokuhetty was of the view that the Government must be commended for keeping the emergency as long as it felt comfortable to remove it in tandem with satisfactory conditions. “Removing the emergency soon after the war sans confidence would have been more damaging if there were any setbacks and I feel the Government is in a position now to make a concrete decision; hence it is a good thing,” Tourist Hotels chief added.
Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Chairman as well as Jetwing Hotels Chairman Hiran Cooray said lifting of the emergency was a “fantastic message” from Sri Lanka to the rest of the world. “It is a positive signal internationally that Sri Lanka is no longer governed by a state of emergency.

This is a boost for Sri Lanka’s improved profile for tourism and business post-war,” Cooray added.

Others noted that the move was long overdue, hence better late than never, irrespective of whether there was external pressure to do so or not.

It was pointed out that whilst the war ended over two years ago the continuity of the state of emergency was an overhang and an easy excuse for the world to downgrade Sri Lanka’s attractiveness as a tourist and business destination. In that context the Government’s move was emphatic and will further improve Sri Lanka’s profile globally.

Given its significance and relevance President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself made the announcement in Parliament.

“To carry forward the day-to-day activities in a democratic way, I propose there is no need of emergency regulations anymore,” Rajapaksa told Parliament making a special statement. “There has been no terrorist activity since the end of the war in May 2009. I am satisfied that extension of emergency is not required anymore. So I inform (parliament) that we will not extend the emergency anymore,” the President added.

Environment Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa told the weekly post-Cabinet briefing that whilst a decision to lift the emergency has been made, the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) will remain in force. PTA allows arrest, confiscation of property and life imprisonment for those involved in “terrorist activity.”

Emergency regulations are renewed every month at a Parliamentary debate and yesterday’s decision means the regulations will end from next week.

The Minister has said that the emergency regulations and the PTA were two different entities and therefore the lifting of emergency regulations would not affect the PTA.

Yapa said the decision to remove the emergency regulations was reached after months of discussions between the President and the Cabinet of Ministers.

He added that the decision was not promoted by pressure from any external forces or the international community.

A Reuters report said emergency laws had drawn criticism from the West and India.

The regulations gave the government wide powers to arrest people without charge as the country fought the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatists in a quarter-century war that ended in government victory in May 2009.

Put in place off and on since a Marxist insurgency erupted in 1971, regulations have been continuously in force since August 2005 after an LTTE sniper assassinated Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in the capital, Colombo. Sri Lanka has been relaxing the emergency laws in steps since May 2010, as it seeks to open itself up to post-war investment to boost its $50 billion economy.
Reuters said Rajapaksa’s government had resisted Western and Indian pressure to lift the laws right after the war, saying Sri Lanka needed time to catch LTTE remnants and prosecute those arrested under the emergency laws.

Rights group and Western governments have blamed Sri Lanka’s government for using the laws to suppress media freedom and harass political opponents. Rajapaksa’s administration rejects that assertion.

Sri Lanka is also under heavy pressure from rights groups, Western governments and well-funded pro-LTTE groups in the Tamil Diaspora to probe alleged war crimes in the final months of the conflict in 2009, the Reuters report added.

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