Election proves Sri Lanka is now a mature democracy (Daily Financial Times (Sri Lanka))
Q: What are your remarks about the recently-concluded Parliamentary election?
A: I am delighted that good governance, rule of law, transparency and democracy have triumphed. This election has reinforced the message that Sri Lanka is now a mature democracy and equally fit to be ranked in any country in the European Union or around the world which is called developed. I am very proud as a member of the European Parliament legislating for 28 member states countries that Sri Lanka has been able to return successively and peacefully. dfy
It is always the middle path that Lord Buddha taught us to live according to, not extremes. This election results reflects that people have rejected extremism of any kind whether its nationalism or whatever and be on the middle path. President Sirisena reflects that middle path attitude and so does Wickremesinghe.
Now we can set an example to the whole world. If we now continue to understand that we are all equal before the law and no one is above the law, there are no differences in ethnic or race backgrounds that we should all have equal opportunity in education, attainment, career prospects as well as gender equality then we will be considered a mature country. I will go out of my way to ensure that Sri Lanka will get the GSP+ from EU.
Q: What impact will the recent changes in Sri Lanka have on relationship between Sri Lanka and European Union?
A: There will be enormous differences. The EU observation mission will report that this was one of the freest and fairest elections that they have monitored. Very few incidents we reported. This shows the maturity of our electorates as well as the maturity and openness of the institutions. I have to congratulate and salute the Elections Commissioner for a job very well done indeed. In other countries he would be honoured. I hope his contribution to civic society and governance is recognised somewhere or the other.
Q: Are you saying the relationship between EU and Sri Lanka will improve in the years to come?
A: In leaps and bounds. Our relationship on the fishing ban, GSP plus and even bilateral trade agreements are all possible provided measures required by the EU are implemented smoothly and swiftly.
Q: What do you think about former President Mahinda Rajapaksa re-entering politics as an Opposition Parliamentarian?
A: I have enormous respect for ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa who over the last years has been a friend of mine. I salute his achievements in bringing the war to an end bringing peace to Sri Lanka. This war turned the country upside down and also gave the false impression to the world that this was a civil war between Tamils and Sinhalese. Colombo today is the capital where the Sinhalese are a minority. When people realise that the capital of the country has a minority Sinhalese population, that the majority population are the other groups, it shows that the message that has been put around the world is wrong. Admittedly in the north there had been inequalities, miscarriages of justice and inequalities of opportunities but these have been based on what has happened in the north in the past according to cast rules, caste systems and other traditional Sri Lankan institutions which we ought not in a democracy. Everyone should be equal before the law, everyone should be equal to opportunities; it doesn’t matter what your religion, cast or your background is. If that is established then Sri Lanka will be reconciled in peace.
Q: What are your thoughts about ‘Maithri-Ranil- combination?
A: The Maithri-Ranil combination is an extraordinary and good combination. The President is a very brave man who stood up for principles on what he believed. Ranil Wickremesinghe is someone who is incredibly capable, knowledgeable and able to implement policies. We should propel this country; accelerate it to be a more developed country. We must try to make Sri Lanka the next Singapore. But we need to be better than Singapore in some ways because we have longer tradition of democracy than Singapore has. We can learn from Singapore and Singapore can learn from us. We should work within the ASEAN sector and SAARC sector to create economic opportunities to all our peoples irrespective of background.
Q: What is your involvement in Sri Lankan politics?
A: I don’t have a particular involvement in Sri Lankan politics though the Prime Minister has appointed me a senior advisor to him. My role is to give him a steer on international affairs.
Q: Tell us about the Peace Treaty you are writing for Korea?
A: I am the Chairman of the EU-Korea delegation to bring peace between North Korea and South Korea and peace between Korean peninsula and Japanese and Japanese together to stabilise East Asia. We had a big conference in Korea last week where two Japanese Prime Ministers two Korean Prime Ministers, myself, the former Korean President’s wife, and Speaker of the Korean Parliament came together to write a declaration of peace for East Asia. We are trying to bury the 70-year-old bitter memories of the Second World War in Asia, to reconcile, to apologise and to bring north and south together. I am writing the peace treaty between the North and the South.
Q: There is heavy criticism against the Premier and the UNP for halting development projects carried out by the Rajapaksa administration. Your comments?
A: That is nonsense. People talk without thinking. What Ranil and the Government did during the last six months was put those projects into proper process. Why should they allow something that was wrong financially to continue? They had to put everything on the right track. That required discussing with the Chinese and other relevant parties a better and cheaper way to do these projects. Those projects were not stopped. They were temporarily renewed to get them on a better footing. Sri Lankan people shouldn’t be moaning the work has been stopped but they should be happy now the Government has found a better cheaper way to carry out the development work.
Q: What are your remarks about the Port City project?
A: The Port City project is important for Sri Lanka. But it should have been done under the proper procedures laid down by Parliament for developing projects. That includes environment impact assessment and all the other attendant requirements that any mature country would follow to create something like the Port City. The fact that some of these things didn’t take place either because Government of Sri Lanka or Chinese companies didn’t do it is not acceptable. Now that both sides have decided they will continue with it under the proper processes, the Port City project will become a very important development project for Sri Lanka. However there is also this canard that the land area will be sovereignty of Chinese. That is absolute lie. Whoever started that nonsense has been very mischievous because whatever the contract may say under international treaties you cannot give away your sovereignty.
Q: You are an advisor to the Prime Minister on international affairs. What do you think about the alleged controversy over Chinese investments in Sri Lanka?
A: Chinese investments are a brilliant thing. I am happily welcome anyone coming to Sri Lanka to invest. But loans are another thing. Loans mean you have to repay it. We have to make a distinction between loans and investments.
Q: Do you think Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s city beautification program was a good thing?
A: Highly commendable work. Very efficient and very good job. I don’t know how Gotabaya did it but the end result was very good. I commend the results but not the means because I don’t know about the means.
Q: Do you think the newly-elected Government too should carry out such projects?
A: Of course; why not? But at a cheaper cost. We need to do it the proper way; setting up tender committees and we need to ensure there is value for money.
Q: For the first time you are investing in Sri Lanka. Tell us about your restaurant that will be opened next week?
A: The reason why I have done this restaurant is to lift the perception of Sri Lanka, to put Sri Lanka on gourmet cuisine. This would serve to raise Sri Lanka’s profile as a high value destination.
Former Prime Minister of UK Tony Blair will be opening the restaurant on 24 August. He has eaten in the best places in the world. If he says our food is good then I will be very happy. The official opening by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will be on 27 August. Harry Jayawardena has already booked this for a corporate reception. We hope the restaurant is used by the corporate sector for corporate and other functions.
I also want to make it a point where we can get a Michelin Star status to Colombo. I am a member of the Michelin Star club. My plan is to have Michelin Star chefs come to Sri Lanka and train our chefs in their methods and techniques. Our Chef Rasika de Zoysa is a Gold Star winner and a winner of very many culinary awards. We will be able to transfer our knowledge, methodology and technology from foreign chefs to local chefs.
The ambience of the restaurant is one of luxury and exclusivity and will be open for lunch and dinner both with a proper English High Tea being served in time to come. The high point of course will be the exclusive dinners which will be prepared by the visiting Guest Michelin Star Chefs who will be periodically flown down – a first for Sri Lanka.
The interior and decor of the restaurant reflects the Louis Napoleon period from 1840 to 1880. I wanted to create a style of Louis Napoleon who was ruling in France when Alfred came to Sri Lanka and dined with Charles de Zoysa. I want to highlight that we are really an old country exposed to 500 years of Western tradition, values, style, music, attitudes and cuisine. Our neighbour India had a thin layer of Western exposure whereas Sri Lanka is much more cosmopolitan.
I will make sure that food in my restaurant is chemical free and I am also trying to arrange that fresh opposed to frozen meats are flown in from Europe every day.
The upper floor will be a bistro/bar, Encore, catering to the social elite, with a concept that is similar to that of the famed Annabel’s of London.