Ilankai Tamil Sangam

24th Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Applying Appropriate Pecuniary Pressure

A strategy

by Peter Ratnadurai, September 19, 2009

Given a choice between bread and bravado, Sinhalese have always opted to fill their stomachs.  

Our proposal for course of action constitutes of three complementary components:
1.National Sanctions
2.Institutional Disinvestments
3.Consumer Boycotts

The May 2009 defeat of Tamil militancy at the hands of the Sri Lankan military and the subsequent caging of more than 300, 000 Tamils in concentration camps has left many perplexed as to how, firstly, our people should be physically freed and, then, their actual freedom be won.

We propose that pecuniary pressure would create proper incentives for the Sinhala people of Sri Lanka to release the Tamils they are holding in the Mein Kampf-inspired Menik Camp, and, then, allow Tamils to exercise their fundamental rights, including that of self determination.

Our conceptualisation, here, is influenced by studying Sri Lanka's historic economic performance on a time-line with changes in the thinking and behaviour of the Sinhalese people and their elected leaders.

Evidence

For example, in 1977, shortages of essential goods and rising unemployment led to a wholesale change in voting preference from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) to the United National Party (UNP): In '70 the SLFP won 91 seats to the UNP's 17; in '77 the SLFP was reduced to eight while the UNP bagged 140. Yet, the Srimavo government was virulently Sinhala nationalist, even by today's standards: It nationalised plantations, introduced the notorious “Standardisation in Education”, and changed the constitution and name of the country, to reflect Sinhala-Buddhist hegemony.

Interestingly, at the said elections, almost all seats in the Tamil region were won by the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), which campaigned on a single issue of independence for Tamileelam. Meanwhile, the UNP, despite what it later turned out to be, campaigned on a platform of a “softer line” towards Tamils.

Perhaps more memorable to many is the 2002 ceasefire accord. Many believe that it was the result of Sri Lanka's humiliating defeat at Elephant Pass in 2000 and the devastation of Kattunayaka Air Force Base and International Airport in mid-2001. However, Sri Lanka responded to the northern debacle with an offensive codenamed Theechuvalai, and responded to the airport bust with  bombardments over Vanni.

What the Tamils' military operations managed to do, though, was undermine Sri Lanka's economy. In 2001 Sri Lanka recorded the first year of negative GDP growth in many decades. Job losses were rampant. At year's end, in the elections of December 2001, Sinhalese voted for the opposition who campaigned on a platform of “peace” and, with it, prosperity.

A recent TamilNet feature lamented that Colombo is opting for bravado rather than complying with human rights obligations. That may be so. But, historic evidence shows bravado only finds fertile ground on full guts. Given a choice between bread and bravado, Sinhalese have always opted to fill their stomachs.  

Strategy

Our proposal for course of action constitutes of three complementary components:

  1. National Sanctions
  2. Institutional Disinvestments
  3. Consumer Boycotts

Firstly, states must be convinced to end trade privileges afforded to Sri Lanka. The EU is finally appearing to be serious about terminating the GSP+ preferential trading tariff. One must bear in mind that, even before GSP+ was introduced, the EU accounted for 40% of Sri Lanka's garment's exports; ending this privilege would only likely reduce the current share of 52% by around 10% (resulting in a loss of US$ 350 million in revenues and  about 50, 000 jobs). The US would become the biggest importer, again, while the EU is pushed into second. Thus, in order to exert effective pressure, ending privileges must be followed by enacting legislatios enabling an embargo that would limit companies investing in Sri Lanka and importing goods from there. In the US, for example, such legislation is in place against Sudan, though that country has not interned the people it has internally displaced.

Institutional investments in Sri Lankan companies are a fairly new, but growing, phenomena. The recent purchase of an IT firm by the London Stock Exchange, the emergence of a private equity fund focused on Sri Lanka and various joint venture garment factories by the likes of Mast Industries are growth areas that could permanently place Sri Lanka out of influence of traditional international pressure mechanisms.

Finally, perhaps pivotal, is the need for western consumers to be encouraged to exclude goods made in Sri Lanka. Encouragingly, Sri Lanka's economy is disadvantaged by a lack of diversification. Exports of garments to Europe and North America account for more than a quarter of foreign currency revenues; even worse, it is dependent on a handful of retailers: Marks and Spencer, Gap, C&A, Victoria's Secret, Next, Tesco and a few others. Given the locations of these retailers and the distribution of Tamil diaspora communities, an awareness campaign across North America and Europe, along the lines of those carried out in US, should not be too difficult.

Action

We believe that our proposal is timely. While welcoming the recent formation of an umbrella body, Global Tamils Forum (GTF), to coordinate Tamil diaspora initiatives around the world, we call on it to adopt the “No To Sri Lanka” campaign, as it is better known, as a principal program to realise our collective dream.

The other option is to rejoice each time a reluctant United Nations offers an ever differing date for the release of our people: from 180 days starting in May, to year's end and, now, end of January 2010.  Or as British Tamils do, in eerily similar scenes to April-May, we could wait for Godot, outside the Prime Minister's residence. Alas, they would not save our children from the water-borne diseases that will proliferate over the coming months; neither would they end the suffering that stands to be multiplied by the impending Monsoon rains; nor would they ever secure a just future for our people.

If it is true that necessity is the mother of all innovations, our most demanding necessity, that of freeing our kin, must allow us to innovate away from 30 years of political protests to prudent thought that shall pave the way for appropriate pecuniary pressure.
***
END