Category: Sri Lanka

British Sri Lankan Association Awards 2019

Lord Sheikh had the pleasure of receiving the Outstanding Friend to the British Sri Lankan Community Award from the British Sri Lankan Association on 19th October 2019.

The British Sri Lankan Association is a non-profit organisation which aims to empower the British and Sri Lankan communities and facilitate a society that is cohesive, fair and prosperous. The Association seeks to build partnerships and ties between the UK and Sri Lanka in the areas of economics, education, environment and health.

Lord Sheikh is a friend of Sri Lanka and has visited the country three times. He works hard to promote relations between the UK and Sri Lanka.

Lord Sheikh made a speech at the event which highlighted his connection with the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in London, Her Excellency Ms Manisha Gunasekera, and the good work she undertakes in her role as High Commissioner.

Lord Sheikh once again paid tribute to the victims of the devastating attacks on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka earlier this year and denounced the actions as not in our name. He acknowledged the presence of Father Fernandes at the event. Lord Sheikh also spoke on the importance of interfaith dialogue and the need to promote peace and harmony amongst various racial and religious groups. He stressed that everyone should recognise the similarities and we share and focus on what unites us.

Lord Sheikh referred to Sri Lanka’s remarkable economic progress and the Sri Lankan trade conference held on Wednesday 9th October in the London Stock Exchange. He noted the unique relationship between the UK and Sri Lanka and how there are many opportunities to strengthen trade linkages between the countries.

  

 

Sri Lanka Investment Forum 2019

Lord Sheikh attended the Sri Lanka Investment Forum held at the London Stock Exchange as a Special Guest.

The keynote speaker at the Forum was the Hon. Dr Harsha de Silva, Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution.

He spoke about the multitude of investment opportunities in Sri Lanka and the government’s investment policy regime, incentives, tax concessions and regulations. The Investment Forum specifically targeted British companies interested in investing in Sri Lanka and considering joint venture partnerships with Sri Lankan companies.

Lord Sheikh is a friend of Sri Lanka and has visited the country three times. He does play whatever role he can in establishing a stronger relationship between the United Kingdom and Sri Lanka and is actively involved in promoting links relating to trade, education, political and cultural ties.

He also attends a number of functions organised by the High Commission and the diaspora. In October, he was very pleased to receive the award for being an Outstanding Friend to the British Sri Lankan Community by the British Sri Lankan Association.

  

Interfaith Meeting to condemn the Easter Sunday terror attacks in Sri Lanka

Lord Sheikh, in conjunction with the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka, Her Excellency Manisha Gunasekera, hosted an interfaith meeting in the River Room in the House of Lords to condemn the atrocities of the East Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka and show solidarity with all the communities.

The meeting allowed the members and leaders of various communities to unite and join hands to face evil and establish solidarity against bigotry, extremism and terrorism of any sort wherever it may occur.

Attendees of the meeting all stood together to condemn the actions of the perpetrators as ‘not in our name’. Guests and speakers alike expressed the view that what they have done should not result in any division or animosity within the communities in the UK, Sri Lanka and in fact, throughout the world.

Lord Sheikh spoke of the support lent to Sri Lanka by the UK government by the dispatch of a Metropolitan Police Counter-Terrorism Command specialist team and Family Liaison Officers. Lord Sheikh also emphasised that the actions of the perpetrators were go against the teachings in the Holy Quran and are un-Islamic.

Her Excellency, Manisha Gunasekera, High Commissioner Sri Lanka also spoke at the meeting. The High Commissioner stressed that Sri Lanka is fundamentally multi-faith and commended the Sri Lankan community for standing in solidarity in the aftermath of the attacks.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Minister for Faith and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Wales also spoke and emphasised that all faiths and communities across the world should unite against such attacks.

Other speakers at the meeting included:

Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP, former Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Joint with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) Afzal Khan MP, Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration). Catherine West MP Seema Malhotra MP Virender Sharma MP The Lord Dholokia, Co-Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Peers The Rt Hon. the Lord Paul Bishop of Westminster, Bishop John Wilson Reverend Hudson-Wilkin, Chaplain to the Speaker House of Commons Venerable Seelawimala Bogoda Rabbi David Mason, on behalf of the Chief Rabbi Reverend Father Sudham Perera Dr Richard Sudworth, Advisor to the Archbishop of Canterbury Krishan Kant Attri Hindu Chaplain (Army) Dr Al Dubayan, Director General of the London Central Mosque Trust and The Islamic Cultural Centre Imam Qasim, founder and chairman of Al-Khair, Foundation.

 

Bilateral trade between the United Kingdom and Sri Lanka

Lord Sheikh to ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to encourage more bilateral trade between the United Kingdom and Sri Lanka.

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to bring this important subject before your Lordships’ House. I have been a friend of Sri Lanka for several years and have visited the country on two recent occasions. I have met and spoken to several Sri Lankan government Ministers in London as well as in Sri Lanka, including the President, Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa. I have previously raised issues relating to Sri Lanka in your Lordships’ House. I am a vice-chairman of the All-Party Group on Sri Lanka, and I have supported the Conservative Friends of Sri Lanka. I have also enjoyed a highly successful relationship with the Sri Lankan high commission here in London, in particular with the former high commissioner, Dr Chris Nonis, who has been an outstanding representative of his country. He elevated the stature of Sri Lanka in the United Kingdom.

The observations I have made throughout this time have reinforced my view that Sri Lanka is, and should be, regarded as one of our most important bilateral trading partners. Trading links between the UK and Sri Lanka date back to colonial times. We introduced commercial plantations to Sri Lanka—first coffee, then tea and rubber. Over the years the Sri Lankan export product base has diversified significantly, most notably with articles of apparel and clothing accessories. The UK has increasingly imported a wide variety of items, including electrical equipment, bicycles, jewellery, ceramics and toys. In return, we export to Sri Lanka items such as iron and steel, machinery, paper, beverages, plastics and pharmaceutical products.

Both our political and economic ties have worn extremely well over the past 200 years. Today, Sri Lanka is a major emerging economy in south Asia. It is a market of over 20 million people, but its geographical location means that it can in fact reach a market of over 1.6 billion people. It also serves as a logistical trading and shipment hub for the region. Over the past decade Sri Lanka’s gross domestic product has grown at an overall rate of 6.4%. It grew by an astonishing 7.2% in 2013. Sri Lanka now has one of the fastest growing economies in the region and is expected to grow by 7.5% this year. The Sri Lankan stock market is on target to finish among the top 10 performing stock markets in the world this year. It now has a GDP per capita of $3,200, and the Sri Lankan Government aim to increase this to $4,000 per capita by 2016. In short, Sri Lanka undoubtedly holds massive potential for UK investors.

We must acknowledge that for nearly three decades Sri Lanka was torn apart by a civil war. Thankfully, that came to an end in 2009. The country has since made significant progress, including meeting many international obligations and engaging with the United Nations on post-conflict matters. A commission was established to strengthen the process of reconciliation and the Sri Lankan Government are currently implementing its recommendations. I have been assured that the Government are committed to the realisation of all human rights to prevent further conflict. I believe that now is the time for any Tamil diaspora which left the country to be encouraged to return and be resettled so that it may once again contribute to the well-being of the country. Sri Lanka’s future is undoubtedly looking bright.

Fortunately, we already have a foothold in the country. We are already one of the top five investors in Sri Lanka. The bilateral trade between the two countries has increased by 70% since the turn of the millennium, and we are its number one EU trading partner. In 2013, UK exports to Sri Lanka were valued at £167 million. It should be noted that the balance of trade has risen significantly in favour of Si Lanka in recent years. In the longer term, we must look to address this imbalance. I would be grateful if my noble friend the Minister could clarify what action is being taken to achieve this.

As important as the volume of trade between the UK and Sri Lanka is the strategic significance of the type of trade. We are one of Sri Lanka’s closest business partners for higher education and professional training as well as for partnerships in the technology sector. These are vital skills that will help Sri Lanka to build and strengthen its economy in the long term and anchor the UK as a key partner in trading. There are already more than 100 British companies with operations in Sri Lanka that cross a wide range of sectors. These include HSBC, GlaxoSmithKline and Rolls-Royce. When I visited Sri Lanka, I was able to visit the Brandix factory near Colombo, which makes garments for Marks & Spencer. I found the operations to be very eco-friendly, with excellent working conditions which were commended by all. I have spoken on this point previously in your Lordships’ House. Sri Lanka also has many of its own home-grown success stories. During my trip, I also visited Millennium Information Technologies, a fast growing Sri Lankan company which was acquired by the London Stock Exchange Group in 2009. Its systems power several stock exchanges and depositories around the world.

Aside from our historical ties and the strong Sri Lankan economy and business base, there are many other reasons for us to promote and further bilateral trade. English is widely spoken across the country, providing many western countries with an easy means of communication with potential workers. The literacy rate in Sri Lanka now stands at about 92%. The commercial law of Sri Lanka is based primarily on the principles of English commercial law and English statutes, offering many companies a legal framework with which they are already familiar. Sri Lanka is the highest rated country in south Asia in the World Bank’s rankings for ease of doing business. Sri Lanka also has free trade agreements in place with India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. These can reduce import tariffs for some goods into those countries and thus help build the Sri Lankan economy further and allow British products to make their way through the supply chain.

Another key consideration is infrastructure. Following the end of the civil war, Sri Lanka is seeing a rapid and wide spread of infrastructure development. Connectivity is being vastly improved through several major road projects linking urban and rural communities. The Government are also improving and upgrading urban infrastructure facilities and basic services in towns and cities.

However, further modernisation is needed and the opportunities for British businesses are vast. The Sri Lankan Government have launched a major infrastructure initiative, entitled Five Hub Programme, which will provide opportunities for us to be involved. There is also an increasing demand for greater expansion in the leisure and tourism sector, including hotels and retail. This is and will continue to be a key growth area for British investors.

Another key area for further investment is education. The Sri Lankan workforce lacks critical job-specific skills, which could serve to undermine both private sector growth and public infrastructure development in the future. We must expand even further our role in providing and investing in higher education and skills training, helping the Sri Lankan workforce to fill the skills gap and become more responsive to the needs of the global market. In particular, I believe we could do more to build university-to-university contacts and become involved in creating colleges of excellence. There are also calls for greater facilitation of business visas for Sri Lankan entrepreneurs to travel to the UK. I hope that our Government will undertake to look at this. I ask my noble friend the Minister whether that can be considered.

Finally, I commend UK Trade & Investment’s recent trade mission to Sri Lanka, which I understand included representatives of 21 British companies. I look forward to learning more about its findings and hope to see more of these delegations in the future.

The future potential for Sri Lanka is huge, but it will be reached only through continued and expanded bilateral trade with countries such as ours

Parliamentary Delegation to Sri Lanka

Jonathan Djanogly(Con), Simon Danczuk(Lab) & Lord Sheikh(Con) in Colombo DSC_0391

Lord Sheikh was a member of a Parliamentary delegation which visited Sri Lanka. The delegation met various eminent politicians and business leaders. In addition they saw the work done by HALO Trust in the demining of areas which were affected during the war.

They also spoke to Sri Lankan citizens in order to see what progress has been made and is continuing to be made following the cessation of hostilities.

Sri Lanka – Question

Lord Sheikh:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the treatment of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka.

Lord Brett: My Lords, we continue to urge the Government of Sri Lanka to address the underlying causes of conflict. We hope that recent progress on returning the internally displaced persons from the camps to their homes continues and is carried out according to international standards. However, progress towards an inclusive political solution that addresses the legitimate grievances of all communities, including Tamils, is slow and that puts at risk the long-term peace and stability of Sri Lanka.

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. Does he support the view that the Government should put pressure on President Rajapaksa to address the plight of Tamils in internment camps as a matter of urgency and arrange for the displaced persons to return to their homes? Secondly, what steps will Her Majesty’s Government take to ensure that President Rajapaksa makes reconciliation between the Tamils and the Sinhalese a priority and undertakes development assistance in the Tamil-populated areas?

Lord Brett: My Lords, the latest official United Nations figures, from 15 January, estimate that 187,500 internally displaced persons-IDPs-have been released from the camps and that around 100,000 remain. This progress is welcome, but we continue to have concerns. Humanitarian agencies lack the full access that is required to assist IDPs to recover their livelihoods and to rebuild their communities. The restriction on the freedom of movement of those who remain in the camps has eased, but there are still constraints. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to his opposite number, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, on 5 February and urged him to allow all IDPs full freedom of movement and to lift remaining restrictions. On the noble Lord’s second supplementary question, it remains our view that genuine national reconciliation is a requirement that will bring the Sri Lankan Government to promote and protect the rights of Sri Lankans, including Tamils. We urge that policy on the Government and hope that they will put it into practice. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister wrote to the President of Sri Lanka, urging him to use his new mandate to take forward a process of national reconciliation.

 

Sri Lanka – Question

Lord Sheikh:

 

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the call for investigations to examine whether war crimes have been committed in Sri Lanka.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government endorse European Union calls for an independent inquiry into allegations of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. An inquiry would play an important role in the post-conflict reconciliation process.

We welcome the joint statement by the United Nations Secretary-General and President Rajapaksa underlining the importance of an accountability process for addressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. The Government of Sri Lanka have agreed to take measures to address those grievances.

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. What has happened in Sri Lanka can only be described as a human tragedy. Over 300,000 Tamils were trapped in an area subjected to heavy bombardment, and it is expected that about 20,000 Tamils were killed and over 200,000 Tamils are now in refugee camps. There are perhaps breaches of the Geneva Convention. I am pleased to hear that we are pressing for an independent inquiry, but I would like to ensure that there is transparency and accountability. The second point is—

Noble Lords: Question!

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, can we ensure that refugees are treated humanely and that there is an inclusive political peace settlement?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that latter point is of great importance. Our immediate concern is for the safety of some 270,000 civilians who fled the fighting and are now being held in camps. We are somewhat encouraged by the fact that the President of Sri Lanka seems to recognise that it is now time to win the peace. He has made gestures of reconciliation. There is no doubt that identifying the nature of the action of the armed forces with regard to the position against the Tamils will need investigation, but we must all hope that the Government set out on the task of reconciliation after such a disastrous series of events.

 

Sri Lanka – Statement

My Lords, there is a significant Tamil diaspora in this country. They are very concerned about what is happening to their friends and relatives, and we are very concerned about the humanitarian issue. As we all know, the Tamils are protesting outside in Parliament Square, and they have also been outside the Indian High Commission. Has the Minister met the Tamil leaders to assure them that have done everything possible to resolve the situation; and is there something special that they would like us to do? We learnt a lot by resolving the conflict in Northern Ireland, and I am sure that we would have something significant to offer to reach long-term peace.