by S. Rajaratnam
How useful is SAARC?
For sometime many Lankans have questioned the validity of the SAARC grouping. The Press has highlighted these concerns with little response from the Government. The time has come for us to seriously ask ourselves as to what good has SAARC done so far in terms of invigorating trade, freeing of travel restrictions to enable the different peoples of the region to visit each other? Has trade improved within the region in the past few years of the existence of SAARC? How many Lankans have seen merchandise from Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Afghanistan here? Have our exporters found new markets in countries other than India and Pakistan? It may be noted the increased trade between India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka is due to specific bilateral trades between the 3 countries and has little to do with SAARC endeavours. Just because the EU and ASEAN were successes there is no reason why the already meagre resources of the smaller countries in the region should be wasted on the regular unnecessary tamashas under the SAARC flag.
Lankans have been demanding reciprocity from India for the “Visa on arrival” facility we extend to their nationals for years. This Sri Lanka has faithfully done in prompt compliance with SAARC resolutions. India flippantly continues to ignore her responsibility. She has only succeeded in convincing our weak Foreign Ministry officials with strange and untenable excuses of potential danger from imaginary LTTE and Pakistani terrorists. Hundreds of Lankans – old men and women, some of whom are in poor physical shape; pregnant women, children – are allowed to suffer only in search of a mere Visa. The escape route the IHC chose to be rid of the public glare by outsourcing Visa formalities at Bambalapitiya has only exacerbated the Lankan woe. Whereas earlier sometimes lucky applicants were able to get their Visas in a day, the present out-sourcing process requires one to hand over the documents one day and call to check the fate of their Visas many days later. Imagine the suffering and unnecessary expenses of an applicant coming from Jaffna, Trincomalee or Batticaloa – from where, in fact, many of the applications come from. I am tempted to believe it is suffering such as this that regional groupings – believed to be committed to assist their nationals should concentrate and not the wining and dining one often sees and hears. It is clear, where Sri Lanka is concerned, the return on investment on SAARC cannot be justified. SAARC seems to dominate TV and media time when in session to the bloated egos of politicians but has offered little to solve the problems of the people. I have not commented on the asymmetry between countries e.g. India and Maldives that immediately brings to question the wisdom of SAARC. The insensitive refusal by India to assist in the Visa matter makes it clear SAARC should be done away with pronto. It is not only Visa applicants to India will support my call but also several hundreds of mendicants who have been ordered “to get lost” from Colombo streets until the SAARC VIP’s leave. They will be as keen to be SAARCers as much as I. O tempora! O mores! [dailymirror.lk]