• It is by commitment to eliminating corruption and waste that a country can develop, not through some magical formula.
• My experience of 30 years was not fully utilized by some. It is the former President who appointed me Ambassador.
• As Ambassador, I have been able to be of greater service to the country than by remaining in politics.
• We have been able to strengthen Sri Lanka – United States diplomatic relations at the highest level.
• President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s political decision to commit to economic reform made IMF assistance possible
• Sri Lanka received a significant quantum of United States assistance during the recent past.
• Some in Sri Lanka did not fully cooperate in the provision of nearly SL Rupees 17 billion in-kind medical aid that we facilitated.
Mahinda Samarasinghe, having completed two terms as a diplomatic representative in Australia and Switzerland, in 1988 entered representative politics through the Provincial Council system, later serving as Chief Government Whip and Chief Opposition Whip in Parliament. He held office during ﬁve Cabinets as a Minister holding seven portfolios. He also has held the post of elected Chairman of the Committee on Human Rights of Parliamentarians representing the 168-member countries of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, earning recognition and prestige for Sri Lanka. Let us, at the dawn of the New Year, discuss his contribution as the current Sri Lankan Ambassador to the United States:
Q: In your role as Ambassador to the United States, are you satisﬁed with what you have achieved?
A: Yes. I have paved the way to serve the country over and above what I could do through political representation.
Q: What is this new pathway you have carved?
A: My background based on international experience and connections has been the basis for this. Previous leaders did not fully utilize my thirty years of being an elected representative and my experience. Former President Gotabhaya invited me to take on this Ambassadorship as Sri Lanka’s representative to the most powerful nation and because I could provide a greater service, I took on this responsibility. I have achieved more than I thought possible.
Q: What was your contribution to reviving a collapsed Sri Lankan economy?
A: I am someone who has tertiary education and experience in the economic ﬁeld. It was with that foundation that I functioned in the United States. It was necessary to interact and work with a global organisation such as the IMF in order to restore international conﬁdence in the Sri Lankan economy. On the advice of the former President, I discussed Sri Lanka’s economic challenges with the leadership of the organisation. Thereafter, two senior IMF officials visited Sri Lanka and held discussions with the former President. One of those two is today the Governor of the Central Bank of Korea.
Within two to three days, the former President communicated to the IMF that we were ready for an IMF Programme. Consequently, if President Ranil Wickremesinghe had not taken a political decision to commit to domestic reform measures, IMF consent and ﬁnancial support would not have been made available to the country.
Q: How have your interventions helped in Sri Lanka receiving medicine and related assistance?
A: Sri Lanka faced a shortage of medicines due to limitations of foreign reserves. The Ministry of Health, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, informed Embassies to seek medical assistance. A list of medical items required was communicated.
I contacted the heads of several institutions and organizations with whom I had established contact. We were able to secure free medical assistance from these organizations to Sri Lanka. Within a short time, we were able to secure over USD Fifty-three Million (over LKR Sixteen Billion). It is a matter of pride for me and the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Washington,
D.C. that we have been able to facilitate the provision of this assistance. High-cost medicines of a premium standard including heart and other cancer medicines were sent. We were able to also ensure that the cost of transportation was borne by American donors.
Q: In this effort, was the “Sri Lankan medical maﬁa” a hindrance or a problem? Did you have to face challenges?
A: Procuring free medical assistance from the United States of America was far easier than obtaining approval from relevant authorities for the import of these medicines into Sri Lanka. I had to even communicate with the President on several occasions on this matter. Some honest officials helped in this effort.
Q: Are you gaining any proﬁt from sending more medicines to Sri Lanka…. or are Sri Lankans being lab rats for American medical tests?
A: In which world are commissions earned from free medicines? It is only when medicines are purchased that commissions can be earned.
We have sent medicines of the highest globally accepted standards. These are not cheap sundried medicines like those from other countries.
Q: Apart from medicines have you been able to gain any additional support for Sri Lanka from the United States?
A: USAID has provided USD Three Hundred Million over the past one and a half years to Sri Lanka. Fertilizer for the previous Maha season was provided. The DFC has provided USD One Billion in ﬁnancial support to Sri Lanka. This includes USD Five Hundred and Fifty-three Million to the Colombo Western Terminal. We are talking to its head in order to bring a host of investments to Sri Lanka. We have facilitated assistance to Sri Lanka from a number of
U.S. agencies and institutions.
Q: You have been a minister, a member or an ambassador in every administration. How did that happen?
A: From 1988 in the Provincial Council and from 1994 in Parliament, I have been a popular representative elected by the people. During this period some leaders and some governments, recognizing my abilities, have utilized my services for the country. I am happy about it.
Q: This is an election year. Will you return to politics?
A: I can perform a greater service through this position than through politics. Many people acknowledge that I have proved this. I am ready to continue with this service for the country. It is because of strengthening diplomatic relations with the United States that much of the assistance is being received. We have also signed a bilateral agreement with Mexico which includes strengthening commercial ties.
Q: What is the message you would like to convey to the Sri Lankan people including the people of the Kalutara District for 2024?
A: Patience, respect for the law, unity, commitment to the country as well as rejection of corruption and waste should be the resolutions we make for 2024. Developed countries have reached their current stage not through magical means but through commitment to these ideals and Sri Lankans should dedicate themselves accordingly.
Sourced by US embassy Washington DC