Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Sri Lanka: Dual citizenship axed to avoid war crime charges?

By Ranga Jayasuriya | Lakbima News


Some key positions of Sri Lankan government have been filled by dual citizens. Gotabaya Rajapaksa - the powerful Defence Secretary is a dual citizen of Sri Lanka and the USA. Basil Rajapaksa - Investment Development Minister has a US Green Card in addition to his Sri Lankan citizenship. Sarath Fonseka, the now incarcerated former army commander is also a Green Card holder. Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations also holds his Australian citizenship in addition to his Sri Lankan citizenship.

The government directive stopping dual citizenship is not retrospective - hence it would not affect the citizenship status of those who have already obtained dual citizenship. But it effectively deprives thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of expatriate Sri Lankans of their Sri Lankan citizenship. And, there are other explanations, as advanced by diaspora Tamils on the discontinuance of the applications for dual citizenship.

A reader commented on a popular website - Transcurrents
“The news coming out of Sri Lanka says that the Sri Lankan government has stopped considering applications for dual citizenship. Will it retroactively cancel the dual citizenship; in which event Palitha Kohona will be only a Sri Lankan citizen and then he will be beyond the jurisdiction of International Criminal Court. Sri Lanka has not recognized the ICC.”

“What a smart ostrich style move to protect its own.”Expatriate Sri Lankans obtain citizenship of their host countries for practical reasons. With the citizenship of the host country, come other opportunities which are exclusive to the citizens such as educational opportunities, better career prospects, security clearance and voting rights, etc.

Yet, many have opted to keep their Sri Lankan citizenship, more so for their emotional attachment with their motherland. Now that the process for dual citizenship is put on hold, Sri Lankans who obtain foreign citizenship would naturally be forced to renounce their Sri Lankan citizenship.

The Controller of Immigration and Emigration, W.A.C. Perera, stresses that the discontinuance is temporary. He said that the system (of granting dual citizenship) is in need of improvement and hence, the accepting of applications is temporary. But he does not know when the new system will come into effect, nor could he say what the proposed procedural requirements would be like.

“I have to make a presentation (on the new system) to the His Excellency the President. Only if he approves the proposals that I can speak to the media,” Perera told Lakbimanews when asked to comment on the new system. He denied that the decision is politically motivated. “There is no intention of denying citizenship to anyone,” he added.

Until the recent government directive, dual citizenship was granted under five main categories: 1.Professional category; 2.Wealth category; 3.Fixed Deposit category; 4.Senior Citizen category; 5.The category of Non-Resident Foreign Currency (NRFC), Resident Foreign Currency (RFC) or Special Foreign Investment Deposit Accounts.

Perera says existing categories could be amended but he declines to elaborate, saying proposals have to be first approved by the President before they are made public. Expatriate Sri Lankans who would be affected by the government’s directive are perturbed by the arbitrary nature of the decision. “The recent decision is arbitrary and an absolute insult to the intelligence of expatriates who came through to help the government during every crisis experienced in the country,” says Anjalika Silva, an expatriate Sri Lankan and a naturalized US citizen. “Not only will this decision anger the expatriate community, it will also result in loss of cooperation from expats when called upon to help their homeland which happens frequently at every turn including financing wasteful projects,” she adds.

Moolah for cash strapped economy

Two years back, this government launched a much hyped residential visa programme to woo retired foreign citizens to the island. The programme which aimed to make Sri Lanka a dream home for foreign senior citizens, was expected to bring foreign remittance to the cash strapped local economy.

According to the programme, each visa applicant was required to deposit US$15,000 in a Fixed Deposit account with a local bank and make a monthly remittance of US$1500 for the principle applicant and US$750 for each dependent for their upkeep. The programme which was launched at the height of the war fell short of its expectations due to obvious reasons.

Yet, Sri Lankan workers abroad remitted money to the national coffers to the tune of US$3 billion.

Also, time and again, the government has wooed expatriate Sri Lankans to invest and share their expertise for the development of the motherland. Recently, the President called upon the expats to counter anti-government propaganda propagated by the LTTE front organizations in the West.

There are one million expatriate Sri Lankans, of which 100,000 are professionals. That is in addition to nearly a million strong Tamil diaspora.

In addition, every year, approximately 7,000 Sri Lankan students go abroad for higher education and many of them opt to stay in greener pastures after obtaining their degrees.

“Students decide to stay in the West due to better prospects, but that does not mean they have forgotten their motherland,” says, Anuradha Kohona, a Sri Lankan student at the Swinburne University of Technology, Australia.

But this suspension (of the acceptance of dual citizenship applications) would sever that relationship, he warns. “We hold on to our Sri Lankan identity, very dearly,” he says.

Kohona, who is awaiting his Australian citizenship, however adds that if he cannot retain his Sri Lankan citizenship, he would have to be content with the Australian citizenship. “After all, with an Australian passport it is easier to travel,” he quips.

© Lakbima News

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