Clearly stung by Britain's withholding half of its assistance for tsunami relief work in Sri Lanka, citing the government's human rights violations and high defence expenditure, President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Wednesday declared that Sri Lanka would not depend on foreign aid.
"If we are offered genuine aid, we will take it. If not, we will forget about aid and do our job. We will not be dependent on aid," the President told media at a meeting in Colombo.
"We will use our own money. We cannot wait for assistance from any sources to carry out our responsibilities," Rajapaksa said.
"Today, we use our own money for resettlement work. We did not wait till the INGOs (International NGOs) came with their money. The work is being done successfully."
"The work of resettlement, whether of the tsunami displaced or of those displaced due to the conflict, is the responsibility of the government. We will discharge this obligation whether we get aid or not," he declared.
The President made these points while answering a question as to how he looked at the British action.
Britain had allocated $6 million for tsunami relief in Sri Lanka this year, but decided to release only $3 million citing conditions that had not been met. The rest of the money would be released if the human rights record improved and the defence expenditure was lessened, media reports quoting British diplomats said.
Lanka heavily dependent on foreign aid
Rajapaksa's statement is puzzling in the light of Sri Lanka's heavy dependence on foreign aid to finance its annual budgets.
In the budget for 2007, foreign borrowings and grants accounted for 33.5 per cent of the total financing of LKR 235,038 million ($2.1 billion). In the 2006 and 2005 budgets, the foreign component was 28 per cent.
INGOs still not welcome
Rajapaksa's statement on not being dependent on foreign NGOs came in the wake of a request by UNHCR to allow international relief agencies to work in West Batticaloa in the war-affected Eastern district of Sri Lanka.
The government had cleared UN agencies but not other international agencies.
In the view of the Sri Lankan government and the South Sri Lankan polity, INGOs are covert agents of the LTTE "terrorists."
Setback to British mediatory effort
In the context of Rajapaksa's statement, it is doubtful if the British bid to mediate between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE will succeed.
Sri Lanka's majority Sinhala community is angered by a debate in the British parliament on May 2, in which some Labour MPs asked for the removal of the British ban on the LTTE. The newly formed All Party Tamil Group in the British parliament led by Keith Vaz had proposed to invite the LTTE's political wing leader SP Tamilselvan to address parliament.
Recently, the British High Commissioner, Dominic Chilcott, had wanted to have a meeting with the Sinhala nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), but the talks did not come off because the JVP wanted them to take place only in its office and Chilcott would not agree.