Derana TV: A warm welcome. You’re joining us at Hyde Park on Ada Derana 24. Tonight on the show you will see a guest who has appeared on my show for a number of times during different milestones in the political history of – recent history of Sri Lanka. I’ve invited to our studios to share with us her final thoughts before she leaves Sri Lanka to take up another posting. The Ambassador of the United States to Sri Lanka, Alaina B. Teplitz. A very warm welcome, Excellency.
Ambassador Teplitz: Indeewari, thank you for having me back on Hyde Park. It’s always a pleasure.
Derana TV: I think your time, your tenure here in Sri Lanka since October 2018, I think it has been quite an eventful period politically speaking too. October you arrived in Sri Lanka in 2018 and we see developments here. A transformational period, if I may say. And 2019, the most horrific situation brought all of the eyes of the world were turned Sri Lanka during the Easter massacre. And you witnessed the presidential election and general election during the challenges of the pandemic. Let’s talk of that.
Ambassador Teplitz: It’s really been an eventful time and a time that would try any nation, frankly. So certainly a lot to do to engage around and try and grow and strengthen the relationship between our two countries.
It’s also been a wonderful time to get to know people, not only seeing people help one another in crisis, but also just get to know the people of Sri Lanka and a little bit about the geography and history of this beautiful place.
Derana TV: How would you describe your tenure here?
Ambassador Teplitz: Eventful certainly comes to mind. You’ve listed all the key challenges of the last couple of years, but I hope it’s also been one of continuity. Of managing a relationship that’s 70 years old, as old as Sri Lanka is, and looking forward to what the next years and decades are going to bring in that relationship, so I hope I have been a bridge and helped to strengthen those ties.
Derana TV: I think the U.S. embassy was quite important in terms of media publicity and media attention. During especially the election, I remember the question of the citizenship of then presidential candidate, and now President
Gotabaya Rajapaksa when that came up, we were able to clarify to the general public in consultations with the U.S. embassy.
But during this time you’ve been having a wonderful relationship with us so on behalf of the Sri Lankan media, and to thank you for all the efforts on the side of the people of Sri Lanka. You’ve been quite a fan of Sri Lankan culture, if I may say. You loved to go and try Curd and Honey in Sri Lanka, traveled to the north, to the east, down south. Tell us a little about your experience from a cultural perspective.
Ambassador Teplitz: I think it’s really important, if I’m going to be an ambassador and represent my country here, to understand the country that I’m helping interpret back to Washington and back to the American people. So I have had a chance to travel around. I’ve also been to the west and in the middle. I managed to get all of the key points in, and such an important part I think of Sri Lankan identity is the food that’s out there. Whether it’s dosas in the north. Whether it’s eating curd and treacle here in Colombo. I really enjoyed these experiences, and it’s been very relatable. I think the world over people want to share a taste, literally, of their culture and that’s what the food accomplishes. I’m a huge fan of hoppers and so many curries I don’t even think I could name them all. Sri Lankan food is super spicy, probably the spiciest food I’ve ever tasted, but definitely I have very fond memories that I’ll be taking back.
Derana TV: I’d like to talk a little bit about tourism. Tourism is one of Sri Lanka’s biggest lifelines. Yet caught a double blow after the Easter attacks. And then again with the current pandemic. We’re struggling to revive the industry here. What advice do you have for us? I think I ask you because you’ve traveled a lot, you’ve gone beyond the role of an ambassador to be a tourist at times too. We’ve seen that as an American national especially in Sri Lanka. So what advice do you have here, Ambassador?
Ambassador Teplitz: I do think Sri Lanka has a lot to offer and that people the world over are going to find this to be a very attractive destination. I can’t solve the problems of the pandemic, so setting that aside I would say finding ways to showcase the wonderful history here. We have the opportunity to contribute to a museum in Anuradhapura that’s housing artifacts by funding display cases so tourists can come and find a relatable way to experience that culture. I’ve experienced so many of the lovely boutique hotels that just seem to be a Sri Lankan specialty but really help people enjoy the beautiful environment and ambience here in the islands.
So of course cultivating a market is going to be really essential in finding out what makes Sri Lanka special in a world of, you know, interesting and unusual places is
going to be key. And promoting that. Promoting that Sri Lankan brand. We’ve tried to support the Tourism Authority also and tourism association with help in developing some of those plans and advertising campaigns. And importantly also figuring out how to make tourism sustainable here. There’s a lot of precious wildlife, there’s a beautiful environment that should be protected. And not just for the tourists. For Sri Lankans really primarily. But tourists also enjoy that and finding ways to display and share that, preserve and conserve I think will stand the country in good stead.
Derana TV: Moving on to talking a little about the political situation, about governance, and I think some of the key parameters that the United States talks about when you relate to Sri Lanka, any other developing nation. Sri Lankans human rights situation has been the biggest issue that we’ve been talking about. About when they refer to the Western world and how the UNHRC and Sri Lanka deals with the UNHRC. Do you think Sri Lanka has been dealing with this situation in a progressive manner?
Ambassador Teplitz: I think the United States and Sri Lanka as democracies share common values around respect for human rights and upholding the civil liberties of our citizens. So I start from that perspective.
I also look at international commitments including the Sustainable Development Goals. Both the United States and Sri Lanka have pledged to try and meet those goals, and SDG 16 is about peace, justice and strong institutions. It’s about equal access to justice. It’s about rule of law. It’s about addressing criminal behavior and ensuring that people are protected and their rights are preserved.
So I think in that context any country that has pledged to meet those goals, really has to self-examine a little bit what the track record is and take a look at ways to address them. And frankly, any democracy that’s accountable to its people shouldn’t shy away from addressing political, social or economic issues that cause conflict, and should be willing also to credibly and genuinely investigate allegations of crimes.
So these are some of the considerations that are out there and we in the United States, of course, are not immune to challenges. We’ve had a long and robust discussion about equal access to justice and about ways to improve our justice system and ensure there’s equity for everybody and that justice is fairly and transparently delivered.
Derana TV: Do you think during your stay here so far you have been able to deal with the government in getting them to address this, to see some sort of progress in Sri Lanka. What has been the relationship like?
Ambassador Teplitz: We’ve had many fruitful conversations. I try to be open and honest in my conversations both privately and publicly and to share the same thoughts that I just expressed to you, that this isn’t a matter of the West imposing its vision on Sri Lanka, these are international norms that Sri Lanka has pledged to respect and uphold.
And so when we talk about human rights I think we’re all looking at this collectively, should be looking at this collectively from the same perspective about how we better the lives of all of our peoples, how we make the world a better place, and how we do so in keeping people whole by respecting their rights and civil liberties.
Derana TV: How does the United States view Sri Lanka’s relationship with, Sri Lanka’s bilateral ties and diplomatic ties with Sri Lanka going forward? Because we’re seen you talking about recent developments in the country, the United States continues to raise its voice. In recent times you’ve been talking, tweeting, about developments here. How will this this change or shape future ties?
Ambassador Teplitz: We’re looking for a strong partnership. We’ve had this long history together and we want to continue our history, making new history going forward. The best partner for the United States, frankly, is a strong, sovereign, capable, democratic Sri Lanka. So we invest a lot in working to achieve that and working with all aspects of society, and I think importantly, this is not just a journey of two governments. This is also a journey of two peoples who are connected through business ties or education or families that might live in both countries. So it’s really important that our relationship is multi-dimensional and it be one that is enduring through tough times or through great times. But always we have the ability to openly communicate.
Derana TV: How would you describe this period?
Ambassador Teplitz: This period of the last couple of years?
Derana TV: In terms of relationship.
Ambassador Teplitz: I’ll be honest and say at times it has been filled with a little bit of tension, but that again is in the context of this very long and lengthy relationship, and I think the tension can be healthy. We need to have the ability to work through areas where we may not have full agreement. We have many interests that do align and we know that that contributes to the strength of our relationship. For example, we’re certainly all worried about maritime security. We’re worried
about the pace of development and the potential for prosperity for our citizens. And clearly in the wake of the pandemic. In addition, global public health as a national security issue has taken a tough position among all nations I think.
These are things that unite us and while we may have some disagreements over issues, that frank communication helps us work through them. But these many other challenges that we face living in our world of the 21st century, these are all the things that bring us together and show that we’ve got to collaborate and cooperate to succeed going forward.
Derana TV: You mentioned about maritime security and concerns for the pace of development. What does this really mean? Are you referring to the fact that we see massive development projects undertaken by other superpowers of the region?
Ambassador Teplitz: First and foremost, we’ve always been concerned that Sri Lanka have the opportunity to negotiate the best deals, sustainable deals, affordable deals, environmentally sensitive deals that are going to contribute to its development and that development assistance be transparent and it be contributing in a way that allows Sri Lankans to help themselves. So that’s part of our philosophy. And I think being in a vulnerable position obviously is not helpful.
For our part in our partnership, we want mutually beneficial arrangements, and from our perspective that means ensuring that Sri Lankans, everyday Sri Lankans have everyday needs that are met.
For example, we’ve worked a lot with communities and the government to establish some of the disaster response mechanisms that help, for example, in flooding or have helped address the problem of landslides. We’ve worked with the Sri Lankan Navy in either providing ships or training to help them patrol waters and address illegal fishing, because fishing is such an important part of communities here.
We’re trying to look at these problems from various dimensions but fundamentally to put Sri Lankans in the driver’s seat and provide the technical support and capacity building that will allow people here to build their own strong foundation.
Derana TV: I’d like to go back to the question of development in Sri Lanka. Time and again there have been concerns raised bout China’s increased influence not just in Sri Lanka but in the region. This is something that the United States talks about. And then investment projects, development projects. What stance does America hold here now in Sri Lanka?
Ambassador Teplitz: We believe that partnerships and relationships between nations should be open, transparent and mutually beneficial. That’s when you have a true partnership and both sides come at an issue from a position of strength and understanding. I think you’ve raised two important issues. One is development, one is investment.
We talked a little bit about development, but Sri Lanka I think can still use the support of the international community to achieve greater economic prosperity and we aim to assist with that, helping Sri Lankan companies grow, helping individuals get access to finance maybe to start their business or get the technical training needed to grow their business, to create jobs and other opportunities.
We also on the investment front look at Sri Lanka’s aspiration to be an attractive investment destination and offer perspectives of American firms. They’re looking for consistent policy-making, they’re looking for contract enforcement, they’re looking for streamlined administrative processes, kind of one-stop shops to get approvals. They’re looking for the kinds of things that will ease doing business here and for opportunities where they’re welcome to bring in true investment, not loans but actually putting their money into Sri Lanka to help grow businesses and create jobs here.
Derana TV: You did mention the support of the international community. It sounded like Sri Lanka must allow the international community to support in the way forward. Would you clarify this kind of support? Whether Sri Lanka is not reaching out or whether there should be conditions more favorable for the international community to support Sri Lanka’s way forward.
Ambassador Teplitz: I think Sri Lanka has many partners as a country and even before its independence as a trading hub and an important logistics center in the Indian Ocean. There are longstanding relationships with many countries and I would see no reason why that would change today. We have an even more tightly woven global community, so even more important and many many partners. And again, beneficial partnerships, ones that are open, transparent, fair.
And I think that it’s up to Sri Lanka obviously to choose the partners that it wants. There are many opportunities to have both commercial partnerships and development partnerships. I think just that simple. There are many opportunities. Sri Lanka can seize those opportunities. We simply encourage looking at the best opportunities for the country here.
Derana TV: During your time, I think the Millennial Challenge Corporation Compact was again, another issue that came into media attention. We’ve been
talking about this at length. But Sri Lanka decided not to enter into this compact. What are your thoughts on this? This was during your tenure. Is there an agreement beyond this? How does America view Sri Lanka’s decision here?
Ambassador Teplitz: It is disappointing that the Sri Lankan people aren’t going to benefit from this development assistance. It was a program that was offered in response to multiple requests from the government. In fact going back to the time when Mahinda Rajapaksa was President. It was offered to address critical barriers to economic growth, so helping with the transportation infrastructure and helping to digitize record so that land purchases and recordings of ownership would be simplified. These are things that really limit the growth of the economy. So the program was put together in order to address those issues, again, as a response to the government.
It was a gift. It was a grant, not a loan. And it comes from the American people. Just like all of our other development assistance that’s offered.
So it’s a little disappointing that the Sri Lankan people were sort of robbed of this opportunity to benefit from a good development program.
Derana TV: With the pandemic, Sri Lanka faces a lot of challenges in terms of economic and day to day life. It’s not just in Sri Lanka. The pandemic has not spared the economies of many countries, but again, we’re talking about IMF, in-line with the support of the international community. But in recent times there have been exchanges between the IMF and Sri Lanka where Sri Lanka has said that Sri Lanka is not ready to comply with certain requirements.
What does the United States have to say here, when we talk about Sri Lanka’s engagement in terms of dealing with the top financial institution, the body of the world.
Ambassador Teplitz: Well firstly, yes, the pandemic has dealt a terrible economic blow to really all countries. I think the United States finally got back to kind of a normal growth level after 18 months or so of less than usual performance. This is true in every country. So in addition to the human toll that this health crisis has brought, it’s definitely brought an economic crisis.
In that context, understanding this is a global problem and obviously global solutions are going to be needed. But I look at the IMF even considering something a little bigger. You mentioned IMF is a global body. It’s an organization made up of member countries. So Sri Lanka and 189 other countries are members of the IMF.
IMF was established to not just address sort of poverty and development but also ensure global financial stability and global employment.
So as a global institution, it’s a really important resource for member states. I believe that Sri Lanka could look at its membership in the organization, the resources that it can access through the IMF as an opportunity to assess economic performance, what needs to be changed, altered, improved, or kept the same. See this as an opportunity to build a firmer economic foundation. In the wake of such a tremendous shock like the pandemic and frankly in the wake of several shocks – the Easter attack, some political crises. It’s not bad to take a step back and get some outside help, whether that’s through technical resources or the financial resources to ensure that there’s going to be a really solid economic foundation to catalyze growth going forward.
Derana TV: Do you think if Sri Lanka does not go ahead with an IMF program that Sri Lanka will be able to manage the situation here? You’ve been witness to developments here, so I ask you, what your view is if we decide not to go ahead with the IMF?
Ambassador Teplitz: I suppose there’s always the possibility to muddle through at some level. But I’m not sure that’s going to generate the degree of economic growth and prosperity that Sri Lankans expect. An economy that’s muddling through is not catalyzed, is not growing at maximum levels, is not generating jobs and the kind of future that people are looking for.
So I think for any government, taking a look at every option that’s on the table is something that would be wise and encouraged. This is a pretty profound global economic situation and it’s going to take every resource to overcome it.
Derana TV: Sri Lanka has been talking about sovereignty, national interest, and looking within the country even for solutions for human rights and accountability. The U.S. has continued to engage with Sri Lanka and there have been resolutions passed against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC level too. But going forward, how do you think you expect Sri Lanka to respond and engage with the international community? Specifically when we talk about human rights, Ambassador, and the question of accountability.
Ambassador Teplitz: These human right resolutions are a reminder of the commitments that governments have made, whether we look at the rights enshrined in Sri Lanka’s constitution or the rights that are in international agreements Sri Lanka has signed up for.
First and foremost, it’s an opportunity to reflect on the obligations of the government to protect those rights, citizens’ rights to enjoy those rights, and how we can achieve a better place.
There are obviously issues here after a long history of conflict that remain to be addressed. That’s one set of challenges that’s out there. Again, I would point to a democratic country accountable to its people shouldn’t be shying away from credibly addressing and adjudicating allegations that are out there.
The second set is ensuring good governance and strong institutions going forward. Again, I point to sustainable development goals and other obligations that establish international norms and expectations that all countries are working to try and meet in order to deliver for their citizens. So I don’t think Sri Lanka is alone in needing to look at the situation and figure out what to do.
We in the United States don’t take for granted that we have some perfect country. We know there’s a lot of work that we need to do and are constantly evaluating whether we’re treating citizens fairly, whether they have equal access to justice, whether the quality of rule of law is sufficient to meet our expectations. So I think this is more part of a journey and there should be no fear in trying to address some of the harder challenges that confront governments.
Derana TV: Has this been communicated to the government in terms of expectations of the United States for Sri Lanka in order to move ahead, to continue with this relationship the U.S. has helped Sri Lanka through USAID at several occasions. But going forward, in order to continue this development assistance, are there any expectations from the U.S. government?
Ambassador Teplitz: I think the biggest expectation for the government or what the people of Sri Lanka expect from their own government, that’s not for the United States to say or intervene with that. That’s where you’ve got your first priority. We don’t condition our relationship in that way.
First and foremost, we have been friends to the people of Sri Lanka and retained those connections and want to support their aspirations, whether that’s for good economic, sustainable economic growth or whether that’s for good governance, rule of law that respects all citizens, you know, whatever direction that we’re going in, we’re here to support those aspirations.
Derana TV: It’s time to take a short commercial break here. Stay with us, we’re in conversation with the Ambassador of the United States here in Sri Lanka, Alaina B. Teplitz.
Derana TV: Welcome back you’re joining us at Hyde Park and we’re in conversation with the Ambassador of the United States here in Sri Lanka.
Ambassador, I think Sri Lanka has embarked on a massive expanded vaccination drive and we’ve seen the United States is donating, sending over doses and consignment of vaccines to the country. What is in the pipeline here in terms of support for this pandemic-related vaccine drive?
Ambassador Teplitz: About two weeks ago a contribution arrived from the U.S. National Reserves of 1,500,100 doses of Moderna vaccine. We’re very pleased to hand that over to the government of Sri Lanka. That has been part of our larger commitment to COVAX, the international alliance to provide COVID vaccines. The United States has donated $2 billion to that effort, so in addition to the in-kind vaccines, we have provided a lot of funding. And of course the R&D to help get some of these vaccines off the ground and the funding to allow companies to find the technology to deliver for us.
So future support through COVAX, whether using the mechanism, I can’t say whether there will be additional vaccines that arrive directly from our stockpile, but we’re certainly supporting the international mechanism and that is benefiting Sri Lanka.
In addition, as the pandemic began, we realized early on that this wasn’t just about a vaccine, so last year we had contributed 200 ventilators to the public health system here and other supplies in what we call the oxygen ecosystem, all the things that could help people who are in need of supplemental support for their breathing.
I think that’s being used now, so we’re glad to have provided all of that support and training a year ago. And recognizing, you know, as we’ve discussed earlier, the toll that COVID is taking on the economy and people’s livelihoods, we tried to invest in some medium to long-term strategies for economic recovery here.
Derana TV: In terms of best practices world over because this is a new situation or we’ve been talking about this since March, an evolving situation. What best practices in your view would you like Sri Lanka to learn from also as we continue to tackle the situation?
Ambassador Teplitz: As we look at the public health crisis, I think we’re learning together as a community of nations and peoples who are affected by this. Clearly vaccination is a key solution and of course the government has made great progress in using the vaccine that has come to Sri Lanka to get people vaccinated quickly, and I’m sure that effort is going to pay off in a big way.
I think as a world we’ve also looked at public health now as a profound national security issue, and that this is something that we all have to take very seriously and collaborate together to address, whether it’s through emergency mechanisms sort of like the COVAX effort which is building on a vaccine alliance called Gavi. Or it’s making sure that we’re attuned to the spread of another potential virus and acting promptly, sharing data, getting the science in there so that nations know how to respond quickly. There are so many things I think we’re going to have to consider and look at going forward, but importantly, maintain the international collaboration that’s going to be needed to stop a pandemic in its tracks.
Derana TV: I take your attention back to development and infrastructure, related investments made in Sri Lanka. The hottest topic in South Asia, the Port City project, has given rise to concerns, scrutiny, media scrutiny as well as expedited, escalated talks between superpowers also with the Sri Lankan government. You recently said that the content of the Port City Act leave room for bribery or corruption within this economic area. Why would you have said that? What reasons do you give for that, Ambassador?
Ambassador Teplitz: In the three years that I’ve been in Sri Lanka I’ve seen the Port City evolve from an undefined sort of spit of land into something that’s really taking shape and I’m aware of the aspirations of the government in terms of what it can deliver economically and perhaps making Sri Lanka a financial or some sort of logistics hub. I think if that’s the goal of trying to attract foreign investment it’s really crucial to have the best possible environment. One that meets the highest international financial standards and business standards.
The Port City legislation, I know it was very hotly debated. We still have concerns that there may be doors that open to bad practices, essentially – money laundering or corrupt practices, other things. So it’s going to be very important to ensure that the government and the regulatory regimes that govern the Port City are really solid and really conform to those international norms because international investors aren’t going to take a risk in an environment that could expose them to practices that they don’t participate in or are illegal for them to participate in.
Derana TV: What do you hear from U.S. investors?
Ambassador Teplitz: U.S. investors writ large are interested in Sri Lanka. We discussed a little bit the ease of doing business and some of the barriers that are there
and what it would take for Sri Lanka to be best positioned to attract the kinds of reputable firms that can really improve economic development here. I think Port City kind of falls into that. Companies are going to want to know what that investment regime looks like. They’re going to need to know that if they’re investing in that space that again, they’re not going to be exposed to risks that could present problems for them, either from regulatory bodies or their own shareholders and boards of directors, and they have to know also that they’re not going to be exposed or collaborating with entities that, you know, could have economic measures levied against them elsewhere by the U.S. Treasury or Commerce Department.
These are all going to be considerations I think for businesses looking at Port City in particular, but the ease of doing business in general, that’s part of the attractiveness in an investment environment. I know that the Sri Lankan government has committed to addressing the ease of doing business. Right now Sri Lanka sits at 99 out of 190 countries so there’s room to improve and I really hope there can be some success in that space.
Derana TV: Regional security concerns expressed by the U.S. and India are shared when you talk about the Port City, China, as well as the regional maritime security.
Have these concerns changed or evolved over time?
Ambassador Teplitz: I think in general, whether it’s the United States and I believe the government of Sri Lanka, other countries in the region want to see that there’s open navigation, that the rules of international order are respected in this space. And I would translate that also again into business environment. Where we have fair and transparent means of doing business. And it gives an equal playing field for all to participate. These are concerns whether we’re talking about the Port City or anything else. And I don’t think they’re new. It’s part of why the international system has evolved the way it has, and that was to ensure that the country’s sovereignties were respected, they have the right to develop their own economic assets, and that nations could trade and invest in one another in a fair and transparent way.
Derana TV: As we talk about trade and development, it’s quite important that Sri Lanka look at exports now going forward. U.S. is Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner. How will ties, relations in terms of the trading aspect, trading side of things go? We talked about the European Union, GSP+ and certain limitations here for Sri Lanka to deal with the international community. How will the U.S. support Sri Lanka in this respect?
Ambassador Teplitz: Certainly you highlighted an important component of Sri Lanka’s economic future, and that’s generating more exports. So the U.S. is the largest bilateral single country market for Sri Lanka.
There’s potential certainly to expand that market and see more two-way investment. Right now much of it is focused on the apparel design and logistics side, but I’m sure in other sectors we have future opportunities. I come back to talking about some of the investment environment. Businesses today, particularly those that are selling to consumers in the United States, want to ensure fair labor standards and ethical supply chain. They are really conscious of where their product comes from, conditions in which it might be made and the consumers are super sensitive to that. An advantage I think Sri Lanka has had for some time, particularly in apparel, has been that it’s been able to demonstrate all, that it meets all of the standards. So maintaining an environment where that remains true, and including kind of the quality of overall governance is going to be important to making those exports competitive abroad.
Equally so is just good economic governance, making sure that the exports are competitive, and that financial controls and monetary policy are supporting that export-led development.
Derana TV: I’d like to also talk about the Easter attacks I think April 21st, 2019, just months after you took office here. A shocking incident. Years after, are you satisfied with the progress of investigations taking place here? In the eyes of the U.S. what does it look like here?
Ambassador Teplitz: Several months ago I think you know the U.S. District Attorney in Southern California put forward three indictments of Easter bombing suspects, those who collaborated or contributed to that terrible, terrible attack.
We’re hopeful that the Sri Lankan government will also come forward with its own indictments. I’m sure there will be many more. I think that’s incredibly important in terms of delivering justice to families of the victims, to the survivors. Victims included five U.S. citizens. There were victims of many countries. So many Sri Lankans. And also sending a message to people who might perpetrate those crimes in the future that they are going to be held accountable and that people who aid and abet those people are going to be held accountable.
We talked a bit about human rights in the context of justice and accountability, but I think it’s equally important when we’re talking about other criminal acts that there be a very high standard of justice. So I hope the government can come forward soon with those criminal complaints.
Derana TV: Would the United States also be willing to engage with the government and address the issue of LTTE groups as well as diaspora raising funds overseas, and propagating this discourse overseas.
Ambassador Teplitz: The United States continues to list the LTTE as a terrorist organization and I think that kind of says a lot about where we stand on that. I know there are many groups abroad of people of Sri Lankan origin, and they have political views that run the whole spectrum. So I’m certainly not willing to say all the diaspora groups have an LTTE link. And that’s something I think we have to work on with the government is how to promote a solid dialogue, and also how to address some of the political issue that might have undergirded that conflict.
The United States was never supportive of the LTTE and collaborated with the government here to defeat it. But I think there are some genuine political issues that are out there that have to be addressed. And that’s going to make for kind of durable and lasting peace and prosperity for Sri Lanka going forward.
Derana TV: You have on many occasions raised the issue with regard to the Prevention of Terrorism Act and have called for its review. How do you look back at your engagements and Sri Lanka’s willingness to progress within these concerns raised by you during your time here.
Ambassador Teplitz: The government has committed to reviewing the Prevention of Terrorism Act, amending it or repealing it, but basically finding a solution to bring the provisions of the act to international standards.
I think it’s essential. Sri Lanka, again, is a democratic state, and having an obligation deliver justice to its citizens, has to address a lot — that essentially allows for indefinite detention and does not provide for due process. In the modern day we kind of look at it this and say you know, we know we owe more to people and having a swift and a definite justice process is really going to be very important. So amending or repealing the PTA, bringing it up to an international standard I think is really crucial.
Derana TV: I think you’re getting ready to take on a new posting elsewhere. How would you leave Sri Lanka — the government, what advice would you give to the government of Sri Lanka in dealing with the rest of the world, in dealing with our own issues here. You’ve been here these few years, and like I started off an eventful period, you’ve seen massive changes, and in the height of the pandemic too, there have been a lot of developments.
What advice would you give for not just the government, but Sri Lanka?
Ambassador Teplitz: It definitely has been an eventful several years and of course when my time here comes to an end, I’ll be leaving with much regret for leaving behind friends and it’s such an enjoyable place, and the long relationships.
I look at the opportunities going forward and there’s potential for greater economic connectivity, there’s a greater potential for more people to people ties, and I hope we can build them over time.
I also think as two democratic countries we have much in common. We should be sharing a lot of values in common. We can be supporting one another and delivering to our citizens what they deserve in terms of good governance and respect for their rights, and that that’s going to be very important going forward.
I feel that through partnerships, genuine, mutually beneficial, transparent, open partnerships, we have the opportunity to also be mutually supportive. And that our relationship going forward as it is today is not a one-way street. You know, it’s a two-way street where we can be working with one another to make something better.
Derana TV: I wanted to ask you something about investment. Are we expecting any investment-related support from the United States going forward?
Ambassador Teplitz: Certainly we have been trying to encourage U.S. business to look at Sri Lanka. It’s obviously not up to us to make the environment one that would be most attractive, but we encourage businesses to look. That connectivity is very important.
The U.S. private sector is not directed by the U.S. government. They’ll make their decisions based on a business opportunity and a business need, and we’d like to see more investment take place here.
In the meantime we’re trying to facilitate also the growth of Sri Lankan businesses so that they are in a good place to make partnerships with U.S. companies that might want to expand here.
Derana TV: What advice would you leave your successor in dealing with sensitive issues here in Sri Lanka?
Ambassador Teplitz: I think as we were discussing, good communication is key to any relationship. And not shying away from the hard issues. We have to find ways to work through those problems, understanding that we do have a strong relationship. We can rely on that partnership and friendship to help us through the difficult times. And that there’s so much we do have in common, whether it’s the form of government, an appreciation for fine food, or you know, natural beauty. These are all things that we can build on that can pull us together and create some kind of mutual understanding that allows us to navigate when the waters get rough.
Derana TV: Ambassador, I must thank you very much for your time here. As I mentioned you’ve been a big fan of Sri Lankan culture, local food, so I thank you for all the time you’ve spent here, the time you’ve taken to travel across Sri Lanka and share with your friends and family the beauty of Sri Lanka.
And of course here in Sri Lanka there have been tough times, difficult times whether we talk about the U.S. engagement in terms of the U.S. compact and good times where the U.S. has been supporting Sri Lanka to date. Even doses of vaccines are being flown into the country.
Before we wrap up, you have a few minutes.
Ambassador Teplitz: I would just say, yes, there’s much to appreciate here and I think every time I drink a cup of tea in the morning, I’ll be thinking about Sri Lanka and some of the opportunities I’ve had to engage with people, whether it was women in Jaffna, entrepreneurs, really seizing the moment to create new livelihoods for themselves and build stronger communities. Or whether it was some of the guardians of Sigiriya or whether it was just kind of enjoying the cool weather of Nuwaraeliya. These are all memories that will be with me for a lifetime and I’m glad I have had a chance to share with family and friends and make some new friends along the way.
Derana TV: Thank you very much. Ayubowan to you.
Ambassador Teplitz: Ayubowan. Thanks Indeewari.
Derana TV: We had the American Ambassador in Sri Lanka, Alaina. B. Teplitz sharing with us her experiences here in Sri Lanka during her tenure as ambassador after taking office in October 2018. Thank you for joining us.