By Lionel Bopage –
Your Excellency, President Maithripala Sirisena
Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Reinstatement of Dual Citizenship for Expatriate Sri Lankans
First of all, we extend our heartiest congratulations to you on being elected as the President of Sri Lanka to return the country to a parliamentary democracy that is free of corruption. We also wish to thank you for the many important measures implemented so far for the establishment of good governance in the country. We are certain that you will face the challenges ahead with courage and determination, having the wellbeing of Sri Lanka’s 21 million people at heart.
Our organisation – Australian Advocacy for Good Governance in Sri Lanka (AAGGSL) – is committed to positively subscribe to the establishment of practicing democracy and rule of law in Sri Lanka while respecting the rights and will of all its peoples. We are indeed happy to have played a small role in your dramatic victory by appealing to the Sri Lankan voters through electronic, radio and social media during the month long period of your election campaign.
This appeal of AAGGSL relates to the reinstatement of dual citizenship in Sri Lanka, a matter that has significant relevance to many Sri Lankans living overseas. As an advocacy group for good governance, we promote among other things, forward-looking policies for the advancement of future generations. It is for this reason we thought it necessary to highlight the legitimate concerns of thousands of expatriates, who long to reinstate their Sri Lankan citizenship.
As your Excellency is aware, in the last few decades, hundreds of thousands of people left Sri Lanka due to communal riots, war, political upheavals, military intimidation, reprisals, death threats and media muzzling. During the civil war many parents decided to send their young sons and daughters abroad for quality higher education in the safety of Western countries, such as Australia. Those who were granted permanent residency or asylum in foreign countries were able to obtain citizenship in those countries for a nominal sum of processing fees.
These men and women who have since become admirable citizens of other countries have a lot to offer in the rebuilding of our nation, but are unfairly inhibited from doing so. Their knowledge, expertise and wealth gained in the first world countries can be gainfully invested in the service and development of our motherland, thus reversing the ‘brain drain’ and capital flight that for too long has affected the country’s growth and prosperity.
But many expatriates, who were so hopeful of going back to Sri Lanka for good, buoyed by the recent positive developments, have expressed disappointment at the announcement that resumption of dual citizenship in Sri Lanka will cost $5000 per person! This we see as a significant financial impediment to those who want to invest in small business ventures in the country, as well as to parents who wish to cultivate our cultural values in their children. For a family of five, $25,000 is an exorbitant price for their return home as citizens, let alone the air fares and other ancillary expenses! Many professionals, technical experts and the wealthy, as well as skilled workers, educationists and healthcare workers – all find it as a total disincentive to their dream of one day giving back something valuable for the betterment of their countrymen.
It is to your credit, Mr. President, that following the initiatives taken by your government on matters of rule of law, democracy, judiciary and freedom of expression, many expatriates now feel that they can contribute constructively for the social and economic development of their country.
In the circumstances, we believe that Sri Lanka has a lot to gain by making the cost of dual citizenship for expatriates more equitable. We urge your Excellency to kindly take steps to reduce such costs to comparable levels of regional countries, thus help our expatriates’ heartfelt desire to return to, and invest in their motherland, practicable, affordable and sustainable.
Dr Lionel Bopage – President, Australian Advocacy for Good Governance in Sri Lanka