Issuing a new year message, Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said in this new year ’We need to focus on a more people centred diplomacy by connecting with people at all levels. We will need to be proactive in diplomacy, friends to all, and enemies to none and based on our traditional non-aligned value based approach’. The Minister said the Ministry had successfully faced numerous challenges during the year 2007 and in the year 2008, he sees a further increase of such challenges. The Minister also said that he is confident that the Foreign Service is well groomed and capable of achieving Sri Lanka’s foreign policy objectives.
Full Text of Ministers Speech:
I wish to extend my greetings and best wishes to you all for a Successful and Prosperous New Year 2008. I also wish to take this opportunity to reflect on some of the milestones we achieved in the international arena in the year 2007 and to communicate to you my expectations for 2008.
2007 was both a challenging and eventful year for us. We spearheaded successful new initiatives to deal with challenges whilst our fresh pursuit in realising political and economic objectives both at bilateral and multilateral fora have borne fruit.
Our President H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa was able to undertake several state visits and official engagements overseas including six at multilateral fora in which he commanded the world stage i.e the SAARC Summit, World Economic Forum, G-11 Summit, Hindustan Summit, UN Summit on climate change, UNGA and CHOGM in Uganda. His statements at these events brought to the fore our thrust in foreign policy and also gave prominence to our views at international level.
HE the President’s bilateral visits to India, Peoples Republic of China, Maldives, Jordan, Kuwait, the Holy See, Italy, Iran and Japan also enhanced our political and economic cooperation with these countries, as evinced from the unprecedented amount of aid received and the political and security cooperation extended by them which has benefited us and will stand well for the future.
Despite reservations in some quarters about the President’s visit to Iran we were able to register many positive economic gains from that visit and as a direct outcome, we have noted a significant appreciation of the rupee against the dollar in the past month.
Besides accompanying H.E. the President on these visits I also paid bilateral visits to India, Germany, Pakistan, USA, UK, Japan, Maldives, Peoples Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Libya, France, Belgium, Malaysia, Nepal, Bangladesh and to the UN in New York. In addition I led ministerial level delegations to the Asian Cooperation Dialogue, Shangri-La Dialogue, ASEAN Regional Forum, G-14, Commonwealth and SAARC meetings.
The significant outcome at these fora was that we were able to canvass Sri Lanka’s agenda; mainly the need to counter terrorism and to enhance economic cooperation for our development goals. As you are well aware our contribution at these international platforms becomes important since these fora are springboards in connecting with major international power centres.
At the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group Meetings (CMAG), we stood firmly opposed to Pakistan’s suspension from the councils of the Commonwealth and argued that we need to give the government of President Musharraf space to restore democracy taking into account the ground realities. As a recognition of our proactive contribution to CMAG deliberations we were re-appointed for an unprecedented third term. Besides, our steadfast support for Pakistan has been appreciated by the Pakistani Government which has declared us “a true and sincere friend”. Sri Lanka also recognised that it was Asia’s turn to nominate a candidate for the post of Commonwealth Secretary-General, our President took the initiative in inviting India to put forward a candidate and sought support from Commonwealth member countries for the candidature. Eventually, India’s candidate Shri Kamalesh Sharma was elected at the CHOGM held in Kampala, Uganda this year.
Sri Lanka also sought re-election to the UNESCO Executive Board this year and was re-elected securing 130 votes thereby gaining a top position in the vote count ahead of several other leading players.
During the year we were also able to improve our consular services, in fact, our Consular division will be shifted to a more spacious location closer to the Ministry at the beginning of the new year. Consular divisions in Missions abroad are also now generating higher income after revising consular fees and are proving to be more effective in serving the community in the respective countries.
Our Indian Ocean initiatives on Maritime Security to combat terrorism in close coordination with our neighbours, have also been accepted and widely discussed at the Shangri-La Dialogue, ARF, SAARC and CHOGM with wider action being contemplated. Having accepted that eliminating terrorism which threatens our sovereignty and territorial integrity is the key to ushering in an era of stability and economic development in our country, action on countering terrorism remained our foremost pursuit in the year 2007 with a continuing agenda to follow.
The international community has taken meaningful action most particularly in USA, UK, France, and Australia where a number of LTTE operatives were arrested this year and significant action has been taken by the respective governments to deal with the fundraising, arms procurement and propaganda activities of the LTTE and its front organisations. The banning, by the United States of America, of the TRO too, is a major demonstration of international support we have received in this connection.
We also organised a highly successful conference on counter-terrorism in Colombo that brought together experts in the field from around the world to create awareness and to look in detail at specific terrorism related issues such as economic crime, cyber terrorism, terrorist networking and maritime terrorism etc. Our Government also did not hesitate in naming terrorists as terrorists and highlighting how terrorism was destroying international peace and stability whilst pursuing the goal of a political solution to the conflict in our country. As a consequence we have been able to significantly dent the LTTE’s capabilities both locally and overseas during the past year.
The clearance of the East by the security forces was a significant achievement and in this context, I wish to acknowledge the action taken by our overseas Missions to obtain economic assistance from their accredited Governments, NGOs and diaspora for the “re-awakening of the East programme” launched by H.E. the President. These achievements at the local and international level wouldn’t have been possible if not for efforts made by my Ministry and our Missions abroad in the respective locations and I wish to place on record my appreciation to all of you.
The time has now come at another year. The thrust and goal in 2008 should be to further build on these achievements. Our President H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa mentioned in a speech on 26 December ’07 that “military victories will surely pave the way to push the LTTE to seek a political solution to the problem”. As outlined by our President, the government’s priority is to reach a political settlement to the conflict and to defeat terrorism. In this context we should realise and get a sense of the importance of working together with all communities in the diaspora to promote our unity in diversity.
We need to focus on a more people centred diplomacy by connecting with people at all levels. We will need to be proactive in diplomacy, friends to all, and enemies to none and based on our traditional non-aligned value based approach.
At the same time we need to broaden our activities in the field of economic diplomacy. During the past year, we have strengthened the Economic Affairs division in the Ministry, initiated action to coordinate our work more closely with line Ministries involved in finance, trade, investment promotion, tourism and employment promotion. We arranged for business delegations to accompany H.E. the President and myself on our official visits with a view to promoting trade, investment and tourism. In this regard trade development and openings for provision of services by Sri Lankan companies should form part of the economic initiatives.
Another of our priorities is exploration of overseas employment opportunities for our people. Our Missions in the Middle East and elsewhere significantly contributed to the increase in foreign employment opportunity during the past year.
Recently the Ministry organised a felicitation ceremony on the occasion of the 90th birthday of Sir Arthur C Clarke which was attended by scientists and astronauts from around the world. This is only the start, but brought into focus our new initiative to engage more closely with experts in the field of science and technology with a view to promoting scientific and technological connectivity with Sri Lanka.
Last year I initiated a number of programmes to promote Buddhism and strengthen cultural relations. These include obtaining the hair relics of Lord Buddha from Bangladesh, a mission by Buddhist clergy to Iran arranged by the Foreign Ministry, and also the re-development work in Lumbini which will commence shortly. The Foreign Ministry will also engage in the promotion of the development of an International Buddhist Zone in Piliyandala which was initiated by H.E. the President.
Our new initiatives and proactive diplomacy should be viewed in the context of our expectation that our Missions measure their contribution with tangible results. We may term this as a return on investment, to use corporate parlance. Where political gains can be made we must go all out to achieve as much as we can, where economic gains are to be made we must do likewise, where social well-being is to be realised for instance in the Middle East we must go all out to help our expatriate community. This also highlights the fact that we should not confine ourselves to pursuing one facet or goal but should adopt a multi-faceted approach.
In 2007, we set up new Consulates in Frankfurt and in Shanghai and opened a Representative Office in Ramallah. We are looking at opening three new Missions in the near future and will also be taking stock of the effectiveness of some of our existing Missions.
We have recently completed a refurbishment of the residence in Washington, re-located our Chancery to a more suitable building in Male and also commenced refurbishment of buildings in our compound in New Delhi. In the New Year we will expedite work on the construction of a new residence in London, a new Chancery in Riyadh as well as in Kuala Lumpur. We have also begun re-fleeting in our Missions taking into account the requirements. We also completed the construction of a new public library in Male which was gifted to the Maldivian Government as a lasting symbol of our friendship. I thank everyone who helped in this regard.
We also need to focus on our Missions’ overall quality of service and the management discipline. Although officers serving in Missions have a limited tenure in keeping with service requirements, I have personally come across officers who are making a lasting contribution to their country in their respective roles.
I know there are some who say that it is not possible to achieve results because ground realities are not conducive. Then the question arises how come some have performed overcoming all challenges and with rather limited resources too? I strongly believe that one’s will and more effective resource management can mitigate some of these obstacles. Some of our Heads of Mission have made a substantial contribution in terms of our economic development projects, today we see the early realisation of some major projects which can be well attributed to their good work. The success of H.E. President’s and my visits abroad too have been a consequence of the strong nexus that some of our Missions have maintained with the Foreign Ministries and relevant institutions in their country of accreditation.
Space here does not permit me to highlight several other achievements which are of course well recorded in our annual report.
This year we will host several international events in Sri Lanka. This includes the SAARC summit following my proposal that it be held in Sri Lanka during the SAARC Council of Ministers Meeting. I believe with all your support we could host a successful summit. We will also host the Commonwealth Ministerial Conference on Terrorism in Colombo, which you may recall is a consequence of a proposal I made at the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers Meeting, which was welcomed by Commonwealth Heads of Government in Uganda. We will also host the Commonwealth Youth Ministers Meeting in April this year. Sri Lanka will also this year host the ACD Sessions on Small and Medium Scale Enterprises together with the Co-Chair Singapore. We will be hosting the ACD Summit which brings together 27 member countries in Colombo in 2009 and as you may be aware our President has offered to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo in 2011. We are also scheduled to have several State visits and visits by Foreign Ministers to Colombo in 2008.
Next year we will seek re-election to the UN Human Rights Council and I expect your active support in canvassing your respective countries. We must sustain our proactive role in the international scene in the coming year and I expect you to direct your energies to realise this.
2008 will also mark 60 years of independence. I would like you to ensure that events that you have already planned to commemorate this diamond jubilee has as its objectives the three following areas: (1) highlighting our political relationship with the host country, taking into account support from the host country for Sri Lanka over the years (2) identifying areas for economic cooperation with a view to enhance the existing ties (3) focus on connecting up the wider Sri Lankan community in the different locations in your country of accreditation and bring them together as one Sri Lankan diaspora, thus demonstrating our unity in diversity.
I would like also to look retrospectively at our human resource situation both in the Ministry and the Missions abroad. I am very keen to ensure that the Sri Lanka Foreign Service (SLFS) personnel are offered the best opportunities for the pursuit of their career and in particular gain the wide exposure necessary for them to fulfil the tasks ahead. I have no doubt that the postings given in 2007 and 2008 will stand testimony to my commitment in this regard. Today SLFS officers have been deployed in all Missions abroad besides those serving in the SAARC and IOR-ARC secretariats.
There were some Missions at major nerve centres in the past which did not have even a single SLFS officer and this too has been rectified during the course of this year. I also intend recruiting more SLFS officers to strengthen the Foreign Service.
I must particularly acknowledge the operations at the Head Office that have gone on round the clock and in some Missions that have been burdened with numerous additional tasks. In the year 2008 I see a further increase of such tasks in dealing with numerous challenges. I am confident that our Foreign Service is well groomed and capable of achieving Sri Lanka’s foreign policy objectives.
I invite every one of you to share your ideas with me on enhancing our international relations at all levels in line with the key policy objectives of the government of our President H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa. I am sure that by now you have drawn up your plans for 2008 and I believe that our key objectives would have been taken on board. I look forward to working closely with all of you and wish to take this opportunity to record my special thanks to the Deputy Minister, Secretary, Additional Secretaries’, Directors General, Heads of Mission and to all other staff at the Ministry and our Missions abroad for making all these achievements in the past year possible. As custom dictates I am constrained to acknowledge some of the outstanding contributions made by some of you, but be assured that these contributions have been duly noted.
Having, met successfully the challenges of 2007, in a wider dimension of our international relations, I am pleased with the team effort demonstrated by all of you, that has contributed towards to this success. I am confident that this year we will achieve greater heights. Let us approach the year with a spirit of optimism and joy for a successful 2008.
I wish each and every one of you a happy new year.
Rohitha Bogollagama, MP
Minister of Foreign Affairs
1 January 2008