|PRE-TOKYO SRI LANKA SEMINAR -
WASHINGTON DC - 14 APRIL 2003
Minister for Economic Reform, Science and Technology
Ladies and Gentlemen,
At the outset, I would like to express, on behalf of Prime Minister
Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Government and the people of Sri Lanka,
their profound appreciation to Deputy Secretary of State Armitage,
and through him, to the Government of the United States, for having
convened this Seminar in preparation for our meeting in Tokyo
in June. Equally, we extend our profound appreciation to the Government
of Japan for acting as host to the June Conference, which will
be of critical significance for the peaceful resolution of the
bitter conflict that has fractured our society, and ravaged our
country for two decades. No less do we thank the Governments of
all the countries represented at this Seminar for their concern
We are the more grateful because these meetings
that concern Sri Lanka are being convened at a time when the world's
attention is drawn to momentous events taking place elsewhere.
It is our hope that this demonstration of friendly concern will
have its own recompense in the form of satisfaction at being able
to assist a process that brings peace and unity to a country and
hope for 19 million people.
* * * *
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The world was a different place after the tragedy of September
11th 2001. So too was Sri Lanka. Just months before, in July,
an attack by the LTTE severely damaged our only international
airport. If that was our darkest hour, the dawn would not be far
away. It strengthened our resolve to end a senseless conflict.
Since the Government of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe took office
some 15 months ago, every effort has been made to arrive at a
peaceful resolution of the conflict. With this in mind we invited
the Norwegian Government to continue with the facilitation process
that was initiated by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge.
As a result of the commitment of the Norwegian Government and
the sincerity and resolve of the two parties to the conflict,
there is now hope for a peaceful end to the bloody hostilities
that have killed more people than the United States lost in the
entire Vietnam War and has spread terror throughout our country
and crippled its economy.
The peace process in Sri Lanka has been a matter of learning
by doing. However, our philosophy has been rooted in a principled
framework that is predictable in approach, flexible when appropriate
but firm and resolute when necessary. One reason why the conflict
had spread over so many years was that there seemed no way out
of it. Some believed that a military solution was feasible. Others,
who thought that a peaceful solution could be found, were disappointed,
as one negotiation after another ended in failure and renewed
The approach of the present Government has been different. With
a genuine desire to address the lingering issues that had given
rise to conflict, we were willing to listen, to learn, and to
be patient and inventive in our quest for peace. On the other
hand, we would not close our eyes to the possibility of failure,
and would be prepared to deal with its consequences. With an open
but cautious approach, we can claim now to have made substantial
progress toward what we believe to be our common goal.
The visionary leadership of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and
his willingness to look with fresh eyes on the complexities of
the situation have resulted in agreement on a cease fire, and
acceptance by both sides of the political risks necessary to carry
the process forward. Most importantly, we have effectively engaged
the international community in our quest. We need their concern,
their assistance, and their support in our endeavours. That the
international community should recognize that they, too, have
a stake in the outcome of these negotiations - that, we believe,
is our surest guarantee of success.
No one should expect that the issues over which thousands of
our countrymen have given their lives could be resolved in a brief
negotiation. Twenty years of conflict have wounded minds as well
as bodies. Those wounds will take some time to heal; they have
generated a climate of fear and mistrust in a country that is
home to communities of different ethnic origins, of different
religious persuasions, and speaking different languages; communities
that must come to recognize that it is only through harmony and
collaboration that prosperity for all can be achieved.
Some donors may, as a matter of policy, think it desirable to
postpone granting us assistance until the current negotiations
are concluded and a peace accord has been signed. We appeal to
them to reconsider that approach in the circumstances of our case.
There are many instances where accords have remained on paper,
where beneficiaries have been denied a chance to feel the benefits
of peace. There is no doubt that without donor support from the
outset, economic recovery could turn out to be a distant prospect.
If we are unable to demonstrate now, in a preliminary way, the
dividend that peace will bring, we risk the negative effects of
frustration among the parties, a breakdown of the negotiations,
and the resumption of hostilities. By allowing the flow of assistance
to commence now, we could begin to show to every section of our
people, including the LTTE, that a peaceful accommodation of interests
will bring tangible prosperity and a better quality of life for
In support of our appeal for the timely commencement of assistance
that would speed Sri Lanka's economic recovery, we offer the progress
thus far achieved under complex and volatile conditions. Whenever
ceasefire violations have taken place, both parties have displayed
the wisdom and maturity not to scuttle the peace process and revert
to violence. Our negotiators have been able to remain focused
on the common goal of a political solution. From having to deal
with the demand for a separate state, they have moved to a consideration
of patterns of devolution within a federal system. The atmosphere
at the negotiations has progressed from mutual suspicion tinged
with hatred, to mutual caution, in a continuing trend that is
fostered through confidence-building measures. Moreover, we would
be willing to offer such assurances as may be needed as to the
proper use and accountability for the funds provided.
Funds are urgently required for both the immediate needs
of reconstruction, rehabilitation and relief as well as for laying
the foundations for overall economic recovery after two decades
of destructive and debilitating conflict. I would like to outline
first the tasks that demand our immediate attention.
- There are some 1 million land-mines scattered in unmarked
areas, that need to be located and neutralized.
- Whole towns and villages need to be re-built and their basic
- There are an estimated 1 million internally displaced persons,
currently accommodated in camps, or staying with relatives.
They desperately need shelter and simple equipment to till the
- Many schools have been destroyed or damaged in conflict-affected
areas, while schools in other parts of the country have suffered
severely from a chronic lack of funds. Sri Lanka is proud of
its achievements in education, and its high literacy rates.
Access to good schools has been of enormous significance to
our people. But unless urgent action is taken to restore the
quality of our schools, we shall risk squandering our achievements
in this field, and having to deal with a "lost generation"
of inadequately educated youth.
- One of the greatest challenges that we must face is getting
people back to work throughout the island. In addition, it has
been our experience that whenever people have remained in refugee
camps for long periods without hope and regular employment,
they tend to become inured to a culture of dependency. But,
with very little assistance they can be encouraged to resume
their livelihoods as fishermen, farmers, and small traders.
The social returns on such small investments will be very large,
and the rehabilitation of these sections of our population will
be essential if we are to achieve a lasting peace.
"Regaining Sri Lanka": a programme to stimulate
economic growth and eliminate poverty
A large percentage of our people still live below the poverty
line, and the Government of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe is committed
to making a determined effort to deal effectively with the problem.
Looking back over the 50 years since Sri Lanka re-gained its
independence, we can see the strong commitment of successive governments
to human development and welfare policies. Large investments in
social development have been reflected in Sri Lanka's extraordinarily
high placement from year to year in the United Nations Human Development
Indices. But over the same period, we did less well in maintaining
an appropriate balance between social sector expenditures and
investment in creating an environment conducive to economic growth.
The result has been an imbalance between the aspirations of the
people on the one hand, and on the other, a lack of opportunities
for their realization. That imbalance has, in turn, resulted in
dramatic and destructive socio-political consequences, especially
among the youth. Sri Lanka, it must be said, already possesses
the human capital necessary to generate and sustain economic growth;
in this, our situation may resemble more that of post-War Europe
or Japan rather than that of some other developing countries.
The Government's economic programme, called "Regaining Sri
Lanka" is designed to redress this imbalance between aspirations
and opportunities. We recognize that efforts to alleviate poverty
cannot succeed without economic growth, and the programme establishes
priorities designed to move the economy to a higher growth path.
We also recognize that we cannot be dependent on foreign aid indefinitely.
We need to stand on our own feet. "Regaining Sri Lanka"
seeks to achieve this.
I would like you to note that the "Regaining Sri Lanka"
programme was developed with extensive participation by persons
from a wide range of backgrounds, and is being implemented by
Steering Committees that are essentially public/private sector
partnerships. This endeavor has earned the strong support and
endorsement of the international community.
The Tokyo appeal for timely support
In making an appeal to our friends for timely support for our
efforts at reconstruction and development, we ask that you take
into account the special difficulties that confront us on the
way to making peace a reality: It is not feasible for us to deal
with reconstruction of war-ravaged areas in isolation from the
development of the rest of the country which has also suffered
economic and social damage as a result of the war; nor would we
succeed in our efforts if assistance were to be delayed pending
conclusion of a peace agreement. The situation we face demands
first that we undertake reconstruction and development activity
right away in the south as well as the north on some equitable
basis, looking at urgent development needs over the country as
a whole; and second that we balance immediate needs against medium
term investment needed for economic growth. We are convinced that
unless we can significantly increase economic growth and demonstrate
the prospect of a better future for all, it will not be possible
to make headway in the building of a lasting peace and a united
Hence, the Tokyo Donor Conference is an event of critical importance
to the success of our endeavours. There we shall want to focus
on reconstruction and development of the entire country. Immediate
humanitarian assistance is urgently needed for undertaking the
tasks I outlined earlier, such as de-mining, reconstruction of
towns and villages, and assistance to internally displaced persons,
including promoting their resumption of productive work. But of
equal and parallel importance is the need to make substantial
progress on the "Regaining Sri Lanka" programme that
represents the Government's overall economic strategy for poverty
alleviation and forms the basis for the financing we receive from
the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, The Asian Development
Bank, other financial agencies and bilateral donors.
Elements of that programme include: (1) infrastructure development
such as the building or repair of roads and the augmentation of
power generation; (2) making Sri Lanka into a transport, logistic
and financial hub for the region as well as the world;
(3) the establishment of a strong information and communications
technology sector that would facilitate the flow of information
and contribute to re-integrating the country; (4) improving the
delivery of all types of education, especially tertiary education,
to our people, and making them more responsive to their needs;
(5) strengthening our health care delivery systems - upon which
the vast majority of our people depend; (6) improving the productivity
of our agriculture, fisheries and small businesses so as to enhance
the quality of the lives of our people; (7) preservation of our
environment, even as we seek success in increasing economic growth;
(8) the promotion of tourism, including eco-tourism and other
non-traditional forms of tourism; (9) I mention finally one of
the most complex and politically sensitive of the elements in
the Prime Minister's programme, namely, reform of the public sector.
The disproportionate size of Sri Lanka's public sector - greater
by far than any in the Asian region - is a constraint that severely
limits economic growth.
At the time we regained independence 50 years ago, our country
was among the most economically advanced in Asia. Since then,
political and ideological dialectics have deflected us from the
task of building a prosperous, unified nation. This has weakened
our economy and left us with the legacy of fratricidal conflict.
With the leadership of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, and the
goodwill from our friends in the international community, we now
have the chance to draw back from the brink. At last our political
leadership and our people are now united in the common cause of
harmony and development. Perhaps we may even offer a pattern for
others on how the genius of a people can rise again out of the
devastation and alienating bitterness of conflict, to regain their
place as a strong and vibrant nation, sustained and enriched by
the talents of all its peoples. At the Tokyo Donor Conference,
we expect to demonstrate in greater detail our single-minded allegiance
to that cause. Ladies and gentlemen, it is now, or perhaps never!