PRIME MINISTER'S SPEECH AT THE TOKYO DONOR CONFERENCE - 09
On a map of the world Sri Lanka is small even seemingly insignificant.
Yet this conference today demonstrates that we have many significant
friends across the world deeply committed to the restoration of
peace in my country.
Not least the Japanese nation to whom we are highly indebted
for hosting this conference. My thanks go, in particular, to the
Prime Minister of Japan His Excellency Junichiro Koizumi for organising
the conference and for so graciously attending today. I would
also like to thank Her Excellency Yoriko Kawaguchi Minister for
Foreign Affairs, and Ambassador Yasushi Akashi Japans Special
Envoy for Peace and Development in Sri Lanka. Their continued
support and inspiration reflects our friendship with the Japanese
people which goes back many decades. It is one that I hope personally
will grow ever deeper in the years to come.
I would also like to thank the United States for their support
both as a co-chair of this conference and for their backing of
the pre-conference seminar in Washington. The importance the United
States places upon this conference is evident by the presence
of Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.
That we should have two more co-chairs from the European Union
and from Norway further demonstrates how fortunate we should count
Although there are many friends of Sri Lanka in this room today
I must make special mention of the work of the Royal Norwegian
Government in their role as facilitators of the peace process.
They have an international reputation for such work and every
day they demonstrate their commitment to peace. Although there
must be moments when they would like to feel a little more appreciated
by some of the people they seek to help. For our part we look
forward to their continued participation as facilitators in this
Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, 18 months ago the people of
Sri Lanka gave a mandate to a new Government to recapture lost
opportunities. They charged us with the job of solving some serious
At the time of independence we were a literate, prosperous and
peaceful country and in many respects setting the pace in Asia.
Many countries in South East Asia talked of emulating Sri Lanka
as they built their own economies.
Today we are no longer the nation we were. But the people of
Sri Lanka are courageous and determined. They will tolerate a
lot. Nevertheless they had grown weary of the lack of success
of our country. Being below par was not good enough for them.
So they set us the task of delivering in three critical areas.
The first was to lay a foundation for a lasting peace. We had
become a divided nation filled with ethnic hatred and bitterness,
a nation at war destroying itself and its people.
The second was to rebuild an economy which was on its knees.
The people recognised that our whole economic way of life had
to be restructured and reformed. Nor could the economy sustain
an expensive and meaningless war any longer. We had to place ourselves
in a position where we could compete and prosper in the newly
The third was to resolve the problems of a deeply politically
divided society. One where over the past fifty or more years the
political gap has widened. Where consensus between the political
parties was more words than deed and where elections had become
increasingly violent and discordant.
Unlike previous elections the people went further by electing
a new government with an incumbent President who was leader of
the Peoples Alliance. They gave a loud and clear signal that they
wanted the political parties to bury their differences and start
In the Peace Process the role of the President had been significant.
In a courageous move it was she who had started the process and
had appointed the Norwegians as facilitators. Today we appreciate
the way in which she continues to support the peace process in
principle. It is with such support that we persist in working
on building bridges of understanding.
When we took office the rationale behind our thinking on the
Peace Process was based on humanitarian needs. We decided that
to wait for a political settlement before rehabilitating the North
and the East was unacceptable. The hatred and distrust between
the two sides was too deep seated and would take years to resolve.
We agreed that whilst negotiating, if the funds could be found,
we should try to give back the lives to our people in those war
This was, of course, a high risk strategy because in peace processes
elsewhere donors had always wanted to see a peace agreement before
committing funds. It was even more high risk because with every
peace process there are ups and downs. There would be times when
the talks reached an impasse and progress would be slow. Then
how would the donors react?
We are in one such impasse at the moment. The timing is unfortunate
but I believe that progress has been sufficient over the past
fifteen months since the Permanent Ceasefire Agreement for you
the donors to see that both sides are genuine about the ultimate
That the LTTE are not here today is a matter of sadness because
the ultimate losers could be the people of the North and the East.
Especially since this conference was to be a partnership effort
between the LTTE and the Government. However I believe that the
peace process is mature enough for you to see that we can and
will move forward very soon. An encouraging sign is the way in
which contact is still being maintained at grass roots level and
the opportunities for trust building continue.
By now you will also have recognised that this is a responsible
government. One which will continue to find innovative ways to
look after all the people of our country regardless, and that
very firmly includes the Tamil people. We will work for the development
of the North East in partnership with the LTTE. We also have a
responsibility to safeguard the interests of all the communities
in the North East
When the Peace Talks start again then of course we have to continue
the process of finding an ultimate solution almost certainly within
the framework of a Federal state. Bearing in mind our determination
to deal with humanitarian issues from the very beginning we have
looked at ways of delivering a reconstruction, redevelopment and
The actions of the LTTE in the past few weeks has demonstrated
what we too were realising. It was clear that the structures we
had put in place were too cumbersome and too distant from the
people to be acceptable or to react quickly enough. The people
needed a much faster response than the Government was able to
We designed a new structure with the multilateral agencies and
the donor community. We did this for two good reasons. The first
was that we could see the donor community were as frustrated as
the Government and the LTTE at the lack of implementation. The
second was that from the very beginning we had realised that any
solution to our particular problems were resolvable only with
the widest possible involvement by you the donor community. Regrettably,
so far, we have not managed to reconcile our proposals with the
thinking of the LTTE.
Whilst talking about the donor community I would like to thank
those agencies who put so much time and energy into preparing
the North East Needs Assessment paper. This project was prepared
through a partnership between the Government, the LTTE and the
International Community. The delivery will also be implemented
through a partnership between the parties. The United Nations,
The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank who have graced
this conference have worked tirelessly on this assessment. I know
that they will be presenting their findings during the course
of the conference.
Meanwhile it is clear that much political work still has to be
done. The North East Needs Assessment gives us the opportunity
to carry forward the programme of reconstruction, rehabilitation
and reconciliation. With your commitment of the resources needed
to carry out this programme we can bring much needed relief to
the people of the North and the East. We want to use that money
in partnership and cooperation with the LTTE to see all our communities
benefit in this war torn area.
Meanwhile the differences between us over an administrative structure
are not that far apart.
In Oslo both the government and the LTTE jointly agreed a significant
statement and I quote:
... the parties agreed to explore a solution founded on
the principle of internal self-determination in areas of historical
habitation of the Tamil-speaking peoples, based on a federal structure
within a united Sri Lanka. The parties acknowledged that the solution
has to be acceptable to all communities
It is now important that we develop a roadmap with milestones
to get there. In this context we would need to set up an innovative
provisional administrative structure. It will be responsible for
the Reconstruction and Development of the North East and the administrative
aspects of the transitional process. It will have to achieve the
Ø to be efficient, transparent and accountable;
Ø safeguard the interests of all communities in the North
Ø enable the LTTE to play a significant role;
Ø and not to be in conflict with the laws of Sri Lanka
The powers of this provisional administrative structure will
- rebuilding the war damaged economy;
- resettlement, and
- providing effective delivery of essential services
so as to uplift the lives of the people.
In order to move forward, it is of vital importance that a Muslim
delegation should participate in the Peace Talk to articulate
the concerns of the Muslims.
We will introduce constitutional reforms when we have negotiated
a final political solution, which we are fully committed to take
to the people of Sri Lanka through a referendum for the ultimate
In addition, given the lack of confidence between the two sides
it is essential that the international donor community identify
ways and means through which they could meaningfully underpin
this process. It is important that we now think introspectively
of the way forward beyond Tokyo and as to how the donor community
can stay engaged. Tokyo marks the end of one phase and the beginning
of another in Sri Lankas search for peace and economic reconstruction.
In the next few days, at the end of our deliberations it is important
that all of us present here re-dedicate ourselves in a resolute
manner and with renewed vigour.
This Government will continue to do its best to approach the
problems with sincerity and determination and with full consideration
of the wishes of the people. To do anything less would be to derogate
our responsibility to the people.
Moving to the economy, at the time of independence our economy
was top of the Asian economic league table. Today it is at the
bottom. Eighteen months ago we took on an economy that was close
to collapse. For too many years as a nation we had plucked the
fruit from the tree before the tree had grown.
We had to take hard decisions. The people had suffered much poverty
and hardship over the years and to do nothing would have resulted
in a worsening of their living standards. The one good piece of
news was that our social indices were much better than in many
countries. The imbalance was between the social indices and the
economic position. For this reason we were able to put in place
a policy which, in the short term is deeply painful, but which
in the long term will re-stabilise our economy.
You will all understand that this is not the politicians dream
position. As politicians we like to give the people what they
want, but for us the choices were limited. The state was running
too many antiquated, inefficient and overstaffed institutions.
This coupled with the costs of conflict diverted resources away
from essential services such as education, health and housing.
We were living beyond our means.
Reinstating a strong fiscal policy was imperative yet painful.
Reforming and liberalising the economy was necessary. Creating
the environment to allow our entrepreneurs to compete in the global
market place was a must. But most significantly it was essential
that we brought jobs and prosperity to all our people.
Around two thirds of the economic activity of Sri Lanka is conducted
in the Western Province where about 5.4 million of our 19 million
people live. Elsewhere in the country the infrastructure is poor,
the facilities are poor and our people suffer from poverty.
That is why we instigated the Regaining Sri Lanka programme.
For many reasons our people in the South have suffered in unique
ways to those in the North and the East. But the suffering is
no less painful.
That is why we seek your help in the short and medium term in
the North and the East. To rebuild our war-torn areas through
the North East Needs Assessment. Whilst in the medium to long-term
we rebuild the whole of our country through Regaining Sri
Lanka to give the lives back to the people who have suffered
We are not looking for hand outs, rather for a hand up. With
your help we hope to have the resources to rebuild our country
and turn it into a prosperous and modern society where poverty
is reduced to the minimum and where our people can live comfortably.
The third issue on which I touched earlier was the question of
the politically divided society. Ask any Sri Lankan and they will
tell you that they are embarrassed by the conduct and the antics
of some of the politicians. Elections have become opportunities
to offer everything to everyone. Political promises always outweigh
the ability to deliver. Elections have also become violent affairs
where all too often Government used the mechanisms of state to
The bitterness and rivalry between the two main political parties
has spilled over on many occasions in the past. When a new Government
has come in to office, or should I say power, good professional
people have been thrown out of jobs to make way for political
appointees. Not so with this Government.
So change is in the air. Opposition should be responsible in
its approach. Yes they should question Government, even make them
feel uncomfortable. They should oppose on matters of principle
or policy. But to oppose simply to bring a Government down is
to betray the people and to destabilise an already precarious
Government too has to be responsible. They should be honour bound
to consult through Parliamentary procedures. They should allow
the opposition time to question and to probe. They should seek
to involve the opposition in the decision making process wherever
With recent announcements I hope that we are starting to do that.
We are bringing in opposition members to chair and run oversight
committees that will scrutinise the work of the Government. We
are also freeing up the media and opening up Government to the
scrutiny of the people.
For my part I seek to inform and consult with the President as
widely as possible. I believe our regular discussions continue
to probe the ways of seeking greater consensus between two leaders
from different political parties.
I hope that we can build on these and bring dignity and honour
back to our political system. It will, nevertheless, be a long
hard road to change attitudes and approaches.
On one issue I publicly request the support of all our politicians.
Seeking to resolve the Peace Process should not be a partisan
matter. War and the resolution to peace should not become an opportunity
to destabilise a Government. To do so is to betray the people
and to put lives in jeopardy. The end result could be too horrific.
I urge all of our politicians to put aside their differences on
this one matter and to support the Government in finding the way
forward to a lasting peace.
I would like to turn to one final issue that is of great concern
to many of you, overcoming the problems that have hampered our
ability to implement the foreign assistance that has been provided
in the past. It is fair to ask, Why does Sri Lanka need a significant
increase in assistance if we are not sure whether it can be utilized
The shortcomings in the implementation process are one of the
key impediments in our negotiations with the LTTE. They must be
overcome if we are to build a lasting peace and provide the improved
economic opportunities and substantially reduce poverty throughout
The Government has taken a number of important steps to improve
the system for project implementation and we have made significant
progress during the last 18 months. But there are fundamental
problems with the system that cannot be overcome with procedural
patches. Our public service is too large, too poorly paid and
lacks the capacity to handle the increased rates of project design
So today I can tell you that the Government is introducing a
completely new organization that will also incorporate the External
Resources Department. It will be responsible for all of the tasks
of implementing foreign funded projects. It will ensure a timely
and professional tendering process. And it will have the ability
to bring in the best qualified individuals and firms from outside
government to manage and implement projects. Transparency and
accountability will be significantly improved.
This new system will provide the basis for substantial improvements
in the utilization of the assistance necessary for the reconstruction
and rehabilitation in the North East and the other conflict affected
areas. It will also provide the foundation for the economic transformation
of Sri Lanka that will raise incomes and reduce poverty throughout
We know that these changes will not be easy, nor will they be
popular with everyone. There are some that have a stake in the
current approach. But the stakes for Sri Lanka are too high not
to take these necessary steps and to do so quickly. This new system
can be in place before the end of this year and then it will be
implementation, implementation, implementation.
However, to design and introduce this new system in the next
seven months, will require the active support and cooperation
of the donor community. We will, for example, need guidance in
identifying the most efficient procedures and international best
practices. We will also need assistance in training and equipping
the staff that will operate this new system.
So in your deliberations over the next two days I hope you will
see that we demonstrate the determination to see this project
On peace we shall never give up and our sincerity will never
be in doubt. On the economy we are pushing ahead with our plans
and our resolve is clear for you to see from our actions in the
last year. Politically we face many challenges but we are dealing
with each in a systematic way. On implementation our own frustration
is driving us to seek innovative solutions.
For many years now I have had a clear view of the sort of Sri
Lanka I wish to see. One where the people are living in a free,
tolerant, peaceful society. One where everyone shares in the benefits
of a prosperous economy and one where the values of our culture
can shine through for the world to see.
Eighteen months ago and at the start of my premiership I spoke
to our people that the challenge of the Government was to grow
a garden of fresh flowers in a field of thorns.
For the sake of our children let the flowers blossom once more.
With your help I know that we can deliver.