The Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland QC undertaking her first official visit to Sri Lanka from 01-04 August, engaged in wide ranging discussions with the Prime Minister, Speaker and many other important cabinet Ministers in collaborating with Sri Lanka for a broader partnership on sustainable ocean development, open trade and trade facilitation, climate change, and social development through sports.
She hailed Sri Lanka stepping forward to become a champion country in the Commonwealth Blue Charter and the initiative taken to lead a commonwealth action group on conservation of mangroves to work together to manage and protect our oceans.
Reflecting on the fact that 60% of the commonwealth population was youth, she invited Sri Lanka to give leadership to a project in the region particularly in harnessing youth engagement in the development process through sports. “Our ‘Peace at the Crease’ brings together men and women, young and old, and people from all faiths and those of none to face some of the most challenging issues of today’ the Secretary- General said suggesting that the cricket could be a pedal for community engagement and social development. She also encouraged Sri Lanka to participate further in the commonwealth innovation hub and share our expertise with the member countries in utilizing our synergies for scientific development.
Elaborating on the Commonwealth’s Climate Finance Access Hub, the Secretary General spoke of the expertise developed which will help countries overcome difficulties on climate financing, and make successful applications to the international funds that address climate change. The Commonwealth member nations were encouraged to access this facility in the event of processing applications to draw from financing mechanisms such as the Green Fund – for projects to help people adapt to climate change and mitigate its effect.
The Commonwealth Secretariat under its democracy and good governance initiatives afforded technical assistance to Sri Lanka in many fronts. The Secretary General congratulated the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka for securing ‘A’ accreditation in full compliance with the Paris Principles at the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI).
In a press statement during the visit, she credited President Maithripala Sirisena for initiating the Constitutional reform process in 2015 and noted that by strengthening the process to appoint independent commissions, including the Human Rights Commission the President has worked towards enhancing transparency and accountability of the good governance process.
In espousing the commonwealth values, Sri Lanka’s contribution towards the Small States Trade Financial Facility which was jointly setup by India, Mauritius, Malta and Sri Lanka was noted with appreciation as the Commonwealth Small States will have access to US $ 300 million of incremental trade finance over a three year period from this programme.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe while acknowledging the Secretariat’s technical support extended to Sri Lanka in many fronts stated that “Sri Lanka will continue to spearhead the journey to build the country’s reputation and engage in trade relations and work towards securing a place for Sri Lanka in the international arena.
The Secretary-General sharing the Commonwealth Toolkits on several focused areas inter alia, Governance and Accountability, Sustainable Development Goals implementation, Climate Change, Legal etc, highlighted the importance of having Toolkits to share and learn the best- practices among the Commonwealth countries. Sri Lanka agreed to look into the possibility of pioneering a toolkit for implementation which would enable its further development to suit the commonwealth member country requirements.
Concluding her 4 day stay, the Secretary-General visited the mangrove restoration sites in Kalpitiya and Pambala and encouraged Sri Lanka to further engage with the commonwealth through the Blue Charter and sharing of knowledge in protecting the ocean from the effects of climate change, pollution and over-fishing which will affect one third of the world’s national coastal waters, helping to sustain livelihoods and ecosystems globally. The Secretary General commended Sri Lanka on its project under the Queens Commonwealth Canopy initiative at Namalwatte, Trincomalee, and the particular focus given for restoration of an area devastated by conflict, having a positive impact on the lives of the local community surrounding this area.
This visit has paved the way for Sri Lanka to work with the Commonwealth more closely on the agreed outcome of the Summit concluded in April 2018 in the UK based on fairness, prosperity and a sustainable and secure agenda in a collaborative spirit of the member nations. Sri Lanka will also host the Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting in 2019.
Sri Lanka is a founding member of the modern Commonwealth which has 53 member countries and operates facilitating co-operation mainly in the areas of ; economic, social and sustainable development; Governance and Peace; Trade, Oceans and Natural Resources.