|Achievements of 2008 and challenges of 2009:Hon. Minister’s speech at Ministry of Foreign Affairs|
|Tuesday, 13 January 2009|
Given below is the full text of the speech made by Hon. Rohitha Bogollagama, MP, Minister of Foreign Affairs on 01 January 2009 at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
“Deputy Minister Hon. Hussein Bhaila, all officers, including Acting Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Palipane and all other members of the staff,
Today is the beginning of a New Year and I extend my warm wishes to every one of you. The Year 2009 is a year of victory. I wish this year would fulfil all your aspirations. As we step into a New Year, we should recall the achievements gained and significant events that took place during the last year. If the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reviewed the year 2008, I, as the Minister in-charge, can be quite content about it. In this context, you may be aware of the challenges we successfully met and instances where we, as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, have fulfilled our obligations towards Sri Lanka as a whole and all Sri Lankans. First and foremost, I wish to extend my gratitude to you for your contribution towards our success last year.
In the year 2008, we attempted to introduce Sri Lanka's Agenda in a manner unique to Sri Lanka and one of the decisions that I took in terms of our international relations, was that we, as the Foreign Ministry, should articulate our view point to the optimum level in all platforms of the world. Accordingly, we have taken measures to implement an agenda to counter terrorism that has posed a huge challenge to our territorial integrity and sovereignty for approximately 30 odd years. By adhering to that agenda in 2008, we were able to convey Sri Lanka's position, at a time the whole world has been infected with the threat of terrorism. That is a significant achievement we have gained. In that context, as we commence with the Agenda for 2009, we expect all of you to contribute more towards this end. We could view 2008 as a year in which Sri Lanka built up an unprecedented level of foreign relations. We represented Sri Lanka in important fora in the international arena. We view 2008 as a year in which we hosted several Heads of States in Sri Lanka, including the SAARC Summit.
We consider 2008 as a year during which we laid a proper foundation for better Foreign Relations and for visits of Heads of State or Government to Sri Lanka. We will commence our agenda for 2009 tomorrow (02 January) with a State Visit by the Maldivian President to Sri Lanka. We are hoping for more visits of foreign leaders during this year than during the last year. At the same time, we hope Sri Lanka will be able to host a large number of international conferences during this year compared with last year. We have already formulated our agenda giving priority towards that objective. In February, Sri Lanka will host the SAARC Council of Ministers and a Ministerial Meeting of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) is due to be held within the first quarter of this year. Similarly, Ministerial meeting of the Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) will be held during this year with the participation of around 30 Foreign Ministers. So I expect this would be a year in which you will have to undertake a number of important activities relating to foreign relations of Sri Lanka.
Similarly, in the combat against terrorism, we should convey a strong message to the world community regarding the efforts being made by the government of Sri Lanka to protect the human rights on the one hand, and the principles of democracy on the other. For this purpose, our relations with the rest of the world should be reinforced and the steps being taken by the government of Sri Lanka should be explained clearly to the world community. This is a task for which the Foreign Ministry is responsible. Hence, for you who are at the Ministry, the year 2009 will be a challenging one.
We are aware of the fact that the Foreign Service in Sri Lanka can be compared favourably with the Foreign Services of other countries. We should make maximum efforts to preserve and maintain the collective experience and the superlative standards which we have achieved over the years. We all should recognize the fact that the comprehensive advancement and the high status of the Foreign Service are the fruits of the valuable contributions made by those who belong to it.
Foreign Service officers should not only perform the duties assigned to them but also represent Sri Lanka in the best possible manner abroad. The performance of Foreign Service officers and our diplomatic missions and how they will carry out their duties will be determining factors of the entire Ministry's achievements. Hence, I hope to launch programmes that would develop the skills and aptitude of Foreign Service officers to a superior level, in order to enable them to undertake the above responsibilities. These programmes will pave the way for them to represent Sri Lanka with a clear understanding of all aspects of Sri Lanka as a whole including its culture. It is my belief that officers proceeding to our Missions on diplomatic service should possess a good understanding of the situation in the rural areas of our country. In a bid to provide the necessary insight and experience, the officers recruited to the Foreign Service will be provided with an opportunity to have an exposure to the conditions in the rural areas of the country by attaching them to the Offices of Government Agents before they proceed to take up duties in our Missions.
It is an accepted fact that the Foreign Ministry contributes substantially to the Defence Ministry, the Finance Ministry and other Ministries involved in development activities. The Foreign Ministry functions in collaboration with those Ministries and maintains close relations with them. For the successful maintenance of cordial relations we should possess the strength to cover areas beyond the limits of the Foreign Ministry. We should not confine our responsibilities to a particular area only. In the field of Economics, we should invariably adopt a methodology to build a strong and viable economic environment for Sri Lanka. In the area of peace and security, we should take the responsibility to coordinate all activities related to eliminating terrorism, both at the national as well as the international level. In my view, the responsibilities entrusted to the Foreign Ministry cover a vast area of activities. For effective functioning in all such areas, we should identify the basic resources we need and we should develop our physical and human resources. It is in this manner that we can make the Foreign Service officers eminently suitable for their profession.
Some newspapers make unfounded allegations regarding the Foreign Service. Officers are recruited annually to the Service. These newspapers impute the blame to the Ministry for the delay in recruitment. Contrary to these criticisms, I have taken a decision regarding the need for annual recruitment to the Service. Results of the examination conducted by the Department of Examinations have been released. We are taking steps to recruit 25 officers to the Foreign Service with the approval of the Public Service Commission. A board of selection has already been appointed. The Public Service Commission (PSC) has already granted approval to appoint 15 officers. Approval of the PSC has been sought under the new scheme of recruitment, so that an additional 10 officers can be recruited.
I have seen on many occasions, but I didn’t have the opportunity to state this earlier about officers seeking political patronage. Several politicians speak to me on behalf of members of the Foreign Service. I can understand that political patronage being sought on behalf of minor employees, given the fact that they have only a limited opportunity to serve in a Mission abroad. They want to get the best for themselves and I see no harm in them trying to seek political patronage for an introduction, if they can’t meet me in order to get that limited opportunity. But for the officers in the career service to seek political patronage is something that is most deplorable and a matter that amounts to indiscipline of the highest level. Whatever posting an officer gets, he or she should be ready to go and serve in that station. That should be part of the discipline in this establishment. Otherwise, you too become equal to those who come from outside using political patronage seeking postings. This is something that I must tell the members of the Service, and I am happy and proud that most of them are not part of this agenda. But for those who violate that discipline, I will not accommodate any political patronage in the Foreign Service. That is something that I will always state and I will maintain. This is important in order to safeguard the high standards of the Service and for all what you have committed yourself after a very stiff competition to join the Service. Therefore, I expect the best to come out of you, without any sort of indiscipline being brought to the system by seeking the political accommodation. You don’t need that, because your merit can be recognized in terms of what you are contributing. That is the assessment that I am going to make of everyone, because that assessment is needed in terms of your career prospects and the seniors should be responsible to see that they do the correct assessment of the juniors and the officers who are serving under them. And the juniors will get recognized in terms of their output. This is a visible area because we have 56 Missions and from the Foreign Service, 1/3 of them are in Colombo. I see most of them and it is very easy to gauge and judge them for their outstanding capability and greater development of their career.
I must also take this opportunity to explain to you some of our social responsibilities. The social responsibilities that have been carried out well can be seen in the Sri Lankan Missions, which are more and more getting culturally oriented. They celebrate all the major festivals associated with the different communities in our country. At our Head Office, we see to it that we mark the four major religious events - Vesak, the Christmas, the Hajj and the Thai Pongal. We always commemorate these because it’s a reflection of our multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic society.
I must also compliment every one of you in terms of your social responsibility when there was a call to raise assistance for the children of one of our staff, who lost her life due to a terrorist bomb blast at Dehiwala. Everyone came forward to help. I expected only a million rupees to be raised. But we surpassed that by another Rs.300, 000/- and this has gone to serve the educational needs of the two children of that staff member. I appreciate all that has come from our Missions abroad. We all have done yeoman service from the Seva Vanitha Unit. Currently there is around 10-15 million rupees that is being spent for the well-being of the people in the health sector. We are also in Kinniya - we are building a hospital costing around 11 million rupees there. There has been assistance given to the Nikeweratiya Hospital to the tune of 7 million rupees. And there are several other projects which we wish to undertake for the well-being of our people in the Year 2009, and I must thank the Seva Vanitha Unit for these commitments that have been pledged.
I must say a special word about the Consular Division. It has been functioning well: fewer complaints come to me from overseas. Otherwise, in desperation, people tend to call me in order to get access to some kind of assistance. When a Unit is functioning well, there is very little need for one to reach the Minister in charge or responsible for that subject. I must compliment the Senior Director General and earlier the Additional Secretary, Mr. Maharoof who have rendered a great service and for all the members of the Consular Affairs Division of the Foreign Ministry for what they have done in the Year 2008.
And we also set up a new Unit for public relations. This is one thing I noticed as the Minister of Foreign Affairs. There is a tendency for the Ministry to get distanced from the people when you are dealing with a subject like Foreign Affairs. Traditionally, it is considered as a distant subject, a foreign subject. But I want to change that. It is part of Sri Lanka, and we represent the people of Sri Lanka in terms of their needs overseas and that is the message I want to bring to this country. And that is why we are now having greater vigour and concentration on our Public Relations Unit which is located on the Galle Road and that will become a service centre for the needs of our people.
In the Year 2009, we have got estimates approved for the construction of two new facilities, including one in Canberra. My visit to Canberra resulted in a cost reduction of 2.1 million Australian dollars, because we were able to go and see for ourselves the original designs and how best we could reduce the cost, and now the latest estimate has come down by 2.1 million Australian dollars, which is equal to about 200 million rupees. We are also building the Chancery in Chennai, one of our major locations in which our presence is needed. I have decided to enhance our presence in Chennai because of the local pressures that are emanating from that location, and it is important that we have a very a strong Chancery for our Consular services and also for our political networking in Tamil Nadu. Towards this, I want to strengthen our Deputy High Commissioner’s Office in Tamil Nadu in order to serve these objectives.
2009 is going to be the Year of economic hardships in the world. We have been able to cushion some of the adverse effects and the recent package that was announced effective from today by our Government was meant for the people to benefit. And therefore we also have the responsibility to maintain our expenditure within the budgetary allocations that have been granted by the Treasury and a further reduction of 10% has been sought whilst we operate the budget. I want to bring that into greater focus and I want the cooperation of everyone and their commitment for the achievement of these goals.
And with these words, may I now conclude, thanking everyone one of you for what you have been doing. And as one fraternity in the Foreign Ministry, and irrespective of the levels in which we are, we are committed to serve our responsibilities. I have always tried to concentrate on reaching out to you. And as such I will always be available to look at issues and meet directly with you, and address matters that serve your needs and those of Sri Lanka. Finally, I want to wish the very best for all of you in the New Year.
|Last Updated ( Friday, 14 August 2009 )|
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