Sri Lanka keen to emulate Singapore's phenomenal success story
Banquet held in honour of the Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong
President's House, Colombo, Sri Lanka
June 25, 2004
Your Excellency Goh Chok Tong, Prime Minister of Singapore,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my privilege to extend a warm welcome to Sri Lanka to Your Excellency and your distinguished delegation. I had the pleasure of meeting Your Excellency during an official visit to Singapore, last October, when I extended an invitation to you to visit my country. I am very glad that you have been able to accept my invitation and visit us in Sri Lanka.
Excellency, our relations go back over a century, to the time when we were both Colonies of Great Britain and you were part of the Federation of Malaya. During this time a large number of Sri Lankan teachers, doctors, lawyers, traders and people of numerous professions, settled down in the island of Singapore and contributed in many ways to the progress of your country. We know that many second and third generation Singaporeans today have Sri Lankan roots. The Hon. Sinnatamby Rajaratnam, the first Foreign Minister of Independent Singapore was a Singaporean of Sri Lankan origin. These are solid links that bind our two peoples in lasting friendship.
Your Excellency’s visit comes nearly twenty-five years since the official visit of Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew and therefore has a great significance for our two peoples.
Excellency, the Government and people of Sri Lanka are deeply impressed by the achievements of Singapore under your able leadership. I was particularly impressed with certain aspects of your distinctive style of leadership. From the inception you advocated an open, consultative form of government in pursuance of which you instituted a programme of extensive community visits around the country to assess popular opinion. You also show particular sensitivity to the views of minority communities in your country. In these policies I detect a sincere commitment on your part to ensure that the fruits of development reach all your peoples without marginalization of any community. These far-sighted policies have given social and political stability to Singapore and created a favourable environment for a steady flow of investment and economic expansion.
Mr.Prime Minister, under your guidance the Singapore economy has registered sustained growth in an environment of economic stagnation or regression elsewhere in the region. It is predicted that Singapore’s economy will grow faster than most economies in Asia this year. Sri Lanka has much to learn from Singapore and much to benefit from closer economic interaction.
Our relations are also further nourished and sustained by a broad range of mutual political and economic interests. In this context, we are working towards closer economic cooperation with you in many sectors of common interest such as telecommunications, e-commerce, tourism and several other sectors. Singapore is presently our sixth largest trading partner.
I am glad that Sri Lanka has recently entered into a fully liberalized air services agreement with Singapore. We could anticipate more frequent travel between our two countries which is vital for the business sector and the operation of more airlines, besides our two national carriers. Singaporean companies continue to invest enthusiastically in Sri Lanka. Currently Singapore is ranked among the first five in terms of value of investment in Sri Lanka. Over 80 Singaporean companies operate here. They have made a significant contribution to our economy.
A new joint venture between the State owned Bank of Ceylon and a private Singaporean company with a comparatively large investment is about to commence work. Sri Lanka is keen to secure more Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from Singapore, in several sectors. We have discussed this today at the official talks. I have no doubt that your meeting with the Business Community was useful in this respect. We would like Your Excellency to carry the message that Sri Lanka welcomes more investment from Singapore.
Excellency, Sri Lanka today faces challenging tasks as we tread a new path of peace and economic reconstruction. My government led by the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) has been in office for just over two months, but we have already firmly committed ourselves to launch our strategy of governance based on the manifesto of our Alliance, which is entitled “Rata Perata” (Country First). Our Vision and Action Programmes articulate the need to build further on the new economic strategy put in place by my first Government.
This strategy envisages a constructive partnership between a strong and accountable private sector, including foreign investors and our local industries and enterprises. We plan to link foreign investments closely with our National investment programmes. The major thrust of our vision is to eliminate poverty and reduce the vast inequalities in the standards of living in the different sectors of our population.
Although our per capita income increased by 35% in the last 5 years, the benefits of economic growth is concentrated among one fifth of the population, whilst nearly half of our population live below the poverty line. My government’s policies are designed to build a modern market friendly economy, free from corruption, aimed at providing equal opportunities to every citizen.
Excellency, my Government is making a sustained effort to engage all parties concerned in comprehensive peace negotiations to address the grievances of the minorities, in a manner that will satisfy the reasonable aspirations of all communities. Whilst my Government is desirous of recommencing peace negotiations very early, the prolonged consultations on details of forthcoming talks with the LTTE reflect the complexity of the peace negotiations as much as the seriousness of my Government’s efforts. My Government appreciates your pledge of support for the current Peace Process.
While we face many challenges in our pursuit to build a more prosperous and stronger nation, we face innumerable challenges in the global sphere. Beyond economic goals, we in our region could and should collectively articulate and add our voice to specific challenges confronting our region. Terrorism, for instance, has become a major threat to the stability of this region.
We have identified regional cooperation or regionalism as a productive way of advancing mutually beneficial collective action. While Sri Lanka is an active participant in SAARC, we have endeavoured to reach out to the regions beyond, by forging links with groupings such as BIMST-EC, IOR-ARC and most recently, the Asia Co-operation Dialogue (ACD). Excellency, I would like to express here the great admiration that I personally and most Sri Lankans, have for the phenomenal success story - that is Singapore.
I remember reading that Hon.Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore stated, that one of the few countries that he would like Singapore to emulate in Asia was Sri Lanka. This was in the early Sixties. A few decades later President Jayawardena of Sri Lanka, when he first assumed the reins of government in the late Seventies, stated that he would like to emulate Singapore in formulating his vision for Sri Lanka. During a very brief period of 39 years Singapore has forged forward while Sri Lanka has begun to regress in every sphere. It may be significant at this point that we reflect on what made this difference. Very briefly, I believe, that it was due mainly to a very clear and focussed vision that your Government, under the able leadership of His Excellency Lee Kwan Yew, was able to give your country, together with strictly observed discipline by all, beginning with the leaders of government, flowing down to the entire population and by the systems and procedures established to ensure the observance of honest practices by all in government.
Excellency, we have much to learn in these spheres from Singapore. My Government wishes to build a new Sri Lanka, possessing renewed social and political vigour, based on economic growth and good governance.
We believe that our millennial civilisational ethos and experience and the goodwill of a large majority of our people, will guide us through these difficult and challenging tasks.
Sri Lanka is home to the four great religious philosophies of the world, whilst over two thirds of our population is Buddhist. The teachings of Lord Buddha give us strength to reconstruct a humane, equitable and truly free society, where all ethnic and religious communities would live in unity and harmony.
Sri Lanka is keen to cooperate more closely with the South East Asian region in the sphere of trade, poverty alleviation, tourism and matters of security. Our request to participate in the ASEAN Regional Forum or ARF comes in pursuit of this policy.
Excellency, I wish you an enjoyable and productive stay in our country. However brief your visit may be, it will enrich our ties of friendship and cooperation.
I would now like to invite you Ladies and Gentlemen, to join me in proposing a toast:
- to the health, well-being and long life of His Excellency the President of Singapore
- to His Excellency the Prime Minister of Singapore
- to the enduring friendship between Sri Lanka and Singapore
- to the peace, prosperity and progress of the People of Singapore.