Poverty alleviation, employment generation and social integration are critical issues demand global attention
United Nations World Summit for Social Development
March 12, 1995
Your invitation to me to address this summit, organised on the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations is a great Honour to me and to our people.
To you Mr.Chairman, to the distinguished Heads of State and Government, to the Secretary- General of the United Nations and others gathered here today, I extend my felicitations and those of my government and the people of Sri Lanka.
Poverty alleviation, the creation of employment and social integration are critical issues that demand the immediate attention of the international community. Unless these issues are addressed urgently and effectively at national and global levels, the lofty goals of the United Nations- peace, security and economic prosperity of humankind -will continue to remain elusive; and the very existence of our societies will be drastically undermined.
Poverty and unemployment are very often the underlying causes of social conflict and violence, which undermines and erodes the social fabric upon which human prosperity and happiness rest. Our efforts at national level to overcome these problems can only succeed in a conducive international environment, in which the international community, the UN and the relevant financial institutions need to take positive steps towards assisting national economic development. It is regrettable that protective barriers on free trade, growing debt burdens, declining development assistance ,worsening of terms of trade, as well as the negative effects of structural adjustment policies continue to thwart the national endeavours to achieve all round Social Development in an equitable manner. Hence the success of this Summit as embodied in the Declaration would lie in time bound, positive and concrete measures that will be taken to eliminate the adverse impacts of these trends on national economic development and the achievement of basic human needs.
We must take a collective and conscious effort to harness the positive effects of globalisation. Increased trade and capital flows, development and transfer of technology, labour migration and foreign direct investment can contribute greatly towards empowering people and creating employment. Sri Lanka is proud of her enlightened social development policies pursued since independence in 1948. Relative to our per capita income of US$ 550,we have a life expectancy of 70 years, a literacy rate of 90% and population growth rate of only 1.2% . These are but a few of our achievement.
There are however lessons to be learnt from our past. Short-sighted economic policies which aimed at growth alone have led to-
# 30% of our households remaining below the poverty line,
# 14% of our labour force, particularly the youth, remaining
# over 30% of our young children being under nourished.
it is hardly surprising that such widespread social exclusion was the principle factor that led to the violence of the past years.
The people’s Alliance government has given the highest priority to free market policies which will combine economic growth with equity. We will carefully formulate and target our policies to ensure the equitable distribution of the fruits of development to meet the basic human needs of every sector of our society.
The alleviation of poverty will be one of our highest priorities. Towards this end we have initiated a SAMURDHI of PROSPERITY movement as the government’s social safety net. By this programme we intend to broaden the horizons of those in genuine need by linking family development activities with community development projects at village, district and provincial levels.
We have also taken steps to further enhance the allocation of resources in the national budget for health and education from 1995 onwards.
Mr. Chairman, the policies adopted by my government since assuming office last year, reflect a firm conviction that social development, social integration and social justice are concepts that go beyond ensuring the physical well- being of the individual. We believe in simultaneously strengthening the democratic and legal frame work within which people participate in the formulation and implementation of policy. This involves the fullest respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the role of law, access to justice, elimination of discrimination as well as transparent and accountable government.
Finally, Mr.Chairman,I wish to say a few words on the peace process that my government has initiated since assuming office last year. Our experience has amply demonstrated that social development and social justice cannot be achieved in the absence of peace and security. In the context of the conflict in the North and the East of Sri Lanka we have spent considerable resources and energies that could have been diverted for productive purposes. A peaceful resolution to the North East conflict arrived at through patient dialogue with all concerned, is essential for all communities in Sri Lanka to express their identities and to collectively and fully participate in national life. I am encouraged by the confidence expressed in our peace initiative by the international community and their commitment towards ensuring it success.
Mr. Chairman, in the up-hill task of achieving the objective of this summit by developing countries like Sri Lanka, the continued support of the international community would be of immense value. Countries that have effectively and efficiently utilized domestic and international resources in the realisation of their social development goals would need assistance to continue their efforts at capacity building and self-reliance. Regional and sub-regional co-operation is as important as international support.
Sri Lanka fully endorses the two reports submitted to this summit by the Ministerial Conference of the Asia and Pacific Region held in the Phillippines in October 1994 and the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) held in Delhi in December 1994. We also have submitted the Sri Lanka National Report in which, in addition to the general trends of the conference, matters that are unique to Sri Lanka are focused upon.
These reports while highlighting the priorities of our region in the achievement of the objectives of this summit send a strong message with regard to the urgent resolution of the issues raised in them.
I wish to emphasis two aspects of the current international situation that deserve our immediate and special attention.
First, in addressing problems of global poverty, we must not be unmindful of the large populations of Asia, particularly in South Asia which suffer from poverty, malnutrition and unemployment. It will be unfortunate to presume that problems of poverty in Asia are being settled along with the rapid economic progress in some countries in Asia. Hence, the poor millions of Asia should not be forgotten in international anti-poverty initiatives.
Secondly, we are now in the process of replenishing the resources of the International Development Association (IDA) of the World Bank, which lends on very confessional terms to the poorest countries of the world. The past soft lending by the IDA has been one of the most potent forces of poverty alleviation and I hope that this assembly can make a strong request to all donors to support the recommendation of the World Bank for the 11th Replenishment.
Mr. Chairman, we are confident that this summit will adopt a Declaration which contains practical and immediate measures that should be taken to combat the issues that we have been deliberating over the past few days. Our resolve to implement them both at national and international levels, remains firm.
In conclusion Mr.Chairman, whilst thanking every one who has worked untiringly to make this Summit possible. I would like to express my sincere appreciation and deep gratitude to the Government and the people of Denmark for hosting this conference and for the warm hospitality extended to me and my delegation