President Mahinda Rajapaksa in a Message to the first ever Conference of SAARC Ministers of Parliamentary Affairs which was inaugurated this morning at the Hilton Hotel in Colombo hailed Democratic Governance as the best path for the progress of our people. The Message of the President was delivered by Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga. Stating that it is significant today that all countries of the SAARC region are democracies that believe in the principles of representative government, the President expressed that Sri Lanka has a long tradition of democracy, especially universal franchise, which goes back to the colonial period, and has a history of having the oldest elective democracy in Asia, which was established in 1931, with elections to the then State Council.
Outlining the growth of democracy in Sri Lanka the President remarked that parliamentary democracy in the country has faced many challenges including two armed insurrections in the South and separatist terrorism in the North. The President also stated that Sri Lanka has made many advances in areas of social security that stand out as examples of the success of the democratic process including universal free education from kindergarten to university, free healthcare, reduction in unemployment and a sharp decline in maternal and infant mortality.
The Conference of SAARC Ministers of Parliamentary Affairs which is held on the theme of "Good Governance through Parliamentary Democracy" with the representation of all SAARC Member States will focus on sharing each other's experiences on the subject and also deliberate on ways and means for cooperation in promoting good governance in the region.
The SAARC Secretary General, Dr Sheel Kant Sharma, in a Message to the Conference stated that most of the South Asian countries face challenges to good governance which may be rooted in various factors such as low literacy rate, prevalent poverty, inadequate institutional vigilance and accountability; and that it is the people at grass root level who face deprivation in terms of basic needs, fair treatment, justice and respectable livelihoods as a result. In this light, the Secretary General stated that it is the Parliamentary system that emerges as a good governing system where people's representatives are directly elected and their performance is judged by the public.
The Conference which is attended by representatives from all SAARC Member States include the Deputy Minister for Parliamentary Affairs of Afghanistan Mohammad Karim Baz, Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs of Bangladesh Barrister Shafique Ahmed, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bhutan Lyonpo Ugyen Tshering, State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs of India Suriyakanta J Patil, Minister of Law, Justice and Constituent Assembly Affairs of Nepal Deb Prasad Gurung.
The delegates will call on President Rajapaksa tomorrow and also visit the Parliament of Sri Lanka for discussions with the Speaker, W.J.M. Lokubandara.
The Conference is being organised by the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
10 February 2009