Mr Speaker, I am pleased to propose this adjournment motion that is intended to develop closer links between Parliamentarians in Sri Lanka, and their peers in other countries. I should add however that there has been much progress since I first suggested this motion, nine months ago. Several Friendship Associations have been set up in the last few months, beginning with the initiative of the former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs who revived the Sri Lanka – Brazil Parliamentarians’ Friendship Association. This was a fitting tribute to the increasingly close relations between Sri Lanka and South America.

I should note, Mr Speaker, that the idea for this motion was suggested by a European Ambassador from a country that has supported us very positively over the years, but where knowledge of Sri Lanka is limited. This allows policy with regard to Sri Lanka to be governed by initiatives by a highly motivated few, who might not always have the interests of Sri Lanka at heart. I was told that Sri Lanka had an extremely good story to tell, not only about how we had defeated terrorism, but also about how we were making up for lost time in terms of developing areas that had been neglected before, and providing opportunities to those who had been deprived for ages.

Unfortunately we did not seem to be telling our story effectively enough. This allowed a few representatives from just one or two countries, with a particular agenda, to make the running at the European Union with regard for instance to GSP+. The feeling then was that many European countries, which benefited from expanding trade with Sri Lanka, and wished us to benefit too, had simply not been able to make their views felt forcefully enough, since they were not up to date with details that would have helped their case and ours.

The suggestion then was that, by developing the social and personal contacts that are so important in politics and policy making, we would be able to ensure better awareness of the Sri Lankan situation. At the same time, we should lay stress not on the story, but on the actuality, by encouraging greater awareness of what we have here, and what we are developing. Our friends in Parliaments all over the world should want to know what was going on, and should be facilitated to obtain the knowledge they required, and we hope the sympathetic understanding that would have come with such knowledge.

In this regard, Mr Speaker, we must not look on such Friendship Associations as created primarily to promote visits to partner nations by our Parliamentarians. Whilst expanding our awareness of other countries is important, more important in the present context is expanding awareness in other countries of Sri Lanka and its enormous promise. In this context, as indeed the Brazilian Ambassador noted when he spoke to us, we must endeavour to develop links between investors and potential partners, and between businessmen in both countries. Though obviously we would like to concentrate on our exporters and their tourists, with the passage of time, and increasing prosperity, contacts the other way too would be helpful to all.

In addition we need to ensure cooperation between practitioners of culture so that exchanges can be facilitated. In this regard we should strengthen the regional Cultural Centres that our Ministry of Cultural Affairs is establishing. It has been suggested that these should promote multi-cultural activity, and there is much that other countries can offer us in terms of training and support for such initiatives. At its simplest, we should also encourage greater awareness of other cultures and other societies. In this modern digital age, showcasing the achievements of other nations, and promoting exchanges that will allow us to showcase our own, will not be difficult. I believe our Parliamentary Friendship Associations, through liaison with foreign missions here and by using their good offices to promote cooperation, will have much to offer young people in areas that now have little exposure to world cultures.

Over the last few months, Mr Speaker, we have revived or established Friendship Associations with – to move from East to West – Australia and Indonesia, with India and Pakistan and Iran, with South Africa and Italy and Spain, with France and Germany and the United Kingdom, with Brazil and Cuba and Canada. I hope I have not omitted any – I believe one with the Netherlands is about to be set up, as well as with Kuwait and the Philippines – and certainly there are other countries too with whom we should work. Most recently, a couple of weeks back, we took a new step forward, subject I should add to our Inter-Parliamentary Union Executive approving. This was to establish a Friendship Association with a Parliament representing not just one country but several. I refer to the European Union Parliament, and this was in fact a timely move, since at this very moment we have a delegation from the European Parliament visiting Sri Lanka.

Unfortunately the group represents what is known as the South Asia Delegation, which indicates a tendency to consider us simply as one of a group of countries. We cannot object to this in a Europe which is moving towards closer integration of several countries, but we should also encourage the establishment of a Friendship Association that is concerned only with this country. I was delighted to see amongst those who have visited Members of the European Parliament who have liaised closely with our Ambassador in Brussels and who have spared time to meet with Parliamentarians from this country when they visited. Developing such contacts on a regular basis, formally and informally, would I believe benefit all the people represented by Parliamentarians both here and in Brussels.

In the context of the European Parliament, Mr Speaker, I should mention an area in which I believe we could learn from it to the benefit of our Parliamentary system. Last year I was able to send my Coordinating Secretary to spend three months as an intern with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group in the European Parliament. This was in terms of an arrangement they have with the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, which I currently chair. In his report he mentioned the importance of the European Parliament’s Committee systems, which served to disseminate information and contribute to informed policy making. Given suggestions that have been advanced about the setting up of what are termed Oversight Committees here, given the increasing need for accountability which we see all over the world, we would do well to benefit from experiences in this line elsewhere.

Of course in the end we have to develop our own systems, suited to this country. However learning from experiences elsewhere, benefiting from good practices in other countries, will help us in this Parliament too to contribute to good governance. I was delighted, Mr Speaker, to receive recently a notice from the Research Division of Parliament  about a journal that is planned ‘to boost the legislative process and policy formulation.’ I was very happy to offer a contribution, entitled ‘The role of Parliament in promoting good governance’, and hope to expand this into articles in a newspaper, if this is acceptable, so as to promote discussion of the topic.

This scholarly initiative of the Research Division suggests a commitment to developing Parliamentary practice in this country which is most welcome. As with all initiatives, the more inputs we have with regard to good practices elsewhere, the better for any reforms that might be undertaken. I must hope therefore that the Friendship Associations we have established will contribute to a mutual learning process, for us as well as for Parliamentarians in the partner countries, and through that to benefits for the people on whose behalf we function.

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