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Statement by H.E. Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Bhutan
Mr. Chairman,
Mr. Secretary General,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to address the Fifteenth SAARC Summit in Colombo coinciding with the 60th Anniversary Celebrations of Sri Lanka's independence. We are extremely pleased to be able to share this historic moment with the people and government of Sri Lanka. On this joyous occasion, I have the honour to convey the warm felicitations of my King, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, and that of the people and government of Bhutan.

Please accept, Mr. Chairman, my congratulations as you and your country assume the important responsibility of guiding the endeavours of our Association at a time when not only the region but globally, human society is faced with serious challenges. These call for greater collaboration through trust and understanding even as doubts, suspicions and fears continue to test our resolve. I am confident that the SAARC process will attain further momentum under your able leadership. To this end, please rest assured Sir, that you will have the full support of my delegation and my government. This, of course, has nothing to do with the extremely warm and gracious hospitality that my delegation and I have received since our arrival here, and for which I would like to convey our deep appreciation to the people and government of Sri Lanka.

His Excellency Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Government of India deserve our admiration and appreciation for the outstanding leadership provided to the work of our Association since the Fourteenth Summit. I believe India's commitment to the SAARC process has been well demonstrated both in spirit and through the laudable initiatives undertaken to strengthen regional cooperation.

I congratulate Dr. Sheel Kant Sharma on having assumed office as the new Secretary General of our Association. I have no doubt that he will bring fresh perspectives and dynamism to the Secretariat and build on the progress achieved by his predecessors. Our appreciation also goes to the former Secretary General Lyonpo Chenkyab Dorji for the hard work and commitment with which he carried out his responsibilities. He and his team deserve our highest commendation.

I also wish to acknowledge the presence of the distinguished representatives of Observers at this Summit. We welcome them and look forward to a fruitful and mutually beneficial engagement with the Observers.

Yet again, we might remind ourselves that our gathering symbolizes the hopes and aspirations of one sixth of humanity. It is an expression of our own acceptance that our people do want us to work together. There are immense rewards to be gained by doing so even though we allow ourselves to be deluded ever so often by thoughts and actions that we know are unwise and wrong. In order to make our Summit meaningful we need to open our eyes to the wonders of the great
opportunities that we have missed and take stock of the vast potential of South Asia's natural, cultural, scientific and human resources that are the envy of any country or region. We need to generate within ourselves the will and the courage to overcome the inertia that makes us hesitate, falter and dwell in the domain of doubt and suspicion.

Over the last two decades, we have made numerous commitments and created several worthy arrangements to provide enabling frameworks for cooperation in a wide range of areas. What we need now is to act. We need to fulfill the commitments we make each time we come together, implement the declarations we sign and operationalize the instruments we have created. Only then will we be able to make use of our own creations to bring about visible and tangible benefits to our peoples.

In this context, the establishment of the SAARC Development Fund (SDF) is a noteworthy initiative to implement regional and sub-regional projects that can bring about tangible benefits to our people at the grassroots. The signing of the Charter of the Fund at this Summit clearly demonstrates our determination to make the SAARC process result oriented as we endeavour to focus on implementation in the third decade. My delegation attaches high importance to this institution as a means of engendering meaningful cooperation. in many  important areas and we are confident that the Fund will evolve into a viable and effective SAARC mechanism. On the question of the domicile of the Permanent Secretariat of the Fund, I wish to reiterate my government's offer to host this important institution in Bhutan. We are willing and ready to shoulder this responsibility and are committed to providing the most conducive operational, tax and legal flexibility for the Permanent Secretariat to function efficiently and effectively. I, therefore, sincerely hope that Bhutan's offer will receive the consideration and valuable support of all Member States.

This Summit is taking place against the backdrop of pressing global challenges, the impacts of which transcend national borders and underscore the interdependence of the economies of the world. Rising oil prices are putting considerable strain on our economies by pushing up the cost of living and fueling inflation. As a short term measure, we hope the oil producing and exporting countries will take steps to stabilize the oil markets by enhancing their capacities and output. But we must explore more sustainable solutions. Our region boasts a tremendous potential and much can be accomplished if we work together and recognize our complementarities. We must make optimal use of our energy resources; identify viable alternative sources of energy; and promote the development and use of renewable energy. Bhutan's experience in this area has been fairly successful. With the support and cooperation of India, we are making rapid progress in harnessing our hydropower potential to generate clean and reliable energy for our mutual benefit.

Likewise, soaring food prices is causing severe hardship, social unrest and suffering to millions all over the world, particularly the poor and vulnerable sections of our societies. This reinforces the need to redouble our efforts to eradicate poverty and hunger, particularly through agricultural and rural development. We need to invest in agriculture and improve agricultural output as the livelihoods of the majority of our people are dependent on it. It is in this regard that I welcome the establishment of the SAARC Food Bank as a very meaningful and timely initiative. My delegation also fully endorses the Colombo Statement on Food Security which clearly demonstrates our collective resolve and solidarity to address the challenges posed by rising food prices.

Since its inception, SAARC has helped build and promote a spirit of camaraderie, mutual trust and understanding which we must consciously endeavour to nurture and foster as they form the bedrock of any meaningful cooperation. During the Fourteenth Summit, we agreed to build a 'Partnership for Prosperity' and underlined the importance of physical, economic and people-to-people connectivity. If we are to achieve a 'Partnership for Growth for our Peoples' as envisaged by this Summit, I believe we must expedite the implementation of the prioritized recommendations of the SAARC Multimodal Transport Study including the sub-regional and regional projects that have been identified.

The imperatives of economic cooperation and free trade in a highly globalized and interdependent world cannot be overemphasized. Recognizing that the furtherance of intra-regional trade is the key to promoting and encouraging an environment of innovation, healthy competition and enterprise that will stimulate economic growth, create gainful employment and generate higher income for our peoples, we have created SAFTA. But for this instrument to be meaningful, the number of items on the negative list must be reduced, non-tariff barriers removed and the trade facilitation measures implemented. At the same time, liberalization of trade in services and investments must also be pursued in earnest.

The tourism sector holds great promise to earn foreign exchange, generate employment and improve the well-being of our people, especially if we put in place policies and opportunities for greater participation of all stakeholders, particularly the rural populations. As a region, we possess unparalleled cultural and natural resources that ought to have made our region the most favoured tourist destination. We must, therefore, commit ourselves more concertedly to seizing the tremendous opportunities that the tourism sector in our region affords. 14. Furthermore, mutual understanding and goodwill among our peoples is inextricably linked to a better appreciation of each other's cultural and historical heritage. It is in this context that the establishment of the SAARC Cultural Center in Kandy should be seen as an important initiative that can bring about further development and implementation of the SAARC Agenda for Culture.

My delegation notes with appreciation the progress being made towards the establishment of the South Asian University. This Institution will play an important role in nurturing the talent, skills and knowledge of our most precious and abundant resource - the people of South Asia. It will provide a platform for the academia, students, scholars and researchers of our region to interact, learn,
share experiences and help foster a spirit of South Asian solidarity.

The primary goal of SAARC to improve the well being of our peoples remains elusive. Millions continue to be mired in inhuman conditions of want and deprivation. We must intensify our efforts so that the poor and destitute have the opportunity to break free from the shackles of poverty and realize their potentials. If we are to make reasonable headway, our national efforts must complement the regional consensus and the Plan of Action on Poverty Alleviation.

As we strive to improve the welfare of our peoples, they continue to suffer the pain of insecurity and fear from terrorism and other transnational crimes. The recent acts of terror in our region are a grim reminder of this menace that continues to haunt and plague our region. My peaceful country too is being afflicted by this scourge and over the last few years has had to grapple with a series of terrorist activities. We unequivocally condemn these senseless and reprehensible acts of violence. Regardless of how sublime, noble or even desperate a cause may be, it can never justify the means that kill and maim innocent men, women and children in the most cowardly and barbaric ways.

Let us renew the commitment we made during the Fourteenth Summit to find the best and the most practical means to implement the provisions of the existing SAARC Conventions on terrorism, drugs, trafficking in women and children and other transnational crimes. The signing of the SAARC Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters at this Summit is yet another manifestation of our desire to enhance regional cooperation in fighting crime. We must act decisively
and send a clear message to perpetrators, sponsors and supporters alike that we are united in our determination to combat and eradicate these social evils.

As a member of the SAARC family, Bhutan is proud of the SAARC Plan of Action on Environment as well as the recently adopted Dhaka Declaration and Action Plan on Climate Change. Cooperation in Environment and Disaster Management has become extremely vital as globalization and consumerism combine to compromise the interest of mankind's own survival. Climate change is becoming an irreversible
phenomenon and its consequences are far too serious to overlook. Bhutan faces considerable risks from Glacial Lake Outburst Floods as a result of global warming despite the fact that we may have contributed the least green house gases. Their impact on life and property in the densely populated lower riparian countries of India and Bangladesh will be most devastating.

We consider the establishment of the SAARC Forestry Center (SFC) in Bhutan as a recognition of our success and consistent efforts to preserve and protect our rich bio-diversity and fragile environment. With the support of Member States and the SAARC Secretariat, we hope the Center will add value to regional initiatives to preserve and protect our fragile ecosystems.

The year 2008 marks a very special place in the history of Bhutan and, indeed, in the hearts and minds of the people of Bhutan. Under the wise and able leadership of our fourth King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Bhutan has undergone profound political changes. Ever since His accession to the throne in 1972, His Majesty has been relentless in His efforts to empower the people through a steady process of democratization. He prevailed over considerable odds and put in place all the institutional arrangements and instruments for a vibrant democracy before he retired in December 2006 at the age of fifty-one.

My country became a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy in March 2008 after the people participated overwhelmingly in the electoral process to elect their first government. This historic transition was successfully accomplished under the able leadership and guidance of His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the fifth King of Bhutan, and with the goodwill and support of our well-wishers and friends in the region and beyond.

This year, we will commemorate and pay tribute to the Institution of Monarchy as it completes one hundred years for nurturing, guiding and leading Bhutan from isolation and absolute monarchy to modernization and democracy in a globalized world. Today, Bhutan sees herself as a country that is placed firmly on the path of peace, progress and Gross National Happiness. Our pride in ourselves as a people and our confidence in our future is further enhanced by the good fortune that has blessed us yet again with an extraordinarily wise and compassionate King. The people of Bhutan will, therefore, be rejoicing in the formal coronation of our fifth King, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, later this year.

Once again, it is a great honour and pleasure for me to be able to participate in the 15th Summit of our Association. My joy is doubled by the fact that this event is taking place at a time when the friendly people of Sri Lanka are celebrating the 60th year of independence. The other reason for my pride and joy is because this is the first time that Bhutan is participating in a Summit as a full fledged democracy. I wish to pledge here that just as the previous governments had placed their faith and confidence in our regional association, democratic Bhutan will do all it can to make SAARC a powerful and effective mechanism for the realization of the dreams of the people of South Asia.




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Last modified: August 03, 2008.

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