Minister of External Affairs Prof. G.L. Peiris presented a debriefing of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2013, at the Organization of Professional Associations of Sri Lanka (OPA) on 06th December 2013.
At the beginning Prof. Peiris stated that as the Government recognizes, in full measure, the importance in creating public opinion in disseminating information, H.E. the President had specifically emphasized that it was crucial to make every citizen a stakeholder of the CHOGM 2013 process. The comprehensive awareness programmes that were carried out in schools including oratorical, essay and photography competitions in which children participated and were exceedingly successful, was cited by the Minister as examples in this regard. The Commonwealth Association of Accountants (CAA) in which many countries participated in; the Commonwealth Business Forum and the participation of around seven hundred academics who met under the aegis of the University Grants Commission (UGC) were also notable instances of extensive community involvement. These successful activities promoted further discussion and ownership.
The Minister emphasized that holding CHOGM 2013 in Sri Lanka was not a trouble-free task as the process encountered several obstacles in its evolution. The decision to hold CHOGM 2013 in Sri Lanka was first made in the year 2009 and was ratified in Perth in October 2011. During the process, some countries actively intervened to prevent Sri Lanka from hosting the event. However on the other hand, Sri Lanka was stoutly defended by an overwhelming majority of countries. During the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) widespread support from many countries was received and Prof. Peiris, acknowledged and thanked the positive assistance received from those nations.
The Minister highlighted that the most important fact to be taken in to account was the benefits accrued to the country by holding CHOGM 2013. A number of countries that had expected to see a war ravaged, dilapidated and devastated nation was amazed and astonished to encounter Sri Lanka at its present state, after their arrival. The developments in areas including infrastructure and highways were admired and appreciated. As different CHOGM related forums were deliberately conducted in different parts of the country the representatives of the participating countries gained country wide exposure. The Youth Forum which was held at Hambantota and the Peoples Forum that was held at Galle showcased the phenomenal development and the enchanting vicinities of the regions. The Minister said that many Heads of Government had paid their tribute to the manner in which Sri Lanka has organized the CHOGM 2013. Some countries wanted to express their views publicly in candid discussions and have taken their own initiatives in this regard and paid compliments to the quality of the event. Prof. Peiris highlighted that some of the participating countries that have never got the opportunity to visit Sri Lanka were given the opportunity to observe conditions and rely on first hand evidence acquired by them, which was important and fundamentally advantageous. They have noted the extent of development that was taken place after the end of the war, mainly in comparison to the other post conflict developing countries in some of the other parts of the world.
Prof. Peiris indicated that however, some highly biased and incorrect criticisms were taken into note including the twisting of figures regarding the level of participation. Out of the fifty three countries, fifty one countries participated and there were thirty three high level participants at the levels of Presidents, Deputy Presidents and Prime Ministers. The Minister also made use of the opportunity to express his gratitude towards the Sri Lankans who worked, as a team, for the successful completion of the Summit, noting that they worked up to the inherent strength of the country.
The Minister explained that during the CHOGM meetings, Sri Lanka was able to discover many issues of interests that are common to a vast majority of developing country members of the organization including the issues related to rural development, access to opportunities and social mobility. During the next two years, as the Chair, Sri Lanka intends to focus on these issues, giving priority to the present day needs of the developing countries, which makes up the majority in the organization. Within the diversity of nations that comes under the umbrella of Commonwealth organization, it is important to take into account the different points of view and address those, and there was a strong consensus over the need for collective action, re-iterated the Minister.
Prof. Peiris also highlighted the importance of training of Youth by maximum opportunities and new vistas provided to them. Also the opportunity given to the local producers towards access to international markets without undue impediments and hindrances was praised by the Minister. The Business Forum that was held on the sidelines of CHOGM 2013 had attracted the largest number of participants of any Business Forums in history. The resulting investment flows to the country is expected to increase with time and Sri Lanka could be regarded as a credible international hub in many areas, including shipping, aviation and knowledge. Therefore Sri Lanka should make use of the opportunity gained through the conduct of an international summit of this scale. A sound prioritization of issues to be addressed during the time period where Sri Lanka functions as the chair of the Commonwealth is required.
Highlighting the responsibility of the professionals of the country, and the importance of the OPA as the premier professional organization in the country, the Minister pointed out that one of the prime responsibilities of the OPA is to focus on the results gained through CHOGM 2013, by far the largest and the most influential international event in the history of Sri Lanka, and the path for the future of the country.