بســم اللّـه الرّحمـن الرّحيــم
Secretary General of SAARC Uza. Dhiyana Saeed, ADB’s Director General to South Asia Hafiz Rahman, Ministers, Former Secretary Generals of SAARC, and the Former Secretary General of ASEAN, civil society members, media and everyone who is present here today.
We gather here today for a very noble purpose. SAARC has been in existence for the last 25 years. It came in to being with high aspirations from its member countries and its people. Its people still have these aspirations. They want to have a better life. They want to have a quality life, and they want their leaders to sit together to have consultations and deliver that good life. I cannot agree that we have succeeded in delivering that good life. But I am full of optimism in believing that it is quite possible for us to do that.
We have amazingly good economic growth in most of South Asian countries. India is so rapidly developing. It is increasing it’s GDP by a fold of about 8% every year and the base is so big. Sri Lanka’s growth is good. Maldives’ growth is good. Most SAARC countries can revitalise their economies and they can make these aspirations a very good reality.
Thank you very much Secretary General, for very focusly pointing out what we want to achieve from the deliberations and the discussions. On the one hand we have a wealth of experience in former Secretary Generals. I congratulate all the Secretary Generals but I must, and I have to specially mention Ibrahim Hussain Zaki, the former Secretary General of SAARC from the Maldives, Who has become an institution in the Maldives. He has spear-headed many many other movements I must say, and in our work towards our first multi-party elections, in amending the constitution, in building political parties. Without Zaki I must add, that it might really not have been possible at all.
We are with such distinguished people, and we must be able to turn SAARC around. Dhiyana has pointed out what we need to do. She mentioned 5 points but I think if I may just boil it down. She needs greater focus on what we are doing, what SAARC is doing and it’s all over the place, she says and the paper says. They are trying to do all sorts of things and spreading their effort and therefore the effort is very thin. It is of course, I have had a look and she has pointed out, and my office is pointing out everyday the number of agreements and intuitions and frameworks that we have come out with, they are just gathering dust. So she points out and we all want to do this. There has to be greater focus on what we do.
Secondly and more importantly, once the heads agree lets leave it to the Secretary General do the work, let the Secretary General get on with it and deliver the work.
National bureaucracies very often can be very condescend and it can bore many things down. Once I think, I feel that if heads can agree and it is us who the people have entrusted with what they want. And if we can agree I can see no reason why it should then be bogged down. So I think during the deliberations we will find ways and means to simplify the SAARC process and give more power to the Secretary General, for the Secretary General to get on with the work, may it be tendering, may it me project monitoring or convening meetings. I think we all now agree that there is a form that is working. The European Union is working, ASEAN is working, and there are many other organizations that are working simply because power has been centralized and made more effective. I hope that we will have deliberations on that issue.
She also says, and I think it is so very true that instead of coming out with very poetic declarations we should come out with things to do lists. This is what member countries have decided to do one, two, three; we will get up and do that. And very often our declarations sound so flowery we are unable to actually understand what the whole thing is saying.
I have been shown a draft declaration for this 17th SAARC Summit. I must confess it is exactly in that poetic language. And we must try and see if we may be able to bring more focus to it and then have an actual to do list instead of all the embellishments that it is trying to bring.
We must also be able to work in subgroups. If there is no conscious, if all the members cannot agree, I think members can wait until they are able to agree. And those of us who wants to work on a certain project, on a certain line, must be able to move ahead with it. Specially the connectivity program. If a member country is not willing to come up with a railways agreement or come with the railways agreement. I feel that we must be able to work together and move on. When member countries are comfortable and when they are able, they can of course login and come in and join in. but that should not hinder the whole working of SAARC mechanism.
I hope that we will deliberate on that, and see if the heads may be able to agree among these lines. We don’t have to have unanimous understandings for SAARC to work and it is going to be very difficult, if we are to work with unanimous agreements. If we are to work along those lines we will be looking for the lowest common denominator of everything. That would be so diluted at the end of the day there is no point of having the agreement.
I hope that we will be able to come up with understandings and agreements that would focus us more along these lines.
Protection of investments among SAARC countries, specially while we have such good growth, specially while India is growing so rapidly and while therefore we are able to have foreign investments, that we would have in previous times imagined coming from elsewhere coming from the region. And a framework for foreign investment protection is so necessary right now. Maldives is doing, is engaged in so many investment programs with so many SAARC countries. I think the same is with Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and Bhutan and many SAARC countries. So if we are able to protect investments within a SAARC frame work I am sure that is going to give us more strength and move us along more rapidly.
We’ve been working on the sensitive lists for a long time, of these are items we have to trade. This is a very silly list; it’s a list of items that you can trade between member countries. I really cannot even talk about the list without the whole idea of having a list beats the whole idea of SAARC. But we have agreed that we will bring the list down by a factor of 20% by this summit, but we were not able to get the workings done, so therefore it’s still pending. I must agree, I must congratulate our selves for reducing the list by 60%. We have reduced all import tax from SAARC countries. Most of the items have been reduced and we have therefore, foregone a lot of government revenue for that.
We were relying upon import duties as a mainstream of government revenue. For us to bring that change we’ve had to bring a number of changes to our financial system. That has not always been politically easy. But I believe that these are measures we have to take and I hope that other countries also will do the same.
Now when we come to the sensitive list again this year, it is going to be a long list of items that you can trade now. The Maldives has always suggested if we can change the list to items that you can’t trade so that you have few items on it. But I hope that we are also able to have a better understanding on motor vehicle agreements. Countries must agree to greater cooperation and connectivity.
Our slogan this year we intend it to be building bridges and I hope that we will be able to build better bridges and stronger bridges among member nations.
What we have to do is, what our people want done. And that is, they want to improve the quality of their life.
Although I meet you here today, we will be having the 17th SAARC summit in the southern hemisphere. This is the only time and the only possibility of a SAARC Summit in the Southern hemisphere. So that’s how the SAARC stretches, the southern reach of the organization. We must, it’s not a northern Hindu Kush entity. It is as much an Indian Ocean organization and it stretches all the way up to the southern hemisphere and we will be sitting in our second city Addu City. We are very proud of being able to host you in Addu and we hope that you will be able to see the beauty of Addu atoll and also appreciate its culture and its people. While you appreciate, I hope and I believe the hospitality of Addu people.
Again thank you very much for ADB for convening this meeting, organizing the meeting. Thank you very much Dhiyana for convening the meeting and ADB for assisting Dhiyana in her work.
The recommendations that come from this sitting must have its weight, and we can’t endlessly be making assessments and not acting upon it. Therefore while we have such distinguished 6 former Secretary Generals doing it I think we better believe this and listen to them and get on with the work.
I hope that you will do, I am sure that you will do good work during the course of this meeting.
Thank you very much for attending. And thank you very much for having it here in Male’. Thank you.