As Sri Lanka prepares to celebrate its 67th Independence Day on 4th February, Mohamed Anas, Charge d’ Affaires at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Kuwait, noted that the theme of his country’s Independence Day celebrations for this year, ‘A prosperous motherland – a dignified tomorrow’ underlined the emphasis the new Sri Lankan government places on the country’s international relations and in achieving a brighter future for its people by eliminating corruption and nepotism.
In an exclusive interview with The Times Kuwait, the Charge d’ Affaires spoke about the strong bilateral ties between Sri Lanka and Kuwait and his efforts to further consolidate these relations. Mr. Anas, whose young look belies the broad experience he has gained in the diplomatic field, joined the services of his country’s foreign service in 2009. He started out in the Foreign Ministry’s West division, covering Sri Lanka’s bilateral relations with countries in the Americas, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Europe.
He was then deputed abroad to consolidate his foreign affairs experience with diplomatic trainings in Germany, Netherlands and Belgium, before being dispatched for a short stint in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan as well as to Vienna, Austria. “It was with all such experience I received my appointment to the embassy in Kuwait and for the last three years I have been working in the consular section here. Last year, following the departure of our ambassador’s at the end of his tenure, I was assigned to Charge d’ Affaires in Kuwait,” said Mr. Anas.
Elaborating on relations between Sri Lanka and Kuwait, the Chargé d’affaires noted, “Relations between our two countries are robust and have been so since we first established diplomatic relations more than four decades ago. We cooperate and collaborate with each other on several multi-lateral platforms, including at the United Nations, in the Non-Aligned Movement and in Asian Cooperation Dialogue Summits and Ministerial meetings, as well as in the World Trade Organization conferences.”
“Besides our shared views on many international issues, we also believe in the potential for both countries to take our relationship to the next level through multi-pronged and mutually beneficial partnerships in all domains, including in diplomatic, economic and cultural fields. Underpinning our relations are the more than 120,000 Sri Lankans who, for the most part, live and work happily in this country. Of course, when we have such a large community there are bound to be issues; especially so, when a significant portion of my fellow-citizens are employed in the domestic sector and engaged in providing Kuwaiti household services.
“The embassy has been engaging with the Kuwaiti government in a number of initiatives designed to boost protection and improve the welfare of Sri Lankan domestic workers in the country. It is in this context that ‘Kuwait Declaration’, passed at the end of the Third Ministerial Consultative Meeting of Abu Dhabi Dialogue (ADD), which was hosted by Kuwait in November of 2014, takes on added significance. Sri Lanka was represented at the ADD by a high-level delegation headed by Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha, the Sri Lankan representative to the UN Permanent Mission in Geneva, Switzerland.”
A significant aspect of the ‘Kuwait Declaration’ was the call for all countries involved to ‘work together to prevent and sanction exploitative recruitment practices that place workers at great risk and undermine their fundamental rights’. Pointing to the ‘Safe House’ adjoining his embassy, and the new ‘government shelter’ setup of the Kuwaiti government, Mr. Anas said these places provided a safe refuge and was a welcome respite to those who suffer from employment-related grievances.
The envoy went on to add, “Sri Lanka looks forward to collaborating with Kuwait in implementing the Kuwait Declaration in its entirety, so as to protect the rights and dignities of all those workers who face victimization in the country. I have personally interacted with many of the displaced people in our shelter to try and find solutions to their problems and enable them to continue earning their livelihood in a congenial and dignified work environment.
“I must add that though most of our community members are engaged in domestic services, we also have many Sri Lankans employed as nurses, doctors, professors and chartered accountants; in fact, we recently inaugurated a Kuwait Chapter of Sri Lankan Chartered Accountants here. We are also in talks with the health ministry and other government bodies to increase the proportion of skilled and semi-skilled Sri Lankans employed in Kuwait.”
Noting that on the economic side there was plenty of scope for further augmenting existing levels of trade and investment, the Charge d’ Affaires added, “Since bilateral trade agreements were signed between our two countries in the early 1990s, tea and agricultural products have tended to dominate Sri Lankan exports to Kuwait. We are now looking at expanding existing businesses and opening up new sectors for investment and trade, especially through investments from the private sector in Kuwait.”
It is noteworthy that on the back of strong performance by the Industry and Services sector, the Sri Lankan economy grew by 7.7 percent in the third quarter of 2014. The Industry sector, which displayed consistent growth throughout 2014 in the mining, manufacturing, quarrying and construction sub-sectors, posted a 12.6 percent growth rate in the third quarter; meanwhile the Services sector notched a 7 percent growth. With appropriate macroeconomic policies being put in place by the new government to boost domestic and foreign investor confidence, the Sri Lankan economy is expected to record a robust performance in the period ahead.
Expanding on the transformation taking place in his country since the new government of President Maithripala Sirisena was sworn in early January, Mr. Anas said, “The new government is determined to ensuring a more inclusive society with a common Sri Lankan identity based on its diversity. The government is aiming to bring together the various communities in the country so that everyone can work together for the benefit of Sri Lanka. Also, as part of its attempt to weed out corruption and nepotism, the government has unfolded a hundred-day program to solve urgent issues, beginning with the formation of a National Unity Alliance government with H.E. Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister.
“Soon the country plans to embark on a six-year program to build a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka with a constructive foreign policy conducive to enhancing its international relations. To this end, Sri Lanka has appointed veteran parliamentarian Mangala Samaraweera as the new foreign minister. With the aim of laying the groundwork for maximizing its strategic interests, one of the first visits by the new foreign minister was to neighboring India, where he met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and held constructive discussions with his Indian counterpart, Sushma Swaraj.
Speaking about the investment potential in Sri Lanka, the envoy pointed to numerous sectors in the economy that were ripe for foreign investments. “An important sector of the economy that has immense potential for development and investment is tourism. Since the end of ethnic conflict, Sri Lanka has been witnessing an annual surge in the number of international visitors arriving in the country.
At our embassy here in Kuwait we issue around 30 visas every day to Kuwaitis and other residents wishing to travel to Sri Lanka; with the new ‘visa on arrival’ facilities as well as online application we expect number of Kuwaitis traveling to Sri Lanka to increase in the period ahead.
We are resolute in our decision to once again claim our position as one of the most visited countries in South Asia. “While speaking of investment, I would like to express our appreciation to the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, which since 1975, has been a steadfast partner in supporting social development and promoting economic growth in Sri Lanka.
The Fund has financed several infrastructure, irrigation and education projects in Sri Lanka, including most recently, in 2014, a US$10 million in soft loan towards the reconstruction of 25 bridges in Sri Lanka. Earlier, in 2011, the Fund had provided financing for the South Eastern University in order to improve its academic infrastructure and introduce demand-driven degree courses in the university.”
In conclusion, Mr. Anas, the father of two young children, said, “My family and I are enjoying our stay here in Kuwait and I would like to express thanks to the government and people of Kuwait for their kind hospitality. And, going into the future, I remain committed to further strengthening bilateral relations between our two countries.”