Ambassador Atul Keshap’s Remarks in Polonnaruwa (May 19, 2016)

May 19, 2016

First, let me express my condolences on behalf of the men and women of the U.S. Embassy to the families affected by the recent landslides and flooding in various parts of Sri Lanka.  I want to assure you we stand in solidarity with the Government of Sri Lanka and the victims as they mourn the loss of loved ones, treat the injured, and address the extensive losses and damage caused by this natural disaster.

Regarding this visit, I am having the pleasure of my second visit to Polonnaruwa and I am very happy to be here with you and visiting the site of one of the most ancient kingdoms in Sri Lanka and a World Heritage Site as well.

I also want to begin my remarks by thanking and acknowledging the assistance of the government of Sri Lanka in making this visit possible.  Particularly, Governor Austin Fernando who used to serve as Government Agent here in Polonnaruwa a few years ago. Secretary Kamal from the Ministry of Provincial Councils and Local Government Affairs, of course all of you officials, all of the other the officials of the Ministry of Provincial Councils and Local Government Affairs, Mr. Asela Iddawela as well, and particularly Minister Faizer Mustapha who helped to organize the program, who brought us here, we are grateful for all of that assistance.

Ladies and Gentlemen, traveling with me is a very important visitor from Washington – Hari Sastry – sitting in my right.  He is the Director of the U. S. Department of State’s Office of Foreign Assistance Resources.  He is one of the senior U.S. Government officials who manage our overseas foreign assistance budgets, working closely with the Congress, the White House, and the U.S. Agency for International Development and of course other parts of the State Department.  So, we are very fortunate to have him visit Sri Lanka and see first-hand the impact that American support to the people of Sri Lanka is having in the daily lives of people and also affords him the opportunity to learn more about the challenges facing that are facing the rural people of Sri Lanka.

In 2016, we mark 60 years of American development and humanitarian assistance to Sri Lanka.  This assistance has improved countless lives, livelihoods and living conditions all across Sri Lanka.  We have made substantial investments as a government in every sector from agriculture to enterprise development, education, healthcare, energy and natural resources, good governance and humanitarian activities.

Today, ladies and gentlemen, American relations with Sri Lanka are at an all-time high.  As President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe lead their government in moving ahead with needed constitutional reform, reconciliation, and fulfilling their United Nations commitments, we on the part of the American government will also continue to partner with your government as it works to rebuild the economy, advance good governance, and ensure that all Sri Lankans can enjoy equal rights, equal opportunities and the full benefits of post-conflict development regardless of their ethnicity or origins.

Ladies and gentlemen, U.S. Government assistance totaled approximately $40 million last year and we have requested similar amounts in the coming years.  As a result of Sri Lanka’s commitment to good governance, the Millennium Challenge Corporation is working to design a threshold program that can potentially unlock millions of dollars in additional assistance to boost economic growth.

Earlier this year, our two governments launched the U.S.-Sri Lanka Partnership Dialogue, which expands and reinforces our whole-of-government cooperation in development, governance, energy, trade, and security.  Just last week, the United States House of Representatives Democracy Partnership Staff Delegation wrapped up a visit to Colombo, during which they successfully laid the groundwork for the Sri Lankan Parliament to join the program that works directly with 17 partner legislatures and parliaments around the world to support peer-to-peer exchanges and training seminars between partner legislatures.

In Polonnaruwa district, the United States Agency for International Development is providing funding as well as technical and managerial assistance to small and medium scale entrepreneurs to develop their enterprises, create jobs and strengthen economic growth in the region.  We are working with the government and the private sector to improve traditional farming practices, ensure food security and strengthen livelihood opportunities in dairy, poultry and horticulture for more than 3,000 families, especially those of small scale farmers.

We also plan to develop several new programs at the request of the Sri Lankan government to include programming in the sectors of youth employment, public finance management, strengthening governance, and improving the business climate for foreign investment.

On behalf of Director Sastry and the entire U.S. delegation, I wish to underline and reinforce our sincere thanks to the Government of Sri Lanka and the people of Polonnaruwa district and you, respected officials, for your warm hospitality today.  We have particularly enjoyed visiting and seeing up close and personal the daily lives of the people of Polonnaruwa district and learning about the challenges they face as they work to develop this country and strengthen this country and make it a united, reconciled, peaceful, prosperous nation with equal opportunity for all.  Thank you all so very much.