August 10, 2023
Water’s Edge Hotel
Honorable Speaker of the Parliament of Sri Lanka,
Chair of the Open Parliament Caucus, and Members,
Members of Parliament,
Former Members of Parliament,
Secretariat of the Parliament
Representatives from diplomatic missions and the international community,
Representatives from civil society organizations, and colleagues
Although you can’t see it from here, just a mere 3 kilometers away stands one of the most formidable, beautiful, and practical legislative buildings in the world – the Parliament of Sri Lanka.
Created by the famed Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa, it’s open to the elements and yet protected from the worst of the island’s weather. A crowning jewel of tropical modernism spearheaded by Bawa.
Geoffrey was certainly a visionary. The complex was not just a building, but a perceptible representation of the very principles of good governance so fundamental to democracies around the world with its transparent, inclusive, and open design.
Frankly, I’m struck by the parallels between that building’s design and how the concept of open government is being built by the Open Parliamentary Caucus.
An open parliament – one that encourages transparency, participation, and accountability throughout the legislative process – is an essential part of an open government. Ensuring access to legislative information and creating mechanisms for public participation and accountability are critical to building an open, trusting relationship with citizens. Parliaments can also lead by example by adopting open government principles within their own processes and practices, including measures to improve its accountability to citizens. Recent passage of the Anti-corruption and Central Bank bills can serve as examples. Many of us in the diplomatic corps have had the honor to sit in the parliament’s chambers to hear debate and discussion.
I’ve also had some personal experience with Open Government as a young high school student in California. After winning an essay contest sponsored by my local Optimist Club, I earned the chance to visit the California State Assembly in Sacramento. It was a formidable experience for me and my first exposure to state government. Sitting in the visitors’ gallery watching the lawmakers discuss and vote on important issues, inspired me to get involved and volunteer to help my local Congressman campaign and to sign petitions against gun control or development of wetlands.
I believe that Sri Lanka’s youth will also be inspired by a more open Parliament that encourages and enhances youth participation in public life and local policy and decision-making.
Like the United States, Sri Lanka is a member of the Open Government Partnership committed to institutionalizing its principles. Since Sri Lanka joined the Partnership in 2015, it has joined an international network of parliaments in democratic societies, and the United States has been one of the most ardent supporters here Sri Lanka through several initiatives.
Most recently, through the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, and its partner the National Democratic Institute, the United States government supports this Open Parliament Caucus initiative (the largest caucus in parliament) and its efforts to promote open and transparent governance and to bring parliament closer to its citizens.
Previously, we’ve partnered with the Parliament to establish the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus (welcome back from your USAID-funded study tour to the Parliament of New Zealand), the Parliamentary Media Center, and several other initiatives to improve strategic planning and communication within government and Parliament, enhance public outreach, develop more effective policy reform and implementation processes, and increase political participation of women and underrepresented groups in Parliament. Like you, we don’t take our legislative branch for granted. And I honor the MPs who are here tonight, committed and dedicated to doing your part in your country’s governance.
Now in our 75th year of diplomatic relations with an independent Sri Lanka, we are interested in exploring additional ways that the United States can collaborate with the OPC to advance the open parliament initiative.
One such engagement would be the House Democracy Partnership – a bipartisan Commission of the U.S. House of Representatives, the House Democracy Partnership (or HDP) works with parliaments around the world to support the development of effective, independent, and responsive legislatures. Using peer-to-peer exchanges, training, and targeted technical assistance, the commission enhances accountability, transparency, access to information, and legislative oversight.
In July 2016, Sri Lanka became a member of HDP, and since then, HDP has worked with the parliament of Sri Lanka on oversight, citizen engagement and e-governance.
HDP’s singular focus on the legislative branch of government and its unique ability to bring together American legislators and their peers from around the world have made the commission a valuable forum for strengthening democratic institutions and deepening bilateral relations.
The U.S. government – and many in this room, including the diplomatic corps, international organizations, civil society, and government – stand ready to support the Open Parliament Caucus in promoting transparency, accountability, and citizen participation in Sri Lanka. Communication is a two way exchange. It’s not enough to listen, we must respond. It’s not enough to respond, we must act. People want a say in their country, a voice in their democracy. And that’s why we remain committed to working alongside the Caucus to achieve these objectives and strengthen the legislature’s openness, transparency, and accountability to the people of Sri Lanka.