Hon. Sumedha G. Jayasena, Minister of Social Services
Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Geneva, 30 June 2000
Mr. Chairman Your Excellencies Distinguished Delegates Ladies and Gentlemen.
Let me at the outset extend to you the felicitations of the people and the Government of Sri Lanka. It is also my privilege to continue with the good work done by the previous Ministers of Social Services in the Government of Her Excellency Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, President of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka lost no time in implementing the outcome of the World Summit for Social Development. Our Government advocates a policy of development with a human face. Hence social development is a top priority for us. The World Summit was timely, in that it sought a new social development paradigm within and between countries. What is required now are our efforts to implement and follow-up Agenda of Action.
We have had a mid-term review of the ESCAP region at Manila in 1997. Now at the end of the 5th year we are gathered here for the Global review. Sri Lanka takes modest pride in our achievements visa-a-vis pledges of the World Summit despite constraints brought about by terrorist violence and paucity of resources. Nevertheless, much remains to be done in the short to medium term.
Sri Lanka has been noted since the early 1950s as a social development model for its high emphasis on improving the quality of life of the people and for its complex social protection and integration programmes, at times, at the expense of investment in economic growth.
Our achievements in the areas of health and education have been above the
global average. By 1999, Sri Lanka has achieved an infant mortality rate of
15.9 per thousand births, a maternal mortality rate of 2.3 per 10,000 live births,
and the life expectancy of 73.1 years which is only short by 3% of the mean
average for the developed world. On the educational front, Sri Lanka has achieved
90.7% literacy rate.
Despite a moderate economic growth of 4.3% in 1999, unemployment had dropped
from 14.4% in 1990-94 period to 8.8% in 1999. Significant advances have been
made in the quality of employment. The female participation in the work force
has increased; and female unemployment rate reduced to 14.6% by 1998. The male
unemployment rate was also reduced to 6.6% over the same period. Nearly 60%
of the females in employment possessed educational qualifications of G.C.E.
Ordinary Level and above while among male workers it was about 36%.
Currently, the programmes and projects pertaining to social development are
well focussed and better targeted. The programmes range from pauper allowances,
special protection programmes for the disabled, for vulnerable women, for children
and the elderly, and pension and social security for the self-employed poor.
These programmes provide the necessary socio-economic 'safety net' to the vulnerable
and marginalised groups, during the transition to sustainable and equitable
economic growth and development.
A number of legal enactments related to different aspects of social development
such as protection to labour, labour wage security and social welfare measures/schemes
have been promulgated since 1994. These laws strengthen the existing legal and
administrative framework, establish new rules and enforcement mechanisms as
well as avenues for protecting and upholding the rights of women, children,
disabled, aged, and other segments of the population.
A number of Presidential Task Forces have also been formed. The Task Forces examine and recommend better means of empowering and protecting the rights of women and children, the disabled and the aged, as well as recommend means to streamline and increase the relevance and coverage of basic social development facilities such as education and health.
Further, National level Steering Committees on various aspects of social development
have also been set up especially pursuant to the decisions of the World Summit
on Social Development. These mechanisms contribute to and facilitate policy
making on social development at the national level through promoting an active
dialogue among the state agencies, the donor agencies, NGOs and the private
sector on issues of social programme implementation, coverage, and effectiveness.
The Steering Committees also deliberate and make decisions on other vital matters
such as better targeting of programmes, empowerment of socioeconomically marginalised
groups and on the need for a national data base with multi-user access. With
the technical and financial support of the UNDP and under the guidance of the
National Committee on Social Development, a technical proposal for the establishment
of a Social Development Management Information System (SOMIS) has now been completed.
This information system will become functional in a month's time.
We have taken many targeted measures to ameliorate social conditions of important
segments of our society. However, national efforts alone cannot address all
social development challenges. Sri Lanka, is committed to liberal market economic
policies with the aim of integrating into the world economy. Like many other
developing countries, in similar situations, we too have to come to terms with
the irreversible process of globalization - a process that offers both challenges
With capital, production and management, moving across borders, the impact
of globalization on our societies has become immense. This process also brings
in its wake additional demands on our societies. The rule-based multilateral
trading system coming into being with the creation of the World Trade Organization
was in response to the evolving process of globalization. However, the new multilateral
trading system did not bring promised benefits in terms of market access to
developing countries ; nor were the obligations that have been imposed on developing
countries, consonant with their level of economic development. There is concern,
therefore, that the new multilateral trading system is not balanced and that
the benefits of the Uruguay Round were not equitable. It is therefore, increasingly
felt that the framing rules in the international trade arena should take into
account the development dimension and the impact such rules have on developing
countries if we are to prevent, small economies being further marginalised in
the global economy. In such a situation, the best laid national, social development
plans can become unsustainable. What is even more disturbing would be that the
past social development achievements could face the danger of regression.
In order to provide better living and social standards for our people, what
is required is greater market access with less restraints and additional conditionalities
being imposed. The "social standards or issues" should not constitute disguised
protectionism to deny market access. The demand for new labour standards, or
environmental measures to be linked to trade would be tantamount to a further
denial of market access to developing countries. This will in turn have a negative
impact on economic and social development, as developing countries would be
deprived of taking advantage of their competitive and comparative advantage.
We believe greater market access and resulting economic growth would be the
most sustainable way of improving social standards of our people. Economic history
amply demonstrates this truth. As we redefine our development strategies, my
Government is committed to follow this sustainable course. As advocated by H.E.
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, President of Sri Lanka, we will pursue a
free market economy with a human face and provide safety nets for the vulnerable
segments of the society.