Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma on Wednesday, 9 November, met Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Maldives, where both leaders are attending the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit.
The two held wide-ranging talks on a number of issues, including preparations for the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) which will be hosted by Sri Lanka.
Speaking afterwards, the Secretary-General said: “With implementations of the 2011 CHOGM outcomes underway, now is the time to start looking forward to the big ticket outcomes that will be achieved in Colombo as well as logistical and other matters.”
The importance of stimulating economic growth and the distribution of development dividends was also raised: “Small and medium enterprises can be the engines of economic growth, and women and young people offer enormous potential here,” Mr Sharma said.
The two discussed post-conflict support as well as development assistance in areas of Commonwealth expertise. The report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), a commission of inquiry appointed by the Sri Lankan President to look into events of the country's Civil War, is expected to be submitted to him later this month.
Another Commonwealth-wide concern highlighted during the meeting was climate change and its impact on small island and developing states.
Later, climate change topped the agenda in bilateral talks with the Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Richard Marles, who is also attending SAARC as an observer. The Secretary-General and Mr Marles considered how best to assist small island states in dealing with climate change.
Mr Sharma stressed the Commonwealth’s distinct role in the area of financing for climate change and the association’s long-standing reputation as a champion of small states, which comprise over half of the Commonwealth’s membership.
The two-day SAARC summit will be officially inaugurated today, Thursday, at a ceremony in Addu City’s newly-built Equatorial Convention Centre. Addu is the southernmost atoll of Maldives and this will be the first major international conference hosted there.
Several thousand delegates are expected to attend the Association’s 17th summit, with the theme ‘Building Bridges’. Mr Sharma is the first Commonwealth Secretary-General to attend SAARC, which represents five Commonwealth countries in its membership. He stressed the importance of establishing partnerships with regional organisations dealing with challenges common to Commonwealth member countries.