At the Muhamalai minefield in the North – Norwegian funding for demining will be channeled through the Halo Trust and the Mine Advisory Group.Visiting Norwegian State Secretary Marianne Hagen says private sector development, youth welfare and the ocean industry are more attractive sectors for her government, than playing a role in Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process.
The visiting envoy who travelled North to Muhamalai to see landmine clearing activities during her three-day tour, nevertheless indicated that her Government was closely observing what is going on with the UNHRC resolution 30/1, while acknowledging the achievements so far. The Norwegian State Secretary met Prime Minister Ranil wickremesinghe, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana and Northern Province Governor Dr Suren Raghavan during her interactions here.
Excerpts of the interview with Norwegian State Secretary Marianne Hagen
Q: What is the purpose of your visit to Sri Lanka, would you be traveling out of Colombo?
- One of the main reasons why we are here, is to see the mine fields. I’m bringing in a big financial contribution of NOK (Norweigan Krone) 60 million, (about Rs 1,200 M), to the government to finalise the clearing of land mines in the North.
They have been making great efforts to clear the land, which is very important for the livelihoods of people there, to move back and get back their lives. The timeline promised to clear mines is before 2020. Hopefully with the contribution of Norway they will be able to finalise the work on time.
Q: I heard that Sri Lanka needs US $ 12 million to complete the rest of the de-mining work and the contribution you are making is equivalent to US$ 7 million – a significant portion of what is required?
- We are coming back as a donor because we are convinced that the government is committed to fulfilling its obligations under the Mine Ban Convention. Norway holds the presidency of the Mine Ban Convention this year , and Sri Lanka holds the presidency of ‘Cluster Munitions Convention’. Our jobs are related and it would be of value to both of us to work together.
Q: Do you believe Sri Lanka can achieve the target to completely clear the land of mines by 2020, going by the progress it has shown so far?
- It is my understanding that that’s the aim of the process. Our contribution will make it more likely to happen and the government is also committed.
Q: It has been ten years since the conflict in Sri Lanka has ended, the country is struggling to put its past behind. Do you foresee any role for Norway in Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process?
- If we look back, Norway was asked by both sides to play the peace negotiator role to end the war, unfortunately it did not succeed, now we are here to strengthen the relationship with Sri Lanka which is trying to make a new beginning.
We are following closely what is going on with the resolution 30/1 and the improvements. We are also here to work together on private sector growth, to create jobs for young people to make them believe that they have a future in this country. It is important that they can provide for themselves so that they can look after their families.
Sri Lanka has a large public sector which is financed by the private sector, so the private sector growth is crucial. For Norway as a development actor, having this dialogue and helping the countries to achieve their targets, is very important. There are many things that bring me here, for instance the ocean industry and the skilled workforce which is about the future of Sri Lanka.
Q: Is there a particular reason why you met the Finance Minister?
- A Finance Minister has an important role to play in a Government, I met the Prime Minister as well. We had a very good relationship with Sri Lanka for seventy years much before the role we played during the war. We will have a role to play in the future as a partner, in climate change, in multilateral organizations, and in private sector development as a development partner and in the sustainable blue ocean economy. We are two small countries but we are large ocean states. It is important to protect common interests of smaller voices which we both represent, and coordinate our message in the international global scene on common issues and sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Q: I believe that you undertook a visit to the Maldives prior to your arrival in Colombo. Do you have a special interest in the SAARC region?
- When I am in this region, it is natural to call on both countries. I was in India about two weeks ago, this is a very interesting region, because of its population growth, and we are both oceanic states.
There are so many things that we are discussing and one important topic is the ‘WTO Fisheries subsidies negotiations’ which are going on right now. It is not an isolated trade issue, it goes straight into the agenda of the oceans and IUU fishing (Illegal Unreported and Unregulated fishing). The IUU fishing is damaging your fisheries sector. That is why I am bringing this topic to the Minister’s attention. The politicians, the Minister and the PM have to address IUU fishing as part of the same question and not separately. It was my understanding that both PM and the Minister of Finance agreed that the issue needs to be treated in that way.
Q: Where does Sri Lanka stand in IUU fishing?
A: IUU fishing is a huge problem for all countries. It affects food security for the entire world’s population. We need medicine and minerals, but most of all we need clean, healthy and safe food from our oceans.All the previous generations have been harvesting from Oceans and it cannot stop with ours. Hence we need to ensure sustainability of our oceanic resources. There needs to be cooperation at different levels, an integrated resource management plan, to look at the whole picture.
How can we have oil production, fisheries, aquaculture, conservation while all of them have to be balanced, to be sustainable. Forty years back Norway had huge issues relating to fishing. Today we on’t. We have transnational cooperation with our big neighbor Russia on managing the Cod stocks. It is a huge income for us today.It is possible to manage fish stocks, in a way that is beneficial across nations. There needs to be a system and the countries must get rid of IUU fishing.
Q: Do you think Sri Lanka has a huge potential in the fisheries sector?
- Sri Lanka is a substantial player in this area, and it is my impression that they are also very much engaged at the multinational level. It is also participating in many fora with Norway, bilaterally
Q: The UN Human rights Council is currently in session. While there is an international voice which demands continued monitoring on Sri Lanka, others maintain that the country should be allowed to look after its own affairs, for it has been ten years since the conflict ended. As a member of the UNHRC, does Norway have its own opinion on this matter?
- We acknowledge the progress that has been made. We visited the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) this morning. The office is enormously important for the missing persons’ families to get answers, to heal, and move on.That is a very good approach, we were very fortunate to meet the officers of the OMP to know the details of their work. On land release, we are closely following the situation with interest, we acknowledge the progress that has been made and we are following with interest the progress that is yet to come.
Q: I understand that you are visiting the SLASSCOM in Colombo to extend assistance for their Norway funded program ‘Kids can Code’.
- That is very important. The SLASSCOM has asked for cooperation from Norway in developing the kid’s IT sector in Sri Lanka. There is a lot of energy in that sector as well as a lot of demand.