Thursday 26 February 2015

S'pore, Sri Lanka reaffirm ties, to expand cooperation

Shanmugam offers new leadership help in areas such as urban planning
By Nirmala Ganapathy, India Bureau Chief In New Delhi, The Straits Times, 25 Feb 2015

SINGAPORE and Sri Lanka explored ways to expand cooperation between the two countries during Minister for Foreign Affairs K. Shanmugam's two-day visit to Sri Lanka, aimed at strengthening bilateral ties.

The visit by Mr Shanmugam, who ended the Sri Lanka leg of a South Asia visit yesterday, is the first high-level contact between the two countries since Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena came to power last month, after elections that swept the Mahinda Rajapaksa government out of office.

Mr Sirisena has made improving governance, strengthening government institutions and greater accountability the priorities of his 100-day reform agenda.

Mr Sirisena "expressed support for deeper cooperation between Singapore and Sri Lanka" during a meeting with Mr Shanmugam, who offered the new leadership help in areas including water management, urban planning, judicial governance and financial management, said a press release from Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

Mr Shanmugam also invited the Sri Lankan government to send its officials to train in Singapore in these areas.

Mr Shanmugam, who is also Minister for Law, held discussions with External Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera, and had a breakfast meeting with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. He also met central bank governor Arjuna Mahendran.

During talks, Mr Wickremesinghe informed Mr Shanmugam that they planned to revive the Western Region Megapolis masterplan, which was created with Singapore's help in 2004, said the MFA statement.

The masterplan is an ambitious project to develop the capital city Colombo and its surrounding areas as a commercial hub and a leading city in South Asia.

The plan was never implemented.

Both countries share friendly relations, with Singapore undertaking several projects in Sri Lanka. This includes the Singapore International Foundation refurbishing the children's section of the iconic Jaffna Public Library and running training programmes for health-care providers, as part of efforts to rebuild the island after the three-decade civil war ended in 2009.

"Sri Lanka has always had tremendous potential," Mr Shanmugam told reporters. "Sri Lanka has had a couple of very successful roadshows recently and there is a high level of investor interest from Singapore. 

"There are a number of areas that I think we can look at - tourism, hospitality, logistics, housing," he said.

Mr Samaraweera expressed Colombo's "sincere appreciation for Singapore's steadfast support for the country's reconciliation process", according to a press statement from the Sri Lankan Ministry of External Affairs.

Trade between Sri Lanka and Singapore was $2.35 billion last year. Mr Shanmugam is on a four-day trip to Sri Lanka and India.

Yesterday, he left for India where he will travel to the states of Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh.

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