The historic and fully fledged Sri Lanka Development Forum concluded yesterday in Kandy with the Government and donors describing it as open and constructive while the country got an overwhelming US$ 3 billion in pledges and commitment for tsunami reconstruction and overall development.
More than 90% of the financial assistance pledged is by way of grants and unconditional.
On Monday at the end of the first day's proceedings, the Government said that pledges and commitments were US$ 2.2 billion. The increase by the end of the second day was on account of countries such as Japan, China and India confirming their assistance as well as additional IMF debt relief and reserve support and other debt relief to the total.
Forum Chairman and Finance Minister Sarath Amunugama said donors had endorsed the Government's post-tsunami reconstruction programme and the donor forum was a resounding success.
"The outcome exceeded our original expectations," he told journalists after the successful conclusion of the two-day Development Forum at Mahaweli Reach Hotel in Kandy. More than 150 representatives from over 50 donor countries and agencies, senior ministers, MPs, senior officials, leaders of business, trade unions and civil society participated at the event, which was inaugurated by President Chandrika Kumaratunga on Monday.
"We do not want to mislead the country as it was done in the past. In the past false impressions were given that a bagful of money was being brought back from Paris or Tokyo. We must categorically state that these funds pledged and committed will be disbursed sequentially," Dr. Amunugama said.
"The most important thing is that the forum indicated views of our development partners that we are on the right track and they are satisfied with the steps taken so far. We all agreed that there are certain guidelines that need to be followed on tsunami reconstruction," he told a news conference attended by Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, World Bank South Asia Vice President Praful Patel, WB Country Director Peter Harrold, ADB Country
Director Alessandro Pio and Treasury Secretary P.B. Jayasundera.
The guidelines include allocation of resources based on local needs and priorities, consultation with the affected community, ensuring transparency, accountability, reduction of future vulnerabilities, sensitivity in equity considerations and effective coordination between the government and development partners.
"These we have already followed and are more than happy to formalize them," the Finance Minister said.
"We have clearly indicated the manner in which reconstruction would be done. It is not a top down exercise but involves working with donor countries, NGOs, local organizations and communities in partnership," he said.
World Bank Vice President Mr. Patel confirmed that there were conditions laid and the forum was frank and open.
He said that the President had reassured the World Bank and the donor community that she was committed to the joint mechanism and the donor community has fully endorsed the post-tsunami relief and reconstruction programme.
"All donors also agreed that if there is lasting peace Sri Lanka could benefit from further aid and could achieve much higher growth," he added.
Country Director Harrold trying to put the pledges and commitments into context said the qualitative message that came from the donor forum was that the post-tsunami reconstruction would be externally funded with certainty be it US$ 2.2 billion or $ 3 billion. "There is enough money to do the job," he said adding that during the 14 hours of discussion at the forum half an hour at best was only devoted to numbers or aid and greater focus was on implementation so that soon a positive difference could be made to the lives of the tsunami victims.
Dr. Amunugama also said that President Kumaratunga's speech had a tremendous impact on the deliberation of the Forum. He also said Sri Lanka reiterated its commitment to achieve lasting peace, reduce poverty and achieve Millennium Development Goals and structural reforms.
"Future budgets will demonstrate Sri Lanka's commitment and action on these issues," he added.
"I want to make it clear that the President's speech was a tremendous mark of confidence and well appreciated by the international community.
Unless we go on the path of a negotiated peace, many of the pledges and assurances will not be realized.
It is by committing ourselves on the path to peace that we can unlock the funding," he added.
Dr. Jayasundera said that it was the first time that Sri Lanka chaired a fully-fledged and locally driven Development Forum where a new framework for economic development and poverty reduction was discussed.
"We shared our problems and challenges and also what the Government can do to address those," he said adding that a well integrated 3 to 5 year reconstruction and development plan had been devised and endorsed by the donors.
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