Draft Inaugural Statement by Hon’ble Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley, Prime Minister of Bhutan and Chair of SAARC at the Inaugural Session of the Thirty-Third Session of the SAARC Council of Ministers, 8 February, 2011.


Distinguished Delegates

Secretary General of SAARC

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A very good morning,

It is my pleasure to extend the warm greetings of His Majesty the King, the people and the Royal Government of Bhutan to the Honourable Ministers and the distinguished delegations to the Inter Summit Session of the SAARC Council of Ministers.

Nine months ago in April last year we hosted the 16th SAARC Summit in Thimphu. In another nine months the next Summit is scheduled to take place in the Maldives. All of us aspire to see each Summit taking SAARC to a higher level. In order to achieve that, we must seriously and actively pursue the implementation of the decisions we make at each preceding Summit. Where there are agreements – we need to translate them into action. Where there are difficulties – we must deliberate upon them frankly and sincerely, and be prepared to make adjustments in the collective interest. It is by so doing that we can realize the vision of a South Asian community living in peace, harmony and prosperity as enshrined in the SAARC Charter.

For Bhutan, a country that values its membership of SAARC very deeply, it was a matter of great honour and pride for the Royal Government and the people, when we finally hosted a SAARC Summit in the Silver Jubilee year of our Association. The success of the Thimphu Summit would not have been possible without the support we received from the Member States, the SAARC Secretariat and the dedication and cooperation of our citizens. To all I say … Thank You !

At the Thimphu Summit, a number of important decisions were taken as reflected in the Summit Declaration and the Statement on Climate Change. While a number of these have already been implemented, such as the presentation of a Common SAARC Statement on Climate Change at the COP 16 in Mexico, others are work in progress.

On 8 December, 2010 we marked the Silver Jubilee Anniversary of our Association. In Bhutan we commemorated this historic landmark in our Association’s annals with the passing of a resolution by the National Assembly of Bhutan reiterating our commitment to SAARC. This event, I believe, offers an occasion to reflect on and renew our commitment to an idea, a vision that existed in South Asia long before SAARC was even established.

As I stated at the Summit, SAARC’s journey has not been one of astounding success, though there are many achievements of which we can be justifiably be proud.

Over the past two and a half decades, SAARC has made significant progress in a wide area of regional cooperation. Thanks to our growing cooperation in the economic area, the volume of trade under SAARC is set to cross the billion dollar mark soon. We have established 11 regional centres of excellence, including one in Bhutan, to promote and exchange professional knowledge in agriculture, forestry, meteorology, energy, HIV/AIDS, culture, natural disaster, human resource, etc. The SAARC Development Fund has become operational and we can expect the SDF to increasingly enthuse and fund more regional projects. Cooperation in the area of higher education has resulted in the opening in August last year of a South Asian University. On cooperation in addressing the impact of climate change, we have made a good beginning at COP 16 and over the next few months I expect more action on the ground to follow up on the proposals we agreed at the Thimphu Summit.

Similarly, we have signed a number of legal instruments to combat terrorism, narcotics, trafficking in women and children, poverty alleviation, health, and so forth.

Less visible but equally meaningful, each SAARC interaction in the last 25 years among the political leaders, officials, business, academics, youth, parliamentarians, artists and such like have helped to humanize our relationship and promoted better people to people contacts.

The more we interact, the clearer it becomes that we in South Asia have far more in common and are much closer to each other than the media reports would suggest.

However, there are few areas that require further consultation and follow up particularly at the political level. It is in this context that the role of the Inter Summit Session of the SAARC Council of Ministers becomes pivotal. Obviously, it will neither be feasible nor absolutely necessary that every issue is resolved here. What is important and which I fervently urge the honourable Ministers is to return from Thimphu with a reaffirmation of the conviction that making the SAARC process work is in our true mutual interest.

No country in South Asia can go alone for we are compelled by our geography, our culture and our history to a shared future. South Asia or SAARC will be able to realize its vast potentials only through cohesive thought and action. We have far more reasons to be together than apart. I personally feel a great sense of urgency and mission, lest the momentum and positive environment so hearteningly cultivated at the Thimphu Summit dissipates without the benefit of seizing the opportunities it offers.

It is in this context that that I personally attach the highest importance to this Session of the SAARC Council of Ministers. In this regard, I have been told that we shall all be pleased with the results of the good deliberations initiated at the level of our officials and the Foreign Secretaries.

With these thoughts in mind, I intend, during my tenure as the SAARC Chair to work closely with the Member States, the Secretary General of SAARC and and also consult civil society groups.

As a part of the consultation process, I have embarked on visits to the SAARC capitals to exchange views and to receive the guidance and wise counsel of the SAARC leaders. So far, my visits to Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka have been most encouraging and deeply satisfying. In the next few months I hope to visit the other SAARC capitals to continue the process. Through this undertaking, and by closely following up on the implementation of the ongoing activities, I hope to add further value to the process before we next meet in the Maldives later in the year.

I would like to conclude by reiterating my conviction that we can build a South Asia that will not only help itself, but once again become a hub of global trade, culture and ideas. And SAARC must be the inspiring force.

I wish the distinguished delegates a pleasant stay in Thimphu and express my confidence that the Thirty-Third Session of the SAARC Council of Ministers will yield fruitful results.

Finally, I would like to wish Dr. Sheel Kant Sharma, the outgoing Secretary General of SAARC every success in his future endeavors, and commend him for the good work that he has done.

Tashi Delek and Thank You.


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