|The long-awaited Sri Lankan Embassy has finally opened doors in Bahrain. The newly-resident ambassador goes over his checklist of priorities with us.
For a number of years there’s been a strong demand for an embassy to represent the interests of 25,000-odd Sri Lankans in Bahrain. Accordingly, the arrival of His Excellency RKMA Rajakaruna earlier this year was a very welcome development.
There exists a strong bilateral relationship between the two island nations, who have faced common issues nationally and internationally and have taken a similar approach in tackling them, he feels. One of Ambassador Rajakaruna’s main undertakings will be the promotion of trade and investment between the two countries.
Peace has arrived in Sri Lanka’s northern and eastern provinces for the first time after a 30-year conflict and the country has witnessed an 8 per cent economic growth in the last four years.
“There is great potential for investment as Sri Lanka is experiencing rapid economic growth after the war. Tourism and infrastructure are really booming and companies from Bahrain and Qatar have already invested in some of the pristine beaches to develop tourism,” he says.
Bilateral trade has reached the US$15 million mark and is in favour of Sri Lanka, which exports rubber products, agricultural produce, electric and camping gear as well as tea and spices to Bahrain. The ambassador has identified the potential for further exports in areas including gems and jewellery, furniture and textiles and garments from his country.
This year, the Sri Lankan deputy minister for foreign affairs visited Bahrain and met the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) chairman Dr Esam Fakhro to discuss greater exchange between the two business communities.
“There are around ten Sri Lankan companies operating here in the consulting, manufacturing and service sectors and we need to work with them to develop links with local Bahraini businessmen. We've requested the BCCI to organise a business delegation to Sri Lanka to participate in the business forum at the Commonwealth Head of States Summit in November,” His Excellency notes.
Safeguarding domestic workers
Given the significant number of Sri Lankan workers employed as household staff in Bahrain, one of his top priorities includes streamlining the domestic worker sector. The Sri Lankan embassy in Bahrain has initiated the practice of interviewing Bahraini sponsors and their wives before they approve a contract to bring a Sri Lankan housemaid to the Kingdom.
“We want to assert that being a sponsor entails certain responsibilities, which include looking after your domestic worker. We’ll do our best to ensure that our workers are employed by caring, humane and responsible families,” says the ambassador.
The stipulated minimum wage of BD85 hasn’t been honoured by certain sponsors, primarily because Sri Lankan manpower agencies send workers directly to Bahrain, but the Sri Lankan Foreign Employment Bureau has placed checks at Colombo airport to ensure that workers don’t leave the country without a valid work contract.
“Every contract for a housemaid should outline the specific work to be done in the house so that not all the house work such as cleaning, cooking, baby sitting, washing and ironing, car washing and gardening and working in the houses of other family members is entrusted to a single worker. This will prevent overwork and abuse,” he notes.