Hilmy Careem, new ambassador to Saudi Arabia | Daily News

Hilmy Careem, new ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Former Mayor of Matale, Hilmy Careem, 70, has been named as Sri Lanka’s new ambassador to Saudi Arabia by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Sunday.

Careem succeeds former Ambassador Azmi Thassim, who returned to the island early this year on completion of his tour of duty in the Kingdom.

Speaking to the Daily News, Ambassador designate Careem on Monday said that he was honoured to take up this important assignment in Saudi Arabia which is the epicentre of the Arab world.

Sri Lanka’s exports which include bulk tea and apparel stood at only $82 million and some 36,000 Saudi tourists have visited the island in 2017. The country boasts of 150,000 migrant workers in Saudi Arabia who bring in $2.26 billion to the national coffers annually.

“Sri Lanka has the world’s best tea and we are famous for gems and jewellery that could be well properly marketed in the Kingdom” he said, pointing out that garments and spices are two other products that could be explored for exports to Saudi Arabia. As soon after the pandemic comes to an end, he said, Sri Lanka will promote tourism to attract tourists from Saudi Arabia as well as from the Middle East.

He said there is a strong need for strengthening the bilateral relations by exchange of high-level visits between the two countries. "This will be my priority when I take over office in Riyadh,” he added. He said Saudi Arabia has been a good friend of Sri Lanka and it has helped Sri Lanka in developing its infrastructure projects such as building bridges, roadways, academic and health facilities. Since 1985, the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) has given around $ one billion for various projects in the island.

In 2018, the SFD granted two concessional loans worth $73 million to Sri Lanka for its higher education and water resource management sectors.

The SFD provided $28 million for the Wayamba University Township Development Project, which was implemented by the Ministry of Higher Education and Highways. This project was designed to develop the academic facilities and infrastructure of the university as well as support the livelihoods of people who live in the area. The SFD also provided a concessional loan of $45 million to implement the Left Bank Development Project in Kaluganga.

Careem had been the Mayor of Matale, near the hill capital of Sri Lanka, from 2002 to 2016, covering a period of three terms continuously.

Basically, a businessman who inherited the gem trade from the famous ‘Jewelarts’- a gem and jewelry establishment in Sri Lanka, Careem had obtained a degree in Business Management from the University of Hong Kong. He has been an active social worker through Azeeza Foundation, named after his grandmother, doing various charitable activities of the deserving people irrespective of caste, creed or religion.