Talk at the Cafe Spectator

Juniors rule in diplomatic politics

As we all know only too well, Sri Lankan diplomats under the present government survive on the whims and fancies of politicians. Last week a deputy ambassador accredited to an international organization received his marching orders when he was recalled at short notice after serving only less than a year.

The diplomat, who was a political appointee of Foreign Minister Rohita Bogollagama, has been told to return home by December 15. The recall apparently was triggered by a complaint from a junior officer who has both political and family links to the Presidential Secretariat. After all, blood is thicker than bottled water.

A dose of Indian diplomacy

The Government this week imposed a long overdue ban on imports of Indian medical items after rubella vaccines killed two persons and parts of hair or glass pieces were found in vials for injections.
The move saw India's High Commissioner Ashok Kanth hurriedly meet Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva.

A media statement from the Indian High Commission said ,"the High Commissioner requested the Hon. Minister to 'review the ban imposed' and assured 'relevant Indian companies will co-operate with the Sri Lanka Government in all possible ways desired for a satisfactory redressal (sic) of alleged lapses."

Well and good. He would naturally want India's exports to Sri Lanka to continue. However, the Indian High Commission failed to say what its Government in New Delhi would do about the scandal in Sri Lanka over dubious Indian drugs. Will they probe those unscrupulous drug manufacturers whose killer cocktails are killing Sri Lankans? Will they charge them under Indian laws?

Health Ministry officials say High Commissioner Kanth made no mention of this to Mr. de Silva. Nor did the Health Minister ask for a probe by New Delhi. Yet, the ban will continue.

Dharmasoka takes neutral line

The Past Pupils Association of Dharmasoka College, Ambalangoda, has turned down a request that the body backs the candidature of retired General Sarath Fonseka at the upcoming Presidential Election.

Gen. Fonseka is an old student of this college, one of the country's largest co-education schools.
The refusal is not surprising. When the school’s one time Manager (of Sugatha Sasanodaya Society) the late P. de. S. Kularatne contested the first parliamentary election after the Soulbury Constitution, the Association turned down the request.

Another instance was when the late Silva contested the 1953 parliamentary elections on the Bolshevik Leninist Party of India (BLPI). This request, too, was turned down. The PPA of Dharmasoka College says it wants to remain impartial. However, its members were free to support the candidates of their choice, said one of them.

Diplomatic doosras of spin doctor

Even if his name is not etched in history books as one of Sri Lanka's top most cricketers, Foreign Minister Rohita Bogollagama has learnt some of the finer points of the game. One is the great art of spin.

He practises it not with a ball but with media statements, his biggest tool in the conduct of Sri Lanka's diplomacy. Early this week, one of his media statements screamed, "Sri Lanka as the host for Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2013 was endorsed on a proposal made by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the CHOGM held in Trinidad & Tobago from 27- 29 November 2009.

Since Australia and Mauritius had also offered to be host, Prime Minister Brown had pointed out that all three countries are equally qualified and it was decided by the Commonwealth Heads of Government that they host the 2011 and 2015 CHOGMs respectively.

"The endorsement of Sri Lanka by the entire membership of the Commonwealth singularly demonstrates the recognition of Sri Lanka's adherence to the Commonwealth values and principles with the country being one of the most vibrant democracies."

However, the statement very clearly hid the truth. That is Sri Lanka vied to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo just next year. Three important countries of the commonwealth -- Britain, Canada and New Zealand -- were opposed to the move and Bogollagama's lobbying failed to defeat it.

Therefore, he had no choice but to agree for a summit three years later. However, for those who were not following the events so closely, it appeared as if Mr. Bogollagama was powerful enough to push British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to propose that the summit be held in 2013.

Having succeeded in denying Sri Lanka the venue for CHOGM next year, Mr. Brown was only making amends, as one diplomat said; hoping Colombo will improve its record by then. The magic of news release diplomacy, after all, can become a joke. Not all Sri Lankans are a gullible lot.

Meanwhile the Foreign Ministry is abuzz with reports of a Bogollagama family friend who joined the Sri Lanka delegation to CHOGM. Though not serving, she went as Public Relations Officer for the delegation. Naturally, the Government of Sri Lanka had to meet her travel costs.

Media on the presidential menu

In the recent weeks, a considerable amount of President Mahinda Rajapaksa's time is devoted to wining and dining with the media.

One morning he met with proprietors and editors of media outlets for a meeting followed by breakfast. Next came, the second tier. News and Photo Editors (or gatekeepers as the media parlance goes). They were invited to drinks and dinner.

Last Monday, it was for the remaining lot - reporters, photographers, defence correspondents among others. All of them received invitations from the President.

Just hours before the event, an Army official was on the telephone to some of them who belonged to the category of Defence Correspondents. Though invitations sent to them were accepted, Military Spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara said they were not welcome.

It turned they were scribes who wrote in favour of retired General Sarath Fonseka. They were forced to miss the drinks and dinner with the President.

Nevertheless, a few political types who eulogised Gen. (retd) Fonseka as the war hero in the media were there. Some floated around with their glasses of whisky or brandy telling those present how ungrateful the man who led troops to defeat militarily the Tiger guerrillas had been. "He should have stayed with us. We could then have given him anything he wanted," guffawed another.

Bandula the big gun

Was Sri Lanka's Consul General in Toronto responsible for the ouster of the High Commissioner Daya Perera from Canada?

The editorial page writer of Canada's Toronto Star makes the claim in an article last month. Here are relevant excerpts:

"….Even 9,000 kilometres away from Colombo, Sri Lanka's government has a way of making itself heard - and felt - in the person of its high profile consul general in Toronto, Bandula Jayasekara….

"Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae, who gave a speech at the weekend protest outside Jayasekara's office, blames the Consul General for sabotaging his trip to Colombo last summer, when he was given a visa by the high commissioner in Ottawa but turned back at the airport in Colombo: 'I have reason to believe that he was passing on complete misinformation about me.'

"When I contacted him Monday, Jayasekara made no apologies for his aggressive correspondence with academics…. And he quickly went on the attack, going so far as to suggest that "maybe the Toronto Star is getting money from the Tamil Tigers," adding: "Make my day."

"Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs says it has received complaints about his activities and raised them with his Sri Lankan superiors.

"Canada has registered its concerns at the highest levels with the Sri Lankan High Commission and the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry in Colombo and the Foreign Minister (Rohita) Bogollagama himself," a spokesperson told me.

"But the consul general appears to have outlasted his direct boss, Sri Lankan High Commissioner Daya Perera. His term was cut short after barely one year in Ottawa - vanquished, sources say, by a power play engineered by the voluble Consul General in Toronto.

"As for Jayasekara, he declined further comment, saying, 'I'm going to cut the line. Which he did."
Martin Regg Cohn, who wrote the piece is the Star's deputy editorial page editor."

Mattala Dubai

There was wide publicity for last week's foundation stone laying ceremony for a new international airport at Mattala in Hambantota.

A leaflet and poster circulated showed a photograph of the Dubai International Airport. Perhaps Mattala will be a showpiece like Dubai sans Arabs.

From pie in the sky to pools of money

Failing in ventures in the sky is no barrier to launching new ones on the ground. Those billions to fly came from the taxpayer and flowed like a waterfall until things went bust..

However, this time the man wants to walk in the footsteps of a Robert Maxwell (a British media tycoon who ended up in disgrace) of sorts. He has acquired a four-storied building for a new venture - his own newspaper.

For some of the Colombo's wealthy, collecting cars has remained a hobby. However, this man who is undeterred by things going sour, loves his gin and tonic, it is acquiring houses.

In the recent weeks, he has bagged three - in Talangama, Nugegoda and Colombo 5. All three palatial homes have one thing in common - swimming pools. Why not when one who tried to stay afloat earlier is now swimming in money?

Samarasinghe's somersaults

Discerning listeners of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC), the national radio network of the nation, learnt this week that its Chairman has still not fulfilled a vow he gave to walk on his knees.
That is if UNF leader Ranil Wickremasinghe did not contest the upcoming Presidential Elections.

However, during his daily morning programme, Mr. Samarasinghe has now avoided making pointed references to Gen. (retd.) Sarath Fonseka, the "common candidate" of the main opposition. Without referring to him by name, Mr. Samarasinghe now makes veiled references.

General recalls bad advice

As a personal witch-hunt over alleged misdemeanours by Gen. (retd.) Sarath Fonseka, particularly by a Government backed website continues, the former Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) related an interesting tale to a friend.

The General, who has gone to the Supreme Court, to take charge of the deeds for the 25 perch prime land gifted to him after a Cabinet decision, spoke of a conversation with a colleague.

"He told me, don't worry. Once we get the land, we can build our houses at virtual zero cost."

"How can we do that," asked Gen. Fonseka. The reply: "Well, we can get suppliers (meaning those providing building materials) to give it to us for nothing." His friend flew into a rage.

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