Columns - Talk at the Cafe Spectator

Heavy price for PR diplomacy

The conduct of Sri Lanka's diplomacy overseas now seems two pronged - one by the internationally-accepted practice of using diplomatic missions. The other, a new phenomenon, is securing the services of public relations firms.

One known instance is the assignment given to Bell Pottinger, a PR firm, to do propaganda work for Sri Lanka in the United States. The firm is known to receive a monthly payment of US $ 30,000 - more than enough to pay the salaries of a few good local PR types if they were posted to serve in that country.

A lesser-known fact has now become known. The Government has been paying US $ 20,000 month to a PR firm in India. A powerful and charming lady socialite with strong connections to some ministers in the Congress Government is the figure behind this company.

As one External Affairs Ministry official explained, "in her lexicon nothing is impossible." She is even "conveying messages" to one side or the other when it becomes necessary, said the official.

However, the talking point in the External Affairs Ministry is whether this Indian PR firm was responsible for the gaffe last week. The Government of India had extended invitations to heads of state of SAARC countries to attend the sessions of the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

Did the PR firm give a spin to this story by saying President Mahinda Rajapaksa was invited as the "chief guest"? Later official reports spoke about Rajapaksa being a "guest of honour" and "an honoured guest." The last term had been used in the letter of invitation. Naturally, all invited are honoured guests.

Mr. Rajapaksa received a red carpet welcome and sat next to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the closing ceremonies. Britain's Prince Edward was there too. On Friday, Mr. Rajapaksa was entertained to a working lunch by Premier Singh. He returned to Colombo later that night.

Wrong side of rights politico

Two top cops were talking about an opposition politician, a campaigner of human rights, both in Sri Lanka and abroad.

One of them was to make an interesting revelation. He remarked that the politico may be an ardent human rights campaigner but he does not know his duties. Why, asked the other.

The reply: About a year ago, the politico had driven to a five-star hotel located alongside Galle Road. He wanted the usher there to valet park his car. As soon as the usher got in and readied to engage the gear, he ran towards the car and declared, "Be careful. My revolver is inside the cubby hole."

Sports secret out after a golden ring

President Rajapaksa telephoned Manju Wanniarachchi from "Temple Trees," when news reached he had won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. That was for boxing in the bantam weight category.

A few ministers and officials were present when Mr. Rajapaksa made the call. He was later heard to reminisce about an episode at a sporting event in Athens in August 1997.

The President of Sri Lanka, Mr. Rajapaksa was then President of the Amateur Athletic Association. Accompanying him for the event was S.B. Dissanayake, then Minister of Sports and currently Minister of Higher Education.

The photo identity cards they wore around their necks in different colours differentiated the areas which various categories could visit. Mr. Rajapaksa, being the President of the AAA was given a pass, which gave him access to all areas. However, Dissanayake's pass restricted him to a limited zone.

News came that Susanthika Jayasinghe had won a silver medal in the 200 metres event. "All of a sudden, SB rushed towards me. Before I could even know, he pulled out my ID and like garlanding, placed his own identity card around my neck. He rushed out to congratulate Susanthika," remarked President Rajapaksa laughing away.

Trouble after reverse-crossover

A top-level government politico, who went against the tide to switch sides to the opposition, appears to be in trouble.

Insiders say an investigation is now under way not only into some tax matters but also regarding the authenticity of a document he had validated.

Top cops get dressing down

The crackdown on top cops came after orders went out to hunt for drug dens and addicts. Disappointed at the turn of events, a top cop summoned a conference of seniors.

What he told them is unprintable. They were some of the choicest words in obscene Sinhala. "Never before have we heard that sort of language," a senior type said.

JPs galore after peace

Justice Minister Athauda Seneviratna has appointed 174 Justices of the Peace and a total of 435 Commissioners of Oaths in recent weeks. Their names were gazetted last Friday.

Just before the Parliamentary elections, then Justice Minister Milinda Moragoda appointed more than 900 JPs.

Deputy transport minister's outburst in top gear

Deputy Transport Minister Rohana Dissanayake was at a meeting with officials at the Municipal Council when a group of residents turned up with a letter.

They were protesting over the widening of a main street and the delays in receiving compensation.
The politician carefully read the contents as the residents left. Within moments, he beckoned the group back into the hall and tore the letter into shreds in front of all those assembled there.

His parting words: "You can do what you like, go and complain to the media or to any one, I just don't care."

JVP losing its voice

The VFM (or Victory FM) is the radio channel, which the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) obtained when it was a bosom partner in the UPFA government.

After it quit the government, the radio became a vocal critic of the Rajapaksa administration. Now, the radio station is in a crisis after changes in share holdings. Those who appear to be in control no longer share JVP ideals posing serious concerns for the party leadership.

The licence for the radio station was acquired when Wimal Weerawansa, now a Minister, was in the JVP.

Faked gold for famous people

Police investigations into a recent scam where a group was selling gold plated metal nuggets as real gold came to light last week. The culprits were arrested.

It transpired during the investigations that among those who were duped into buying the fake gold were a leading cricketer turned politician and a well-known actress who contested the last general election but lost.

Leading monk backs out

The United National Party (UNP) planned a booklet launch and asked a leading member of the clergy in Kotte whether it could be done at one of his premises. "No," was the answer.

The booklet containe speeches of UNP leaders and other reports over the jailing of former General Sarath Fonseka.

The references to the recent General Courts Martial and related comments were uncomfortable to the member of the clergy. He asked the sponsors to find another venue.

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