Right of reply
Referring to our news item of July 7 and July 21 by Neville de Silva, Foreign Ministry's Publicity Division Director says:

I wish to bring to your attention the actual facts on the local recruits and please extend publicity with equal degree of prominence in your paper, as the news item concerned has given misconception to the public with regard to these appointments.

(1) It is not the first time that local recruits have been terminated in terms of their agreement they have entered into and new recruits have been appointed.

(2) Most of the local recruits who have been requested to leave the Missions have served an extended period of over ten years in our Missions and it is the policy of the Government to give an opportunity to others too to serve in our Missions abroad.

(3) It should also be noted that the local recruits need not be appointed always from the host country but suitable persons could always be posted from Colombo.

(4) The article which appeared states that a new Driver attached to one of our Missions in Canada, unused to traffic arrangements in the city has been driving the wrong way in one way streets, prompting a Sri Lankan diplomat to change places. For all record purposes, if this development incident was true, the law enforcement officials of Canada would have executed the due legal action.

I challenge Mr. Neville de Silva to reveal what course of action was taken.

(5) Almost 95 per cent of the local recruits in most of our Missions have been living in those countries and have obtained permanent residence or citizenship, for example British citizenship, Austrian citizenship and Italian citizenship. Therefore, it is not necessary always to keep foreign nationals in our Missions when there is a large number of our youth who are unemployed in Sri Lanka.

(6) All the local recruits who are posted to our Missions are entitled only for the salary. They have to bear their own air passage from Colombo to the destinations, medical bills, house rents, etc.

(7) In certain Missions, we have allowed the present local recruits to continue for three to four months after their termination of notice due to personal commitments of their families as well as for the new recruits to undergo training, which would accommodate the new recruits to get oriented with the official as well as unofficial functions. In addition, this would also facilitate the work of the Mission as well as the new recruits to assimilate to the Sri Lankan community.

(8) You may be aware that Sri Lankan expatriates who are working all over the world leave the Island with a fair knowledge of Sinhala, Tamil and English and they acclimatize themselves in those countries within a brief period of time.

(9) In the article, Mr. de Silva states that his reportage could not be independently checked with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Colombo for verification as the Ministry appeared to be closed for the day.

It may be noted that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a staff officer on duty and the Ministry could be contacted on a 24-hour basis on the Ministry general numbers. This was an initiative taken by the new Minister of Foreign Affairs after he assumed office.

Your consideration and cooperation are much appreciated.

Neville de Silva replies:

Before commenting on the specific issues in the Foreign Ministry statement, may I make an observation. In the first paragraph the ministry refers to a "news item" and does so again in para 2. In point 4 it refers to "The article".

Yet in the very first para the ministry refers to my reports of July 7 and July 21.

It seems to me that besides the linguistic aberrations in this clumsily drafted reply, the Foreign Ministry also has problems with simple arithmetic.

Moreover it blithely ignores my first news report of May 19 published under the headline "DPL Test Match over London recruits" in which I referred to the diplomatic wrangle with the British Foreign Office because the Foreign Ministry in Colombo had applied for 13 visas to replace locally recruited staff at its high commission here with persons sent from Colombo.

It has thus taken the Foreign Ministry more than two months to take up the issue first reported in May.

The Foreign Ministry says that the "news item concerned" has "given misconception" to the public. It fails to say which of the three news items and what the misconceptions are.

With regard to points 1 and 2 in the ministry reply, the first was never in dispute and the second that it is the government policy to give an opportunity to others to serve in Sri Lanka missions, is no doubt laudable were it been with a scrupulous impartiality that gives everybody an equal opportunity.

In Point 4, the ministry in its own peculiar linguist construction appears to suggest that this incident did not take place and challenges me to reveal what the Canadians did.

It seems that the Foreign Ministry appears to be unaware that diplomatic vehicles have clearly identifiable registration plates. In most capitals police do not take legal action unless there are major and serious offences committed because missions tend to claim diplomatic immunity, which the ministry must be aware of.

In challenging me the ministry assumes that the offence of driving the wrong way in a one-way street was in fact observed by the police. Surely it was to avoid being observed and save himself the embarrassment that the diplomat concerned took the wheel from the driver.

Since the ministry has taken over the highly undiplomatic task of issuing challenges let me do the same and ask the ministry to answer the following questions.

Since the ministry is so concerned with clearing public misconceptions, I am sure it will not shirk this responsibility. This will allow the public judge the accuracy, veracity and even the morality of its statements and actions.
* The ministry states that it is government policy to give wider opportunity to people to serve in our missions.

How many persons have been sent to our missions to take over local recruits' jobs between February and July this year?

* The government promised fairness in recruitment, promotions etc. Were the above persons selected through a fair and open process?

* The ministry says the government wants to give an opportunity to unemployed youth in Sri Lanka. Were the vacancies in the different missions abroad advertised in Sri Lanka so that all those interested could apply and were the people sent selected after interviews? If they were interviewed when were the interviews held and who interviewed them? If not how were these persons selected?

* The Foreign Ministry applied to the British Government for 13 visas for persons who were to replace locally-recruited staff at the London High Commission. Has such a large number of persons ever been sent to a single mission at the same time since independence?

* The statement says that local recruits need not be appointed always from the host country.

If so what does local recruitment mean? If they are interchangeable, as is implied, why the British Government refuse to grant the 13 visas? Is it not because the British Government held that locally-recruited persons cannot be replaced by imports from Colombo?

* Did not the Foreign Ministry have to suffer the embarrassment of withdrawing that earlier letter and re-apply saying that the 13 posts would be considered home-based posts and the persons sent would return home after their three year contract?

* If the ministry considers the 13 sent here in May/June "suitable persons", how was their suitability ascertained and what criteria were employed?

* Will the ministry state where all those sent to our missions abroad recently are domiciled in Sri Lanka, their addresses and electorates where they are registered voters? If not why?

* It says that in some missions the staff terminated are continuing to work for 3-4 months despite the arrival of the new staff in order to train these arrivals or something like that.

How is it that in London some of the former staffers will continue to remain until December? Is it not correct that this is costing the High Commission an extra £ 10,000 or so a month in salaries?

* Is this a violation of Sri Lanka's Financial and Administrative Regulations?

* Why did the ministry in challenging me over an incident in Canada fail to do so with regard to two other cases mentioned- a receptionist sent to Paris who speaks only Sinhala and another sent to the consular section of our Berlin embassy who speaks no German or Tamil which are vital for the proper performance of the job? Is it because I am correct?

* The ministry says that a staff officer is on duty 24-hours a day. Had I been able to get through to that person would he or she have been equipped to answer my questions immediately when it has taken the ministry two months to reply and still evade the key questions?

* Can the ministry deny that it is now awaiting a visa so that it can send to the London High Commission the son of a Sinhala film star to a newly-created post called Commercial Assistant? Were the unemployed youth of Sri Lanka over whom the ministry is shedding copious tears able to apply for this post? Or, in the words of George Orwell, are some more equal than others, especially if one resides in a coastal electorate south of Colombo?

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