ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday March 2, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 40

Odds and Ends

A Sri Lankan High Commissioner’s attempt to punish her Minister Counsellor for an article he had written to a web page has apparently come unstuck. London High Commissioner Kshenuka Seneviratne had called for explanation from her Minister Counsellor Walter Jayawardhana for an item he had provided to the popular web page Asian Tribune without her approval on the basis of a recent circular issued by Foreign Secretary Dr Palitha Kohona to all Lankan foreign missions to get clearance before submitting any statements including articles to journals/newspapers.

In a new fax message on Thursday addressed to Ms. Seneviratne, Dr Kohona has virtually asked her not to interpret his earlier circular so narrowly.

It states: “We confirm that the instructions issued by circular fax no. 56 of 14-02 2008 stand and have been endorsed by the President. However, it is acknowledged that attributed news reports prepared for journals may need to be dispatched at short notice and obtaining prior approvals for these may not be practical. I note that Mr. Jayawardhana has confirmed that he does not write on policy matters and on matters impacting on bilateral and multilateral relations without obtaining proper clearance.

In an endorsement of what Mr. Jayawardhana had done, the Foreign Secretary in the same message copied to Minister Counsellor, also states: “We also encourage Mr. Jayawardhana to implement his media strategy in particular, with regard to disseminating the Sri Lankan Government’s perspective to the media and continuing anti-Sri Lanka sentiments in the UK.”

Now this Minister and Sec. are best of pals in public, but behind the scenes it is a totally different story. Poor officials are the real victims of this Ministry cold war, for they are caught in the middle. The latest we have heard is that Sec. has issued a circular to all Directors and Deputy Directors ordering them to complete any special assignment given by him within 48 hours. But what happens if the Minister wants something in a hurry?

Who is the past Telecom regulator who made a killing recently with some of his cronies to the tune of Rs. 360 million? The modus operandi was to register a company with your cronies and then in a clear case of conflict of interest allocate digital TV broadcasting frequencies to this company and then exit from the Board, leaving some crony directors. After a while a cell phone company comes along wanting to start a digital TV transmission service. So you sell the company with the transmission rights to it. Clean and simple. Let us hope at least they will pay taxes on this ill gotten bonanza. Some of them are said to be gaily singing Waltzing Matilda

There must have been any number of speculative reports in the print media about impending Cabinet reshuffles in the last two months. And insider whispers that this month there will be some changes. The reason it was not done last month, we are told is because February being a shorter month is considered unlucky by us. But March is considered unlucky in the West probably from the time Julius Caesar who was assassinated on March 15, 44 BC after having been warned by a soothsayer to “beware the Ides of March”. One change that is predicted is the splitting of the Foreign Ministry between Prof. G.L. Peiris and Rohitha Bogollagama, the incumbent Foreign Minister, with the latter getting bulk of the administrative work, while the old professor getting important bilateral and multilateral relations.

Bharati Airtel, the fifth cell phone operator who wants to break into the Sri Lankan market with a US$200 million investment from the beginning of this year is continuing to find going difficult with bureaucracy at the CEA in particular holding them up. So early this week CEA Boss Udaya Gamanpila and his boss Environment Minister Champika Ranawaka were summoned to the Araliya abode to get things really moving. Now other cell phone operators who have been suffering all these years to get similar approvals want the same treatment for them as well. There is one mystery however. The Indian operator’s applications are being shuttled in vehicles belonging to a recently launched troubled airline.

It is now nearly ten months since the Supreme Court ruled that former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga is not entitled to a luxury residence and an office at No.27, Independence Avenue at tax payers’ expense, yet she seems to be in no hurry to quit the premises and the incumbent President too is apparently making no attempt to oust her from there.

If any other citizen had defied not so much the Supreme Court but any other court, he or she would have been thrown on to the road with all the belongings by the fiscal officers. But here is an ex-President with plenty of means and even a massive family Walauwa at Horagolla and another private residence at Rosmead Place defying the highest court in the land and squatting on a luxury state property.

Poor Tyronne driven to the political wilderness by fate and possibly by personal folly was about to go to gay Paris as our ambassador as sort of a consolation prize, but now death has robbed him of that as well.

So who will be now posted to the city of lovers? Incumbent Chitrangani Wagiswara has already been once recalled, after Minister Bogollagama suffered some discomfort at a Paris airport during a visit there, but the lightning transfer was put on hold, we are told by others’ intervention.

Recent moves by the Brahmin at the Treasury to appoint a former sports baron to the top slot he once occupied in a cash-rich partly State owned institution has run into a cross-connection with the powers-that-be. Big Boss has shot down the idea and had a dim view of the Brahmin. Wonder what the Brahmin was trying to get at?

Last week Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama sat on an interview board for the recruitment of 42 clerks, drivers and peons to Sri Lankan missions abroad. The interviews were held at the Lakshman Kadirgarmar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies, the RB Institute. In the meantime a man sent by the Minister himself to Shanghai, China as a clerk and was recalled before the end of his term recently is threatening to sue the Ministry over his premature recall. Maybe the Minister should leave the administrative work such as recruitments to capable officials and instead occupy himself with his ministerial work.

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