Talk at the cafe Spectator

Bogols gets sour grapes from Fox

Posters on walls, pillars and even trees on the roadside in the Kotte electorate praised Rohita Bogollagama as "Lowama Dinu Videsha Amathi" or the Foreign Minister who has "won the world".

Bogollagama, who represented the Kurunegala district earlier, is contesting from the Colombo district as UPFA candidate. The electorate he is nursing is Kotte.

Alas, this week he was in for more embarrassment. He had wanted to win over key players in Britain's opposition Conservative Party. The task seemed more important for him in the light of impending parliamentary elections in Britain with polls indicating that the ruling Labour Party led by Prime Minister Gordon Brown would lose.

For the second time in less than a year, Bogollagama invited Liam Fox, the shadow Conservative Defence Minister, whom he had befriended during trips to London. He was a state guest and met even President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Fox has already startled many of Britain's western allies, particularly the United States, by declaring publicly that a future Conservative Government should follow a policy of appeasement towards Iran. That no doubt would have appeased the dovecotes of power in Sri Lanka.

On Thursday, Fox, who once brokered an agreement between then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and then opposition leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, on a bi-partisan approach to tackling the LTTE and Tamil minority issues, held a news conference. Unbelievably, Bogollagama broke protocol and even conventions to be there.

That was much to the chagrin of the Britain's Labour Government which expects the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister to deal with it and not the opposition in that country. That British Prime Minister Brown and Foreign Secretary David Milliband are arch foes of Fox is no secret. At the news conference Fox declared that retired General Sarath Fonseka should not be tried before a Court Martial but only under the civil laws of Sri Lanka.

That a state guest invited by Foreign Minister Bogollagama had some gratuitous advice for the Rajapaksa administration is one thing. Another is how a Foreign Minister associates himself at a news conference with an opposition party representative of another country. Before he went public, Fox had met President Rajapaksa and told him the same thing, i.e. that Gen. (retd.) Fonseka be taken before a civil court, if the Government wants the International Community (IC) to view Sri Lanka as a democratic country.

He then wrote to the Government with a copy to Attorney General Mohan Peiris about the withdrawal of Tamil National Alliance leader R. Sampanthan's security. Even if he has "won the world," as Bogollagama's posters claimed, he had been "outfoxed" by a state guest. If the entire exercise was to abandon the Labour Government and win over the Conservatives, it seems to have boomeranged, for Fox's position doesn't speak too well for any better relations with a future British Government either. So much for his conduct of Sri Lanka's diplomacy and foreign policy reflected mostly by his own statements.

Doctorate or diploma?

Confusion and controversy appear to be continuing over the honour given to President Mahinda Rajapaksa by the Peoples’ Friendship University or the former Patrice Lumumba University in Russia.

Reports said President Rajapaksa had received a highly-honoured doctorate, but pictures of the event showed the word diploma on the certificate.

This prompted some cynics to ask whether diploma was the Russian way of spelling doctorate. But an official of the Russian embassy in Colombo said it was a doctorate given in recognition of the President’s contribution to wipe out terrorism and bring about world peace.

Security restored for some opp. ex-MPs

With the dissolution of Parliament, security details assigned to all former opposition and Government MPs have been withdrawn. For the Government, the former MPs are a handful since most of them hold either Cabinet or non- Cabinet rank appointments. However, the move has hit most opposition MPs. There were a few exceptions too.

Among the former opposition MPs who had their security restored are Lakshman Seneviratne, Sajith Premadasa, Rukman Senanayake and Vajira Abeywardena. Government ex-MP Nirupama Rajapaksa and Jathika Hela Urumaya's (JHU) Ven. Ellawala Medananda Thera retain their security.

Security for former parliametarians was provided by the Ministerial Security Division (MSD) and withdrawn last Thursday.

Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake wrote to the Inspector General Mahinda Balasuriya on Wednesday asking that the security of former MPs contesting the parliamentary elections on April 8 be restored. However, there has been no response to the request so far.

More cases against Fonseka raked up

A Gazette extraordinary issued on November 25, 2009 on President Mahinda Rajapaksa's "command" by his Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, Says: "It is hereby notified that General G.S.C. Fonseka has, with effect from November 14, retired from the Sri Lanka Army."

In a November 12 letters addressed to the President, Gen. Fonseka said "I have the honour to request that I be permitted to retire from the Regular Force of the Army with effect from 01st December 2009."

However, his retirement was accepted just two days after his letter was sent to President Rajapaksa.

Gen. Fonseka now insists that he cannot be tried before a Military court because he is a civilian. However, the Government insists equally that he is liable since the Army Act provides for such action on persons who had left the Army up to a period of six months.

The legal debate continues. Gen. Fonseka will not find it easy to receive his pension after retirement. The reason - Army officials say he owes millions to the Army and the sums would have to be set off if he ever receives a pension. Otherwise, they say, he may be called upon to pay.

Security officials this week unearthed files relating to the use of a satellite phone in 2001 by then Major General Sarath Fonseka. They have found that the matter has not been resolved though Sri Lanka Telecom had repeatedly reminded Army Headquarters to pay up outstanding bills.

Then Maj. Gen. Fonseka was serving at the Security Force Headquarters (SFHQ) in Jaffna during that period. It has come to light that most of the calls had been made to his family members who were living in their home in Oklahoma. One such call had lasted 11 minutes and 48 seconds and had cost Rs 33,793. 84. The total cost from July to December 2000, had been over Rs 2.8 million.

Another matter relates to then Major General Fonseka's stint at the Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS). A placement for him had been obtained by then Government paying more than Rs 3 million.
Army sources say they are investigating a claim that then Major General Fonseka had claimed a per diem allowance for the duration of his course. This was whilst the host organisation, the RCDS, had included accommodation and related expenses to the cost of the course.

These sources pointed out that during the same period, a Brigadier was asked to retire after it was found he had claimed per diem allowance for a few days more than the required weeklong absence on an assignment abroad.

At the height of Tiger guerrilla activity that fuelled fears that military camps in Jaffna would be attacked, cutting off telephone links, then Telecommunications Minister Mangala Samaraweera, had gifted a Inmarsat satellite phone to the SFHQ.

UNP frontliner questioned

Former United National Front (UNF) Badulla District parliamentarian Lakshman Seneviratne appeared this week before Major General Daya Ratnayake who is recording a "summary of evidence."

This is a prelude to the Court Martial against retired General Sarath Fonseka. Once the task was over, he telephoned UNF leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to inform him.

How media watchdogs work in US

The advent of Satellite television has enabled viewer's world over to watch wars or other events as they occur. That too, from their home or work places among others.

FAIR or Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a New York based non-profit organisation monitoring the media, is organising a worldwide petition to four leading US satellite channels. Three of them could be viewed in Sri Lanka. They want viewers including those in Sri Lanka to sign the petition online. FAIR is directing it to MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, CNBC and Fox Business Channel, demanding that they come clean about their corporate-sponsored pundits.

Scores of pundits appearing on cable news networks are paid corporate lobbyists and PR flaks -- and the networks are not disclosing their corporate ties. They cite a new report in the US based Nation:
"Since 2007 at least 75 registered lobbyists, public relations representatives and corporate officials -- people paid by companies and trade groups to manage their public image and promote their financial and political interests--have appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, CNBC and Fox Business Network with no disclosure of the corporate interests that had paid them. Many have been regulars on more than one of the cable networks, turning in dozens -- and in some cases hundreds -- of appearances.

"For example, during the collapse of insurance giant AIG -- and the ensuing government bailout -- some pundits appearing to discuss the story were, unbeknown to viewers, actually working for AIG, as lobbyists or public relations advisers.

In addition, as the healthcare debate unfolded throughout the past year, a number of pundits and former lawmakers have made numerous appearances to talk about health insurance reform -- all the while employed by insurance and pharmaceutical companies.

In almost all cases, viewers had no way of knowing the affiliations of these guests. DynCorp's Barry Mcaffy is anything but a "military analyst."

"Some networks have written policies demanding that contributors and analysts reveal their conflicts of interest. But it is hard to take those guidelines very seriously. In a media system already dominated by official sources from government and big business, why are cable channels relying on paid spokespeople and lobbyists as commentators? In addition, why are these channels hiding the affiliations of their pundits? "

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