Columns - Talk at the Cafe Spectator

Air Farce after farce

The Ministry of Defence has issued a directive to the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) that the minimum qualification for recruitment of cadet pilots should be a pass in GCE (Advanced Level) as before and not GCE (OL). It has also ordered the cancellation of the latest intake of cadets -- an issue that generated a serious controversy.

The earlier requirement that the benchmark qualification should be GCE (AL) was lowered by a senior officer to accommodate one of his siblings. Using this process, the recruitment of another batch took place last month; it was found that one of the applicants, medically disqualified, was included for final interviews on the orders of a top officer. That meant that he was qualified to fly aircraft after training. However, the interviews were cancelled.

On September 5, I revealed in these columns how the boss, already in the eye of a storm over acquiring property, is in the news again. The report said: "This time, it is over selecting new fliers. One of the applicants, picked during the process, failed his medical test. Many were surprised when it transpired that someone above has overruled the medical findings and declared the applicant was fit enough…."

It turned out that the candidate was the son of the sister of a woman politician in the United National Paty (UNP).

If that controversy had ended, another had just begun. It is over the recruitment of an SLAF contingent to serve in Haiti. The Ministry of Defence has directed that priority be given to those who served in operational areas (meaning the battle areas in the north and east) and those who won gallantry medals. This is to ensure that troops who made great sacrifice are both rewarded and their contributions recognised.

Air Chief Roshan Gunatilleke, has now declared in a circular that all personnel serving in his personal security contingent and related units be considered as having served in "operational areas." That covers eight officers and 436 other ranks.

This is what a circular (SLAF/13/19AIR) sent out by the Air Secretariat of the SLAF has to say: "In view of the nature of duties performed by the officers and other ranks posted to the Commander's security contingent and those who are engaged in ancillary roles at the Air House, the Commander has directed to consider their total period of services "operational" for all purposes."

Directors in charge of various branches have been ordered, "to regularise the same in the personal documents as applicable." The dates from which they commenced their tour of duty in the security contingent and Air House are contained in an annexure in the circular.

Fonseka not even a picture now

It was almost five weeks ago that the then General Sarath Fonseka was cashiered. He lost his rank, medals of decoration and his pension.

This week saw a related development. All photographs of Mr. Fonseka hanging on walls of military installations countrywide were removed. Even some plaques where his name is emblazoned have been erased.

The largest volume of photographs of both Mr. Fonseka and his wife Anoma were removed from the Sinha Regiment headquarters at Ambepussa. That was Mr. Fonseka's parent unit until he was cashiered.

Chief guest in a jam

Presidential Secretariat Chief of Staff Gamini Senarath who acts in the absence of the President's Secretary was a disappointed man this week. He had arranged a function at the Waters Edge to mark an event connected with a long-standing family venture. Seven hundred guests were invited.

They waited and waited but the chief guest, Economic Development Minister, Basil Rajapaksa, did not arrive. The function had to continue without him.

It turned out that Mr. Rajapaksa was held up in a traffic snarl along the Kotte-Sri Jayawardenapura highway that leads to Parliament. His entourage was unable to move. There have often been complaints, even by senior Police officers using the highway to reach their homes that traffic snarls are a regular feature on this highway and action by the Traffic Police is ineffective.

A top cop was given a ticking off. He was told to ask his seniors to ensure a smoother flow of traffic.

The race for top diplomatic posts

With top slots in some of Sri Lanka's diplomatic missions abroad falling vacant, the race is on again by those both in and out of the career service for postings.

Academic Dayan Jayatilleke, a one-time envoy in Geneva, a staunch backer of External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris, for whom he has sung paeans of praise in the media in the past weeks on the eve of a no-confidence motion against the Minister, is tipped as envoy to France.

Asitha Perera, who served in South Korea is strongly tipped to be the new Ambassador in Rome, when as a member of the Muslim Congress he ought to have been sent to Saudi Arabia.

Two names are being mentioned for Australia though one is not sure whether there would be other contenders. The front runner is Navy Commander, Admiral Tisara Samarasinghe, who is due to retire in December, this year. The other is former Minister, Ferial Ashraff.

Transfer in the day, reversal in the night

His action, no doubt, would have made Police Chief, Dr. Mahinda Balasuriya blush with embarrassment or even shame. In the wake of the alleged Police shooting of a schoolchild in Beruwala, he ordered that the Superintendent of Police, Nugegoda, Deshabandu Tennekoon and ASP D.S. A. Senadipathi be transferred to Police Field Force Headquarters.

The order went out on Thursday afternoon. Late that night, he had realised that the move was wrong. Orders went out again, this time transferring the duo back to their posts in the Nugegoda Division. They were back by Friday.

Ranil's crisis quip

UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe called a media briefing last week to announce what action the opposition hopes to take against the 18th Amendment to the Constitution.

Before the briefing began, some scribes were scurrying for a chair in the front row. This made Mr. Wickremesinghe quip, "putuwa thamai prassne" (the problem is the chair).

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