Columns - Talk at the Cafe Spectator

Don't play around with white cloth

Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage had a somewhat embarrassing experience in Parliament last week when he decided to occupy the seat allocated to JHU monk MP, the Ven. Ellawala Medananda Thera.

Minister Aluthgamage removed the white cloth cover that is placed over the seat allocated to the monk MP and was engaged in a conversation when Ellawala Thera walked into the Chamber. The Minister hurriedly rose from the seat, searched for the white cloth cover and put it back for him. Even in Parliament, it's always good to be careful when occupying other person's seats.

Terror expert or error expert

Sri Lanka's own 'counter terrorism expert' Dr. Rohan Gunaratne is known for his bombastic disclosures of many a behind-the-scene activity by terror groups. Last week, he was keynote speaker at the book launch by Police Chief Dr. Mahinda Balasuriya.

In his speech, he declared, "Prabhakaran ensured that he targeted the leaders, not only that great leader of India (Rajiv Gandhi), not only great leaders of Sri Lanka were killed in politics in the domain of territories, but also many Tamil leaders were killed.

"More than 200 Tamil leaders were killed, starting with Prabhakaran personally assassinating Alfred Duraiappah in the Jaffna peninsula in 1975. Not only that, I want to share with you, based on our own research, that Prabhakaran travelled once to Colombo and he attempted to assassinate the MP for Pothuvil, Mr. Kanagaratnam who was in Colombo. The MP was wounded, of course subsequently he died".

Both local and foreign intelligence channels in Colombo were surprised by this fanciful disclosure. Most of them who were very well informed of LTTE activity say that Prabhakaran directed assassinations in Colombo through his trained cadres. Was the assassination of the Pothuvil MP so serious a matter that Prabhakaran would embark on so risky a journey to Colombo just to kill him personally.

Has one of LTTE's 'movements register' fallen into Dr. Gunaratne's hands during research, asked a dry wit in the professional sleuth's department.

Misguided order on Sigiriya

A Sri Lankan journalist was explaining to a visiting foreign couple the history of the Sigirya Fortress when some police officers, a male and two females, intervened. They warned him that he could not play the role of a 'guide' without a proper licence.

If he continued to explain matters, he could be arrested, they said. The new measures have been in place after registered guides complained that touts were making money posing as guides.

A good case for Police Chief Dr. Mahinda Balasuriya to go into. The question is whether a Sri Lankan who knows his history cannot explain to his own visitors the glory of Sigiriya. Would that not be a violation of one's fundamental right? Even King Kashyapa would have laughed at the new antics of the Police.

Jeff gets boxed in the ears

Jeff Gunawardena, Sri Lanka's Consul General in California, was in for another shock last week. A US Senator distanced herself from links to him. Earlier, Gunawardena released photos of him with President Barack Obama saying he has held talks with the US leader. However, it turned out that he had posed with him during a brief photo opportunity at a fund-raising event for which donors were called upon to pay $ 1000.

A report in a US website by a one time Sri Lankan journalist Hassina Leelaratne has this to say:
"Distancing itself from a potential scandal involving illegal foreign campaign contributions, Senator Barbara Boxer's campaign said it has returned the monies a foreign diplomat raised for a fundraiser where President Obama was the chief guest, but maintained that the funds were not illegal and that it had no knowledge of where they were raised.

Campaign manager Rose Kapolczynski said a total of $9100 raised by Sri Lankan Consul General Jeff Goonewardena for the Barbara Boxer Victory Fund was returned to four donors "out of an abundance of caution" and to avoid any "misunderstanding."

While Goonewardena did not make a direct contribution he acted as a 'bundler,' apparently flouting FEC regulations that prohibit foreign nationals from contributing funds directly or indirectly to a political campaign.

The fact that Goonewardena is a foreign diplomat should have raised red flags as to the legality of his involvement in political fundraising. Not only were the funds he bundled accepted, Goonewardena was among just 75 of the 300 at the pricey fundraiser held at USC allowed a photo op with President Obama.

Boxer staff skirted questions about whether they were aware that Goonewardena was a foreign diplomat. In a carefully-worded email that did not mention the consul general, campaign manager Kapolczynski denied any knowledge of wrongdoing and said the campaign had no information to indicate the contributions were not legal.

"We inform all donors, and all individuals raising funds for the campaign, about the restrictions of the campaign finance laws," she said.

Campaign regulations prohibit candidates from 'knowingly soliciting, accepting or receiving contributions or donations from foreign nationals.' In this context, a person acts 'knowingly' by simply being aware of facts that would 'lead a reasonable person to believe that the funds solicited, accepted or received are likely to be from a foreign national.'

Three of the known donors from whom Goonewardena raised funds are of Sri Lankan origin. According to sources in the Sri Lankan diaspora, not all of the donors are US citizens or permanent residents. Kapolczynski initially said Goonewardena brought the donors as guests to the fundraiser.

After being informed by this writer that the funds were collected at the Sri Lankan consulate premises on Wilshire Blvd in Los Angeles, she said the campaign had no knowledge as to where the funds were collected.

The Sri Lankan Consul General's controversial involvement in the Boxer fundraiser came to light when Goonewardena released a photograph of himself posing beside President Barack Obama, together with an official press release in which he claimed that he had briefed the US leader about the Sri Lankan situation and that he was invited to visit the White House at a "mutually agreed time."

A White House official refuted Goonewardena's claims, saying it was nothing more than a photo op at a fundraiser held in Los Angeles for Senator Barbara Boxer and that there was 'no meeting or briefing.'

Curtains for three big MCs

And on a more serious note, though elections to the Colombo, Kotte and Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia Municipal Councils have been put off, they may not be held in these areas after all.

This is because the Government proposes to set up a statutory authority to incorporate the activities of these three premier local bodies. Insiders say legislation for this purpose will be introduced in Parliament shortly after the elections to the other local authorities.

Tight security for Chamal

Pakistan authorities have stepped up security for Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa who is arriving in that country today on a five-day visit.

The move comes in the wake of violent incidents. The latest was the brutal murder of Punjab's Governor Salman Taseer by his own bodyguard in Islamabad.

Musical chairs continue for DPL posts

More top military officers are to be posted to Sri Lanka diplomatic missions abroad. The External Affairs Ministry has named outgoing Navy Commander Tisara Samarasinghe, as High Commissioner to Australia. The response of the Government in Canberra is being awaited.

The EAM has also decided to switch two postings it had chosen earlier. In terms of this, Tissa Wijeratne, a career diplomatic service officer, was named and accepted by the Government of Japan as Sri Lanka's Ambassador in that country. Instead, he will now be posted to South Korea.

The new nominee, now awaiting acceptance by the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, is Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, a former Commander of the Navy. He is now Secretary to the Ministry of Highways.
EAM insiders say that Foreign Secretary Romesh Jayasinghe is now expected to be posted as Sri Lanka's Ambassador in Germany. Most likely to succeed him is K. Amunugama, currently Sri Lanka's Ambassador in China.

Meanwhile, Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka's UN Ambassador, who was on holiday here, has been directed to return to New York immediately. This is to take care of urgent matters relating to the UN panel now probing accountability issues in Sri Lanka. The panel is reported to have concluded public hearings and formulating its report to Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

The entry of parliamentarian Sajin Vaas Gunawardena to monitor activity at the EAM has led to a hive of activity. The transfers of several officers that were pending for more than eight months have now been effected.

In another development, a Sri Lankan diplomat in the United States is likely to be deported from that country. He was recruited to the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington only in October last year.

Insiders say the young diplomat was given a DPL post by the EAM to evade a deportation order. His US visa had expired at the time of recruitment. He was expected to get a DPL visa. However, that had not materialised prompting the State Dept to ask him to leave the country.

EAM officials are engaging the Department of State to overcome the situation.

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