Not so long ago, a Sri Lankan deputy foreign minister was on a United States International Visitor programme touring that country.  He was lucky to get a brief courtesy call on George Bush Snr., then Vice President. He was even luckier when he received an autographed photo of the meeting upon return to Sri Lanka. [...]


Mr. Health Minister, WHO are your spin doctors?


Not so long ago, a Sri Lankan deputy foreign minister was on a United States International Visitor programme touring that country.  He was lucky to get a brief courtesy call on George Bush Snr., then Vice President. He was even luckier when he received an autographed photo of the meeting upon return to Sri Lanka.

Years later, the photograph was part of full page advertisements in the national newspapers. It called upon electors to vote for a personal friend of Bush, who had by then become President. That smaller politicos dust their dog-eared albums to unearth old photos at different events where they had run into big names, mostly for a few seconds or minutes is not uncommon. Just this week, a local body head who had met Indian Premier-elect Narendra Modi many moons ago, when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat, rushed to the media with a photo taken then. Of course, there was no mention of the old meeting leaving readers to believe he was standing right behind Shri Modi when the results were announced.

There were also other events this week that highlighted the vanity of politicos. Here is a case:
Exactly WHO is Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena in the WHO (or the World Health Organisation)?
That question caused so much confusion that the WHO was forced to step in with a clarification on social media. And it quickly became clear that, despite widespread assertions to the contrary, our man was not its Vice President or anywhere near it.

But the news first broke on Monday (mostly through SMS alerts and news websites) that Minister Sirisena had been “elected as WHO Vice President.” There followed a flurry of congratulatory messages hailing him for having brought glory upon the nation, where from the cradle to the grave, health services are free.
Although he himself was not quite sure what was going on, the Minister gave interviews on the subject. In one story published in a Sinhala newspaper, he says that his election to the senior and prestigious WHO post was recognition by the entire world of the exemplary service Sri Lanka’s free health system provided its people.
Not unnaturally, Hambantota District MP Namal Rajapaksa also joined the bandwagon. He tweeted from his verified twitter account: “Congratulations Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena on being elected as the Vice President of the World Health Organisation”. He also tagged the WHO in his message.
The WHO sprang into action and tweeted back: “@RajapaksaNamal Minister of Health Sirisena was elected as one of the five vice presidents of the 67th World Health Assembly, not WHO.”

The WHO also posted the same message to others, like the Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka, which had also commended the Minister for securing a post that, ironically, doesn’t even exist in the WHO’s structure.

What the WHO does have is a Director-General, a Deputy Director-General and Assistant Directors-General. The Vice-Presidency of the World Health Assembly goes on rotation to WHO member countries.

This is what the WHO media release from Geneva says on May 19: “The World Health Assembly, the world’s health policy-making body, opened its sixty-seventh session today with the election of Dr Roberto Tomas Morales Ojeda, Cuba’s Minister of Public Health, as its new President. Five vice-presidents were also appointed from Bahrain, Congo, Fiji, Lithuania and Sri Lanka.” (It says “appointed”, not “elected”).
Minister Sirisena might do well to refer his spin doctors to the WHO website. There’s plenty in there that they do not know. They have plastered posters in the City walls about Sirisena’s top appointment.

Breakdown of law and order: Advisory council for Police
The deteriorating law and order situation, the galloping rate of crime and Police inaction in some instances appear to have contributed to the Government’s decision to set up an advisory council.  In essence, the idea is to tell the Police how to do their job. The proposal for this nine-member council came from President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is the Minister of Law and Order.

The reasons the Ministry has given for the setting up of this council, which will meet four times a year, are to

  • Provide proposals and suggestions to enhance the influence of the police and programmes which are implemented for protection of Law and Order (sic)
  • Forward new suggestions and proposals to protect Law and Order, and
  • Introduce a method of appreciation of policies and programmes (sic)
  • This is how the Ministry of Law and Order explains the reasons for the Advisory Council:
  • Monitoring and supervision of the activities of Police Department and Special Task Force to control crimes and torture under the main objective of building a disciplined country and a law abiding society is the subject field of the Ministry of Law and Order. A deep thinking on peaceful amity is needed as well as an understanding with investigation on present social activities, behaviour patterns of the persons and social attitudes is needed at focusing attention of control and prevention of crimes and torture.

“When the present social incidents are considered; reporting of scandals of children and women, abuse of drugs and ventures and various crimes are in a considerable level and reporting of incidents on steps taken to identify and prevent and implement law against criminals are occurred very often. Therefore it seems that it is important to obtain the contribution of experts who are talented in the field to compile and implement the policies and the plans of the Ministry, Police Department and Special Task Force effective at implementation of Law and Order. And also it is important similarly as having a regular mechanism which is necessary to obtain contribution of said persons and to apply said knowledge to protect Law and Order.”

PM’s diplomatic gaffe: Not the secretary but the son
The Prime Minister’s Secretary, S. Amarasekara, has written to the Editor of the Sunday Times referring to last week’s item on this page on Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne’s recent visit to Vietnam where he nearly caused a major diplomatic faux pas with Sri Lanka’s closest ally, China.

The news item said that China had complained to the Government of Sri Lanka that Premier Jayaratne had blamed China for violating international law in the seas off Vietnam by putting up oil rigs, but what had happened was that his speech had been “lost in translation”. The report said that Premier Jayaratne had spoken in Sinhala and his speech was translated into English by the Premier’s Secretary.

Mr. Amarasekara says that “since I am the Premier’s Secretary and I was not a member of the PM’s delegation to Vietnam, it gives a wrong impression on my designation”. Mr. Amarasekara is right. The Premier’s speech was translated by his son and Private Secretary Anuradha. That speech was then translated once again into Vietnamese but no one is sure who cocked up the wording. The Government of Sri Lanka was quick to say that the Government’s position is that it was up to the two countries to settle their disputes. Both China and Vietnam are good friends of Sri Lanka.

Despite the fact that Premier Jayaratne was on a private visit to Vietnam on the invitation of the Vietnamese Sangha Sabha he has received a brief on the political developments on the East China/South China seas from the embassy in Hanoi. He should therefore not have made any bloomers. Probably Mr. Amarasekara should have gone with the PM. We also hear that delegation members and tickets were changed at the last minute.

Official number plate for ‘White Van”
There is official cognisance now of the use of the words “white van” in cases of persons who were abducted. The reference comes in an account from the annual report of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. Of course the report itself is only for 2012 and the report for 2013 is still pending. The 2012 report is to be tabled in Parliament only in the coming weeks.

The report says that in 2012, during meetings with the then Inspector General of Police (IGP), the HRCSL raised the issue of “abductions affiliated with white vans.” That is not all. Other matters of importance included:

Non-implementation of recommendations of the HRCSL against police officers including also cases that had been filed by employees of the Police Department against the same department.

Dispersal of protests and demonstrations and the use of weapons by the Police for such purpose.

The report notes: “Action has been taken during the year to identify the incidents that have not been investigated for several years and those pending investigation. For this purpose, four retired judges have been appointed as Investigation Officers. 669 incidents were referred to the judges during the year under review, including 463 related to the year 2012, and they have already taken steps to sort out 284 incidents leaving a balance of 385 by end year.”

More military officers as diplomats

The number two in Sri Lanka’s Embassy in Japan will be a retired officer of the Sri Lanka Army. The Ministry of External Affairs will post Major General Jagath Kumara Wijesiri as Minister in the Embassy in Tokyo for two years. The Army Officer has just relinquished office as Colonel Commandant of the Corps Ceylon Military Police (CCMP).

The Ambassador in Japan is a retired Navy Commander, Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda.Just a month ago, Major General Chrishantha Silva, the then Chief of Staff of the Army, was appointed Sri Lanka’s Deputy Ambassador in Russia. As a result, Maj. Gen. Prasad Samarasinghe was appointed Chief of Staff of the Army.

Norway bad, but Kroner good
For most UPFA politicians, Norway may be a dirty word. So much so, the UPFA partner, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), protested just last week outside the Norwegian Embassy demanding that Oslo hands over to Sri Lanka a Tiger guerrilla suspect.

However, Higher Education Minister S.B. Dissanayake is strongly in favour of accepting Norwegian Kroners 1,196,970 (or more than Rs. 26 million) under a Norwegian Programme for Capacity Building in Higher Education and Research for Development.

The money will go to promote academic exchange and higher education co-operation between the University of Peradeniya and the Tribhuvan University (TU) in Nepal. The five-year grant will help the University of Peradeniya obtain scholarships for five Masters, two PhD scholarships and one Post-Doctoral Fellowship.

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.