Information that Monitoring MP Sajin de Vass Gunawardena was holding a news conference at 7.53 a.m. on Thursday. The briefing was to take place in one hour and 30 minutes. As last-minute advisories went, this one took the cake. But the media were raring to go. By now, it was widely known that Gunawardena had [...]


The Sajin Vass scandal: Will they say Nonis slapped himself?


Information that Monitoring MP Sajin de Vass Gunawardena was holding a news conference at 7.53 a.m. on Thursday. The briefing was to take place in one hour and 30 minutes. As last-minute advisories went, this one took the cake.

But the media were raring to go. By now, it was widely known that Gunawardena had assaulted Chris Nonis, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Britain, after an argument in New York. News that the chief protagonist would now address journalists was hailed with unbridled enthusiasm.
Another advisory came by 8.30 a.m. instructing editors and news editors to give the Ministry names of media personnel attending the media conference. A third came at 9.01 a.m., confirming the news conference.

By 9.42 a.m., a fourth advisory was sent out and it read: “We wish to inform you that the Press Conference scheduled for today, Thursday 2nd October 2014 at 0930 a.m. at the Ministry of External Affairs has been cancelled, due to unforeseen circumstances. We regret the inconvenience caused.”
The media were flummoxed. The relevant officer at the Ministry’s Public Communications Division had worked tirelessly since morning to ensure that the message of the news conference was duly conveyed to all concerned. He telephoned, texted and emailed. He confirmed, corrected and reconfirmed. Journalists were on the way.

It did not matter that they had no idea what this briefing was about. They only knew that the issue of “that slap” would be raised. And that the public would finally have an answer.

By now, the story was all over the internet and had grown in proportion. The President had requested an embargo on it breaking in the Sunday newspapers last week, hoping he could sort matters out. It was being repeatedly shared on social media by Monday. And it had graduated from initial reports of a slap, to a boxing of the ears, to a broken tooth, to a full blown assault on a prostrate Nonis, to a frenzied attack in which Gunawardena had broken his toe while kicking the High Commissioner.

So not only were the media disappointed when the news conference was called off, they were piqued enough to report it. A text message cancelling the briefing had said, courteously, “Dear Friends, the Press Conference has been cancelled as flight advanced. New date will be informed shortly. Regret the inconvenience caused.”

Curiously, Mr. Gunawardena accompanied President Mahinda Rajapaksa to Rome in an afternoon flight that left Katunayake past noon. So if the excuse of “flight advanced” was to hold water, he either (needlessly) time-travelled forward and backward-or nobody in that infernal Ministry still knows whether he or she is coming or going.

And Lankans who can laugh through any calamity have this to say about the pending inquiry that has been ordered by the President into the matter. MP Gunawardene denies having assaulted HC Nonis. So, the verdict is; HC Nonis slapped himself. He slapped himself so hard that he fell down and a baby elephant brought for the party trampled him underfoot. The Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs will be issuing a circular next week to All Heads of Sri Lankan Overseas Missions reminding them that under the Establishment Code it is a violation for any Head of Mission to slap himself without the prior approval of the Secretary to the Ministry.

And as one wit butted in to say; Dr Nonis being the good Catholic he is, when slapped on one side of his face, did indeed offer the other cheek.

Human Heart Valve Bank
The Government has decided to establish a Human Heart Valve Bank.
It will be located at the Lady Ridgeway Hospital in Borella. The move comes on a recommendation by Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena.

Foundations on shaky grounds
More and more ministers are seeking approval for the setting up of Foundations.
One such latest proposal is from Social Services Minister Felix Perera to establish a Pandu Bandaranaike Hela Jana Foundation.
Power and Energy Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi has sought approval for the construction of a building for the Savumyamoorthy Thondaman Memorial Foundation.

New IDs for cattle
The Government has decided to carry out a cattle identification programme free of charge for two years.
This is after suspending the enforcement of a regulation under the Animals Act No.29 of 1958 which stipulates a Rs. 20 levy for registering the cattle with the Government veterinary surgeon as well as for fixing an ear tag with an identification number on each head of cattle.

The Cabinet of Ministers on Tuesday approved the suspension of the said regulation based on a proposal by Arumugam Thondaman, Minister of Livestock and Rural Community Development.

The Minister told his colleagues that cattle identification system was fundamental for tracing of an animal either for disease control or for breeding and that the Department concerned found it difficult to carry out the programme.

This was due to small farmers as well as large herd owners not extending their cooperation in this regard. This seriously affects the dairy development programmes of the Government.

MR elevated from Day 3 to Day 1 in General Assembly
During the annual high level segment of the UN General Assembly, there is always a mad scramble among ambassadors to get prime time for their own heads of state to address the world body — perhaps on the same day as high profile leaders.
With more than 125 political leaders in town, the jockeying goes on to get there ahead of others. On the original list of speakers released in August, President Mahinda Rajapaksa was scheduled to speak on the third day.

But in an eleventh-hour switch, he was listed to speak on the first day, along with heads of state from the US, South Korea, Qatar, France, Spain, Finland, Turkey and Indonesia.
Countries represented only by their ministers get to speak at the tail end of the Assembly sessions when the cavernous hall is virtually empty.
Traditionally, the Maldives has been the last speaker on the last day (except when its head of government is in town). This year was no exception. The listed speaker was a special envoy from the Maldives.

But when the Maldivian Foreign Minister, the late Fathulla Jameel, made his annual pilgrimage to the General Assembly sessions in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he had no qualms about being the last speaker. After each speech, in another long tradition, delegates and well-wishers line up to congratulate the speaker when he returns to his seat.

Jameel was told by a Sri Lankan friend that he could rustle up about 25 Sri Lankans to line up to congratulate him after his address to the Assembly — but on one condition: Jameel has to shake hands with one hand and deliver a packet of Maldive fish with the other.

And those were the days when Maldive Fish was not available in any store in New York city. Jameel said he would be more than happy to do it — but unfortunately his UN mission did not have a diplomatic pouch to carry the delicacy from Male to New York.

‘Pissing’ in troubled waters
It is no secret that public officials under this Government are expected to mind their Ps and Qs or suffer dire consequences.
It might also be advisable for them to mind their Ps, Fs and SHs in future. At a top-level meeting at the External Affairs Ministry related to a warning by the European Union about Chinese craft carrying out Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing practices under the Sri Lankan flag, a Fisheries official referred to some “pissing” issue (much to the embarrassment of the women officials present in the room).

They were confused — until it became clear that the senior official was actually alluding to the “fishing” issue. And it was a good thing too. Sri Lanka has enough problems on its plate. A “pissing” issue would have been one too many to handle.

State appoints gossip monger

This is perhaps a first in any part of the world.
A Ministry where the publicity machinery works overtime has tasked one officer to write what is titled “Gossip” every week and distribute it among the media. Of course, he is paid from the taxpayer’s money.
If Ripley’s Believe it or Not hears about it, there will sure be a place for this State-aided gossip mongering.
JVP proclaims, no he can’t
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) is to launch a countrywide campaign to explain that President Mahinda Rajapaksa cannot contest a third term in office.
The decision was made at a recent meeting of the Political Bureau of the party.
Vijitha Herath, MP has been placed in charge of the campaign. The Bureau decided that the campaign should begin within two months. Besides meetings, it will also include a poster campaign.
Meanwhile, pro-Government groups on Thursday launched a campaign for President Rajapaksa’s third term on the theme “Yes, he can”.

Bernard Soysa: A postal-mortem
Roads are being re-named regularly in and around Colombo, but it seems that the Postal Department is not keeping its staff updated.
In May this year, Kirula Road, Narahenpita was renamed as Bernard Soysa Mawatha in honour of the late veteran LSSP politician but a letter that was sent four months later to an address on the re-named road was re-directed by the Postal authorities to Moratuwa.
The letter went to Moratuwa and as there was no Bernard Soysa Mawatha there, it was returned to sender. In this case fortunately there was a return address; otherwise it is likely the letter would have ended in a bin somewhere.

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