With Sri Lanka strengthening its political and diplomatic relations with the United States after a long hiatus, there are rumours that the Government is trying to pull off an official “State visit” to the White House by President Maithripala Sirisena. In the US, such “State visits” are primarily meant for close American allies such as [...]


White House meeting for Sirisena: Ask Corea without hiring PR firms


With Sri Lanka strengthening its political and diplomatic relations with the United States after a long hiatus, there are rumours that the Government is trying to pull off an official “State visit” to the White House by President Maithripala Sirisena.
In the US, such “State visits” are primarily meant for close American allies such as Israel and South Korea, Western allies such as Britain, France and Germany or emerging political and economic powerhouses such as Brazil and India.

Sri Lanka is a tough sell — even though former Sri Lankan Ambassador Ernest Corea succeeded in arranging a White House visit for President JR Jayewardene in 1984: the only Sri Lankan head of state and head of government honoured with a State visit so far (see official State Department chart below).

JRJ took part in a White House “lawn ceremony” where he gifted a baby elephant — a symbol of the then ruling Republican Party — to President Ronald Reagan. The ceremony was followed by a one-on-one meeting between the two Presidents and a White House black-tie dinner featuring Frank Sinatra (following a request by JRJ for one of his all-time favourite singers).

Instead of hiring a US public relations firm at hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying for the State visit, perhaps it may be feasible to consult with Corea, seeking his advice and his strategy — free, gratis and for nothing.

JRJ’s state visit to the US in 1984 was covered by four journalists: Iqbal Athas (for the Sun), Thalif Deen (Daily News), Feizal Samath (the Island) and Aziz Haniffa (India Abroad). Ambassador Ernest Corea raised a laugh when he told JRJ that his visit was being covered by four journalists, all Muslims, and very appropriate too — considering the longstanding rumour about JRJ’s Muslim ancestry.


Ranil wants hard work, high standards for MPs

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had some useful words of advice for the new lawmakers who were elected to Parliament at the August 17 general elections. “Your first job is to be in Parliament on all sittings days. Don’t say you have to attend a wedding or other functions due to “nekath” (auspicious) times on Parliament days and stay way,” the Prime Minister said when he addressed the legislators during an orientation programme held in the Parliament complex on Thursday.

The Premier said he had told the Speaker to give him an attendance list and MPs who ranked below a minimum level would not get their share of the Decentralised Development Budget for next year.

The Prime Minister said live telecast of Parliament proceedings would begin from next year and then people would be able to see how their elected representatives were working in Parliament. “If the voters see that your seat is empty, they will know you are not in Parliament,” he said.

The Prime Minister also tried to instill in the new lawmakers the value of reading. He told them that if they were not in the Chamber, the best place for them to spend time was in the Parliament library. “Today there’s hardly anyone in the library. The books are covered with dust, I think. There are many valuable books which must be read,” he said.

The Prime Minister added that by the year’s end, the best performing lawmakers would be selected for overseas training.


Rosy in PM’s office
Rosy Senenayake’s defeat at the last general elections had shocked many of her supporters and since then she is reported to have turned down an offer to go as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to the UK. But this week she was offered another post, that of Chief Spokesperson of the Office of the Prime Minister along with the post of Deputy Chief of Staff at the PM’s Office. It’s an offer she is likely to accept.


Why lifts only for VIPs?
Sethsiripaya which houses many Government institutions, including several ministries, is frequented by a large number of people on working days. Most of the offices are located on the upper floors of the building and hence many chose to use the lift to get to the relevant office.

A visitor to the Cultural Ministry located on the 8th floor of Sethsiripaya found recently that there is a lift reserved especially for VIPs and the VIP lift operator too has a VIP attitude.

When the visitor pushed the button as the lift was lying idle till a VIP came along, the operator haughtily asked her if she did not know how to read the sign which said “VIP” lifts. The man had to be reminded that Government buildings are maintained at the taxpayers’ money and to use his VIP airs elsewhere and not on people who come there to attend to their work. This brings into question why lifts have to be reserved for VIPs in the first place? Why can’t they line up like others and travel in the “regular” lifts like other people do. After all, it’s the people who elect them, pay their salaries and provide for them to lead a luxurious life.

So many ministries, even swaps
Two Deputy Ministers appointed this week did something unusual – they swapped their portfolios.
They are Gampaha district UPFA MP Nimal Lanza who was given the Tourism and Christian Affairs Deputy Ministerial position, and Arundika Fernando, who was given Home Affairs.

It was Mr. Lanza who approached President Maithripala Sirisena and explained that he was uncomfortable working with the Tourism Promotion and Christian Affairs Minister John Amaratunga as they were both from the Wattala electorate but representing rival parties.

The President had been sympathetic to Mr. Lanza’s plight and had agreed to the change in his portfolio. He had hence asked Arundika Fernando who had already taken his oath as Deputy Minister of Home Affairs to swap places with Mr. Lanza. Hence the two men took oaths for the second time exchanging their portfolios.

A newspaper cartoon spotlighted this swap in a sarcastic way. It showed former President Mahinda Rajapaksa whispering to President Sirisena through a back window whether they also could swap positions.

Polls chief sets example with simple dinner
Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya who has been in regular contact with journalists over the past few months ahead of the Parliamentary elections invited a group of them on Thursday to his office. He briefed them on the upcoming 60th anniversary of the Department.
At the end of the meeting he extended an invitation to journalists for a simple dinner — rice, dhal, dried fish tempered with onions, a vegetable curry and yoghurt for dessert. Mr. Deshapriya himself joined in the dinner and continued the conversation with the journalists in his usual candid manner.

What a circus, what a show for media minister
The newly appointed ministers, state ministers and deputies are having grand-welcome ceremonies at their ministries and electorates. One such event which drew the attention of many was the function organised to welcome new Media Minister Gayantha Karunatillake at his ministry in Narahenpita. A huge pandal was erected with a large size cutout of the minister.

A big crowd of his supporters from the Galle District too had arrived at the ministry to welcome him. Some came in buses and others in vans leading to a major traffic block in the busy area. Inside the premises, the guests were served with fruit drinks and lunch.

Whether it was from personal funds or ministry funds was not the issue, but whether such welcome ceremonies were necessary when the minister concerned was returning to the same ministry in which he had served for the past seven months.


Wigneswaran in doghouse
Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran with his recent critical comments of his own party – the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) — could be in hot water with his own party members. When the Central Committee of ITAK convened in Colombo on Friday, one of the topics raised was Mr. Wigneswaran’s recent comments against the party and his decision not to support the party in the August polls.

Many senior party members were of the view that the ITAK could have won more seats, if he had not released a statement ahead of the polls informing the public that he would not support anyone in the election and urged the people to elect someone who is ‘uncompromising and truthful to the people’. Significant enough he said in his statement that people should come out from their ‘Houses’ to vote for the election’. Some of his party members say it was a hint to vote for a rival party, the symbol of which is the ‘House”.

When the Jaffna Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran on Friday brought the issue about the Chief Minster for the discussion at the meeting, only a couple of them spoke in favour of the Chief Minister. After giving an ear to various opinions expressed on the matter, the party’s Parliamentary group leader R. Sampanthan brought an end to the arguments saying the Chief Minister has written a letter to him and he would take up the matter with him directly.

Azwer as interpreter
The recent inclusion in the Cafe-Spectator the news of President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to address the UN General Assembly sessions later this month in Sinhala made a veteran interpreter and one time MP, A.H.M. Azwer, go down memory lane.

He was quick to call up many of his media friends and remind them that it was he, who in 1989 first interpreted into Sinhala the speech given by the late Foreign Minister Ranjan Wijeratne to the world body. Azwer is a likely candidate for the job of interpreter advertised by the Presidential Secretariat recently.

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