When that rumbustious Weerawansa during the 2015 election campaign addressed the then opposition presidential candidate as “aiyo Sirisena”, one felt that the garrulous politician, hanging on to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s sataka, was being deliberately condescending and consciously insulting Maithripala Sirisena. It seemed that Weerawansa considered himself Zeus and sought to dismiss Sirisena with a shake of [...]


Sri Lanka and Singapore in new koloppan


When that rumbustious Weerawansa during the 2015 election campaign addressed the then opposition presidential candidate as “aiyo Sirisena”, one felt that the garrulous politician, hanging on to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s sataka, was being deliberately condescending and consciously insulting Maithripala Sirisena.

President Maithripala Sirisena meeting Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during a two-day official visit to Singapore in January

It seemed that Weerawansa considered himself Zeus and sought to dismiss Sirisena with a shake of his coiffed head, not to mention his well-trimmed beard. So sure was the bearded one of a Mahinda victory that he appeared to have thought ridiculing Sirisena would not cost him even a devalued thousand rupee note.

But, as years went by, the people who voted for Sirisena realised that their president was yet another political non-entity catapulted into power and trying to make a name for himself before he faded into history. So, more and more of the citizenry began using Weerawansa’s “aiyo Sirisena”, not because they liked Weerawansa more than they disliked Sirisena, but because Sirisena reneged on his promises and was travelling to every nook and corner of the globe, like an ancient Roman emperor touring his realm.

As days passed and Sirisena became more and more exposed, even fellow columnists turned to the “aiyo Sirisena” form of address. That was not surprising, given the presidential predilection to say he did not know one thing or another or that nobody told him about some act performed by his government or that he read of it in the newspaper.

Though he did not mention which newspaper, he would have warmed the cockles of publisher hearts and others who now knew that Sirisena gathered his news from the media and did not rely on his media division to brief him on happenings in his government.

The trouble was that Sirisena thought he knew everything and acted as though he believed in his Ozymandian vision. In the last several month, he has cultivated a new morality culture which unfortunately does not sit well with his reflections and admiration for his presidential counterpart at the Malacanang Palace, who really does not mind what weapon he draws to eliminate citizens of his country who he perceives as functioning with criminal intent.

So ,while Sirisena mounts his moral hobby-horse and canters around preaching the rule of law — or what he knows about it — his more recent friend rules with less consideration for the law.

No wonder the people began to distrust a man who preaches like a committed Buddhist and at the same time is ready to engage in practices that contradict his preaching — like hanging a few chaps now and then to harden his resolve and prove that he is a man of his word.

His bombastic preaching and seeming knowledge of all things appear to have missed out on Hamlet’s advice to Horatio: “There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy”.

Had he read and imbibed the meaning of those worthy words, he would have realised that he does not rule the world though he traverses the globe with much alacrity and great expense, coughed up by Sri Lankan taxpayers.

There is an old saying about biting more than one could chew. Had his education included such philosophical tidbits, he might have avoided running into Singapore’s code of ethics and administrative rules and regulations.

We do not have to reiterate that in Sri Lanka it is a well-practised dogma that leaders and their friends influence, pressure and threaten officials and law enforcement authorities to drop or delay investigations and legal or other forms of action against their friends and relatives suspected — indeed guilty of — illegal activities.

This is a country with much crime but little punishment.

Perhaps, a Sri Lankan president or other leader might wave his magic wand and see that investigations are dropped and documents go missing, not to mention a witness or two hanging themselves in a police cell.

Friends, Sri Lankans and countrymen, that does happen here and very much so. But if Sirisena thought that a word or two in Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s ear would be sufficient to have former Central Bank chief Arjuna Mahendran all shackled and returned to Sri Lanka in the first class, courtesy of Singapore’s national carrier, he should do some hard thinking.

Despite his constant-travel to various countries, including Singapore, at least a couple of times last year, he had not learnt — nor had he been advised — that Singapore does not function the way corrupt politicians and governments do in Sri Lanka.

Singapore diplomats and officials monitor newspapers and other media around the world. It is ready to respond to criticism of the city state within a day or two of any critical remarks. Had Sri Lanka learnt from such Singaporean practices, Sirisena might have avoided putting both of his feet in his mouth.

I have experienced this swift comeback when Singapore’s envoy in Hong Kong, Mr See (Man Chee if I remember correctly) sent a reply to the editor in response to a comment I made in one of my columns about the then Singapore Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong, telling voters of a particular constituency that they were unlikely to get a housing scheme if they voted for the rival candidate.

We published envoy See’s letter with my response, in which I told Mr See that if he cannot see the point made he will not see at all. That ended that. But the fact is that tiny Singapore is so well organised administratively and diplomatically that it keeps its eyes and ears open to respond to criticisms of the country.

That is how Singapore’s Foreign Ministry came to reply so quickly to Sirisena’s charge that Singapore is not helping to have Mahendran returned to Sri Lanka. Sirisena claimed that the “Singapore Government has not assisted us the way it should have”.

What Sirisena seemingly meant was that Singapore had not acted in the way he expected or wanted Singapore to react. Firstly, the people would like to know exactly what Sirisena told Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong when Sirisena says he spoke to the prime minister personally.

One would have the Singaporean leader, thereafter, checking with the relevant agencies to ascertain the state of play, as it were. The question is whether Sri Lanka’s great leader checked with those in his government he still speaks to.

Maybe Sirisena should widen his knot of advisers. The last lot did not fare too well after they seemed to have told the great leader that he could dissolve parliament as he thought fit and declare a date for elections.

A full bench of the Supreme Court taught that bunch of upstarts a lesson, which, hopefully, Sirisena will have etched on his chest.

Sirisena goes about saying that since he and his coalition government came to power the international community has been treating Sri Lanka well. If that is meant to be a boast, it is a hollow one. Without strengthening our relations with Asian nations, some of our leaders are going around alienating them. Scant wonder, the world does not know what the government is up to and remains confused.

In parliament, last week, Opposition Whip Mahinda Amaraweera said that Sri Lanka had dispatched all necessary information which had been diplomatically communicated in writing to the relevant authorities in Singapore. So when Singapore says in an official statement that Sri Lanka had failed to provide documents necessary to support the extradition request, is it Sri Lanka’s position that Singapore is lying?

If Sri Lanka has sent all the necessary documents and Sirisena keeps saying Singapore is reneging, the way Sirisena and his officials can step out of this morass is to name the documents that have been sent and produce some proof that Sri Lanka has sent the requirements.

Meanwhile, has Sirisena asked the Dubai authorities for the return of Udayanga Weeratunga, alleged to be connected with the Russian MiG aircraft deal? If not why? And if so why is Sirisena not whispering in the Dubai Emir’s ear for Weeratunga to be sent back, as he did with the Singapore leader? Has he pursued this case, and if not what is the secret?

What Singapore will say in reply to Sri Lanka’s last response will be interesting. Or will Singapore ignore it all, leaving the Sri Lankan leaders to play with their new toys. After all, it might not be for long.


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