Poor Gamini Lakshman Peiris, “GL” for short. While his alma mater- the school-by-the-sea-was in the throes of playing the 142nd cricket encounter with a state school that almost did not come off but saved by our usual grit, the foreign minister was in London batting for Sri Lanka. Not that GL is known/for his cricketing [...]


UK tour: Foreign Minister run-out by home side


Poor Gamini Lakshman Peiris, “GL” for short. While his alma mater- the school-by-the-sea-was in the throes of playing the 142nd cricket encounter with a state school that almost did not come off but saved by our usual grit, the foreign minister was in London batting for Sri Lanka.

Not that GL is known/for his cricketing prowess, for he has hardly wielded a bat, even a pol-pithi one as far as I know from the old days when I was bowling the chinaman–no, not Xi Jinping.

Anyway President Xi is busy preparing to hit the entire Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CCCPC) for an all mighty six and remain in power for heaven knows how long, but that’s another story.

Over to GL who was himself busy addressing invitees to the High Commission to listen to the visiting foreign minister exhorting the Sri Lanka community to help their one-time mother country to extricate itself from the morass it is in.

Not that he used the word morass though he did use exhort in pleading for the community to help the “Resplendent Isle” flourish again, if not as a “Country like no other”. During the couple of days he spent in London early last week he was padded-up to go into bat for Sri Lanka, the foreign minister met with his British counterpart, The Speaker of the Commons and some parliamentarians at a lunch hosted by Lord Naseby and businessmen, trying to ‘sell’ Sri Lanka as a home for investment and business/and as an original member of the Commonwealth.

That might have taken some aback as there is a belief among critics that Sri Lanka or parts thereof are sold only to China and refer to the country as the Chinese Communist Party’s off- shore haven where anything could be dumped except tons of contaminated organic fertilizer as tests by local scientists have shown.

But while GL was engaged in his sales talk even stepping back into history and claiming how close UK-Sri Lanka relations have been over centuries and their continuing links through language, culture and education, the foreign minister was run-out by his own side at home.

Even before the minister could break into his perorations in Sinhala and English followed by a Tamil translation by a high commission diplomat, whispers had already started among a few small groups of twos and threes of news from Colombo about the appointment of a Presidential Task Force (PTF) to prepare for the implementation of the “One Country, One Law” concept.

That in itself would hardly have made news except for a running line on TV and a para or two in the print media. As some wags in Sri Lanka tell their relatives or friends here that when they head for supermarkets in search of milk foods they are more likely to run into members of some “Task Force” but not a pack of milk powder, given the plethora of task and ‘no task’ forces roaming around in the last couple of years.

But what made this particular Task Force fast- spreading news is not the task allocated to it but the individual chosen to head the 13-member group. Its chairman was named as Galagoda-Aththe Gnanasara Thera, the general secretary of the Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force), whose notoriety has spread far and wide as one with a predilection for physical more than metaphysical encounters especially with persons of the Islamic faith.

It was being said that this Thera is a convicted felon who had been sentenced to six years imprisonment for contempt of court, threatening a litigant and insulting lawyers and presiding judge. Later he was given a presidential pardon by then president Maithripala Sirisena.

Since then a person or two convicted of murder and confirmed by the highest court, serving sentences in prison have received pardons and one even a top job in/a State institution.

When I asked Prof Peiris on Wednesday evening whether he was aware of the appointment of Gnanasara Thera to help implement the “One Country, One Law” concept he said he was not. Whether he was feigning ignorance or not one can only speculate because he has had a couple of busy days.

But if he was trying to avoid the issue one can quite understand his predicament. Here he was trying to convince the British Government and business leaders that Sri Lanka is moving toward resolving outstanding issues such as national reconciliation, when suddenly he is confronted by the news that a Task Force dealing with one law for the whole country is headed by a belligerent monk whose commitment to the rule of law and respect for the judiciary is in serious doubt, if one is permitted an understatement.

If Sri Lanka is on the road to reformation as the foreign minister claims pleading for time and space to do so, all his mellifluous words to the public that served as a soothing poultice has been ripped away in one fell swoop exposing a festering wound.

Appealing to the Sri Lankan community for help in spreading the good word Prof Peiris said the government and its institutions can only assist. The principal task of convincing the British people lies with the community which has many professionals and qualified persons in various vocations who are in almost daily contact with the local people.

But a few more Gnanasaras appointed to high places with important tasks to perform and not all the Devas would be able to cleanse Sri Lanka’s tortured soul.

Prof Peiris says that the burden of cleansing
Sri Lanka’s image lies with the community and the government and the high commission can only help. Wrong. If the government acts with more responsibility, not adopting ill-conceived policies and moral turpitude as helpful for state office, the task of defending Sri Lanka against mounting criticism of an informed public would be far less onerous.

Moreover showering praise on diplomats who pay obeisance to politicians but display an unexpected and undiplomatic arrogance to even respected members of the public is not likely to win friends but alienate influential people.

For migrant communities to explain and defend a country’s performance as the foreign minister wishes, there must be morally and legally justifiable policies and decisions, not embarrassing acts that make sections of the community hide behind their Covid face-masks as the minister himself might well have to do like the Thomian batting side at the SSC grounds.

(Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who was Assistant Editor of the Hong Kong Standard and worked for Gemini News Service in London. Later he was Deputy Chief-of-Mission in Bangkok and Deputy High Commissioner in London)

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