Back to back successes seem to be what the Foreign Ministry is seeing these days. Just last week, in these columns we reported how it was witnessing election triumphs by getting Sri Lankans elected to United Nations multilateral agencies. Now comes a victory at home–it has got a 100 per cent strike rate in having [...]


President approves Foreign Ministry’s list of 11 diplomats, without adding political appointees


Back to back successes seem to be what the Foreign Ministry is seeing these days. Just last week, in these columns we reported how it was witnessing election triumphs by getting Sri Lankans elected to United Nations multilateral agencies. Now comes a victory at home–it has got a 100 per cent strike rate in having all 11 Foreign Service seniors recommended by the ministry to serve as Sri Lanka’s heads of missions overseas.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe approved the entire list of 11 without adding any political appointees. This should increase the number of Foreign Service diplomats heading missions overseas to an unprecedented 70 per cent or thereabouts over political appointees. It also followed a previous list submitted by the ministry that was similarly approved. Of course, in that list there were a few appointees from outside the Foreign Service such as retired military commanders.

Tamil civil society groups seek Presidential pardon for Sathya

In recent months, Tamil detainees who were held in detention under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) for years without being charged or those who were already convicted were released after either fast-tracking their cases to conclude them or under a Presidential pardon.

Selvakumar Sathyaleela alias Sathya

Moves are underway by Tamil civil society groups to secure such a Presidential pardon for one such case where a female detainee was released by the Colombo High Court earlier, but later handed a death sentence by the Court of Appeal following an appeal filed by the Attorney General (AG) over her role in an assassination attempt on Cabinet Minister and Eelam Peoples’ Democratic Party (EPDP) Leader Douglas Devananda in his office near the Kollupitiya police station in 2004.

Though Minister Devanada survived the attack when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) suicide bomber detonated herself killing four people, Selvakumar Sathyaleela alias Sathya was taken into custody and was prosecuted for her role in aiding the suicide bomber.

The mother of two was released by the Colombo High Court after nearly 14 years in detention with a two-year jail term suspended for fifteen years and a fine of Rs 25,000. However, the AG appealed against the verdict at the Court of Appeal and the court reversed the High Court order and convicted the suspect by sentencing her to death on January 23.

Writing a letter to the President seeking a Presidential pardon, she pleaded for an amnesty considering her plight and her inability to hire a counsel to represent her in the case. She said even Minister Devananda told the Court of Appeal that he had no objections to her release from the case.

In this background, a Northern-based civil society group handed in a petition to the President through the Northern Province Governor’s office this week seeking a Presidential pardon for the woman.

Britain’s new  Foreign Sec. believes present by Colombo’s Port City was a ‘token gift with no value’

Britain’s newly appointed Foreign Secretary David Cameron came under scrutiny by the British media over his involvement in promoting Chinese investments in the Colombo Port City in recent weeks.

UK Home Secretary David Cameron

The former British Prime Minister was in Colombo in January on a private visit and visited the Port City where he was briefed by officials on how the modern state-of-the-art city is going to be developed over the years with foreign investments coming into reclaimed land in the heart of Colombo.

The UK’s The Sunday Times ran a story last week shedding insight into the role played by the former British Prime Minister and how they helped to secure up to USD three billion in investments for
the port city.

According to the report, the former prime minister was paid to visit Dubai and Abu Dhabi and lobby potential investors on behalf of Port City Colombo. But the report also focused on the “token gift” he was presented by a senior official attached to the Port City management.

A source close to Cameron said he could not remember what it was other than a “token with no value,” the Times report said.

Gabriel Pogrund, a Times Editor who wrote the piece shared on the platform X, previously known as Twitter two days after the publication said one source got in touch with him to say the “gift was a souvenir glass of Port City sand”–sand that was reclaimed during early development stages of the project.

The website Politico first reported details about Mr Cameron’s links with the port project last month. His spokesman denied he had any direct involvement with the Chinese firm in relation to his speaking events. His spokesman told the Times: “David Cameron spoke at two events in the United Arab Emirates organised via Washington Speakers Bureau, in support of Port City Colombo. The contracting party for the events was global audit firm KPMG Sri Lanka and Mr Cameron’s engagement followed a meeting he had with Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe earlier this year.”


Mahinda voted for the Budget second reading, but son Namal raises questions over his absence

While former President Mahinda Rajapaksa voted with his Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) in favour of the Second Reading of Budget 2024 on Tuesday, his son Namal Rajapaksa was conspicuous by his absence during the vote. When questioned by journalists later, the younger Rajapaksa said he kept away from the vote as some of the proposals in Budget 2024 were practically impossible to implement. He said the Budget did not present a feasible programme to develop the rural economy. The Hambantota District MP also pointed out that some of the Budget 2023 proposals that were presented last year were also included in this year’s Budget.

Despite his misgivings, Mr Rajapaksa jnr. said he had no intention of working to defeat the Budget, saying that was a matter for the Parliamentary Opposition. The MP also cast doubt on whether the Opposition was actually serious about defeating the Budget despite their assertions. He argued that his duty as a Government MP was to point out the weaknesses
in the Budget and work towards obtaining relief for the people.

But the issue was, had the rest of his party MPs followed his example, the Budget could have been defeated and so too the government.

After Male trip President comes directly for Mahinda’s 78th birthday party

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa celebrated his 78th Birthday on November 18 at his son Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa’s residence at Malalasekara Mawatha in Colombo 7. A grand breakfast had been prepared for guests on the morning of that day.

A large number of Cabinet and State Ministers and MPs started arriving at the residence from early morning to wish a happy birthday to the veteran politician. President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had just landed in the country that morning after a visit to the Maldives, came directly from the airport to the residence to wish his former political rival turned ally. The President was also present when Mr Rajapaksa snr. cut his birthday cake with his immediate family members around.

President, Sajith wage direct battle in Parliament

A highlight of an eventful week in the 2024 Budget debate was a rare and sustained verbal duel between President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Opposition Leader
Sajith Premadasa on the floor of the House.

The two traded verbal barbs on several occasions this week. The most notable exchange came on Thursday, where they sparred over the Constitutional Council (CC) which the President said was delaying appointments to key positions. While those who had seen debates of yesteryear would say there were far better verbal duels, it was still interesting to see the rare occurrence of a President and Opposition Leader going toe-to-toe against each other, especially given their long and complicated history as one-time allies turned rivals. There were several times when this shared experience came through during the exchange, most notably when Mr Premadasa told Mr Wickremesinghe that Parliament was “not the UNP’s Working Committee.”

Tensions between the Government and Opposition however, continued to boil over in-between with MPs from both sides hurling insults at each other at various times during this week’s debate. On Friday, government MPs accused the Opposition Leader of using un-Parliamentary language to target their members. Some demanded that he too should be suspended from Parliament in the same manner as State Minister Sanath Nishantha, who had been suspended for two weeks by the Speaker this week for unruly conduct. Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena then had to order that any un-Parliamentary words found to have been used to insult MPs be expunged from Hansard, the official record of proceedings.

There were also questions surrounding the usage of technology. After the ruckus involving State Minister Nishantha and others, Speaker Abeywardena warned MPs against taking videos inside the Chamber and releasing them on social media, saying strict action would be taken against offending MPs.

Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Parliamentarian Nalin Bandara however, countered that Standing Orders of Parliament had no such restrictions. Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe meanwhile, singled out SJB Parliamentarian Dr. Harsha de Silva for being on the phone while he (Rajapakshe) was raising a privilege issue about the indiscipline among MPs. He called for a change in Standing Orders to prohibit MPs from using phones and engaging in other non-Parliamentary work when in the Chamber.

However, Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella pointed out that each MP also had a laptop on their benches in Parliament and emphasised that Standing Orders had not prohibited new technology being used during sessions. Dr de Silva too called for an amendment to Standing Orders allowing MPs to use the internet within the Chamber. Speaker Abeywardena acknowledged that Standing Orders needed amending in line with requests made by MPs.

PM sets example in cutting down expenditure

Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena has led by example when it comes to cutting down on unnecessary State expenditure.

The expenditure incurred by the Prime Minister’s Office has been reduced by 46% compared to last year, the Prime Minister said. Expenses at the office had been reduced by 21% in 2022 compared to the previous year while it had been further reduced by 46% by October of 2023.

The Prime Minister’s Office had been allocated Rs. 1661.7 million in the 2021 Budget and the entire amount had been spent during that year. In 2022 however, after Mr Gunawardena took over as Premier, the office had spent only Rs. 1310.4 million of its Rs. 1432.8 million allocation for that year. In 2023, this had been cut down further, with just Rs. 705.7 million out of its Rs. 1012 million allocation for the year spent by October, according to the PM.

One major reason for expenses coming down was the reduction in the number of staff at the office, from a peak of more than 500 during 2021-2022 to 285 at present. Accordingly, the expenses incurred for salaries has reduced by 39% while stationery expenses had reduced by 74%, the PM said. Posts and telecommunication expenses have gone down by 36%, vehicle maintenance by 70%, fuel by 36% and machinery maintenance by 31%. Despite a significant reduction in these expenses, work at the office had been carried out without any disruption, he pointed out.

The tasks vested by the Cabinet to the Prime Minister’s Office too are continuing. The National Operations Centre established at the office to resolve issues relating to 262 mega projects operates on a weekly basis. Meanwhile, other priorities such as drafting a national water resources policy, national digital policy, sustainable energy policy and a strategic framework for education are continuing successfully, Mr Gunawardena said.

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