Days ahead of the UN Human Rights Council’s 40th sessions in Geneva, the behind-the-scenes goings-on in Colombo were tense.
Last Sunday saw two Presidential Secretariat meetings chaired by President Maithripala Sirisena. One was with Sri Lanka’s newly arranged joint SLFP-UNF delegation led by Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana. Another was with a delegation from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) led by its leader Rajavarothayam Sampanthan. The second meeting was a discussion on the release of more land to private owners in the north.
“Apey eka assang keray ara lekam thumiyage warthawada” or “Did our fellow sign that lady’s report?” President Maithripala Sirisena asked TNA parliamentarian M Abraham Sumanthiran. Mr Sumanthiran hurriedly replied that the assumption was wrong. The document that Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Geneva Abdul Aziz had signed on March 5 was for co-sponsoring the resolution moved last Wednesday at the UNHRC by the core group of countries – the UK, Canada, Germany, Montenegro and North Macedonia.
A source close to the Presidency said President Sirisena wrongly assumed it was the UN Human Rights Commissioner Michele Bachelot’s report that had been endorsed by Ambassador Aziz. “That nearly led to action against the envoy,” the source said. There was another matter of some concern by western countries responsible for the first 2015 resolution (30/1) on Sri Lanka. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was besieged with calls from Geneva and also Colombo after reports that the Sri Lanka delegation, which had arrived two days early, was looking for a member country to move amendments to the resolution.
Such amendments would have required a further day’s sitting. In fact, on Wednesday night, Sri Lanka had arranged for a reception for member countries. By that time the session would have ended. Why then was the event arranged at a high cost? Moves to have a country propose amendments on the floor would have led to the vote being taken the next day, Thursday. However, the news had reached the Tamil diaspora organisations which thwarted it. There were a string of calls to Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.
He telephoned Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana and urged him to make sure no amendments were moved to the resolution. The core group countries had also been assured there would be no change to the original text.
Now, Managala visits the ‘chief priest’ of Finance Ministers
Former Veteran Finance Minister, Ronnie de Mel, the then MP for Devinuwara, has not forgotten the fine art of winning the hearts and minds of his successors. Weeks ago, he wrote to Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, praising his budget.
The result – it prompted a call on Mr de Mel at his Colombo residence from Minister Samaraweera. In December 2015, he wrote a similar letter to the then Finance Minister, Ravi Karunanayake. Hey presto – that too led to Minister Karunanayake visiting the Colombo residence of Mr de Mel.
Mr de Mel, Finance Minister from 1977 to 1988, appears to have become the Mahanayake of Finance Ministers. Of course, when he was in the SLFP, he once called the then Opposition Leader J R Jayewardene the Mahanayake of capitalism, only to serve as his Finance Minister later.
Dressing down in dressing room
The unbelievable but true story came mid last year, just before the political turmoil that began in October.
In sports terms, the Chief de Mission and the Captain of the team, not seeing eye-to-eye, was a concern for the team players.
So, one of them, who had strong links on one side and developed a similar bond with the other, played the role of neutral umpire.
They sat to talk. Hardly had they begun, the Chief turned to the Captain and declared, “you will have to resign.” Pointing out that someone else would have to take his position, the Chief said “get your resignation letter ready.”
Must one ask what happened to the talks? Well, it ended where it began.
Quoting a prostitute in public
Asanga Abeygunasekera, the head of the government set-up Centre for National Security under the Ministry of Defence, quotes an unnamed colleague in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as saying, “Sri Lanka has become a prostitute ready to sleep with anyone for any price.”
This view, he has claimed in a publication of the US-based Hudson Institute, was expounded to him by a senior Foreign Ministry official. Mr Abeygunasekera argues that “this erratic and impulsive style of governance will hold grave consequences for the nation.”
The centre he heads was set up at the behest of a UNP Minister, despite the existence of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International and Strategic Studies, where Mr Abeygunasekera served earlier.
Mr Abeygunasekera describes himself in the article as being in the Defence Ministry which is under President Maithripala Sirisena. Who can say this Government has not guaranteed freedom of speech when an MoD servant quotes an MFA servant referring to Sri Lanka as a prostitute-nation in foreign affairs?
Second thoughts on rule on extension of service
President Maithripala Sirisena appears to have changed his mind about extensions of service to senior police officers who are on the verge of retirement. Senior DIG Ravi Seneviratne, due to retire next month, has been granted a year’s extension, Police sources said.
Earlier, President Sirisena, under whom the Police Department now functions, turned down a recommendation from Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to grant an extension to a senior officer working for the premier.
This was on the grounds that no more service extensions would be given since it blocked the promotional prospects of others.
Rajapaksa-era troika in memory-lane dinner
The talks over dinner at the Cinnamon Lakeside last week brought out memories of Indo-Sri Lanka relations.
This was when a threesome – Basil Rajapaksa, Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Lalith Weeratunga, handled Colombo-New Delhi relations under President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The troika did well to see that India looked the other way during the final military assault on the LTTE in 2009.
They were at dinner with the then Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon who was in Colombo for another event.
Former MP says ‘shame, shame’ to Governor Raghavan
It happened in Geneva where the latest resolution on Sri Lanka was adopted unanimously by the UN Human Rights Council.
Former SLFP parliamentarian Sarath Weerasekera buttonholed Northern Province Governor Suren Raghavan at the Palais de Naciones and exhorted “You should not have come here. Shame!! Shame!!”
Big chopper deal with Russia before polls
There was a time when they spoke of military procurements being made on a government-to-government basis.
Now, the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) is proposing to buy four Russian-built Mi-17 helicopters at a cost of US$15 million each through a third party in Dubai.
According to documents seen by the Sunday Times, the deal is being delayed only because of minor requirements like round type windows and left/right sliding doors. Some parties are hell-bent on striking this deal with the Russians. Elections are coming and one must make hay while the sun shines. No prizes for guessing.