Life Abroad – Part 111 GOOD RIDDANCE OF BAD RUBBISH
Posted on January 1st, 2015

Dr. Tilak Fernando

It was an open secret that A.C. S. Hameed, during his two terms in office as the Foreign Minister in a Sri Lankan Government Cabinet, ran the Ministry according to his own whims and fancies by treating this most prestigious government institution as his own personal establishment! He made some bewildering moves, in an autocratic fashion, by appointing many stooges to various Sri Lankan Missions abroad.

The most ironic appointment he made, which has gone on record, can be considered as the re-appointment of a penalised diplomat, who was found guilty by the Public Service Commission for using Sri Lankan government stationery (from London) for his personal use in writing a semi-official letter to the British High Commissioner in Colombo, David Gladstone requesting two entry permits to the UK for his brothers as tourists.

Taillight smashed up

On May 9, 1991, D.A.S. Gladstone, the British High Commissioner in Colombo, wrote a personal letter to Deshamanya Gen D.S. Attygalle, the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in London, which read as follows: “My Dear Sepala, I am afraid I have to bring to your attention another visa problem involving your Second Secretary (Consular). ……”.

“On March 13, 1990 we issued visas to Messrs….. X and Y to enable them to visit Mr. ….Z, their brother, for a short holiday. A copy of his letter in support of the application is enclosed for ease of reference. We have now learned that Mr. X has applied for political asylum in the UK. Is there anything you can do”? With Kind Regards, David. (D.A.S. Gladstone, High Commissioner)”- Sic.

However, when A.C.S. Hameed re-appeared on the scene as the Foreign Minister for the second time around, he reinstated the interdicted diplomat to the Foreign Service, overruling the Public Service Commission decision and paid compensation too covering the period the diplomat had been out of the service. It was considered as an ‘unjustifiable verdict’ in the first instance to suspend the diplomat’s services by the public service commission!

Interference

The brunt of the Foreign Minister’s interference in London was felt particularly during High Commissioner Chandra Monerawala’s term of office when the Minister’s henchmen living in London, with no connection whatsoever with the high commission administration, began to dictate terms to the High Commissioner, at times by attempting to overpower the head of the mission by taking undue advantage of their political clout!

It turned out to be a sad affair when the High Commissioner was engaged in many an important task covertly, particularly in collaboration with his British counterparts and Foreign and Commonwealth Office friends to safeguard the good name of his country and thereby thwarting a forceful false propaganda campaign leveled against Sri Lanka by a well organised LTTE media crusade from their headquarters in London.

Matters reached a climax when the Foreign Minister appointed a relative of one of his London cronies, as a minor employee to London, in the capacity of a gardener designated at the High Commissioner’s residence at 35, Avenue Road, St John’s Wood, London.

Green and incompetent

The new appointee was a nonentity, raw, completely green and untrained for the job and knew absolutely nothing about gardening! He simply appeared as a ‘time waster’ and did not pay any heed to the High Commissioner’s instructions or to the governess (HC’s wife) on matters relating to his job, particularly in maintaining the garden. This was seen as taking full advantage of his relative’s bond with the Foreign Minister!

When the High Commissioner’s residence at 35, Avenue Road had to undergo some building repairs, Peter Wijesinghe, being the oldest and the senior staff in service, was posted to avenue road residence to largely oversee the place, both in a supervisory capacity as much as to fit in as a butler (in the absence of an official Butler at the time), during the High Commissioner’s entertainment of guests at his residence.

Volkswagen

Peter drove his VW hatchback motor car, from his home at Cricklewood, to St. Johns Wood (work) daily during this period and parked inside the garage at 35 Avenue Road, next to the ‘billiard room’. The newly appointed gardener, being a miser, who did not want to spend any money in renting a room for his accommodation, had decided to use the billiard room to live scot-free while choosing the billiard table as his bed to sleep in the night!

On one occasion, Peter Wijesinghe had to work overtime till midnight to cover an official function hosted at the HC’s residence. At around 1 a.m. when he finished his duties, he got into his car in haste and drove off straight home without paying much attention to anything else.

On the following morning, however, he noticed that the roof of the VW had been severely smashed up and bashed by someone purposely (by way of boogying on the roof)! In addition to the roof damage, one of the rear taillights of his vehicle had also been crushed deliberately.

It became obvious to him straightaway that the culprit responsible for the destruction was none other than the gardener, who had been the only other worker inside the premises at the time of the incident with direct access to the garage which was adjacent to the billiard room (his ‘bed room’)!

Peter Wijesinghe in a shrewd move wrote a letter to the gardener stating that his ‘car had been damaged on the previous night while it was parked inside the garage, next to the billiard room, and he (gardener) was the only person who had access to the garage that night; only the two of them were the staff at the Avenue Road residence on that day, consequently made a claim of £150 against the cost of the repair plus quoted the price of a new replacement for the damaged taillight.

Peter’s ploy by sending the letter by registered post worked in his favour. Much to his amazement, he received a reply from the gardener by return of post offering a payment towards the cost of the repair as a gesture of goodwill, denying of course any involvement on his part as far as the damage was concerned.

This was considered by Peter Wijesinghe as ample ammunition to prove that in fact the gardener was the perpetrator who had caused damage to his vehicle as no one else had any access to the High Commissioner’s residence, garage or the billiard room except the two of them!

Three of the most senior officials at the High Commission at the time, Chandra Monarawala, Senior Secretary, the late B.L.M. Fernando and the Military Liaison Officer (from the Sri Lanka Police) considered the gardener’s letter as splendid evidence to entrap, threaten and tame the riotous member of staff as those officials were made to look like clowns in the eyes of this gardener of the lowest rank, who happened to be a relation to the Foreign Minister and who had been up to so many monkeyshines till then.

In his next move, Peter Wijesinghe wrote back to the gardener, by registered post, once again that he was going to lodge an official complaint to the High Commissioner, which made the gardener ‘come down to earth’ from being on cloud nine all the time.

Subsequently Peter approached the High Commissioner with the copies of all the correspondence between the gardener and him, including the one the gardener wrote to him offering compensation in a subtle manner for the damaged caused.

A deliberate and exaggerated rumour was spread within the High Commission staff, as a ploy, to the effect that a comprehensive report had already been dispatched to the Foreign Minister in Colombo about the mischievous act of the gardener in damaging Peter Wijesinghe’s vehicle, whilst it was parked inside the High Commissioner’s garage, and a thorough enquiry was going to be held involving the British Police etc.

The trick seemed to have worked and the moment he heard about an official government enquiry managed to put the fear of Moses upon the gardener and made him leave the job voluntarily as well the UK for good, as he could not possibly live in Britain once he was not a member of the Sri Lanka High Commission staff!

To this day Peter Wijesinghe talks about this incident as one of his ‘CID’ manipulations he exercised during his time working for the High Commission in London in certain critical stages when the management became helpless. Naturally getting rid of the menace in such a manner was seen as a major relief to the High Commissioner, the late B.L.M. Fernando, a Senior Diplomatic Secretary and the Military Liaison Officer from the Police Department, who had been vulnerably thinking of ways and means of getting rid of ‘bad rubbish’ officially, which the Foreign Minister, had planted in London.

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