Is foreign policy handled by foreigners?
Posted on February 14th, 2018

By Sugeeswara Senadhira Courtesy Ceylon Today

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Vasantha Senanayaka recently said he has reasons to believe that the Sri Lanka’s foreign policy is decided upon externally by foreign powers. The country now wonders if last week’s decision to recall Minister Counsellor, Brigadier Priyanka Fernando attached to the Sri Lanka High Commission in London was taken due to foreign pressure. The Minister Counsellor (Defence) was recalled following the allegation that he had acted in a threatening manner during a protest staged by some pro-LTTE groups outside the Sri Lankan High Commission in London on Sri Lanka’s Independence Day.

“The officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have a pro-West slave mentality and it is pathetic that they have fallen to the lowest ebb by serving the interests of not only the West, but the Diaspora’s,” lamented former Justice Minister Wijayadasa Rajapakshe. In a letter to the President Maithripala Sirisena to thank him for revoking the Foreign Ministry’s decision, to suspend and recall Minister Counsellor Brigadier Priyanka Fernando, Rajapakshe described the arbitrary act of the Foreign Secretary Prasad Kariyawasam was ‘traitorous”.

Several Ministers, including senior-most leaders, Susil Premajayantha, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and Mahinda Samarasinghe vehemently criticized the ill-advised act of the Foreign Ministry.

In a swift damage control act, President Maithripala Sirisena had revoked the Foreign Ministry decision to suspend Brigadier Fernando. An irate President Sirisena had lambasted the Foreign Ministry officials for suspending the officer without inquiring into the matter. The President had pointed out that he should have been consulted before deciding on the removal of the Minister Counsellor from the post.

Even after the President had revoked the suspension order, some of the officials tried to ignore his directive. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mahishini Colonne told State-newspapers that she had not received any information regarding the reinstatement order by President Sirisena. This was stated by Colonne more than 10 hours after all the websites had reported about the Presidential order to revoke the suspension of Brig.Fernando. Then, the question arises, if such an ignoramus is suitable to be the spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry, which in fact is the mouth of Sri Lanka to the rest of the world.

If she had made a false statement deliberately, the Government should look into this seriously as it could be a deliberate attempt to tarnish the image of the President.

Furthermore, there were severe criticisms about some decisions taken by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the recent past. There were accusations that customarily, Sri Lanka’s casting of votes in the United Nations and other world bodies were based on pressure from powerful Western countries, especially the United States, and the decisions on voting were not taken in the interest of Sri Lanka. President Sirisena as well as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had blasted the bunglings made by the Foreign Ministry officials on several occasions, before. Once, Wickremesinghe said that he would introduce a new Foreign Service in the country as he believes that there is ‘no Foreign Ministry in Sri Lanka.’ New State Minister of Foreign Affairs Vasantha Senanayaka too criticized the arbitrary acts of the ministry officials.

There is no question whatsoever; the action of Brig. Fernando was absolutely unacceptable. As a diplomat, one should not indulge in such behaviour. However, before taking any action which is to recall him immediately, there should have been an inquiry.

Furthermore, the provocations made by the LTTE separatists must also be taken into consideration before punishing the official.

The protest was organized by a group called Tamil Solidarity in the UK, which is an arm of the LTTE. The protesters have displayed flags of the banned terrorist group and shouted slogans to glorify the LTTE and its late leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. They also had committed sacrilege by burning the Sri Lankan flag.

In the aforementioned circumstance, the military officer had gesticulated that Sri Lanka Army has succeeded in eliminating the LTTE, further he had made that most debated gesture only to show the supremacy of the Security Forces over the terrorists, therefore that should not be interpreted as an anti Tamil gesture.

Last week, a resident of Jaffna, Ravi Kumar said that he did not see any wrong in the action of Brig. Fernando as the demonstrators were terrorist supporters and their strategy is to disrupt communal harmony prevailing in Sri Lanka. “These separatists never come to Jaffna, but they shout slogans to raise funds for their ill-conceived separatist agenda,” he said.
While Ravi Kumar clearly showed that he could understand the Sri Lankan ethos, some of the Foreign Ministry officials are blind to the sentiments and sensitivities of their countrymen. The Foreign Ministry officials may be well aware of Western diplomacy, but they do not understand socio-political issues of Sri Lanka. If they had even little knowledge about political sensitivities, they would not have issued such a recalling order to a highly regarded Military Officer on the eve of an important election in Sri Lanka.

However, one should not jump to the conclusion that all in the Foreign Service are misfits. This service has produced such greats like Jayantha Dhanapala, Vernon Mendis, Bernard Tilakaratna, H. M. G. S. Palihakkara, Rodney Vanderghert and many others ,also there is no doubt, there are bright young SLOS officers who would rise to such eminence in the years to come.

What is essential to restructure the Foreign Ministry is, to get rid of deadwood as well as the officers who are puppets in the Western hands and give opportunities to those who are not only efficient and skilled, but also who know the country and its people.

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