Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Trying to dance to Daham Sirisena’s tune a classic faux pas by the Foreign Ministry

Foreign Ministry under Foreign Secretary Chitrangani Wagiswara which is going from one disaster to another like a rudderless boat has now done a classic faux pas making the whole country look like a banana republic full of idiots.

Lanka News Web after making lengthy inquiries has unraveled the full story. This episode starts with President’s brood Daham Sirisena deciding to go to the UK with three of his friends. Like in the Rajapaksa era Daham thinks that Foreign Ministry is there to attend all his wishes. He asks the newly appointed Chief of Protocol M. R. Hassen to get the visas to the UK. Hassen, a junior and an incompetent officer who should never have been appointed to that position, to please the political masters for his survival sprang into action. Getting approval from Wagiswara he together with Director General of Overseas Administration R.L. Ratnapala, another disastrous appointment made by Wagiswara, took steps to issue a Third Party Note to the UK High Commission requesting the issue of visas. Usually when a diplomatic or official passport holder is applying for a visa the application has to be accompanied by a note by the Foreign Ministry called a ‘Third Party Note’ (TPN). This is a widely accepted practice. A TPN carries the authority of the government and is issued only on special or specific situations. On rare occasions government officials carrying normal passports going on official work are given a TPN to help to get the visa. No outsiders are given a TPN. Readers will remember how former LTTE eastern commander Karuna was sent to the UK on an unauthorized TPN and the whole country was embarrassed. After that the Foreign Ministry was careful about issuing TPNs.

As Daham Sirisena is President’s son and will be carrying a diplomatic passport issuing a TPN is acceptable. But indicating his friend’s names and requesting to issue the visa should never have been done. Wagiswara who is retired is on an extension. Now she is a political appointee. She is to go on posting to Germany. So she has to be in the good books of the political masters. Wagiswara who is supposed to have about three decades of experience, to get brownie points, without thinking of the shame it will cause, approved the suggestion made by Hassen and Ratnapala.

What Wagiswara, Hassen and Ratnapala should have realized was for the British the name Sirisena will not matter. Like in Sri Lanka they will not dance to whims and fancies of politicians. They will follow the process and on the merits the visas will be issued. Getting used to the way people dance around him in Sri Lanka Daham expected the visas for him and his friends to be issued immediately. Not liking the delay he pulled up Wagiswara and Hassen. Wagiswara who is known in the Ministry to be scared of even a driver from the President’s Office gives her a call took up the issue with the UK Deputy High Commissioner Laura Davies. Davies gave Wagiswara a lesson in diplomacy and protocol putting not only the whole Ministry but the country to shame. Davies who has come well prepared with all the details has very diplomatically pointed out to Wagiswara that issuing of the visas is a choice the issuing country has. She has also being surprised that the Ministry is lobbying to obtain visa for private individuals. She has in detail explained that one of the individuals is black listed by British authorities and one has submitted false documents and the third person has not submitted sufficient documents. What Wagiswara has not realized is the nuances given by the British that they are also not happy with Daham’s conduct in UK and that is the reason for the delay in issuing his visa. Wagiswara after getting a lesson in diplomacy from a person almost half her age without any shame has been almost pleading to get the visas issued. Later the British HC issued visa only to Daham Sirisena.

Worried that the incident will be leaked to the media Wagiswara got Hassen and the Director General Public Communication Satya Rodrigo, another Sajin Vaas lackey and an unsuitable appointment, to get round the media not to publish the incident. They were somewhat successful. But it was reported in a few places. In a knee jerk reaction the Foreign Ministry issued a half baked clarification. In that the Ministry has without realizing confirmed that the incident is true. There was no reason for Foreign Ministry to issued a response. It was only done to save the name of Daham.

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera should be aware of the whole story. It is unlikely that Wagiswara will take decisions like this without consulting Samaraweera. If she has acted on her own then she is not suitable to be the Foreign Secretary and should be removed immediately.

A very senior retired diplomat who is also a commentator was appalled at what has happened and told Lanka News Web ‘Foreign Minister doesn’t know what is happening in the Ministry. He is making all the unsuitable appointments and this is the result. We like fools rush into worship the British. Last year the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister all three were raising glasses in cheer for the Queen on her Birthday at Westminster House. Late Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar never demeaned himself like this. He must be turning in his grave for this tomfoolery. Samaraweera better check how many Ministers accept our High Commission’s invitation for the Independence Day celebration before rushing for these receptions dragging HE and the PM with him. At least now he should realize how the British work.’

The damage caused by this incident irreparable. It is as if Sri Lanka does not have a democratic government and a proper Foreign Ministry but is run like a family fiefdom where everybody is bending backwards to serve the ruling family. Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry has become the laughing stocks and will be looked down not only by the UK High Commission but by all other western embassies. The incident is now forgotten and this proves that there is no accountability in the Foreign Ministry under Samaraweera. The Yahapalana government is no better than the Rajapaksas. What Samaraweera and the likes were shouting from platforms before 2015 January 08 election look like self serving rhetoric. But they should remember one thing. Sirisenas, Samaraweeras, Wagiswaras, Hassens and Ratnapalas will not be there forever. But the country has to go on. They should stop bringing shame on Sri Lanka.

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