26 January, 2020

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Change Of Guard At London High Commission

By Rajeewa Jayaweera

Rajeewa Jayaweera

The latest news from the Foreign Relations Ministry relates to the sudden recall of High Commissioner Manisha Gunasekera, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to the UK since October 2018.

High Commissioner Gunasekera joined the Sri Lanka Foreign Service in 1996. She has among other posts, served as Ambassador of Sri Lanka in the Republic of Korea; Deputy Permanent Representative, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva; Director General (East Asia and Pacific), Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka; Director General (Donor Coordination), Ministry of Economic Development of Sri Lanka; Counsellor, Embassy of Sri Lanka in Japan; and Second Secretary, Embassy of Sri Lanka in France.

Gunasekera holds a BA (Hons.) degree in English from the University of Delhi. She also holds a Master’s Degree in International Political Economy and Development from the International Institute of Social Studies in the Hague, a Master’s Degree in Women’s Studies from the University of Colombo and a Postgraduate Diploma in European Studies from Sciences Po, Paris. She is a past pupil of Musaeus College, Colombo.

To the ordinary observer, the High Commissioner, unlike her recent predecessors, has engaged in considerable public diplomacy since assuming duties in London. Local media reports have regularly published news of her engagements with a variety of British politicians, opinion makers and influencers, so vital in the conduct of diplomacy. She has also established good relations with the Sri Lankan diaspora. 

After a drought of many years of Heads of Mission in London poorly skilled in public relations, her appointment was like a breath of fresh air.

The new regime has recalled all non-career High Commissioners and Ambassadors (political appointees) since assuming office in mid-November 2019.  

However, the sudden recall to Colombo of a High Commissioner, a career foreign service officer appointed less than 15 months previously, has left many bewildered. An official explanation for the transfer has not bee provided.   

Nevertheless, the story currently doing the rounds relates to an episode during Gunasekera’s tenure as Ambassador in Korea.

In August 2016, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had visited South Korea on a private visit at the invitation of a private charity organization. 

A government circular specifies the level of assistance and facilities to be afforded by overseas missions for official visitors. Notwithstanding the circular, it is an established policy for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Colombo to reinforce the circular with specific instructions. On occasion, officials outside the  Foreign Office also issue directives to foreign missions.   

In terms of protocol, the Head of State tops the VVIP/VIP list, followed by the Prime Minister, former Heads of State, Speaker, Attorney General, and Cabinet Ministers. The Leader of Opposition enjoys the rank of a cabinet minister.

An episode had taken place during the Yahapalana government when UNP Parliamentarian Mangala Samaraweera, an authority unto himself, was the Foreign Minister. He had supposedly instructed Ambassador Gunasekera in Seoul not to afford assistance and facilitate arrangements for the former President. The instructions purportedly had the blessings of other higher-ups in the government. 

If correct, it is a direct contravention of the established procedure with total disregard to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s status of a former Head of State.

Political appointees serve at the will and pleasure of their godfathers in power.  

However, career diplomats need to be more circumspect. They need to act wisely and consider all options. 

 

In this instance, it is unknown if Gunasekera pointed out to the Foreign Minister, the breach of protocol by not facilitating the visit of a former President. Other options, too, were available. A polite request for written instructions was one. Informing her immediate supervisor, the Foreign Secretary, is another. Such communications help in establishing, the concerned officer complied after complaining of the unsuitability of such directives.     

It is undignified to highlight political differences between the ruling and opposition parties outside the shores of the island. It amounts to looking up and spitting on oneself.

 

The High Commissioner’s critics accuse her of having discouraged the South Korean Foreign Office from providing VIP arrangements. Nevertheless, the former Head of State was received warmly and treated with honors due to a former Head of State of a friendly nation. A meeting with the South Korean Prime Minister, lower in rank only to the President in that country

was also granted.  

The Mayor of Seoul had hosted a dinner in honor of former President Rajapaksa and his entourage. He has supposedly commented, foreign envoys usually spared no efforts in obtaining appointments and arranging engagements for visiting dignitaries.  However, in this instance, he had pointed out, the concerned envoy had done the opposite.   

Early signs of a witch hunt and trouble brewing came by way of a salvo fired by Pirithuru Hela Urumaya leader Udaya Gammanpila. During a recent PHU media briefing, he condemned the two-state solution advocated on page 53 of the British Conservative Party manifesto. He accused the Sri Lanka High Commission in London of being asleep for eight days without an appropriate response. He demanded to know if High Commission officials were asleep or in a supportive slumber for separatists.  The PHU leader could have easily picked up the phone and verified from his SLPPA colleague, Foreign Relations Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, without making a public spectacle. 

Logically speaking, no career officer or public servant would make such career ruining decisions on his or her initiative without instructions.       

Regardless of complaints of detractors, it would have been only fair to hold an inquiry and allow Gunasekera to explain herself and give her side of the story. 

The input of the then Foreign Secretary would have proved vital. Three officials, an outgoing, incoming, and interim appointee, had occupied the position in the run-up to and during the visit. Did Gunasekera request the validation of the irregular directive from one or more of them?  

On face value, both former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and High Commissioner Gunasekera have suffered injustices. Unfortunately, the repercussions for the career diplomat is far more severe than for the former President. 

The productivity of diplomats on three year assignments peaks in the second year, having spent the first year settling down and developing contacts. The country too is the looser by recalling the envoy, 15 months into her term.   

Meritocracy is the declared policy of the new government ushered in by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on November 18, 2019. It is a laudable proposition so desperately needed due to decades of appointing friends, relations, boot polishers and baggage carriers without requisite job knowledge, by politicians. 

That said, the government must also protect public servants from politically-based irregular directives and political witch hunts. Towards this end, this administration could initiate a drive against issuing politically motivated improper instructions to civil servants. 

Politicians will always defend and protect each other, as observed over the years. Public Servants, on the other hand, must fend for themselves.

Public Servants must, therefore, be more cautious and find ways and means of documenting irregular instructions, especially those politically motivated and with financial implications.  

High Commissioner Gunasekera has been de-posted w.e.f. February 1, 2020. Ms. Saroja Sirisena, the current Ambassador to Austria, another career diplomat, is tipped to be her replacement.

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Latest comments

  • 20
    3

    Mr Jayaweera, you are one of the strongest voices on CT for Gota. Did you expect anything else? You reap what you sow. If yous sow bajjiri, don’t expect Samba rice. Hoo Hoo! Ha Ha ha! good for you.

    • 2
      5

      porigin sarvice peon!
      How is the job done by your man, Mangola Samaraweera? How many women in other services has he put in trouble like this?
      It is still not too late for the learned foreign service officer to speak to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister and discuss Mangala Samaraweera’s idiotic and myopic verbal advice. If you don’t confess even God would not pardon!

  • 9
    13

    Her recall is right, when one becomes a political stooge, no matter what ones qualifications or academic achievements are – she simply doesn’t deserve to hold this office anymore. The present govt. will definitely find or already has someone competent to be posted to the UK, no one is indispensable.

    • 3
      0

      this is not right. its called political victimization. not surprised at GR and co. as they are petty politicians. however Institution should protect their staff. i.e. Foreign Ministry. sad performance by Foreign secretary. failing big! shame on you FS.

  • 13
    0

    Have we got any news from Moscow?

    • 2
      1

      That fellow is a chameleon and will turn colour to suit the occasion, otherwise his next posting will be as permanent representative in Kanatte.

  • 3
    10

    Wonder whether the High Commissioner ,PC J C Weliyamunna attended any Srilankan Community NYE Dinner Dances in Melbourne or Sydney?…

    BTW it is silly this Lady didn’t ask Mangala Samare to send at least a Text with his Instructions to degrade the Ex President Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa..

    • 4
      1

      KASmaalam K.A.Sumanasekera

      Do you think the diplomatic personal porter to the Rajapaksa brats, Yoshitha and Rohitha, the businessman A.S.P. Liyanage will replace Manisha Gunasekera?

    • 1
      4

      Weliamude is facing a dilemma!
      On one side, it is the forest fire!
      On the other, it is the investigation into the Rs. 3 million loot from Sri Lankan Airlines.

  • 14
    4

    News is ripe in London that she is being recalled because she did not stage a drama implicating British authorities of abducting an employee in the High commission who is on local terms and interrogating him under duress including assault and intimidation to get at the amount of perks given to Lord Naseby for him tell lies to cover up atrocities committed by Sri Lanka armed forces on Tamils.

  • 14
    3

    OMG, Saroja Sirisena!!! London Embassy will be like a Gentlemen’s Cabaret Club. Only God can save our country.

    • 1
      5

      Sunimal, did you actually see her doing cabaret to make such vile unsubstantiated comments?? If you know how well she is performing her duties in Vienna, and before that in Mumbai hugely increasing SL profile and interests (not in the interest of our detractors), you would not make such pathetic comments. Just because a professional woman looks beautiful with vibrant personality, does not make her a cabaret dancer. Watch how well she’s going to perform in London. Men can be up to all sorts of nefarious activities but no one cares. May the good lord save your pathetic soul !!

      • 0
        4

        Sudharshi, thank you. I do not know Saroja personally but she is possibly the best diplomat we have in the foreign service. Graceful elegant and very smart with glamor which may be her only fault. I wish Saroja the very best.

      • 5
        0

        My dear Sudarshi Perera,
        Why are you so upset about my comment? I did not mention anyone performing cabaret. Just three separate sentences. If it suits, one can combine all three together and get a meaning. If not one can take meaning as in three separate sentences. It is just like you made a comment about beauty. Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. For some, beauty means a barrels of cosmetic products spread on a woman’s face, for some it is just pure simplicity (we have seen that example in our first ladies too).
        But personally I believe, a Diplomat, whether it is a woman or a man, should portrait the country (representing it’s core values) in a very dignified way. Not like in a show business (no disrespect to that profession, showbiz is a dignified profession in it’s own way). A Sri Lankan Diplomat should not portrait himself or herself on a magazine cover page with a glass of alcohol in hand. I have no problem men or women imbibing, but these days “cheevara dhareen” (no disrespect to the pious Buddhist priests) are controlling everything in the country, if they see such pictures they will envoys who represent a country, which belong only to Sinhala Buddhists (purest of the pure) do not follow even five precepts.
        May the good lord save your impeccable soul!!

  • 14
    5

    While we do not know the true performance of this career diplomat, even Kadiragama acknowledged that our so called career diplomats are no different to other public servants : pompous, slow moving, full of self importance and unintelligent. Most of their country reports are mediocre and silly, just repeating news items in the host country.

    .It is an observable fact that both major parties in Britain, Labour and Conservative made adverse promises to divide Sri Lanka. It is also a fact that our trade with Britain is steadily going down.

    I don’t know about the personal issues here, but certainly these career diplomats are not the hot stuff that people try to portray them as.

  • 6
    1

    Looks like there are ‘impeccable’ sources within the foreign ministry!

  • 8
    0

    A High Commissioner who retires, slapped-into-retirement, a cut-throat defence attache, now this. Whatever must the liveried folk at the Court of St James be thinking!

  • 12
    2

    The present Government seems to want unqualified people like themselves, to occupy Positions of Importance to the Country!

    • 2
      0

      This lady was eminently qualified for the position. Unfortunately though, it is alleged that she had carried out the orders of her previous political master without covering her own back – no pun intended. I hope she will be offered a good posting as an alternative . Good people are like hens teeth these days.

  • 11
    1

    Is a Minister in the current government behind this move ?

    His former wife is also in the foreign service and an ambassador in Europe and eying London.

  • 13
    1

    how can you get more petty than this? to recall a good officer for imagined slight 5 yrs ago!. according to this article now Sajith Premadasa should travel world over and all SL diplomats should bend over to get him meetings and appointments cos that is their job now to look after country’s opposition. Good idea. Sajith please plan your trips now!

  • 10
    0

    Jeyaweera,
    We all know what happened to the Srilanka airlines when it was joined with Emirates collapsed in 2008 after the dispute began when Hill refused to bump 35 passengers from a full London-Colombo flight to make way for Sri Lanka’s president and his entourage. Srilankans become an unprofitable industry since then. In this case Mahinda became the first priority against nation’s economy. It is not secret that Mahinda is still in debt of Rubavahini in millions.

  • 6
    0

    As the President SL has selected a member who’s family thinks that the entire country is owned by them and its citizens should be their servants.. UK is the transit location to most of the family members during their trips to and out from their country of citizenship and the family needs one of their own kind to be in London, an important HC. Partying and low level behavior of a former Female HC at this location is well known and photos were doing rounds in the social media few years ago.. Unfortunately this reasons has brought an unexpected end to a promising career of a decent, educated, well spoken young lady. If she feels she is unfairly treated Hope she doesn’t give up and take this matter to the country. We all know the how the economy continue suffer due to the Emirate/UL incident all because of the false ego of a family.

  • 0
    4

    Good balanced article.

    Career diplomat or professional healing to political pressure no better than the politic themselves.
    The public servants should represent policies of new government which was mandated by the public.
    Replaced with another public servant seams positive and within policy. Hence, should be appreciated by the people who has intelligence and balanced mindset.

  • 5
    0

    If the article is true, then this is a clear political witch-hunt against a career diplomat. Old habits die hard!
    Sri Lanka’s Foreign Service was always under political dominance.
    All diplomats posted abroad represent the government. They have no choice. If Manisha Gunasekera is recalled for carrying out instructions of the former Foreign Minister, then it is a joke.
    The diplomat’s ability to act legitimately is influenced by the Foreign Minister and the Foreign Office.
    It is no secret that for the past 5 years, there was tension between the government and the opposition. How could an Ambassador disregard instructions from the Foreign Minister, even though such instructions are politically motivated?
    This is clearly an immature decision.
    The new government needs to grow up!!!

  • 4
    0

    The Rajapakses are well known for revenge. They will not spare anyone whether it be a Peon or a High-Commissioner. Small people in big places. The foreseeable future looks bleak with the exception of their yes men and women

  • 4
    0

    Is Jayaweera is so naive as to expect his master Gotabaya Rajapaksa to act fairly? Not only Gotabaya, but the Rajapaksa family itself is vindictive and mean. The former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranaike was stripped of her post within 48 hours. To add insult to injury Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa employed thugs to force her out of her residence. The crime she committed is to give a verdict based on the constitution of Sri Lanka. I said the Rajapaksa family is corrupt, here is the proof-Gotabaya  Rajapakse owes a balance amount due to Land Reclaiming and Construction Authority being the cost of constructing DA Rajapaksa Foundation’s Mosealeam and Museum Rs.47.9? The original cost was Rs.81.2 million and only Rs.33.9 has been settled so far. Gotabaya used/misused state resources to construct the said edifice I am sure the old man must be turning in his grave seeing his sons constructing a Memorial at taxpayer’s expense! Is this not a disgrace for the Rajapaksa family? Is this not a case of misusing state resources for the benefit of the Rajapaksa family? Basil Rajapaksa disowned a house and property constructed at a cost of Rs.250 million because he could not prove the source of funds.

  • 8
    0

    The best High Commissioner we had for last thirty years, she did her job quietly but effectively. This is not only my opinion but also the opinions of at least three career diplomats who served in London and elsewhere. I am sure there is only one reason behind this, that is to appoint one of their stooges who will do everything for the rulers except representing the country effectively. We have seen what Nonis did. It is sad that our foreign service is going back to pre 2015 period. I am sure more Jaliya Wickramsuriyas and Udayanga Weeratungas will come to the service.

    • 5
      0

      Yes Ms Manisha Gunasekara
      Did her best with the limited resources that were avilable
      to a foreign mission of a developing country like Sri Lanka.
      My motto is once you do your duty to the mother land you need not
      worry about these things that are beyond ones controle.
      Ms Gunasekara is a role model to all Sri Lankans

  • 1
    0

    The essence of Rajeewa Jayaweera’s lengthy article {“Change Of Guard At London High Commission”} is in the last paragraph: {“Public Servants must, therefore, be more cautious and find ways and means of documenting irregular instructions, especially those politically motivated and with financial implications.”}
    It must be made more general if worded: “Public Servants must document ALL instructions, particularly with financial implications.”
    .
    Note the sentence in the last paragraph: {“High Commissioner Gunasekera has been de-posted w.e.f. February 1, 2020.”}
    The word “de-posted” is diplomatic lingo for ‘sacked’.
    Good luck Rajeewa.

    • 1
      1

      K.Pillai
      *
      When a person is sent overseas on an assignment, it is called a Posting / being Posted. When the person returns, may it be prematurely or at the end of the term, it is called De-posting / being De-posted. HC Gunasekera is not being sacked, merely reassigned.
      *
      It is a term I have heard regularly during my father’s 36 years of service as a member of the Foreign Service and in my own career in the Commercial Divisions of SriLankan and Qatar Airways where we were Posted, De-posted and cross Posted (from one country to another without returning to home-base).
      *
      I trust I have sufficiently enlightened you.

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