Plans are underway for President Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa to undertake a costly jaunt on the taxpayer dime to see his very first grandchild in the United States of America this month, Colombo Telegraph reliably learns.
The United Nations General Assembly Sessions held in New York this month will provide the cover the President needs to plan his family reunion in his former home country. Reliable sources within the Presidential Secretariat told Colombo Telegraph that the President was keen to see his granddaughter who was born in Los Angeles, California in May 2021.
Plans of the personal trip in the guise of an official head of state engagement comes only weeks after President Nandasena Rajapaksa called on citizens to be “ready to make more sacrifices” as the pandemic and his government’s gross fiscal mismanagement ravages the national economy, creating food shortages and causing essential commodity prices to soar. The Sri Lankan Government is staring down the barrel of a foreign exchange crisis and a grave threat of sovereign debt default. The Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration’s bungling of the Covid-19 pandemic situation has created instability and loss of livelihood while he ill-thought out agro-chemical ban has devastated export crops including tea and rubber. Sri Lankan citizens are facing fuel, gas, salt, sugar and milk powder shortages and import restrictions that have gone on for one year now, as the Government struggles to pay the nation’s food bill.
Leaving these crises behind, President Rajapaksa is due to leave for the US on 19th September and will be accompanied by his wife Ioma who is currently visiting Sri Lanka having spent some time with her new granddaughter soon after her birth in May.
Presidential Butler, Manjula Ganegoda and his Script Writer, Nishantha Vijith De Silva. Foreign Minister, G.L Peiris, Secretary to the Foreign Ministry, Admiral Jayanath Colombage, convicted fraudster and currently an advisor to the President, Lalith Weeratunge, two of President Nandasena’s physicians, Dr. Bandula Wijesiriwardena and Dr. Amila Lekamge, Major general Mahinda Ranasinghe, Colonel Janaka Kandewatte, media official Chandimal Waduge and the Chief of Protocol of the Foreign Ministry Thushara Rodrigo are currently included in the delegation.
Presidential Secretariat sources say this list could change as new individuals get added to the delegation.
Colombo Telegraph learns that President Rajapaksa does not have significant meetings scheduled during his stay in New York after he addresses the UNGA on 21st September. On September 24th, the President and his team will fly to Los Angeles to spend several days with his family. His Son Manoj, daughter-in-law Sewwandi, wife and first lady Ioma are all American citizens and live in Los Angeles. The Gotabaya Rajapaksa family who have been citizens in the US since 2003 and Green-Card holders from 1993, have a vast network of friends and family in California. Several of these close associates from LA have been given plumb postings in the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Government since 2019, including as ambassadors and heads of statutory institutions in Sri Lanka.
It is also reported that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s brother-in-law is due to be appointed as the new ambassador to the United States, soon after the recall of career diplomat and former secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ravinatha Aryasinha at the end of the September 2021.
The President’s shameless jaunt to the United Nations with a large delegation in tow, comes even as most world leaders have opted to address the session remotely considering the Covid-19 situation. The UN General Assembly session was a low-key affair last year too, as the pandemic was claiming hundreds of thousands of lives. Many prominent global leaders have opted out of travelling to New York for the session, and the United States itself has discouraged large delegations from arriving in the country.
But government officials say President Nandasena Rajapaksa will have none of it. Having skipped the trip to New York last year, the Sri Lankan president has decided to travel to the US this year to address the UN in person.
The President has been warned to refrain from travelling to the US in his personal capacity given legal action underway in American courts concerning his alleged involvement in the extra-judicial murder of Journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge, the torture of Tamils and war crimes committed during the final stages of the Sri Lankan civil war when he served as Defence Secretary.
Before Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa became president, these legal actions were proceeding in numerous US courts. According to international law the president obtains heads of state immunity when visiting the US in an official capacity, especially to address the United Nations.
The US Government which would have found itself in an odd position to grant him a visit visa given his alleged command responsibility for war-time atrocities. However all heads of state are entitled to access into the United States to address the United Nations General Assembly, held in New York each September.
Await more details regarding the colossal cost of this family visit. (Sunil Deraniyagala)