By Rajiva Wijesinha –
I was delighted to have (also) been attacked in an article in ‘Ceylon Today’ that basically attempted to say that what it termed the monumental loss at Geneva was largely due to Dayan Jayatilleka (and, in parenthesis as it were, to me). It is suggested that what the writer, Ms Bastians, calls a Rottweiller approach, alienated the West, and that is why we have been persecuted by the US and other countries. But, since much of the article is a personal attack on Dr Jayatilleka, building up the case that was set in motion with a missive from the Ministry of External Affairs alleging corruption etc, it is obvious that this is part of the brilliant technique of the fellow travelers in the Ministry to ignore the real problems about Geneva and get on with their task of getting rid of all our able emissaries.
Ms Bastians, I gather, is the wife of Gehan Indragupta who is in the Ministry, in Colombo at present, a batchmate of George Cook, one of the principal plotters against Dr Jayatilleka. George, who is unmarried, was permitted to move into an unfurnished apartment at a monthly rental of Euro 3280/-. One of the charges against Dayan is that he permitted Mr Razee, also a Second Secretary at the Mission like George, to stay for a long time in a hotel. The reason for this is that he was given a much lower rent ceiling and, even when this was subsequently increased to Euro 2500/-, finding a furnished apartment, which was specified, was not easy.
George however is a lucky soul, one of those plump Burgher boys whom motherly teachers at nursery school adored. Though not very bright, they would win prizes for elocution, and I recall George acting as Master of Ceremonies at various functions during Mr Bogollagama’s tenure. I suspect he was the person who advised Mr Bogollagama that the G15 was not of the slightest importance, for when the President was offered the Chairmanship of this body, he said that the Foreign Minister had told him not to take it up because it did not contain countries of importance. I should note though that, when I told the Foreign Minister that it included countries such as India and Brazil, he ignored the advice of the Ministry professionals and persuaded the President to take up the position. That it was not made use of subsequently is well known by diplomats in Geneva, and also the reasons for this – as one Indian journalist told me, the problem was that, after Dayan left, instead of asking friends for advice and assistance, we would only ask them for their votes.
So much for the professionalism of the Foreign Office. That, doubtless, is why they – as exemplified by Ms Bastians – are also attacking Tamara Kunanayagam, who was grossly ill-treated in Geneva. I was asked why this was so by two Westerners, who appreciated the forthrightness with which she spoke, and her sheer professionalism. They could not understand why she had been sidelined, but the mandarins who ill-treated her will claim to the President that it was all her fault.
But there is a more serious element to all this. While I was in Geneva I was told that Douglas Devananda had nearly been sent home early on the grounds that he was going to be arrested. He himself thought that Mahinda Samarasinghe was responsible for this, but though Mahinda maybe gullible, I do not think he is devious. It was rather Foreign Ministry personnel who went to pick up Douglas’ baggage, and were fortunately stopped by the Ambassador. Meanwhile Douglas had been told that it was dangerous for him to stay, while the President was told that Douglas was nervous and wanted to leave.
I was worried by this, and that made me think back to what in my view started the rot, as far as Sri Lanka is concerned, namely the ill advised visit of the President to England in late 2010 to address the Oxford Union. Those of us who have actually been at Oxford know that one should never take the Union seriously, wonderful place though it is, and I was surprised that, having spoken there once, the President wanted to go there again. He was advised against this by the Deputy High Commissioner in London at the time, the marvelously efficient and able Mr Amza, and also – in writing – by the High Commissioner, Nihal Jayasinghe. I have been told by very loyal Sri Lankans living in London how they told Mr Jayasinghe about their qualms, and how he was at first nervous to warn against the visit, given the hype in Sri Lanka, but that he finally did so.
The recommendation that the visit go ahead was made by Kshenuka Seneviratne, the former High Commissioner in London, who actually accompanied the President on the visit. He was under the impression that the visit had been recommended by Bell Pottinger, but those professionals had also advised against it, and been ignored.
Until I heard what happened in Geneva, I was under the impression that the whole business had been a colossal misjudgment on Ms Seneviratne’s part. But then I thought of the moment when we appeared most weak, which was when General Gallage – a totally proper and efficient officer against whom there is no major allegation, even a trumped up one – was hurried out of the country. He did not want to leave, but the President was persuaded that he was in danger – and when he left it was trumpeted around that he had fled out of fear.
I believe then that we are dealing with an extremely grave situation where, if the President is not careful, he will be destroyed by those who care nothing for him or his policies. While writing this I was sent an article in the Sri Lanka Guardian claiming that Ms Seneviratne had given a contract while she was in Geneva to an LTTE leader, to restore the ambassador’s house. I have been rung also by both Sinhala and Tamil friends in England to warn me about Josephine, as they call her – it took me a moment or two to work that one out – claiming that she is in the pocket of the LTTE.
That need not be true. I am reminded of what Mahinda Samarasinghe said, rather wittily, when I said very firmly, when we were trying to deal with Radhika Coomaraswamy’s excesses and someone claimed she had ulterior motives, that Radhika was not pro-LTTE: no, said the Minister, she is just pro-Radhika. Radhika however would never promote the LTTE knowingly, even though she might not quite understand – as sadly even Bob Blake does not – how a seemingly innocuous agenda can play into terrorist hands. Ms Seneviratne however may have no such qualms, and may not be able to distinguish. Certainly, had Douglas left Geneva, the publicity would have been as appalling as what we suffered after the Oxford fiasco – and such publicity leads to enhanced funding for the Tiger rump.
What then is the game plan now? I believe several irons are in the fire, but the most important is to get rid of the truly professional and patriotic Secretary to the Ministry, Mr Amunugama, so that Ms Seneviratne can step into his shoes. This is confidently predicted by members of her staff, the husband of the sweet young Priyanga Wickramasinghe having assured me some time ago that this would happen soon, or that Priyanga at least believed this. Such too seems to be the view of the groupies in Geneva and Paris who are busily undermining their ambassadors, from the IT officer in Paris from whose IP address a scurrilous email about Dayan had been sent to the Ministry to the more senior officer in Geneva who falsely used the ambassador’s name in a way that nearly upset relations with our good friends.
Secondly, there is a concerted attempt to remove the most efficient and loyal non-career diplomats we have, Dayan in Paris, Tamara in Geneva, Asitha Perera in Rome, Palitha Kohona in New York, and later I believe even Sarath Kongahage in Berlin and Chris Nonis in London. The task of the last has now been made more difficult by the transfer, not only of Mr Amza (with regard to whom bad blood was created from the start by the plotters) but also Mr Pathmanathan, so that there is no senior speaker of Tamil in London. It is possible that the targeting of Mr Razee in Paris is for a similar reason, while in Chennai the very capable Tamil speaking High Commissioners we had, Amza and then Mr Krishnamoorthy, are being followed by a Sinhalese. Of course he may be very good, but no effort was made, though Mr Krishnamoorthy kept asking, for greater engagement with Tamilnadu. When I visited, I was told by the very distinguished academics and journalists I met that they now understood the situation better, and wished there had been previous visits like this. Needless to say the books I had taken to Delhi responding to the Darusman Report had not been sent down to Chennai.
Which brings me to the attack on me, the perpetuation of what essentially has been claimed only by the fellow travelers of the Ministry – not the many very capable concerned diplomats I have worked with, who are belittled on the grounds that their English is not perfect – that I upset the West. That is complete nonsense, though it is true that Patricia Butenis is cross with me at present, because I revealed publicly what Paul Carter – whom many members of the international community also find strange – had been up to. The point is, they all know where they stand with me and, though I am very hard on unfair criticism, in many respects we share similar ideals about strengthening the Human Rights regime and promoting Reconciliation and Pluralism.
Interestingly, the claim that Dayan’s attitude and mine led to Western hostility is belied by the fact that the British first introduced a motion against us in Geneva in 2006 – when Sarala Fernando, a career diplomat, was there, and when Ms Seneviratne in London was convincing Colombo if not herself that the British were favourable towards us. It was of Sarala that I first heard a canine metaphor, when Philip Alston claimed that she had come at him like a bulldog (for reasons I sympathized with, though I would obviously have been much gentler as well as much sharper – which is why Alston’s successor has told a student of his that, had he to find someone to defend him in court, he would choose me). That, Alston claimed, is why he had been so hostile to Sri Lanka subsequently, another instance I feel in which manoevering by unscrupulous forces – not Sarala, who simply reacted – won the day.
Conversely, those I suspect Ms Bastians and her associates in the Ministry would see as poodles as far as the West is concerned simply have no credibility – as two influential ambassadors have claimed in recent months about two such very gentle individuals. The point is, one should not say what one thinks people want to hear unless one is prepared to work hard to achieve it. That I find hardly happens with these individuals.
Two years ago, before the 2010 election, I could not understand why the then Swiss ambassador told me she had heard I was to be appointed Foreign Minister. That seemed absurd, and as I said on Rupavahini, when asked about possible executive office – before the election results were delayed for two weeks so that those who relied on seniority and preferences had made their claims, to the exclusion of others – what I was interested in was Reconciliation. I have since been told that I was actually considered for Education, but the establishment decided they had a much more able person available. Now, with the committed and capable Mr Dissanayake at Higher Education, the visionary Mr Alahapperuma at Youth Affairs, and also the imaginative and efficient Mr Grero to help in Education, that area will go from strength to strength. Reconciliation is what I can do best, and what we have achieved there through the Draft Policy document, as well as the concerted efforts being made to ensure implementation of the National Action Plan on Human Rights, which no one else could have ensured, make it clear what I must proceed with.
But I think back to what Ruth Flint said, and realize that sometimes the West knows what is best for us as well as the West better than we do. A deputy position in that Ministry – for the Minister should not be replaced given that the fiasco was no fault of his – with a brief for Reconciliation as well as training of youngsters would perhaps help to save the President from the intrigues that surround him. And while of course I could not have said this publicly before, I am grateful to Ms Bastians for having given me the opportunity – and for reminding me also of Mangala Samaraweera telling me two years back that he held Dayan and me responsible for the ills that beset the country, because it was the victory at Geneva in 2009 that had contributed to the sense of impunity he claimed the government felt. Perhaps he was right, and we must now make up for that through a rounded and well planned programme of work.