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Assumptions about the Foreign Service – How true!

I read with great interest an article in your edition last Sunday, November 4, captioned “Those assumptions on the Foreign Service – how true are they?” by former Senior Diplomat Isseth Hussain.
I write from abroad and as one who was denied gaining entry into the Service due to manipulation by the late Hameed – I went to the Supreme Court and proved that though I had scored very high marks both in the written papers and at the interview, my name had been scratched on the orders of the Minister and the name of another who had failed had been substituted!

I wish to comment on Hussain’s statements. I did not wish to serve under Hameed and did not accept the appointment as the then Permanent Secretary W.T. Jayasinghe and a political appointee whose name I have now forgotten, who held the post of Director General Administration, apparently from Akurana, would recall and bear witness.

I now write to endorse entirely what Hussain has written. I am fortunate that I have done better than had I been in the Sri Lanka Foreign Service. I have in my job had opportunity to travel the world and whenever I visited a capital where we were represented, I did make inquires from business contacts and friends about our missions in those countries. Whilst there were excellent reports in some cases, it was felt that many did not measure up.

Yes, the Foreign Service appears, as Hussain has indicated, very uneven in quality; perhaps this was mainly because of the recruitment to the service in those Hameed years; some were indeed quite pathetic, they were, as Hussain has stated, in fact also “political appointees.”

Many of those I encountered did not seem to have undergone any training and did not know what was expected of them. They are said to have in most instances been deskbound at their embassies.
I recall a visit to Thailand some years ago and was told that the Head of Mission was a great party person and quite popular with the Diplomatic Corps and did little else; by comparison a career Ambassador who had succeeded to the post had been quite dynamic, he had subsequently been posted to Japan where too, on my visit there, was said to be most effective, though he was trifle short on his English, which did not really matter in Japan.

Quite a few of these career men and women were indeed good but many were of poor quality when compared with their colleagues from other countries, including those of South and South East Asia. As Hussain has pointed out at this critical time in our history, our Foreign Service has a crucial role to play and are they equal to it?

Hussain raises a very valid point when he questions the assumption that the appointment of career officers to our missions is to be preferred to the appointment of outsiders. I do go along with him for quite a few of them are deadwood; there was, till a few years ago, a career Ambassador in Paris (I visit Paris from London frequently), the man just warmed his seat. There was once a man in Bangladesh, I could not believe that he was our High Commissioner, and he was a career man.

As Hussain quite rightly states, the assumption that career service officers are always better than outsiders is a questionable one. This is not however to deny, as stated before that I have indeed met quite a few at all levels who were as good as any I have met representing foreign countries.

I read recently of one, in another newspaper, who had stood up to Hameed and rubbished him, yes, there were and there could be officers with spine, but as has been pointed out, quite often by the likes of Hussain and some others, most of them are servile and bum the political head to get good postings despite the fact that they have achieved little for the country during their stewardships. I am reliably informed that this is because the constitution of the country gives the minister unprecedented power over the official; if it is true, this is tragic and not in the interest of the country.

I am also informed by reliable sources that unlike Hameed, Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar never interfered with recruitment into the Foreign Service and that those who were recruited during his period are quite excellent, but I do wonder as to whether they have been left to learn on the job or have received extensive training as is the practice many countries.
I am personally aware of how officers are trained in France and Germany – I do hope that the government will, in the interest of the country, use those training methods to invest in those recruited during Kadirgamar’s period, and transform good material into good diplomats for the country.     


Air power of the LTTE

The LTTE has done it again, due to the callous and lethargic attitude of the top brass of the Air Base at Anuradhapura. They seem to have not learnt a lesson from the previous air attacks. The LTTE cadres had entered the precincts of the airbase by cutting the barbed wire fence. This had been possible due to the very bad security arrangements adopted by the authorities themselves.

Having gained entrance to the air base, they have caused severe damage to about 10 helicopters. Added to the loss of valuable property, seventeen air force personnel have been killed in the surprise attack.
As there had been several attacks by the LTTE during the past few months in various other places, the relevant authorities should have taken all precautions necessary to prevent future attacks, by being constantly on alert.

It is of paramount importance to ensure that this particular air base and other places which are strategically vital and vulnerable, be fully equipped to prevent future attacks by the LTTE. Immediate steps should be taken to correct the present appalling state of affairs and ensure that arms and ammunition together with latest vital military hardware, such as GL’s predictor radars, anti aircrafts guns etc. being made available to the army so that future attacks by the LTTE could be repulsed. It is a crying shame that we are unable to stop the havoc caused by the LTTE with a short range aircraft, which in other words, is like a toy.

The valiant army personnel (Ceylonese), who served in the Second World War, were able to repulse attacks of the Japanese aircrafts, I believe, with the famous Zero planes in 1942.

In the absence of modern vital equipment required to destroy the enemy aircraft, it is imperative that the equipment referred to above, would have to be made available to the army in order to crush the air power of the LTTE. If it is necessary to train our military personnel in the use of military hardware, we can solicit the assistance of our good neighbour, India and I am sure such assistance will be willingly given.

I would like to draw your attention to my letter which appeared in The Nation; of May 13, 2007, in this connection. In the circumstances, the authorities concerned should seriously consider the gravity of the situation and take immediate steps to supply such vital military hardware that is necessary to completely wipe out the air power of the LTTE.

R. M. I. Ratnayake (JP)


Our sovereign Sri Lanka

We, as sons of’ a legendary ‘Lion Race’, can only boast of our glorious past, yet being discovered by archaeologists. Even Sigiriya, which was submerged in dense jungle, and discovered by the Colonial Commissioner of Archaeology, is yet being dug up and excavated to see what it really was. However, Buddhism was brought to this jungle island on a Poson Poya Day, when our King was deer hunting. Not only Buddhism but so many craftsmen too followed to build the temples, stupas, viharas dagobas and the irrigation network with over a thousand tanks which we cannot even maintain. All what our kings did is not disputed, it is true but why do our chauvinists keep on repeating all out past glory whilst, we reap the harvests of mismanagement in every sphere of life, ever since we gained independence? We should look back on our track record of 25 years of civil war, with no signs of peace: I think it is time to examine the causes which have led us to what we are now, as was pinpointed in last weeks letter of S.K. Jayasinghe, where he had mentioned what the ‘Sinhala only’ in 24 hours and the ‘SRI’ campaign started by the ‘Pancha Maha Balavegaya’ did.

We lived in amity and peace up to 1956, when with this revolutionary force, which went on after the assassination of SWRD, with the schools takeover, nationalisation of the best tea and coconut estates, and setting up of separate schools, which not only divided the once unified country but denied all government positions by the Tamils as they could not fall in line with the Sinhala only policy at the stipulated time. This language policy, not only deprived govt. sector jobs for so many Tamils but also sent the Burghers scampering to Australia. Is this not an ethnic cleansing no one spoke about?

After Independence, gained without shedding a drop of blood, D.S. Senanayaka continued from where the Kings left, by bringing vast acres in the NCP under paddy cultivation and making the east our ‘Rice Bowl’, by building the Gal Oya tank without any foreign aid. However, this work was not continued at the same pace by Dudley and the subsequent internal turmoil in the UNP, which saw SWRD breaking away and spearheading that extremist “Pancha Maha Balavegaya’ and their racist policies, which were the causes of this scenarist ethnic war. With these policies, even the noble concepts envisaged by CWW were misinterpreted, with new educational policies, and the results were exposed with the 2006 GCE O/L, results, with only 3?% passes and alarming failures in English, Maths and Geometry as the teachers were not proficient to teach subjects. This is one of our achievements! The health sector which provided a wide network with rural dispensaries and effective control of epidemics, as the MOH’s did their jobs without political interference, has collapsed, as could be seen with one epidemic after another emerging not in the rural areas but in Colombo and urban areas. Hospitals do not have lab facilities and enough wards, due to which specialist channel services and private labs and clinics have sprung up all over the island. The politicians are not affected with this, as they seek medical attention abroad. Our railway service which was so good is running at a colossal loss spending 200 m annually, and earning only 25 m. The CTB and the CEB incur losses due to internal robbery and all our Provincial Councils spend all the revenue collected on their salaries and perks, with no money to even repair minor roads or for garbage disposal. With these spectacular achievements can we boast of our sovereignty any more?

L. Peiris


Recognising a lifetime of selfless Sarvodaya service

It’s with utmost interest and pleasure, I read in the leading local newspapers, that the Michigan Governor and two famous leading American (USA) Universities have honoured our Sarvodaya Founder and Leader, Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne, in recognition of his life-long social services to humanity! He was specially recognised and conferred the prestigious award, as a Honorary Fellow of the University at the Arnold Beruhand Centre, on October 11, 2007.

The press release had also emphasized clearly, that the organisers have noted and appreciated, that Dr. Ariyaratne has worked, for over 50 years, to mediate intense conflicts, helped build hundreds of homes for the poor, led peace marches and rallied ordinary citizens, to see the spirited wisdom of looking beyond their own salvation to help and ensure the salvation of others. He has done this by showing that the Sarvodaya principles of compassion, kindness, sharing the joy of others and equanimity, are values that can be embraced by the citizens of the world! Well Done!

In fact, two decades ago (approx), I had the privilege of working or serving as Administrative Assistant in the Sarvodaya movement, of the provincial headquarters (North-East) at Trincomalee, for a couple of years or so, and had the opportunity of serving under this courageous, great, humble, patriotic leader, who was a gentleman of high distinction, loved by all people, irrespective of caste, creed, races (rich or poor), or religions. Today, I am so happy and proud to know him and to learn that he has recently been awarded the rare and fitting tribute from America, mentioned above. Heartiest congratulations and a big salute to my ex-boss, Dr. Ariyaratne!

S. T. Arasu


Mervyn: Rejected by the people

The behaviour of Mervyn Silva in Parliament and outside is very sad and pathetic and no politician should be permitted to behave in this manner.
This foolish minded opportunist had the audacity to tell the general public that if there is a tree which blocks his path, he will bring it down, if there is a rock which blocks his path, he will blast it; and if he thinks that someone is trying to block his way, he will use his licensed pistol against them! Irrespective of whom he is, at the last general election in 2004, the people of Colombo rejected Silva and he came last in the list.

The leadership of all political parties should ensure that no candidates defeated at the polls are promoted through the national list. This action goes against everything that stands in the name of democracy, and this has been proven in the case of Silva.
Today some politicians’ sons and their henchman have taken the law into their hands, of course with the blessings of the parents. The Head of the Sri Lankan Government should have taken meaningful action as nobody is above the law of the country; unfortunately the President Mahinda Rajapaksa has failed miserably in his duty to maintain law and order in the country.
It is a shame that President Rajapaksa appointed this opportunist as Labour Minister. Now the President is responsible for the dirty work done by Silva, a man rejected by the people, and his shameless sons.

This reminds me of another incident, where A.j. Ranasinghe stated on a public platform that he was prepared to drink a cup of soup made from the slippers of late President R. Premadasa.
Unlike other fathers who expect their sons to be disciplined citizens, Silva teaches his sons to control others with the use of the gun. We have to learn from the politicians of developed countries like England and Australia.

For example, a year ago when British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s son was found on the pavement by the police, having taken drugs, Blair himself had to go to the police station and give an undertaking to the police and get his son released.
Premier Steve Bracks of Australia who was at the height of his political career resigned his premiership and retired from politics after his son, under the influence of liquor, crashed his car.

Will our Sri Lankan politicians ever take similar action if their kith and kin get involved in drugs, thuggery, bribery and corruption, etc.? Will our so-called independent police ever have the guts to arrest any politicians or their kith and kin in any suspected drug, murder, assault, etc., cases?
As long as the Head of State and politicians interfere with the Police Department, there will be no law and order in the country. Sri Lankans can now depend only on the judiciary, which is still maintaining its independence, for democracy in our country.

F. A. Rodrigo Sathiananthen



Kanagasabai Vivekanandarajah

Among my several cousins, brother Vivekanadanrajah, better known as Vive, stood out from the rest as my only blood-cousin since he was the only son of my father’s only brother, but, as fate would have it, sadly succumbed to a very rare illness termed Motor Neuro-disease in Cochin, India on October 18, having been hurriedly flown from Canada for specialist ayurvedic attention.

Having initially attended St. Anthony’s College, Wattala and later Wesley College, Colombo, Vive joined the then Post and Telegraphic Department as an Inspector and rose to the rank of D.I.T. within a very short period. It was as DIT in M1ount Lavinia, that he carved a name for himself by his calm, cool and easy going manner, earning a wide circle of friends and customers comprising of high ranking Police officials, diverse political personalities, as well as laymen of little means, from all walks of life. His humanistic attitude towards his fellow staff, coupled with his flair to mix with any strata in society, made him the most popular and much sought after officer in the department. It was at this time in his illustrious career, that pressure was brought on him, by his wife and in-laws, who had earlier migrated to Canada en block after the 1983 riots; which had taken a heavy toll on their wealth and other assets. They had been leading a contended easy way of life for ages at Wattala, but wanted him to join the rest in Canada. He was simply devastated and sad to leave the department in 1987 on Premature I retirement, leaving behind a host of friends, a heap of customers and the country he loved very much, to join his kith and kin overseas.

Having settled down in Toronto with his wife and only kid, together with his in-laws around, he was soon running an agency post office named Royal Bank Plaza, before venturing into business in the form of a catering outlet. Utilizing the technical expertise of his wife Kamala, a home science graduate of no mean repute, he named the catering centre ‘Raja Ram,’ coining the end of his name with that of of his son Ramesh, he successfully inaugurated the centre in 1993. Raja Ram catering service caught the local market in Toronto and was soon a craze among the vast populace of expatriate Sri Lankans and South Indians. The catering service soon blossomed into a large profitable concern with hundreds of employees and its service was soon to become a challenge to other leading hotels and food centers. No Sri Lankan wedding functions or get-together tamashas, or birthday parties were ever complete without the expert catering services rendered by Raja Ram.

As in Mount Lavinia, Vive became a very popular figure in Ontario as well and was a leading light at all the functions attended by Sri Lankans. Immaculately dressed at all times, in spick and span attire; he was the envy of the local gatherings. He was a benevolent figure as well, caring for the needs of his employees who adored him in return. In fact, he was a godfather to my two daughters in Canada, looking after them and caring for their needs. He had been a tower of strength in their lives and they are now bound to miss him more than they miss me.

A few years back, he made a sudden visit to Sri Lanka in the company of his wife and was in Colombo meeting all his past friends, before leaving for his native place Karaveddy, where he paid a visit to all his long lost relations with gifts. He also went about paying homage at all the local temples in the area and the Nagapooshana Amman Temple in Kayts, thereby deriving self-satisfaction and peace of mind before leaving the island.

He leaves behind his beloved wife, loving son and his only grandson little Gauutham, a real replica of the grand old man, but the little one is yet to come to terms with his irreparable loss. So are all the in-laws and the employees of Raja Ram, in losing a loving, understanding generous kind hearted employer. Since my father’s demise, a quarter century back, this is a personal tragedy and I shall miss him dearly.
May he attain the supreme bliss of Moksha at the feet of our deity Thatchanthoppu Vinayagar.

A. R. S. Mahalingam







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