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‘Foreign Ministry rattlesnakes under the grass’

The editorial of March 3 of "The Island" recounting how a coterie of petty sycophants in the Foreign Ministry is trying to sabotage the best efforts of competent intellectuals and dynamic diplomats and negotiators of the calibre of Dayan Jayathillaka and Rajiv Wijesinghe, should be applauded. Your paper has correctly highlighted that at a time of national crisis when Sri Lanka has to forge a strong and convincing rebuttal to many challenges from the international community, a sense of unity, cooperation and team work is required instead of stabs in the back by fellow ambassadors as Ms. Shenuka Seneviratne who engages in petty fogging manipulations with the Foreign Ministry hierarchy to undermine the sincere efforts of those who are seriously engaged in defending Sri Lanka's interest and national integrity at the UN in Geneva.

Ms. Seneviratne is already well known for messing up Sri Lanka's position vis-a-vis Pakistan at the Commonwealth of Nations. Her antics during the reign of Chandrika Kumaratunga to dispose of prime property owned by the government of Sri Lanka at the prestigious St. John’s Wood London were exposed previously and thwarted. The rent paid per month for her luxury apartment in London is in the region of millions of tax payers money from Sri Lanka.

Ambassadors like Jayathilake in Geneva, and Warnakulasuriya in Rome handpicked by the government to work proactively are doing a good job. Even statements made by them and the strategic action undertaken in their embassies are a great contrast to the slow, lethargic ceremonial and consular routine of their foreign office counterparts. Even if you examine the credentials, qualifications and experience of the new talent infused into the Sri Lanka Foreign Service from appointments made from outside the service, you will see that certain eminent intellectuals who have vast experience in international relations now hold the helm in many crucial stations abroad. Unfortunately the practice of picking good, strong-hearted men and women of great intellectual abilities and efficiency is not widespread in the choice of those selected for diplomatic service.

It is a fact some political appointments in Sri Lankan missions, as Washington, are made solely to accommodate the sons, and daughters of influential politicians who want to live and study abroad at government expense.

The public is well aware that there has been considerable juggling, cronyism and nepotism in the way entry into the Foreign Service has taken place over the years. Certain applicants who have topped the merit lists in the entry level examinations for SLFS conducted by the Commissioner General of Examinations, have suddenly been relegated to bottom place in the manipulative viva voce, granting 100% marks to those selected on the basis of contacts and influence. Here lies the reason why brilliant ambassadors who staunchly uphold the national interest of Sri Lanka are consistently undermined and subject to systematic harassment and sabotage by the internal staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

We recently heard that Sri Lanka's Ambassador to Brussels, K. J. Weerasinghe, holding more than 35 years in the diplomatic service (Commercial) and publicly acknowledged by the garment trade as one who obtained the GSP+ and duty free treatment for 7200 Sri Lanka exports to the European Union, being summarily recalled from his station together with the senior professional officer from the Department of Commerce. Now the garment trade is left high and dry with no competent person well versed in trade matters to function at the Sri Lanka mission to the EC in Brussels. A former media person who had got into the Foreign Service during the time of the Jayewardene government as the son of the former President's Press Officer, having married the sister-in-law of an ex-foreign officer, is now fighting shy of undertaking the responsibility of retaining the valuable concession for GSP+ at the EC. It appears that to obtain for himself the job of ambassador in Brussels, this officer has inveigled himself into the good books of the politician and engaged in "snake under the grass" activities together with like minded colleagues in the Foreign Service.

If this is what Sri Lanka's Foreign Service is degenerating into, the government should take more action to hand-pick through rigorous process of selection and scrutiny eminent people, intellectuals, able administrators avid negotiators to fit important positions in Sri Lanka missions abroad which are crucial for our national image and interests in the international community.

S. J. Seneviratne

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