Conduct lacking in propriety


An unusual photograph has begun circulating in social and print media. It shows President Sirisena with his arms thrown around the shoulders of Minister Daya Gamage and State Minister Ashoka Abeysinghe taken somewhere in China during the President’s recent visit. Also, in the photograph is Minister Thalatha Athukorala. All three ministers are members of the United National Party.

All four had discarded their standard attire worn when meeting and hoodwinking the local hoi poloi.

The Head of State may be currying favour with the UNP Ministers by taking them along. However, to be photographed with his hands around their shoulders is unpresidential and lacking in dignity for a Head of State.

Regrettably, undignified behaviour is quite common among our more recent plebeian politicians.

Tourism Development and Christian Affairs Minister John Amaratunga saw it fit to visit the British High Commissioner in his office last week to discuss the security situation in the country. Despite being a parliamentarian since 1989 and a Cabinet minister on several occasions, Amaratunga does not seem to be aware or prefers to ignore the fact, Ministers do not visit foreign missions other than to sign a condolence book or to attend a national day reception. Foreign envoys are invited or summoned by the Foreign Ministry and invited by other ministries. No Head of Mission in his right senses will decline an invitation by a cabinet minister. In this instance, Amaratunga is in flagrant violation of diplomatic protocol.

Former Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera thought nothing of it in dashing to the Katunayake airport to meet and greet former American Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal on her arrival. Biswal, a mere bureaucrat, did not rank above an Additional Secretary. It was a case of extreme servility.

At times, it is embarrassing to watch our Ministers and Members of Parliament attending national day functions hosted by foreign missions in droves. Some of them even force themselves uninvited to the dais when the host invites the Chief Guest for cutting a cake.

It is said, fish rots from the head. When the head acts without dignity, the midriff and tail will follow suit.

In 1966, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi while attending a state banquet in her honour at the White House was asked for a dance by her host US President Lyndon Johnson. Gandhi declined politely stating her voters would never forgive her.

In 1975, Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike after declaring open the Lanka Oberoi Hotel was offered an alcoholic beverage during the rooftop reception that followed which was declined. A short while later, the westernized spouse of Prithiviraj' Biki’ Oberoi, then Managing Director of Oberoi Hotels and known for imbibing in spirits invited the Prime Minister to join her on the dance floor. She declined and left immediately thereafter, no doubt, an expression of her displeasure.

Both instances were examples of propriety with due consideration to the expectations of the people they represent.

Regardless of their personal habits and preferences, leaders must always uphold and safeguard the dignity of their office.

Leaders in this neck of the woods no longer think or act in that way.

Rajeewa Jayaweera

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