Financial costing of President's confrontational Diplomacy

by A Podisingho

(December 13, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) The full cost of the failed Oxford Union speech of the President will never be brought to the public knowledge. The failure at the Oxford Union is a symptom of progressively breaking down international diplomacy of Sri Lanka. It clearly amplifies the consequences of the dictatorial way path of Sri Lanka, whilst it attempts to portray its failures as an international and opposition conspiracy for internal consumption purposes.

Though cost implication of this disaster in financial terms is colossal, it also has wider ramification for Sri Lanka that is progressing to be clobbered with the potty countries of substandard status in the global village.

By threading through the cost implications until the President’s backdoor exit to Sri Lanka fearing an arrest warrant being issued by the Magistrate’s Court, one could establish some scale of the financial cost involved of his visit.

It is clear, the President’s visit was unofficial and as such exemptions available to him as a national leader on an official visit would be scaled down.

According to the UK Border Agency website, the visa fee for the Head of State and their households are free of charge. Whether this was available for a private visit like the one the President undertook to address the Oxford Union is not known.

Then the visa fee for the visiting government ministers on official business is also free of charge. If the visit of ministers Prof G L Pieris and S B Dissanayake were treated unofficial by the UK government this exemption too would not apply.

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Harlequin Suite Of the Dorchester Hotel

According to media reports, forty applications for visa to travel to the UK were made. Assuming these are for the contingent headed by the President and none of them including the President did not qualify for exemption non-refundable fee at the rate of Rs 13,300 would have been paid to the British Embassy. The aggregate sum involved would have been Rs532,000.

Then the Sri Lankan Airlines flight tickets for the President’s team who secured the British visa. Assuming thirty of them got the visa and half of them were travelling on economy class tickets, the estimated cost for the return tickets would be:

Business class 15 x Rs295,000 = Rs 4,433,625

Economy class 15 x Rs171,325 = Rs 2,569,875

The hotel charges for the team would have run into millions of rupees.

The President stayed at the Harlequin Suite at the five-star Dorchester Hotel that cost £4,950 per night. He arrived on the 30 November and left on 2 December. He stayed at the hotel for three nights though he aborted his stay on the December 2, night.

Harlequin Suite

This would have cost £4,950 per night x 3 nights @ Rs 175 Rs 2,598,750

Two ministers in luxury rooms £440 per night x 2 ministers x 3 nights @ Rs 175 Rs 693,000

27 officials in five star hotel, the charge in the Mayfair is £275p.night

x 27 x 3 nights @ 175 Rs 3,898,125

There are other un-established incurred costs relating to the President’s visit. Since the President’s visit was not official, the Metropolitan Police would have reached an agreement for payment with the Sri Lanka High Commission to provide on the clock security cover to the President throughout his stay. Since special police would have been drafted in, the cost would have been considerable.

When the Oxford Union meeting was cancelled, as a face saving exercise the President decided to hold a meeting at the Sri Lanka High Commission and about 350 Sri Lankan’s close to the High Commission and those who could not attend the Oxford Union meeting and a pro-President demonstration in Oxford were drafted in. Anticipating troubles from Tamil demonstrators, the police was alerted. The Metropolitan Police had to draft in officers from other areas of work and possibly engage some on them with overtime payment.

According to information approximately 125 police officers were present until everyone left the embassy premises left safely. The police also provided transport to the local underground station to some of the attendees. According to known procedures, such engagement has cost bearings and the High Commission is expected pay for the service of the police.

The media reported when President was informed of the possible legal action by the British Tamil Forum. He instructed the Sri Lankan Airways A507 that brought his Secretary Lalith Weeratunga to join him to be parked at the terminal for any emergency exit from the country. This plane remained parked when definite information about the warrant application for the arrest was made known to the President on his return to the hotel after his meeting at the High Commission on 2 December. Sri Lanka would have paid charges for this special parking arrangement to the British Airport Authority. The cost is not known.

These are direct costs attributable to the failed trip of the President. The failing foreign policy of the government also includes other costs. The wages, accommodation and perks provided to the Sri Lanka High Commissioner, his deputy and all the other staff at the High Commission. These are colossal sum and unfortunately the officials are unable to discharge their duties due to the frenzied and lopsided foreign policy of the government.

Having failed the High Commission, the government went on to appoint Bell Pottinger at a cost of £3 million (Rs575 million). They too remain stuck and their reputation of image building has come under enormous strain. According to news report they arranged ‘The Times’ editor for a meeting with the President. This was the only media interview the President had. What the Times reported following the interview was so damning for the President and Sri Lanka that any further interviews with the British media could have disastrous consequences. Bell Pottinger must have by now undertaken a risk assessment of working for Sri Lanka and must be thinking their contract price did not fully evaluate the scale of failures of Sri Lanka.

The amount of money wasted in the ever failing foreign policy of Sri Lanka could be better used for alleviating the economic pressures of the vulnerable people in Sri Lanka. The cost analysed herein is miniscule of the financial drain of overall incompetence of this government and it is time Sri Lanka shrink its aggressive posture towards the international community or alternatively significantly shrink its international network for the betterment of the country.

The President who flew to Maldives to resolve a political crisis in the Maldives early this year must learn a lot from the Maldivians about handling foreign diplomacy. It was reported in the Sri Lanka Sunday Times: ‘It was however different in the case of Rajapaksa's good friend and Sri Lanka's south-western neighbour, the Republic of Maldives. Its President, Mohanmed Nasheed spoke to the Oxford Union the next day (December 3) on the most troubled subject for all Maldivians -- global warming. The consequence of a sea level rise would erase the Maldives from the world map. President Nasheed was in London at the same time Rajapaksa was. Unlike his Sri Lankan counterpart, Nasheed met with Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, British Foreign Secretary William Hague as well as Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne. He also took part in BBC's Hard Talk programme with Stephen Sackur.’

The whole trip of Mahinda Rajapakse was a fiasco and it only helped his mavericks like Mervin Silva and Wimal Weerawansa & Co., to prop up their loyalty to him and their holly war against the west.

The threats of taking the Channel 4 to the British Court, to seek justice for alleged bad reporting has not seen any move so far. The C4 has revealed more and more cases of war crimes and the GoSL is put in the dock so strongly that even if UN justice is not forthcoming justice would have been accorded to the war victims by the independent media.

Sri Lanka does not even threaten to seek justice instead has started to run away from facing justice in the international arena.

Unfortunately, neither the President nor his jumbo team of officials were even able to walk through the Park Road of Mayfair to the Oxford Street to do some Christmas shopping to merry make in Sri Lanka.

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