Consul General Axed

Jeff Goonewardena recalled after embarrassing gaffes, mounting complaints

by Hassina Leelarathna

(March 02, Los Angeles- CA, Sri Lanka Guardian) Consul General Jeff Goonewardena has been recalled with immediate effect on the instructions of President Rajapaksa.

The Sri Lanka Guardian has learned that the State Department will be notified tomorrow of the termination and that Ambassador Jaliya Wickremasuriya will be in Los Angeles shortly to assess the consulate’s future.

Ironically, the axe fell even as the latest issue of the consul general’s publicity organ, “Good News,” was being opened by Sri Lankans in Los Angeles who had just returned from work. Circulated by Jayam Rutnam, a former president of the Sri Lanka America Association of Southern California, the newsletters are full of brag and bluster about the consul general’s activities. The latest newsletter is dedicated to a party thrown by Rutnam last Saturday where the CG is photographed addressing ‘community leaders’ – an apparent last-ditch effort to boost his ratings after the fallout from his embarrassing Independence Day misadventures.

Goonewardena has come under fire from several quarters, notably expatriates in Los Angeles, for using the February 5 event to promote himself while undermining Sri Lankan culture and identity. Since taking office in July 2010, Goonewardena’s vastly exaggerated accounts of his paid photo ops with President Obama and several US leaders, which he presents as ‘bilateral meetings,’ have been a constant source of embarrassment to Colombo. He has also contravened federal regulations which forbid foreign nationals from making outright donations or raising funds for political candidates.

With speculation rife in recent days about a recall, a few ‘community leaders’ have feverishly been calling Colombo in an attempt to stall his ouster. Mr. Goonewardena himself has allegedly tried to snag several visitors to the consulate for letters praising the Independence Day celebration. In one instance, he is said to have promised a performing duo that he would get them a spot on a concert of the rock band U-2. Several of these letters are now on the consulate website.

Medini Ratnayake the head of Serendib Foundation, a non-profit that organized the cultural show for Independence Day, thanked President Rajapaksa for “ the prompt resolution [which has] provided a remedial action to the unpleasant experience undergone by the Sri Lankan American expatriate community at the 63rd Independence Day celebrations in Los Angeles.” Ratnayake, who in a letter to President Rajapaksa hinted that Goonewardena should be recalled said “the ex-diplomat failed to fulfill the responsibilities entrusted upon him to preserve and promote Sri Lankan culture according to His Excellency's vision. It was obvious the ex-diplomat's actions were demeaning towards his own culture.”

Hassina Leelarathna is a freelance writer living in California. She may be contacted by email:

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