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Sri Lankan Diplomacy: EAM Media Releases Come In Cart Before Horse

( April 27, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) It’s literally a case of placing the cart before the horse, as one witty External Affairs Ministry (EAM) official revealed yesterday.

News releases related to Minister G.L. Peiris’ engagements are usually written ahead of the event. A case in point was Dr. Peiris’ briefing for Colombo-based diplomats and Consuls General at the EAM at 11 a.m. on Thursday. At the eleventh hour, however, the invite to Consuls General was withdrawn.

Hardly had the briefing ended, was a new release issued to the media by EAM officials. It focused almost entirely on what Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Minister told the diplomats. There were some searching questions from western diplomats but they went unanswered and found no place in the release.

One head of mission related the story of how Dr. Peiris directed him to issue a news release before going for a meeting with his counterpart of a country.

Whatever the outcome is, Sri Lankans are made to believe how articulately the country’s foreign policy is being conducted.

Unauthorised Easter holiday: Holy Saturday trouble for envoy

External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris is not only ticking off foreign governments and dignitaries these days. Even Sri Lanka’s own envoys are coming in for some rapid fire from him. One such case was when he cut down Chris Nonis, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, for not following procedures laid down by the External Affairs Ministry.

High Commissioner Nonis had wanted to be on holiday in Sri Lanka during the Easter Week. So he decided that all he needed to do was pack his bag and go to the airport with a Business Class ticket. However, Sri Lanka’s envoy to the Court of St James little realised that the EAM needed him for some official business in Britain. When the EAM learnt he had left station, it checked with the Overseas Administration Division (OAD) whether he had obtained leave. “There was no such leave granted,” replied an official to a higher one. It was immediately brought to the attention of Minister Peiris.

Who should ring the External Affairs Minister last Saturday morning, the day before Easter? It was High Commissioner Nonis. Just before leaving the residency, he had telephoned his minister to say he was headed to Sri Lanka and thought he would let him know. “If you want to do that, follow normal procedure,” snapped an irritated Peiris. He then cut the call. Dr. Peiris’ mobile phone rang for a long, long time thereafter but he did not answer. An aide had to take it away lest it disturb the dinner.

EAM Secretary Kshenuka Seneviratne formally wrote to Mr. Nonis last Tuesday seeking his explanation. To make matters worse, she noted that Mr. Nonis had informed Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of his departure and told that Neville de Silva, the former journalist, would be acting High Commissioner. Alas, he has not said this to his own Ministry.

Secretary Seneviratne’s ire did not end there. She was livid about another official taking leave matters lightly. This time, Thushitha Wijemanne, the legal officer attached to Minister Peiris’ bureau flew off to Romania to discuss a visa exemption agreement with that country. Alas, he has not sought her permission. Now Wijemanne’s explanation has been sought.

Officials at the EAM were chuckling at the Nonis incident only because the High Commissioner had not informed the OAD of his previous private visits to Colombo too. One of them remarked, rather mischievously though, that there may be a nominal “pay cut.”

- The Sunday Times, Colombo

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