Political ‘misfires’ are seen in abundance irrespective of the regime in power. Recently the Eastern Province Chief Minister rebuked a naval officer in the presence of many other guests at a function held at the Sampur Maha Vidyala, creating a huge uproar. He was heard saying: “Get out from here, idiot. If you don’t know what protocol is, just get out. Who the hell are you to stop me? Even you, Governor don’t know what protocol is. I respect the Ambassador [here] much more. You should know Governor, you should know protocol.” While the blame game was still on, the spoke to certain individuals to obtain more detailed information of the incident.
‘I have never got insulted like this’ - Nazeer Ahmed
The contacted Eastern Province Chief Minister (CM), Nazeer Ahmed regarding the disturbance that had taken place in Sampur. In response the chief minister reiterated that neither the governor nor the naval officer were aware of protocol.
“That day I was invited by the governor to attend this function along with the education minister. We were sitting in the front row. This school, a provincial one, falls under the administration of the provincial minister. It was taken over by the Navy and was then handed back to the children on March 25, 2016. So before this particular incident, the governor and the US Ambassador Atul Keshap were called on to the stage to distribute some items to the stuydents. At that time, the governor gestured to me to join them in the distribution.
Although it was an informal invitation I headed towards the stage. At that time this naval officer put his hand in a way to obstruct my path which made me lose my temper.
Then he began to follow me; that’s when I had to remind him of his protocol. Nobody gave me due recognition. I have never been insulted like this before. I run a complicated administration because I am working with the TNA, UNP, SLFP and the SLMC. We have no differences and we are trying to bring in reconciliation in the region.”
‘No Naval officers are allowed to attend his functions : Navy spokesman
Speaking to the , Navy media spokesman Captain Akram Alavi said that the Navy commander has sent a detailed report to the Secretary of Defence and also the commanders of the tri-forces and that he had also issued statements to the effect that the chief minister should not be allowed to enter any Navy camps. “We have also informed all Navy officers to refrain from attending his functions,” said Captain Alavi.
‘I knew the protocol’ - Austin Fernando
Speaking to the , Eastern Province Governor, Austin Fernando said that he was involved in organising the event. “This event was of much importance to the students of the Sampur Maha Vidyalaya because on that day a new science and a computer lab were to be opened. Also, we gave away 500 school bags and also identified 45 widowed families to support. After the organisers planned these, they contacted me and asked if the ceremony could be held of May 17. I agreed and promised to attend it particularly because the US Ambassador to SL, Atul Keshap was also due to visit that region that day. The handing over of this school was quite important for the Army as well as the school because the Army was alleged to be antagonistic towards displaced people and Tamils. Therefore, this was a good opportunity for them to show that this allegation was false. In addition to that the school was also getting recognised. However only the facilitation part was done by me but the event was organised by the educational authorities.”
When asked about the accusations made against him by the chief minister, he said that the only truth mentioned in his statement was that there was no room in the helicopter. “That part was true because the helicopter was not arranged by me. The seats were occupied already and I asked him to come by road and to leave early so that he could reach the event on time. After the guests reached the school everybody was garlanded by the students and escorted to the two venues that had to be opened. I have the videos as evidence because in every video, before I cut the ribbon I asked the CM to do the honours. When I initially sent him the invitation he was not in the country.
Therefore I sent an invitation to his secretary. But after the chief minister returned I confirmed the invitation on the phone. That was the only invitation I could give him although it was informal. When we reached the venue, we found that the organisers had marked the seats. Accordingly, the Navy commander of the Eastern section sat next to Atul Keshap but the CM claimed that he should have sat there. But I didn’t see anything wrong in the commander sitting next to the ambassador.”
In his statement the CM further mentions that the compere didn’t recognise him. When asked about this, the governor pointed out that he was not aware who the compere was. “I didn’t know who was compering in the first place and I did not tell him what he should say. I actually don’t think that a governor should keep acknowledging others. Then I was called on stage to distribute school bags to the children along with the Ambassador. When I got on stage I thought it was better to call the CM as well. So I gestured asking him to come on stage. I believe that this particular naval officer Captain Premaratne actually tried to clear a path for the CM. But the CM had got the impression that Captain Premaratne stopped him from getting on to the stage. It’s then he had begun to admonish him.I then patted his shoulder and asked him to calm down because he was creating a poor image in front of the children as well as the Ambassador. All what I have to say is that I have been maintaining protocol throughout.”