he time-tested principles of good governance and the foreign policy-making appear to be crumbling with the Monetary Board virtually playing that important role by signing a Rs. 99 million contract with an American Public Relations firm to repair and improve strained ties with the United States.
According to startling revelations made in the Sunday Times Political Editor’s column, Sri Lanka Central Bank had signed a contract with Liberty International Group LLC in Florida.
The Monetary Board would pay this firm Rs. 8,250,000 every month from August 1 this year to July 31 next year.
The contract has been signed by the Monetary Board’s Deputy Governor P. Nandalal Weerasinghe and the LLF Chief Connie Mack, who till last year was a member of the US House of Representatives and served on the Foreign Relations Committee looking into issues in South Asia.
The six-paged contract in terms of US Justice Department Regulations, was filed with the Foreign Agents Registration Act or FARA.
The Central Bank in the contract says one of it aims in hiring the firm was to create a political environment that would be more conducive in enhancing Sri Lanka’s long-term political and economic aspirations, the newspaper says.
The Central Bank also wants the firm to create a comprehensive information platform where decision-makers in the US receive clear and accurate information about Sri Lanka’s current achievements and future plans. It also wants a higher volume of US private sector investment in Sri Lanka.
The newspaper says the Central Bank did not obtain Cabinet approval for this move and it did not consult the External Affairs Ministry or the Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington. It also did not follow the normal tender procedure.
Last year also Central Bank governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal indulged in such a contract with the better known US public relations firm, but ties with the Obama administration have deteriorated to the worst level, partly because government leaders have been critical of the US during the past few years.
Last year, we also saw a diplomatic muddle, where Parliamentarian Sajin Vas Gunawardena, the Monitoring MP for the External Affairs Ministry hired three PR firms at a heavy price to help improve ties and trade with the US.
As the pointed out in its editorial last Tuesday to mark the 9th Death Anniversary of the illustrious Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgramar, Sri Lanka’s foreign policy during Mr. Kadrigamar’s time reached the highest professional level.
Mr. Kadirgamar did not have to hire PR firms and pay them hundreds of millions of rupees in public funds but he achieved the goal by appointing highly professional men and women as ambassadors to influential Western countries, India and South Asian allies. As a result, Sri Lanka won the diplomatic battle against the LTTE before the Sri Lanka Army won the LTTE militarily. The LTTE was banned in the US, Britain, India and other countries despite multimillion rupee propoganda by LTTE lobbies and diaspora leaders.
So what went terribly wrong with our diplomatic service?
One of the main reasons, as JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake aptly put it in Parliament was that the Diplomatic Service has become virtually a branch of the SLFP.
The appointments to important diplomatic posts have been made not on professional basis but largely on a party political basis with unconditional loyalists and party financiers being given top posts. Most of our diplomats would be persono non grata.
The role played by Sajin Vas Gunawardena is one such instance, while there are major questions or allegations about what our former ambassador did or did not do in Washington.
At a time when Sri Lanka is facing its worst ever international crisis and top professional diplomats should be in the forefront, it is tragic that the Central Bank’s Monetary Board is doing what the External Affairs Ministry should do - with administrative regulations and financial regulations, ARs and FRs in the wastepaper baskets of party political power play.
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