Never before has Sri Lanka been in such a great need for professionalism in handling the country’s foreign affairs. Because never before has the country faced an international investigation on the conduct of the government during the last stages of the armed conflict. Already many local and international experts have predicted serious repercussions of the country’s handling of issues pertaining to foreign affairs. Some even have predicted possible economic sanctions on the country or travel restrictions against leaders of the country in case of mishandling of matters.
However, the opposition political parties have castigated and criticised the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) for its lack of professionalism and nepotism. Last week the JanathaVimukthi Peramuna (JVP) while calling the External Affairs Ministry a branch of the SLFP, raised the matter of paying exorbitant amounts of money to foreign PR firms and questioned whether the services of those firms were worthy of such payments. JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake pointed out that the Sri Lankan Embassy in the US had made a payment of US$43,997.47 or Rs.5,719,671 last year to an agency for writing a speech to be made by the Sri Lankan authorities at an international forum.
It is ridiculous rather than surprising to note that in a country that vows to be the Wonder of Asia with so many internationally acclaimed intellectuals and the government which has an External Affairs Minister who is a law professor having obtained his doctorate from the Oxford University has to retain foreign firms to write speeches. Can the government go to the Uva Province and tell the residents there who are forced to trek several miles a day to fetch a pot of water and say that it had spent Rs.5 million just to get a speech written, as there was no scholar in the country to do the job?
We witness many contradictions in the handling of foreign affairs nowadays. For instance, while spending huge amounts of money on foreign PR firms to boost the image of the country, mobs storm meetings in Colombo attended by the diplomats of major countries with the state media justifying the situation. It is anybody’s guess as to what would have worked better in relation to the county’s image, the speeches prepared by those PR firms or such high handed action of the mobs.
We had pointed out in a recent editorial another contradiction in the claims made by the External Affairs Minister and an official under his ministry at the recent UNHRC session. After the recent killings and arson attacks in Aluthgama and Beruwala, the External Affairs Minister convened a meeting of Ambassadors and High Commissioners of Muslim countries in June in Colombo to say that there is a “campaign” to create a rift between the Muslim community in the country and the Government on the one hand and between the Government and the Muslim countries that helped Sri Lanka immensely at international forums such as the UNHRC, on the other.
However, Manisha Gunasekara the Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, during the Debate at the UNHRC in the same month attributed the riots in Aluthgama and Beruwala to an assault on a Buddhist monk by three Muslim youth and a subsequent incident of stone throwing at a group of people accompanying the said monk who were passing the mosque in Dharga Town. What would have been the message given to the Muslim countries that represented the UNHRC meeting and the meeting that was convened by the Minister? Nevertheless many others too would have read the media reports of both the meetings.
The contradictions do not stop at that. We sympathise with the Palestinians who are being brutally killed in their thousands by Israeli armed forces for the past several weeks. But anybody would have taken note of the allegation by Dr. Dayan Jayatileke, the former Sri Lanka’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva at a recent gathering on Palestine that the statement issued by the External Affairs Ministry on the present Gaza situation did not condemn the bombings carried out by Israel or of its illegal occupation of Palestine.
Professionalism cannot be expected from aliens in a particular profession. Last week the JVP leader read out in the Parliament a long list of political appointees for the diplomatic posts. Professionalism can be expected from professionals of a respective field.