GL And The Darkest Era Of SL Foreign Service

With the Geneva Human Rights Council session around the corner, top echelons of the regime and high profile government officials are having a "field day" convincing the member nations of the UNHRC and other UN representatives as to how Sri Lanka has embarked on the path of reconciliation.

 

According to the political column of ‘The Sunday Times’, Secretary to the President Lalith Weerathunga is directly handling much of the work related to the UNHRC session trying his level best to protect Sri Lanka from a possible US sponsored resolution that is to be presented to the UNHRC towards the end of the session. He is assisted by Sajin Vaas Gunawardena, Monitoring MP of the External Affairs Ministry who is known to be a confidante of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Although Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, who headed Sri Lanka’s delegations to Geneva on two occasions, is still not in the picture, he has expressed confidence that he, in his capacity as the special Human Rights Envoy to the President, would head the Sri Lankan delegation to the March session too. Meanwhile, Indian media, quoting SLFP General Secretary Minister Maithripala Sirisena reported that several senior Cabinet ministers have been sent on special missions by the President to muster the support of the international community ahead of a possible resolution.

There is one notable absentee in this whole process. He is none other than Prof. G.L. Peiris, Minister in charge of the country’s foreign affairs. His name gets hardly mentioned in media reports with regard to the UNHRC session and he hardly shares his viewpoints with mainstream media over the matter. It is crystal clear that the country’s Foreign Minister is rapidly becoming a non-entity where important affairs of his ministry are concerned.

Prof. Peiris became the External Affairs Minister of the country in 2010 and after he assumed office Sri Lanka hardly saw a victory in the international domain. When he took over, Sri Lanka was on a relatively better ‘wicket’ having successfully defeated a resolution that was presented before the UNHRC in the mid 2009, while the government forces were battling the final phase of war. However, over the past two years, Two US sponsored resolutions have been presented to the UNHRC against Sri Lanka and the country even failed to draw the support of the member nations who supported us when previous resolutions were presented. On the other hand, the government paid monstrous amounts of money to foreign PR firms and lobby groups on a yearly basis to paint a rosy picture about the government and its efforts in the eyes of the international community. Such PR exercise too did not produce desired results with hired foreign companies hoodwinking the government, plunging Sri Lanka from frying pan into the fire.alt

Foreign Ministry of Sri Lanka did not have a clearly defined plan to build its support base in the West. Instead of spending its time on developing a comprehensive strategic plan with short-term, mid-term and long-term targets, it resorted to firefighting and adopted ad-hoc measures to counter serious foreign policy problems. Whenever an important opportunity was offered to Sri Lanka, the ministry never failed to mismanage it- courtesy the lukewarm approach of the Foreign Minister.

One can argue that that over the past three and a half years, the Foreign Minister lost his grip over the Ministry and was kept away from inner circle meetings where important decisions were made. However, it is important to see whether there was a single instance where the Foreign Minister raised such matters with top authorities of the government. He meekly followed instructions that came from the top without questioning their accuracy, and allowed various power circles to usurp his authority.

Under Peiris’s watch, Foreign Service of the country was politicized to a great extent and political appointees started ruling the roost, undermining career diplomats who have been properly trained to handle complicated diplomatic affairs. Whether or not Prof. Peiris had a direct hand this, this disastrous trend gained ground during his tenure as the Foreign Minister and by remaining in office he indicated that he had no issue with the process of politicization. However, as the cumulative outcome of all this the GL Peiris era might go down in the history as the darkest period of the Foreign Ministry of Sri Lanka.

Damage has already been done and the crisis has almost reached the point of no return. A major overhaul is needed in the Foreign Ministry from top to bottom and the country needs a whole new approach to counter the problems that have emerged in the international domain.  Without drastic structural changes in the ministry, it is almost impossible to believe that Sri Lanka is in a position to overcome the challenges that are looming large over the horizon – including an international inquiry into alleged war crimes.

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