Connect with us





By Sanjeewa Jayaweera

A couple of recent news items that got my attention were:

(1)”The Government has decided to strictly restrict state expenses owing to the grave financial crisis the government was facing. Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa has informed the Cabinet that state revenue has decreased drastically as the economy faces a severe crisis due to the Covid pandemic. It was not sufficient even for recurrent expenditure. The government has also decided to suspend all recruitment for state service.”

(2)”High Commissioner-designate of Sri Lanka to India Milinda Moragoda assumes duties in New Delhi, at a simple ceremony held at the High Commission of Sri Lanka in New Delhi on 30 August 2021.”

Given the perilous state of the economy, the need to restrict and reduce state expenditure is mandatory. That it should have been done several decades ago by successive governments is to state the obvious. The salary cost of government employees and pensions is estimated to account for 80 per cent of government revenue. This expenditure at present is a fixed cost unless the government takes a bold step to enforce a pay cut on government servants. Although it might sound outrageous, many establishments struggling to survive have done it in the private sector. No doubt such a measure will be unpopular, particularly when the cost of living is increasing. But, let alone a pay cut, the Principals and Teachers, have stuck work demanding salary increments. For the GOSL, it is undoubtedly “The Hobson’s choice.”

The need to manage costs prudently has always been a priority in the private sector. As a former Chief Financial Officer of a chain of hotels between 1995 and 2005, I experienced this challenge firsthand as tourism bore the brunt of the consequences of the war waged by terrorists. Every time a bomb explosion took place, there was a sharp decline in hotel occupancy and revenue. Mere survival was difficult. We, of course, did not have the luxury of printing money as the GOSL has done to manage the deficit. Even obtaining a bank overdraft was difficult as Banks’ were wary of lending money to the hotel sector. The hotel industry was deemed not creditworthy, just as presently the GOSL is considered by overseas lenders.

In such circumstances, we had to examine every expense item and determine whether it belonged to the category of “Absolutely Necessary.” Any expenditure outside that definition was eliminated. It was not a pleasant task, but it had to be done. It is in that context that I wish to propose that the GOSL carry out a serious and dispassionate review as to how many of our embassies and high commissions in overseas countries are “Absolutely necessary.”

The cost of maintaining our overseas resident missions according to the Sri Lanka Budget Estimates for 2021 is Rs. 11 billion, which at an exchange rate of Rs 190 for 1 US Dollar is US Dollars 58 million. What needs to be understood is that all expenditure of our foreign missions needs to be remitted in US Dollars. Staff salaries, rent, and other establishment costs are incurred in foreign currency. I understand many local companies are presently struggling to obtain even US $ 20,000 from banks to import urgently needed spare parts for their factory machinery.

It is possible that the shortage of foreign exchange may be temporary. However, Sri Lanka has for many decades run a significant budget deficit where recurrent expenditure is well over revenue. In such circumstances, a pertinent question is whether the bulk of the US $ 58 million spent in maintaining overseas resident missions should be eliminated and what would be the ramifications for the country.

In determining how many of our overseas resident missions are superfluous and should be closed down, we need to understand the role and function of an Embassy / High Commission in a foreign country.

The Vienna Convention of 1963 has outlined the role and functions as follows (summarized) :

“The functions of a diplomatic mission consist, inter alia, in representing the sending State in the receiving State; protecting in the receiving State the interests of the sending State and its nationals, within limits permitted by international law; promoting friendly relations between the sending State and the receiving State, and developing their economic, cultural and scientific relations; negotiating with the Government of the receiving State; ascertaining by all lawful means conditions and developments in the receiving State, and reporting thereon to the Government of the sending State.”

Although I am no expert on international relations, I feel the section stating “promoting friendly relations and developing economic, cultural and scientific relations” should be the critical criteria in determining the need for a resident mission in an overseas country. I am well aware that consular services extended to Sri Lankans living in overseas countries are also essential. However, I contend that we do not need an ambassador and a plethora of diplomatic officers to carry out this necessary but mundane function.

In terms of promoting friendly relations between Sri Lanka and the nation to where they have been posted, I contend that our ambassadors and diplomats currently have a minimal role to play. At present international relations are based on policy set out by the GOSL. The best of personal efforts by our ambassadors and diplomats will bear no result if the GOSL pursues policies deemed by the other country to be unacceptable to them. For example, I can only assume that our ambassadors and diplomats based in the Middle East and other Muslim countries were pulling their hair and struggled to maintain “friendly relations” when GOSL followed a policy of not allowing Muslims to bury those who passed away to COVID. Similarly, our close relations with China have impacted our relations with many others. To a large extent, the concept of “Non-Aligned” as practiced in the 1960s and 1970s has been replaced with “You are either with us or against us.” In the last three decades, China has been the “bogeyman” for the USA and their allies, whilst before that, it was the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

A couple of two separate but distinct incidents that my father, a career diplomat, encountered when serving abroad more or less explains the fallacy that having an overseas resident mission facilitates friendly relations.

In either 1973 or 1974, when serving in Pakistan, the embassy received an urgent telex from Colombo requesting that a message from Mrs Sirima Banadaranaike be handed to Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the Prime Minister (PM) of Pakistan. The request was for Pakistan to send an urgent shipload of rice to Colombo due to an impending shortage. My father, acting for the Ambassador, met Mr Bhutto within 12 hours of requesting the Pakistani foreign ministry to meet with the PM. Mr Bhutto met him around midnight at his official residence dressed in his pyjamas and dressing gown and greeted my father. “Mr Jayaweera, what is that I can do for our good friend Madam Bandaranaike?” The PM immediately took action upon the request for help.

In June 1987, when India violated Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by entering our airspace and dropped “parripu”, my father, who was then the Ambassador to West Germany, was instructed to seek an urgent meeting with the West German Foreign Minister and request that a statement be issued expressing concern over the violation of our airspace. However, despite his best efforts, he was not given an appointment for nearly three weeks. He was then politely told that it was a bilateral issue between Sri Lanka and India, and as such, there was no desire on West Germany’s part to get involved!

The immediate response in Pakistan was solely due to the far-sighted foreign policy pursued under Mrs Bandranaike whilst in West Germany, the realities of realpolitik and trade superseded all other concerns. In neither instance was my father able to influence the decision.

In terms of developing economic relations, I believe our foreign missions do not play any meaningful role. For example, in the hotel industry that I worked for over a decade, tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka were solely due to the efforts of the private companies and their partners in overseas countries. The only time our ambassadors got involved was when invited to light the traditional oil lamp at the Sri Lankan pavilion at an international travel fair! Many would argue that even the Tourist Board and the Ministry of Tourism have hardly contributed.

In a similar vein, I am sure those engaged in exporting garments, tea, spices, and various other products and services would say the same. Their efforts and business contacts have enabled such exports, and that our resident missions have hardly played any role.

In the schedule included in this article, I have listed the countries where we have established resident missions. The number is 54 (information taken from the foreign ministry website). I have also indicated in the same schedule which of those countries have reciprocated by establishing resident missions in Colombo.





Another critical aspect of this debate is that successive governments have appointed people outside the foreign service as ambassadors and high commissioners since independence. These appointments are invariably granted as “santhosams” to their political supporters and since the 1980’s to a few retired service commanders. Thus, they are correctly referred to as “political appointments.” But, unfortunately, many of them are totally unsuitable and poorly trained in the art of diplomacy. Unfortunately, all governments have conveniently overlooked this lacuna. As a result, the poor taxpayers and career diplomats trained in the art of diplomacy have suffered.

In this regard, even Mrs Bandaranaike, who my father and other foreign service officials at the time considered to be the best Foreign Minister, erred. This is despite her government in 1970 appointing the first batch of career diplomats as Ambassadors.

I remember the background of those appointed as ambassadors to Russia and Pakistan, where my father was posted. One gentleman was a person who had appeared for Mrs Bandaranaike in a court case involving, I believe, a land dispute, whilst the other was a very young businessman who no doubt had supported the party financially. Both the gentlemen, as I remember, were “nice” people and sensible enough to let the career diplomats manage the challenges of running the embassy. However, I would contend that they and many other political appointees have had a pleasurable “holiday” at the expense of the taxpayers of Sri Lanka. There have been, of course, exceptions like Shirley Amerasinghe, Neville Kanakaratne and may be of recent vintage Dayan Jayatillake and S. Skandakumar.

The reason why I highlighted the news item of Milinda Moragoda (MM) assuming duties in New Delhi is only because, since January 2020, our High Commission in India has functioned without a High Commissioner. This is despite the parliamentary committee of high posts in August 2020 approving MM’s appointment. The reasons for the lengthy delay in traveling to New Delhi is not in the public domain.

When carrying out the review, it is necessary to determine how the Sri Lanka High Commission in India functioned without a High Commissioner for well over 18 months. It is acknowledged that India is the single most important overseas mission for Sri Lanka. Therefore, the question to be answered is whether relations between Sri Lanka and India were negatively impacted in the absence of a High Commissioner for 18 months?

I was astonished that Singapore does not have an embassy in Colombo despite the two countries’ close relations. A review of the Singapore foreign ministry website indicates that the Ambassador appointed to Sri Lanka is based in the Foreign Ministry in Singapore. The schedule given in the article shows the number of Embassies and High Commissions that Singapore has worldwide against what Sri Lanka has. It is evident that the visionary leaders of Singapore have once again made a dispassionate decision about establishing overseas missions based on commonsense, prudence and need.

*includes consulates in Oman and Bangladesh

There is precedence for countries closing down overseas resident missions due to financial constraints. For example, the Sri Lanka foreign ministry progress report for 2018 states that Nigeria closed down its embassy in Colombo in 2017 due to financial hardship. Need we say more?

Taking all I have highlighted and applying the expenditure criteria of “Absolutely Necessary”, I believe that GOSL can quickly close down many (over 50 per cent) of our overseas missions without any negative impact on our relations with those countries.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Have Humanities and Social Sciences muddied water enough?



By Maduranga Kalugampitiya

The domain of the humanities and social sciences is under attack more than ever before. The relevance, as well as usefulness of the degrees earned in those fields, is being questioned left, right, and centre. The question of whether it is meaningful at all to be spending, if not wasting, the limited financial resources available in the coffers to produce graduates in those fields is raised constantly, at multiple levels. Attempts are being made to introduce a little bit of soft skills into the curricula in order to add ‘value’ to the degree programmes in the field. The assumption here is that either such degree programmes do not impart any skills or the skills that they impart are of no value. We often see this widely-shared profoundly negative attitude towards the humanities and the social sciences (more towards the former than towards the latter) being projected on the practitioners (students, teachers, and researchers) in those areas. At a top-level meeting, which was held one to two years ago, with the participation of policy-makers in higher education and academics and educationists representing the humanities and social sciences departments, at state universities, a key figure in the higher education establishment claimed that the students who come to the humanities and social sciences faculties were ‘late-developers’. What better (or should I say worse?) indication of the official attitude towards those of us in the humanities and the social sciences!

While acknowledging that many of the key factors that have resulted in downgrading the humanities and social sciences disciplines are global by nature and are very much part of the neoliberal world order, which dominates the day, I wish to ask if we, the practitioners in the said fields, have done our part to counter the attack.

What the humanities and the social sciences engage with is essentially and self-consciously social. What these disciplines have to say has a direct bearing on the social dimension of human existence. It is near impossible to discuss phenomena in economics, political science, or sociology without having to reflect upon and use examples from what happens in our lives and around us. One cannot even begin to talk about teaching English as a second language without taking a look at her/his own experience learning English and the struggles that many people go through at different levels doing the same. One cannot talk about successful ways of teaching foreign languages without recognizing the need to incorporate an engagement with the cultural life of those languages at some level. No reading of an artwork—be it a novel, a movie, a painting, a sculpture, a poem, whatever—is possible without the reader at least subconsciously reflecting upon the broader context in which those artworks are set and also relating her own context or experience to what is being read. A legal scholar cannot read a legislation without paying attention to the social implications of the legislation and the dynamics of the community at whom that legislation is directed. The point is our own existence as social beings is right in the middle of what we engage with in such disciplines. To steal (and do so self-consciously) a term from the hard/natural sciences, society is essentially the ‘laboratory’ in which those in the humanities and social sciences conduct their work. There may be some areas of study within the humanities and social sciences which do not require an explicit engagement with our social existence, but I would say that such areas, if any, are limited in number.

Needless to say that every social intervention is political in nature. It involves unsettling what appears to be normal about our social existence in some way. One cannot make interventions that have a lasting impact without muddying the water which we have been made to believe is clear. How much of muddying do we as practitioners in the field of humanities and social sciences do is a question that needs to be asked.

Unfortunately, we do not see much work in the humanities and social sciences which unsettles the dominant order. What we often see is work that reinforces and reaffirms the dominant structures, systems, and lines of thought. Lack of rigorous academic training and exposure to critical theory is clearly one of the factors which prevents some scholars in the field from being able to make interventions that are capable of muddying the water, but the fact that we sometimes do not see much muddying even on the part of the more adept scholars shows that lack of rigorous training is not the sole reason.

Muddying the water is no simple matter. To use a problematic, yet in my view useful, analogy, a scholar in the said field trying to make an intervention that results in unsettling the order is like a hydrogen atom in H2O, ‘water’ in layperson’s language, trying to make an intervention which results in a re-evaluation of the oxygen atom. Such an intervention invariably entails a re-evaluation of the hydrogen atom as well, for the reason that the two atoms are part of an organic whole. One cannot be purely objective in its reading of the other. Such an intervention is bound to be as unsettling for the hydrogen atom as it is for the oxygen atom. Similarly, in a majority of contexts, a scholar in the area of the humanities and social sciences cannot make an intervention, the kind that pushes the boundaries of knowledge, without unsettling the dominant structures and value systems, which they themselves are part of, live by, and also benefit from. For instance, the norms, values, and practices which define the idea of marriage in contexts like ours are things that a male scholar would have to deal with as a member of our society, and any intervention on his part which raises questions about gender-based inequalities embodied in such norms, values, and practices would be to question his own privilege. Needless to say that such an intervention could result in an existential crisis for the scholar, at least temporarily. Such interventions also entail the possibility of backlash from society. One needs thorough training to withstand that pressure.

In place of interventions that unsettle the existing order, what we often see is work, which re-presents commonsensical knowledge garbed in jargon. To give an example from an area that I am a bit familiar with, much of the work that takes place in the field of English as a Second Language (ESL) identifies lack of motivation on the part of the students and also teachers and also lack of proper training for teachers as the primary reasons for the plight of English education in the country. This reading is not very different from a layperson’s understanding of the problem, and what we often see as research findings in the field of ESL is the same understanding, albeit dressed up in technical-sounding language. Such readings do not unsettle the existing order. They put the blame on the powerless. Very limited is the work that sees the present plight of English education as a systemic or structural problem. Reading that plight as a systemic problem requires us to re-evaluate the fundamental structures which govern our society, and such re-evaluation is unsettling is many ways. I argue that that is what is expected of scholarship in the ESL field, but unfortunately that is not what we see as coming out of the field.

If what gets produced as knowledge in the humanities and social sciences is jargonized commonsense, then the claim that such fields have nothing important to say is valid. If what a scholar in those fields has to say is not different to a layperson’s understanding of a given reality, the question whether there is any point in producing such scholars becomes valid.

In my view, the humanities and social sciences are in need of fundamental restructuring. This restructuring is not the kind which calls for the incorporation of a bit of soft skills here and a bit of soft skills there so that those who come out of those fields easily fit into predefined slots in society but the kind that results in the enhancement of the critical thinking capacity of the scholars. It is the kind of restructuring that would produce scholars who are capable of engaging in a political reading of the realities that define our existence in society and raise difficult questions about such existence, in other words, scholars who are capable of muddying the water.

(Maduranga Kalugampitiya is attached to Department of English, University of Peradeniya)

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall thatparodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.

Continue Reading


Selective targeting not law’s purpose



By Jehan Perera

The re-emergence of Donald Trump in the United States is a reminder that change is not permanent. Former President Trump is currently utilising the grievances of the white population in the United States with regard to the economic difficulties that many of them face to make the case that they need to be united to maintain their position in society. He is coming forward as their champion. The saying “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” is often attributed to the founders of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Abraham Lincoln, among many others, though Lord Denning in The Road to Justice (1988) stated that the phrase originated in a statement of Irish orator John Philpot Curran in 1790. The phrase is often used to emphasise the importance of being vigilant in protecting one’s rights and freedoms.

Ethnic and religious identity are two powerful concepts by which people may be mobilised the world over. This is a phenomenon that seemed to have subsided in Western Europe due to centuries of secular practices in which the state was made secular and neutral between ethnicities and religions. For a short while last year during the Aragalaya, it seemed that Sri Lanka was transcending its ethnic and religious cleavages in the face of the unexpected economic calamity that plunged large sections of the population back into poverty. There was unprecedented unity especially at the street level to demonstrate publicly that the government that had brought the country to this sorry pass had to go. The mighty force of people’s power succeeded in driving the leaders of that government out of power. Hopefully, there will be a government in the future that will bring the unity and mutual respect within the people, especially the younger generations, to the fore and the sooner the better as the price is growing higher by the day.

But like the irrepressible Donald Trump the old order is fighting to stage its comeback. The rhetoric of ethnicity and religion being in danger is surfacing once more. President Ranil Wickremesinghe who proclaimed late last year that the 13th Amendment to the constitution would be implemented in full, as it was meant to be, and enable the devolution of power to be enjoyed by the people of the provinces, including those dominated by Tamils and Muslims, has gone silent on this promise. The old order to which he is providing a new economic vision is clearly recalcitrant on ethno-religious matters. As a result, the government’s bold plan to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as promised to the international community in 2015 to address the unresolved human rights issues of the war, is reportedly on the rocks. The main Tamil political parties have made statements that they will not legitimise or accept such a mechanism in the absence of a genuine devolution of power. Politics must not override policies.


The sense of threat to ethnicity and religion looms too large once again for forward movement in conflict resolution between the different communities that constitute the Sri Lankan nation which is diverse and plural. Two unlikely persons now find themselves at the centre of an emotion-heavy ethno-religious storm. One is a comedian, the other is a religious preacher. Both of them have offended the religious sensibilities of many in the ethno-religious Sinhala Buddhist majority community. Both of their statements were originally made to small audiences of their own persuasion, but were then projected through social media to reach much larger audiences. The question is whether they made these statements to rouse religious hatred and violence. There have been numerous statements from all sides of the divide, whether ethnic, religious or political, denouncing them for their utterances.

Both comedian Nathasha Edirisooriya and pastor Jerome Fernando have apologised for offending and hurting the religious sentiments of the Buddhist population. They made an attempt to remedy the situation when they realised the hurt, the anger and the opposition they had generated. This is not the first time that such hurtful and offensive comments have been made by members of one ethno-religious community against members of another ethnic-religious community. Taking advantage of this fact the government is arguing the case for the control of social media and also the mainstream media. It is preparing to bring forward legislation for a Broadcasting Regulatory Commission that would also pave the way to imprison journalists for their reporting, impose fines, and also revoke the licences issued to electronic media institutions if they impact negatively on national security, national economy, and public order or create any conflict among races and religions.

In a free society, opportunities are provided for people to be able to air their thoughts and dissents openly, be it at Hyde Park or through their representatives in Parliament. The threat to freedom of speech and to the media that can arise from this new law can be seen in the way that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which is the world’s standard bearer on civil and political rights has been used and is being abused in Sri Lanka. It was incorporated into Sri Lankan law in a manner that has permitted successive governments to misuse it. It is very likely that the Broadcast Regulatory Commission bill will yield a similar result if passed into law. The arrest and detention of comedian Natasha Edirisooriya under the ICCPR Act has become yet another unfortunate example of the misuse of a law meant to protect human rights by the government. Pastor Jerome Fernando is out of prison as he is currently abroad having left the country a short while before a travel ban was delivered to him.


The state media reported that a “Police officer said that since there is information that she was a person who was in the Aragalaya protest, they are looking into the matter with special attention.” This gives rise to the inference that the reason for her arrest was politically motivated. Comedian Edirisooriya was accused of having violated the provisions in the ICCPR in Section 3(1) that forbids hate speech. Section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act prohibits advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, violence or hostility. The international human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, has pointed out that in the case of Edirisooriya that for speech to be illegal on the grounds of being hate speech it requires “a clear showing of intent to incite others to discriminate, be hostile towards or commit violence against the group in question.” Amnesty International also notes that “When the expression fails to meet the test, even if it is shocking, offensive or disturbing, it should be protected by the state.”

Ironically, in the past there have been many instances of ethnic and religious minorities being targeted in a hateful manner that even led to riots against them, but successive governments have been inactive in protecting them or arresting their persecutors. Such targeting has taken place, often for political purposes in the context of elections, in blatant bids to mobilise sections of the population through appeals to narrow nationalism and fear of the other. The country’s political and governmental leaders need to desist from utilising the ICCPR Act against those who make social and political critiques that are outside the domain of hate speech. The arrest of Bruno Divakara, the owner of SL-Vlogs, under the ICCPR Act is an indication of this larger and more concerning phenomenon which is being brought to the fore by the Broadcasting Regulatory Commission bill.

The crackdown on the space for free expression and critical comment is unacceptable in a democratic polity, especially one as troubled as Sri Lanka, in which the economy has collapsed and caused much suffering to the people and the call to hold elections has been growing. The intervention of the Human Rights Commission which has called on the Inspector General of Police to submit a report on the arrest and its rationale is a hopeful sign that the independence of institutions intended to provide a check and balance will finally prevail. The Sri Lankan state will hopefully evolve to be a neutral arbiter in the disputes between competing ethnic, religious and partisan political visions of what the state should be and what constitutes acceptable behaviour within it. Taking on undemocratic powers in a variety of ways and within a short space of time is unlikely to deliver economic resurgence and a stable and democratic governance the country longs for. Without freedom, justice and fair play within, there can be no hope of economic development that President Wickremesinghe would be wanting to see.

Continue Reading


Girl power… to light up our scene



Manthra: Pop, rock and Sinhala songs

We have never had any outstanding all-girl bands, in the local scene, except, perhaps…yes The Planets, and that was decades ago!

The Planets did make a name for themselves, and they did create quite a lot of excitement, when they went into action.

Of course, abroad, we had several top all-girl bands – outfits like the Spice Girls, Bangles, Destiny’s Child, and The Supremes.

It’s happening even now, in the K-pop scene.

Let’s hope we would have something to shout about…with the band Manthra – an all-girl outfit that came together last year (2022).

Manthra is made up of Hiruni Fernando (leader/bass guitar), Gayathma Liyanage (lead guitar), Amaya Jayarathne (drums), Imeshini Piyumika (keyboards), and Arundathi Hewawitharana (vocals).

Amaya Arundathi and Imeshini are studying at the University of Visual and Performing Arts, while Gayathma is studying Architecture at NIMB, and Hiruni is the Western Music teacher at St. Lawrence’s Convent, and the pianist at Galadari Hotel, having studied piano and classical guitar at West London University.

They have already displayed their talents at various venues, events, weddings, and on TV, as well (Vanithabimana Sirasa TV and Charna TV Art Beat).

Additionally, the band showcased their talent at the talent show held at the Esoft Metro Campus.

The plus factor, where this all-girl outfit is concerned, is that their repertoire is made up rock, pop, and Sinhala songs.

Explaining as to how they came up with the name Manthra, founder member Hiruni said that Manthra means a word, or sound, repeated to aid concentration in meditation, and that the name was suggested by one of the band members.

Hiruni Fernando: Founder and leader of Manthra

She also went on to say that putting together a female band is not an easy task, in the scene here.

“We faced many difficulties in finding members. Some joined and then left, after a short while. Unlike a male band, where there are many male musicians in Sri Lanka, there are only a few female musicians. And then, there are some parents who don’t like their daughters getting involved in music.”

With talented musicians in their line-up, the future certainly looks bright for Manthra who are now keen to project themselves, in an awesome way, in the scene here, and abroad, as well.

“We are keen to do stage shows and we are also planning to create our own songs,” said Hiruni.

Yes, we need an all-girl group to add variety to our scene that is now turning out to be a kind of ‘repeating groove,’ where we see, and hear, almost the same thing…over and over again!

Continue Reading