Lanka bans meetings with Afghanistan’s Taliban

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The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued instructions to all Heads of Mission/Posts instructing them to refrain from accommodating engagements with representatives of the Taliban administration in their host country/countries of accreditation.

Vice Admiral Colombage with the Taliban representatives

In case any inevitable necessity arises for such engagements, the Heads of Mission/Posts have been asked to obtain mandatory Ministry concurrence.

The instructions from the Foreign Ministry note that Sri Lanka has not been in contact with the current Taliban administration which is known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA).

Further, the UN is yet to recognise the Taliban administration as the legitimate representation of Afghanistan at the UN, while the SAARC Secretariat has also not invited the current Taliban administration to the resumed policy and technical level meetings of SAARC, the Foreign Ministry points out.

The Ministry’s instructions come after an embarrassing gaffe by Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Indonesia, Vice Admiral (Retd) Jayanath Colombage, who was photographed last month meeting with two Taliban representatives in Jakarta. The image was captured at Sri Lanka’s Embassy in Jakarta. Admiral Colombage stood with his country’s flag behind him.

Admiral Colombage had not sought or secured clearance from Colombo to meet with the Afghan delegation.


Alleged sexual harassment of females at Parliament’s Catering and Housekeeping section; official suspended

A senior official of the Parliament’s Department of Catering and Housekeeping has been suspended following an internal inquiry into alleged sexual harassment of some female staff members of the Department.

The move to suspend the official comes after an initial probe by a three-member committee appointed by Parliament Secretary-General Kushani Rohanadheera.

Evidence has been given to this committee by several female staff members who had been subjected to sexual harassment.

Raising the issue about the reports of sexual harassment of the female staff of the Catering and Housekeeping Department, Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Parliamentarian Rohini Kumari Wijerathna alleged in Parliament on Tuesday that some officials had even tried to get the victims to sign statements retracting their allegations.

Study tour of Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus to New Zealand: Secretary-General says no Govt. funds were used; double talk by Pavithra

Soon after questions were raised on funding for the recent ‘study tour’ of the Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus to New Zealand, the Parliament Secretary-General had to issue a clarification that no government funds were used for the visit.

The Secretary-General, who was also included in the tour, pointed out that “this study visit was organised with the support of development partners without using government funds for about two and a half years.”

According to a statement issued by the Parliament, the study tour was fully sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and organised by the National Democratic Institute (NDI). The aim of the tour was to empower women’s leadership in Sri Lankan politics, secure gender equality and strengthen the actions taken by the Forum of Women Parliamentarians for the advancement of Sri Lankan women.

Sudarshini Fernandopulle, Seetha Arambepola, Rohini Kumari Wijerathna, Pavithradevi Wanniarachchi, Geetha Samanmale Kumarasinghe, Thalatha Athukorala, Rajika Wickramasinghe, Manjula Dissanayake, Harini Amarasuriya, and Parliament Secretary General Kushani Rohanadeera, Administration Assistant Director Indira Dissanayake and Parliament Media Manager Nimmi Hathialdeniya were also part of this tour.

It was ironic that some Parliamentarians who were critical of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) grant from the US thought it fit to be part of a trip, funded by another USA aid programme. Some of them served in previous Cabinets as Ministers and State Ministers which decided not to go ahead with the MCC grant of US$ 480 million.

One of them was Pavithra Wanniarachchi, who convened a media briefing on August 19, 2019, and criticised the attempts by the Yahapalana government to proceed further on the grant saying US forces would be given total immunity in the country if the agreement was to be signed.

King Ravana: MPs propose international investigation

The term “international investigations” is often used in recent times in the context of wartime accountability and alleged human rights abuses that were reported to have been committed during the country’s recent past.

It seems that now it has become a catchy phrase to link to controversial matters. It was evident the House was divided when it debated on the motion brought by Parliamentarian Buddhika Pathirana to study King Ravana’s period.

Both Tamil and Sinhala MPs claimed ownership to the King with their own historical and mythological versions. A group of Tamil MPs suggested that an archaeological study, with international experts, should be carried out to ascertain the truth of whether King Ravana was a Tamil or Sinhalese king.

One MP was heard asking another in the House corridors whether this is an urgent issue the country faced as it struggles to put its house in order. The MP did not take part in the debate, but left shortly after registering his presence.


Where are the MPs going and what are they doing?

Parliamentary proceedings were interrupted repeatedly this week by Parliamentarian Wimal Weerawansa and other members of his coalition known as the ‘Uththara Lanka Sabhagaya’.

The party’s MPs repeatedly raised the issue of the lack of a quorum in the chamber as a mark of protest over their group not being given a seat at the Parliamentary Business Committee. Parliamentarian Vasudeva Nanayakkara was also leading the charge on the matter.

The quorum required to continue Parliamentary proceedings is 20 MPs. Mr. Weerawansa and his group’s MPs continued to draw attention to the lack of a quorum at various times throughout this week, forcing the Chair to keep sounding the quorum bell.

The Government was not amused. At one point, House Leader Susil Premajayantha told the House that at the next Business Committee meeting, they would move that sittings must halt for the 30 minute lunch break for MPs at 12.30 p.m. while sittings must be adjourned at 5.30 p.m.

“Otherwise, MPs will not even have time for lunch,” he said.

Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaraweera pointed out there were times when the quorum was lacking as many MPs were also sitting in at the various committee meetings going on in Parliament. He said this fact was acknowledged and accepted by both sides.

“This has now become a joke,” he said.

At one point, proceedings were interrupted twice due to lack of a quorum while State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya was on his feet.

“I don’t even remember where I stopped during this debate,” he quipped when he was finally able to continue.

Early start to Sri Lanka bashing on eve of Indian elections

With elections (both state and national) around the corner in neighbouring India, the new Opposition alliance of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), and its senior leaders, have got into the fray.

They are challenging the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) exclusive rights over political rhetoric and controversial statements on bilateral ties with India’s neighbouring nation-states.

Addressing its Parliament (Lok Sabha) on the No-Confidence motion brought by the Opposition on Thursday, Indian premier Narendra Modi blamed the Indian National Congress for the partition of India and also said it was the Indira Gandhi government which gave the Katchatheevu islet to Sri Lanka in 1974.

“Katchatheevu is an island between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. Somebody gave it to another country. It happened under the leadership of Indira Gandhi,” Premier Modi was quoted as saying by Indian media, responding to a strong-worded statement by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who described the ruling government as those who killed the soul of India and criticised the BJP government’s handling of the violence in the state of Manipur.

BJP senior leader and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who is considered the right-hand man of Premier Modi, was at Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu on July 28. He blamed the Congress and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) led alliance–the United Progressive Alliance for the alleged “genocide” of Tamils in Sri Lanka during the final phases of the armed insurrection–which India helped fan in its nasant stages.

“He (Minister Shah) said every time the DMK and the Congress went to the people for votes, people would be reminded only of the corruption during the erstwhile United Progressive Alliance rule and the genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka”, the Chennai based Indian daily The Hindu reported.

It seemed senior BJP leaders were hell-bent on all fronts to counter the recent emergence of a powerful Opposition alliance–with the clever acronym, INDIA, as Premier Modi seeked another term in next year’s elections.

Mystery over why outgoing envoy banned release of any info

An outgoing head of mission serving in the capital of a powerful East Asian nation has ordered embassy staff not to divulge any information or release restricted or confidential documents relating to his tenure at the embassy to anyone except in response to a request made by the Foreign Affairs Ministry Secretary.

The person concerned has informed staff that he has been made aware that some people are looking for such information for nefarious and illegal purposes.

It is unclear what information prompted these orders going out to embassy staff, or who might be searching for the information with “nefarious and illegal purposes.”

Presidential Secretariat letterhead misused; strict checks now

The Presidential Secretariat is to issue a circular shortly laying out strict instructions on the usage of its letterhead.

Accordingly, letterheads can be used purely for official purposes. The Secretariat is to also instruct public officials that any conflicts of interest should be avoided.

The usage of the Secretariat’s letterheads to provide character certificates and visa recommendations for conducting personal business or requesting interpersonal favours will be strictly prohibited.

The decision to issue the circular comes after the attention of the President’s office was drawn to several letters carrying its letterhead which had been issued by various officials, some of whom are not even members of the Presidential Secretariat staff.


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