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Saroja Sirisena, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in the UK

In the United Kingdom, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner Saroja Sirisena has won the coveted ‘The Diplomat of the Year from Asia & Oceania Award’ at the annual awards ceremony of the prestigious foreign affairs magazine–The Diplomat.

The award recognises “outstanding work and achievements of London’s diplomatic community who are trying to better their nation’s well-being.” The Diplomat’s Editor Venetia de Bloq van Kuffeler said a posting in London remains one of the highlights of any diplomat’s career.

Ms. Sirisena has served with distinction as the Sri Lankan Ambassador to Austria with concurrent accreditation to the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and international organisations in Vienna as well.

Buddha shrine at Katchatheevu: Controversy resolved amicably

Following the annual St. Anthony’s Feast at Katchatheevu islet last month, a controversy erupted with regard to a mini Buddhist shrine that consists of a statue of Lord Buddha.

The Navy was quick to clarify that the shrine was a temporary measure and it was meant to be used by Navy personnel who are stationed on the uninhabited islet in the North. It also denied claims of plans to build any permanent structures on the islet.

Soon after the controversy, the Jaffna Diocese wrote to the Navy on March 27 requesting to ensure the traditional heritage of the islet.

Meanwhile, Indian politicians, particularly those in Southern India, took the matter to a different level suggesting that the Sri Lanka Navy was planning to build a permanent Buddhist shrine.

This week, Jaffna Diocese Vicar General Rev. Fr. P. Josephdas Jebaratnam wrote to the Jaffna District Secretary to notify that the Diocese had been informed by the Navy that the statue had been removed from the islet. He also thanked the relevant authorities for taking
swift action.

Treasury quick to hail approval of IMF programme

Hours after Parliament’s vote on the much talked about Sri Lanka’s International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme, which was passed by a majority of 95 votes on Friday, with 120 votes in favour and 25 voting against, the Treasury took the opportunity to send a message to its creditors and those involved in the debt restructuring mechanism.  

“Today, the Sri Lankan Parliament voted to approve the four-year IMF programme. The Government is grateful to have received support from across the political spectrum. This programme is critical for Sri Lanka’s recovery, and today’s vote marks an important milestone in our efforts to stabilise the economy, restore debt sustainability and build an inclusive and prosperous Sri Lanka. Close cooperation, transparency, impartiality, and ambitious reforms have gotten us this far,” a statement issued from the Treasury said.

While stressing Sri Lanka still has a long way to go, but is on the right path, the Treasury said “the Government is fully committed to good faith and transparent discussions with our official and commercial creditors. We hope to reach debt treatment agreements as soon as possible to set Sri Lanka on a sustainable growth trajectory.”

EC issues new order on local polls

To ensure a free and fair local council election, the Election Commission (EC) had earlier issued instructions to give temporary transfers to public officers who are directly or indirectly involved in polling activities if they are close relatives of candidates contesting the upcoming polls.

However, with the polls now indefinitely postponed, and considering the severe inconveniences suffered by these officers, the EC has instructed these transfers be cancelled and the officers allowed to report back to the same workplaces they served in before.

Meanwhile, the EC has also recommended the basic salaries of public officers who are contesting the local council polls be paid. The officers had been forced to go on no-pay leave as the polls have not been called off.

Russia defends Fleet Admiral Karannagoda in row with US

Following the Foreign Ministry’s rebuttal on the decision by the United States to designate Fleet Admiral–North Western Province Governor Wasantha Karannagoda–on Wednesday, only one country came forward in solidarity with Sri Lanka–Russia.

Admiral Karannagoda himself was dismissive of the US allegations against him saying “I have not applied for a visa to the USA and I do not know why this was done after 14 years of my leaving the Navy. I am wondering what the motive is.”

He said he was not told the reason and had only seen the US State Department announcement on the issue.

In this AFP file photo taken on June 02, 2006 Sri Lankan Navy Commander Wasantha Karannagoda (L) and visiting British Royal Navy Admiral and fleet Commander-in-chief Jonathon Band (R) pose for pictures at the Sri Lanka Navy Headquarters in Colombo. (Photo by Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP)

At a media briefing, Russian Ambassador Levan Dzhagaryan criticised the decision saying the US has no moral authority to lecture Sri Lanka on human rights or alleged war crimes.

“You write about relations with the United States. Their main aim is the destabilisation of the situations in the world, and they interfere in the domestic affairs of many countries, not only in Russia,” he was quoted as saying at the media briefing.

The Russian Ambassador also spoke in detail about the current status of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Documentary footage of Nazi crimes in the Donbas region was also screened at the briefing.    Coming out of the media briefing, one fellow journalist was heard saying to his colleague that he was relieved the matter of “Tucker Carlson being fired from Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News” was not raised at the media conference, referring to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s recent remarks on the firing of the right-wing news anchor.

Website in the wilderness

The ongoing economic crisis is posing a significant threat to the already dysfunctional government bureaucracy and the quality of service given to the people these days.

One example is a submission from the Wildlife and Forest Resources Conservation Ministry with regard to a report filed by the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) recently.

Earlier, COPA’s report raised a concern there is no opportunity for the people to make complaints or compliments to the Forest Conservation Department, through a website of its own.

In its response filed this week in Parliament, the Ministry under whose purview the department comes, said a Term of Reference (ToR) for a website was called last year but “due to the economic crisis, money allocated for this purpose was taken back during the second quarter of 2022 to control government expenses. As a result, the process of developing a website was abandoned.”

According to the written submission, a website was created in 2018 to provide general information, data, maps, and information related to biodiversity and eco-tourism for people, but it was revealed later that the website was not user-friendly and due to poor maintenance it was not up to the standard.    The department also indicated a request was made again for allocations this year as well but it was not successful.

“However, as this is an essential task, an attempt is being made to get an allocation,” the department said.

Pirith chanting ceremony: Ministry secretary forced to make U-turn

A key ministry secretary has been forced to make an embarrassing U-turn, following protests over his attempt to hold an all-night pirith chanting ceremony using funds obtained through collections made from staff.

A letter had been issued earlier this month notifying staff, that the Ministry had organised an all-night pirith chanting ceremony in early June to “invoke blessings on the President, the Government, all public officers, citizens and the country.”

It noted the ceremony would be organised using funds belonging to institutions coming under the Ministry. The letter said staff members were expected to contribute to this meritorious act.

Accordingly, Rs. 5000 were expected from Special Grade Executive Officers, Rs. 2500 from Grade 1 Executive Officers and Rs. 1000 from all other Executive Grade officers. Other officers were expected to voluntarily contribute a minimum of Rs. 100, the letter noted.

The letter soon leaked on social media, prompting an intense backlash. It was learned that staff members at the ministry too had vehemently protested the move.

The ministry secretary has now issued another letter cancelling the earlier letter.

A senior public officer described it as “another victory for social media.”

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