You are currently browsing the daily archive for December 3, 2012. publishing what might have been a speech by me last week, you had an introduction from a recent article in ‘Ceylon Today’. My attention had been drawn to a Sinhala version of this in ‘Mawbima’, and I had written the attached letter to Hon S B Dissanayake, Minister of Higher Education, with regard to one item in the article. I hope you can publish this letter in full to make the position clear, if possible with this covering letter.

I would be sorry if propagation of what appears in ‘Mawbima’ or ‘Ceylon Today’ seems to contradict my appreciation of Minister Dissanayake and what he is trying to do. I should add that, while the President does not mince his words, he has never made any criticism of Minister Dissanayake or suggested it when we have spoken about Education.

My appreciation of the Minister’s commitment and perceptiveness goes back to 2002, when I accompanied a former IMF Consultant who had innovative ideas about education and training to meet several Ministers. Minister Dissanayake, unlike most of his colleagues, understood the proposed interventions and the urgent need for reform. Sadly that initiative got nowhere, but when he was appointed Minister of Higher Education I recalled that conversation, and was most optimistic. This was justified by his plans but sadly delays elsewhere caused problems.

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I had been asked to speak on the votes of the Ministry of External Affairs during the Committee Stage of the Budget Debate, but was subsequently told that there was no time for this.  Since I had prepared a text, which I felt discussed urgent issues in the current context, I thought it would be useful to make this available instead of forgetting about the points raised. the current context, Mr Speaker, it is an urgent necessity to register the importance of budgetary provision for our Ministry of External Affairs, and I am honoured to have been asked to speak on this subject. I should add that I am surprised that the opposition has not taken the opportunity of proposing an amendment to increase the amount we should be spending. The General Secretary of the main opposition party noted recently that the failure of the government to rebut formally many allegations made against this country, as well as against the UN officials who helped the Sri Lankan people while we were struggling against terrorism. While his criticism was misplaced, he certainly had a point in that we should be doing better in presenting internationally the actual situation in this country. But instead of engaging in blind condemnation he should help, as some members of his party have done, in subscribing to the excellent memorandum prepared by young Members of Parliament of all parties, to develop a more constructive policy.

The key to such a policy, Mr Speaker, is training, as the President made clear in many parts of his budget presentation. Though specific mention was not made of the need for better training within the Ministry of External Affairs, we must realize the importance of developing coherent policies and youngsters able not only to implement them, but also to explain them. As it is, we seem to be torn between conflicting predilections, as was graphically illustrated when the most successful diplomat of recent years, Dr Dayan Jayatilleka, was attacked in the media after the debacle in Geneva in March this year. The claim then was that the conservative elements in the Ministry of External Affairs were now able to reassert themselves, and carry out the policies of President J R Jayewardene, as against the traditional policies of the party of the current popularly elected President of the country.

What is that traditional policy, and how do we make it clear, not only to the world, but also to officials of the Ministry who are still stuck in the mindset of 1987, that this is what must be promoted? At a recent seminar on Indo-Sri Lankan relations, for which the Adviser to the President on the subject had nominated me, we were reminded by a distinguished Indian scholar of how some Sri Lankans were still obsessed by resentments against India born of the events of 1987, just as there had been Indian bureaucrats obsessed by resentments against China because of the events of 1982. Thus, after the debacle in Geneva, we had attacks on India, with those elements in the Ministry of External Affairs who still hanker after the antics of the eighties trying to prejudice the country against India.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

December 2012
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