The folllowing answers were given in an interview with regard to the cancellation of the MOU between the Trincomalee Urban Council and the American Embassy to set up an American Cornet in the UC premises. Unfortunately it was not used, but since the issue needs further exposition, the questions and answers are reproduced here.

1. Do you think the interference of the ministry is warranted?

The Ministry should certainly have an overview of the activities of foreign missions in Sri Lanka. The word interference creates the wrong impression, since the principle should be institutionalized and, if activities occur without the Ministry being informed, then remedial action is necessary. Whether this should have led to the suspension of the MOU is another question, but sadly the Ministry, here as elsewhere, is simply reacting to a situation without understanding and establishing the principles that should govern such situations.

2. What do you think is the motivation for the MoU for Trinco being suspended, given the embassy has already established two centres both in Jaffna and Kandy?

I don’t think you need assume any special motive for the Ministry acting inconsistently.

3.It has been mentioned that the two centres mentioned above are also to be scrutinised, is this scrutiny justified over something that is not written in the constitution? Or do you think it is an obligation for the ministry of external affairs to have been informed?

I am not sure what scrutiny means. Given that I believe there is an obligation for the American Embassy to have informed the Ministry of External Affairs about its activities, the best remedy would have been to call the Ambassador in and explain the situation to her. But the Ministry does not know how to deal with the Americans, which is why it goes round and round without addressing issues direct.

4. What does this move suggest (in your opinion) about our current national foreign policy and international relations?

I have long argued that we have no national foreign policy, and that is why our international relations are floundering. But this is not entirely new. A similar thing happened some years back. The mess I found when I became Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, and had to deal with aid agencies doing whatever they wanted is another story, which needs to be told in some detail. But to sum up, after I had had to insist on certain principles, which the Foreign Ministry had forgotten, the Head of UNOCHA told me that I had won. But I had to tell her that nothing of the sort had happened. I had got agreement from the UN that they were obliged to work under their own Charter, and under the Paris Principles, under which the recipient government should make final decisions about aid. But she knew that the UN and aid agencies would continue to do what they wanted. I should add that, in the case of UNDP at least, this is generally very positive, but governmental incompetence means that the coordination desirable if their assistance is to have maximum impact is lacking.

5. You are one of the first Sri Lankan writers to have had their works translated into a European language, and you are on the editorial board of the Journal of Commonwealth literature. As a cultural literary figure then, do you think the centre could have benefited the educational development of the youth in Trincomalee?

I think the Centre is a very good idea indeed, and such activities should be encouraged. I tried to increase the number of such centres through a project of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, but I got little official assistance, though I should note that both the Ministry officials who I worked with, and the University of Moratuwa which I asked to design a prototype, were very helpful.

The problem is that the formal requests that needed to be made, and the assurance of material support that the government should provide (space which can be found in schools, not necessarily in local government buildings), could not be formalized, because we do not have effective systems of coordination, and therefore most decision makers are lacking in  imagination or initiative. We should not then penalize either the Americans or Trincomalee for taking imaginative initiatives, but should establish clear guidelines for how these should be implemented – and also try to develop more people with the intelligence and social skills required to ensure that foreign agencies work according to the laws and the norms we must establish.

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