This week the main stream news papers, the websites and the tabloids were full of news of the new Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayaka. One was related to the ongoing investigation of the infamous Bond Scam while other was on the three Cabinet Papers present by Karunanayaka which were turned down by the Cabinet of Ministers this week.
Media reported that Karunanayaka presented three Cabinet Papers on appointing a Chief of Staff, Visumpaya to be designated as his official residence and handing over the pilgrims rest run by the Sri Lanka High Commission in New Delhi to the Mahabodi Society.
According to the news papers and the inquiries made by Lanka News Web when the Cabinet Paper was presented to appoint a Chief of Staff for the exorbitant salary of two and a half lakhs a month it was former Foreign Minister and current Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera who set the ball rolling by objecting on the grounds that only the President and the Prime Minister can appoint a Chief of Staff. If Karunanayaka has done his home work and come for the meeting he could have exposed the shameless duplicity of Samaraweera.
For decades an officer from the Sri Lanka Foreign Service has always been attached to the Minister’s (and also the Deputy Minister’s) Office to ensure that there is no breakdown in communication between the Ministry and the Minister’s Office, which is mainly manned by the Minister’s personal Staff. The designation is Director (or Deputy Director or Assistant Director depending on the seniority of the attached officer) of the Minister’s Office (later called Minister’s Bureau). When Samaraweera became the Foreign Minister in Yahapalana government Foreign Service officer Ransiri Perera was attached to Samaraweera’s office as Acting Director of the Minister’s Bureau.
It is no secret that Samaraweera used to waste lot of money and accord a red carpet welcome at the Ministry premises to any visiting Foreign Minister, Deputy Foreign Ministers and officials completed with traditional drumming, dancing and bare bodied men in ancient warrior costumes carrying spears giving a guard of honour. All could see that he was under the illusion that he was on par with the Prime Minister and President. People are yet to see Prime Minister Wickramasinghe according a red carpet tamasha completed with a guard of honour to visiting dignitaries at Temple Trees. Samaraweera did not stop at that. He was keen to have a Chief of Staff for himself at the Ministry on par with the President and Prime Minister. He wanted Ransiri Perera to be appointed as his Chief of Staff. This was totally against the accepted traditions and there was no previous example in any Ministry. That time Foreign Secretary Chitranganee Wagiswara wasted no time in appointing Perera as Chief of Staff of Samaraweera without any approval from the Public Service Commission, Ministry of Public Administration or the Cabinet. Perera accompanied Samaraweera on official tours as Chief of Staff and even press releases by the Ministry and the Ministry website articles carries this title.
Even the Ministry internal telephone directory issued in August 2016 has listed Ransisri Perera as Chief of Staff in the Hon. Ministers Bureau.
It is surprising that Samaraweera had this outburst in the Cabinet Meeting conveniently forgetting that he has set the rot.
Another Cabinet paper that was turned down was the request by Karunanayaka to make Visumpaya his official residence. During the time of Lakshman Kadirgamar he had an official residence at Wijerama Mawatha. After his assassination his widow was allowed to continue to live there for some time and new Foreign Minister Anura Bandaranayaka operated from Visumpaya. When Mangala Samaraweera was appointed a new official residence for the Foreign Minister was designated off Bauddhaloka Mawatha. Samaraweer did not spare any government money in renovating the sprawling residence. He got a swimming pool constructed and even had a lift placed so his ailing mother who found it difficult to climb the stairs could go upstairs in the lift. Samaraweera was roundly criticized for his extravagance. He made a public pronouncement that he is not going to take the swimming pool or the lift with him when he is leaving. Answering questions on the lift Samaraweera in 20015 told the media "It’s wasn’t put there only for mother... it’s for my mother and all other mothers after mine." and went on to say “it seems like the government will go on for another forty years, I may use it when I grow old."
After Samaraweera was unceremoniously removed from his Cabinet portfolios by Mahinda Rajapaksa the successive Foreign Ministers Rohitha Bogollagama and G.L. Peiris used this house as their official residence. When Yahapalana government came to power G.L.Peiris who was actally not occupying it but using it only for official functions wasted no time in handing over the residence and Samaraweera went into immediate occupation. But when Ravi Karunanayaka was appointed the new Foreign Minister the problem of Foreign Minister's official residence became an issue as Karunanayak to his credit was not occupying an official house as the Finance Minister. With Samaraweera refusing to budge from the official residence Karunanayaka who as the Foreign Minister has to meet many dignitaries had no option but to request for a suitable official residence. Had Samarweera gracefully left the official bungalow Karunanayaka would not have become an IDP within the Cabinet. Today Foreign Minister Karunanayaka is deprived of his official residence and Samaraweera being thick-skinned continues to be oblivious to it.
For Samareweear to pick up cudgels against Karunanayaka at the Cabinet Meeting when he himself has contributed to the issues shows his shameless duplicity. True Samaraweera was there when Karunanayaka assumed office as the Foreign Minister and gave the latter a famous kiss in front of the media. But Karunanayaka should take stock of the situation and ask Samaraweera ‘ Et tu Mangala?’.