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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2340

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry facilitating illegal immigration

BY Dushy Ranetunge in London

Colombo, 01 March, (Asiantribune.com):Corruption, nepotism and lack of transparency has led to the use of Sri Lanka’s Foreign Service by some as one way tickets to first world countries, causing grave embarrassment to Sri Lanka’s foreign service and contributing to the woes of genuine visa seekers who tend to be tarred with the same brush.

Many Sri Lankan staff sent from Sri Lanka as locally recruited staff to foreign postings have disappeared into the local community and simply refused to return home. In the past, Sri Lankan authorities have turned a blind eye to this resulting in severe embarrassment to Sri Lanka’s Foreign Service and its credibility.

Some countries have privately expressed their serious concerns at the official sanction given by Sri Lankan authorities to the blatant violation of their immigration laws.

The cost to the country in actual terms has been significant. A person sent from Sri Lanka as a driver has no license to drive in that country and therefore is required to drive with a “P” plate (the equivalent of a “L” plate in Sri Lanka) with a qualified driver sitting next to him.

There is a gardener in one mission, which has no garden.

A driver sent to London did not have a license to drive in the UK and worked as an electrician. At one point there were several who reported to work and sat on a row of chairs the whole day, because they had either no work, or was not suitable for the task they had been sent as favors for political masters.

A driver was sent to New York with no knowledge of English had spent an afternoon looking for “lancy para” when instructed to drive the Ambassador to Burgher Avenue.

The story of the minor employee in Rome who took the Sri Lankan government before an Italian court, when he was recalled at the end of three years and the wishy washy response of the Ministry is even more revealing.

A candidate at the stenographer’s examination who received 0 marks was posted to London over another candidate who received 86 marks. The list goes on and on.

There were postings made to London by “intelligence” officers from the NIB and the Army etc and on a majority of the cases they or their families did not return to Sri Lanka at the end of their period of assignment.

Even so called career diplomats are not immune to this kind of behavior. There are several former High Commissioners and their families and other career diplomats who have failed to return at the end of their postings. One was later engaged in selling curry powder in London, and there are reports of others trying to engage in real estate transactions.

The efforts of the new administration to clean up this mess has received wide approval of the staff, but there are those few who benefited from the filthy trough and those who hope to get their snouts in, are a little agitated. What has happened at the Foreign Ministry may be symptomatic of the problems elsewhere in the public service.

The Foreign Ministry has been subject to a history of abuse to satisfy various interested parties leading to the dilution of the effectiveness of Sri Lanka’s Foreign Service. The net effect of all this is that Sri Lanka’s Foreign Service is weakened of its professionalism and its ability to compete on the international stage with other nations and to serve Sri Lankan citizens effectively.

In post independent Ceylon, Sri Lanka wielded far more influence on the world stage in comparison to its size and population. Over the years this advantage has been squandered. In comparison countries such Britain continues to wield disproportionately more influence on the world stage in comparison to its size and population.

Sri Lanka is approximately half the size of England and has approximately half the population of England although many Sri Lankan’s think small in terms of Sri Lanka being a small island. In fact Sri Lanka has a greater population than both Portugal and the Netherlands, our former colonial masters, and is larger in land area than the Netherlands.

An examination of the past goings on at the Foreign Ministry makes depressive reading, potted with corruption, nepotism, and a lack of fair play in the posting of minor staff to overseas posts.

In the past “local” staff were recruited “locally”. It makes sense as they speak the language, are familiar with local procedures and requirements. They can be functional immediately. Most diplomatic services recruit these staff locally and confer the responsibility on the head of mission. This also lessons the opportunity for nepotism and corruption.

A few years ago, large numbers of locally engaged staff had their employment discontinued and a new policy of sending minor staff from Sri Lanka was established. In a majority of cases this was done to provide employment in return for political allegiance and favors. A lack of transparency and fair play is clearly evident.

The rules established by the new management of the Foreign Service put in place by the Rajapakse administration is a welcome development and one hopes, will contribute significantly to enhance the professional image of the service.

The Foreign Service has for far too long been treated as an opportunity for free travel, an opportunity to provide a superior education for children and a chance to enjoy superior medical care overseas at government expense. Changes now being introduced will seek to address these, provide a more transparent service, making working conditions more congenial and fair and enhance the reputation of the service.

It is of paramount importance to eliminate corruption, nepotism and the lack of transparency which plagued the service.

- Asian Tribune -

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