Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2770

Sri Lanka Foreign Minister appraises Parliament on the action Government took on allegations made against UNICEF

Colombo, 08 December, (Asiantribune.com): Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama presented an account of action taken by his Ministry regarding allegations made by Wimal Weerawansa, M.P. on the activities of UNICEF in Sri Lanka

He said that The Foreign Ministry summoned the Country Representative of UNICEF on 22 November 2007, to the Ministry and expressed serious concern on the participation of several members of UNICEF staff in a public demonstration in June 2007, and requested to take appropriate action including the withdrawal of the relevant international staff from Sri Lanka and the termination of the relevant local staff.

Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said, “I strongly conveyed to the UN Resident Coordinator at our meeting on 28 November that the participation of its staff in a demonstration was unacceptable and requested that the services of such staff be terminated immediately.

Given below the full text of the speech made by Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama in the floor of Sri Lanka Parliament, on the action taken by Ministry of Foreign Affairs on allegations levelled by Wimal Weerawansa M.P., Propaganda Secretary of the Janatha Vimukthi Perimuna:

Hon Speaker,

I have given due consideration to the statements made by Hon. Wimal Weerawansa, M.P. in this House over the past few weeks concerning activities of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Sri Lanka.

I wish to inform this House that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already brought these allegations to the attention of the UN and taken necessary action.

On 28 November 2007, the UN Resident Coordinator and the Country Representative of UNICEF were summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to express our concern on the main issues and clarification was sought. This meeting was also attended by the Director General of Sri Lanka Customs. In addition, a separate meeting was convened on 29 November 2007 at officials’ level with the participation of officials of Sri Lanka Customs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Manager, Supply & Procurement of UNICEF.

The following four main issues were discussed at these meetings:

(A) Import of ‘Meals Ready to Eat’ (MRE) by UNICEF

(B) Participation of UNICEF Staff members in a local demonstration

(C) Use of Bulletproof vehicles

(D) UNICEF’s involvement in TRO activities

(A) Import of ‘Meals Ready to Eat’ (MRE) by UNICEF

UNICEF has imported a consignment of food ration packs “Meals Ready to Eat” (MREs) on 17 September 2007 containing 5640 packs of MREs to the value of Euro 40537.50 (SL Rs. 6304627.12). According to the documents provided by UNICEF to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this consignment of food has been imported for the exclusive consumption of UNICEF staff during an emergency situation and kept by the UNICEF in its 07 zonal offices and Colombo. The UN Resident Coordinator subsequently clarified that UNICEF had purchased these ration packs on behalf of 12 UN Agencies operating in Sri Lanka to be used in the event of an emergency. The ration is sufficient for 3 days. Clarification was sought as to why UNICEF had imported MRE packs for emergency purpose when there is no emergency situation prevailing in the country. UNICEF explained that according to the normal standard operations of the UN, emergency rations are kept in a contingency stock and distributed to all UN offices throughout the world for the use of its staff.

It was discovered that there existed a discrepancy between the shipping documents and the Clearance Certificate for this consignment. Since the clearance of the diplomatic cargo is based on the Certificate issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a comprehensive screening system was implemented with immediate effect. Ministry of Foreign Affairs will undertake this task in consultation with Sri Lanka Customs and other relevant line Ministries and Agencies including the Ministry of Defence, Telecommunication Regulatory Authority.

Sri Lanka Customs has inspected a sample of a MRE pack and found it contained two tins of canned meat, biscuits, cheese, marmalade, milk, sugar and a substance used to warm the food. There was no indication or label which enabled them to ascertain whether the items belonged to UNICEF or any other UN organization. The MREs were in camouflage packing, and had been imported from a military supplier in France.

UNICEF representative explained that the purchase of MREs had been done through a tender procedure and since the quantity was small, it was bought from a military supplier. The UNICEF Representative further clarified that the UN logo is used on items imported for charitable purposes. This explanation on the absence of the logo was unsatisfactory, taking into account, inter alia, the nature of the items. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicated that it is imperative that UNICEF or UN logo is attached to the items so imported, in a clear and visible manner. The absence of a clear logo allowed such items to be abused by ill-intentioned groups and persons who are not the real beneficiaries – a situation, inevitably resulting in accusations being leveled against the Customs, and even the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the negligent discharge of their duties.

UNICEF was requested to propose a mechanism to ensure the safe storage and safe distribution of the MREs. UNICEF agreed to share information on this with the Government.

The Criminal Investigation Department is currently conducting an investigation on the import of ‘Ready to Eat’ packs by UNICEF.

(B) Participation of UNICEF Staff members in a local demonstration

The Foreign Ministry summoned the Country Representative of UNICEF on 22 November 2007 to the Ministry and expressed serious concern on the participation of several members of UNICEF staff in a public demonstration in June 2007 and requested to take appropriate action including the withdrawal of the relevant international staff from Sri Lanka and the termination of the relevant local staff.

I strongly conveyed to the UN Resident Coordinator at our meeting on 28 November that the participation of its staff in a demonstration was unacceptable and requested that the services of such staff be terminated immediately. The participation of UN staff in such activities is in violation of its mandate and a breach of privileges and immunities provided to UN staff by receiving states under the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations. The Government will take stern action against those who are found guilty after an inquiry, if there is strong ground to believe that there had been an abuse of diplomatic immunities and privileges in accordance with the measures open to the receiving States to deal with such situations. During the meeting UNICEF Country Representative acknowledged that four staff members of UNICEF participated at the demonstration which is a violation of the UN mandate and informed that inquiries are presently carried out by the UN Department of Human Resources.

UNICEF informed my Ministry on 4 December 2007 that the two international staff members namely Mrs. Lara Scott who worked as a Management and Coordination Project Officer and Ms. Rachel McKinney who worked as an Emergency Education Coordinator have been withdrawn from the country on 6th November and 4th November 2007 respectively. The contract of Ms. Patricia Purvez who worked as a Consultant was terminated 19th October 2007. My Ministry will advise the Controller of Immigration and Emigration to deport any expatriate who stays in the country in violation of the relevant regulations, even after their contracts have been terminated. UNICEF has informed that it will keep my Ministry informed regarding the case of the national staff member. The Country Representative of UNICEF informed that the concerns of the Government of Sri Lanka have already been conveyed to the Head Office.

(C) Use of bulletproof vehicles

Regarding the issue of the use of bulletproof vehicles the UNICEF Country Representative informed that only one vehicle fitted with bullet proof plates is available in Batticaloa. This is to ensure the safety of its staff from explosions. My Ministry informed UNICEF that fixing a bullet proof plates to a vehicle without approval from the Ministry and Motor Traffic Department is a breach of the relevant regulations. It constitutes a significant alteration to the vehicle permissible under the Motor Traffic Laws of the country. The Commissioner of Motor Traffic will be made aware of this alteration.

(D) UNICEF’s involvement in TRO’s activities

On UNICEF’s involvement in TRO’s activities, UNICEF Country Representative confirmed that there was no evidence of any illegal transactions that had taken place between the UNICEF and the TRO. However, as a measure of confidence building, the UN Headquarters is presently carrying out a full audit with regard to alleged involvement of UNICEF in TRO activities. The outcome of the audit will be shared with the Government of Sri Lanka.

- Asian Tribune -

Share this


.