The Militarisation of Sri Lanka’s Diplomatic And Administrative Services
by Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
Military personnel handed diplomatic and government postings despite their lack of experience in their new posts
The government in post war Sri Lanka is fast militarising the administrative and diplomatic services. The appointment of military heads to key Sri Lankan missions overseas and state institutions has become a talking point among the general public. Since the appointment of military men in civil administration work as well as the diplomatic service, questions have been raised on their roles in such positions.
The difference in military discipline as opposed to the administrative and diplomatic services has caused friction between military personnel, career diplomats and public officials.
Furthermore, the militarisation of the administrative and diplomatic services has had an adverse impact on the careers of civilians who have been graded and promoted to positions according to a set of criteria in their respective line of work.
The country boasts of a rich history in relation to the administrative and diplomatic services.
The Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS) is known to be the main administrative service of the government, with civil servants working for both the Central Government and the provincial councils.
It was formed in 1963 as the Ceylon Administrative Service (CAS) after the Ceylon Civil Service, which was abolished on May 1, 1963. The head of the SLAS is the Secretary to the President.
Meanwhile, the country’s foreign service was established on October 1, 1949, following the independence of Ceylon in 1948 as the Ceylon Overseas Service with the recruitment of its first batch of cadets to deal with foreign affairs.
Following Sri Lanka becoming a republic in 1972 the service changed its name to Sri Lanka Overseas Service also known as the Foreign Service.
Be that as it may, the government’s move to militarise two of the country’s key sectors has now resulted in a considerable number of diplomatic missions and other institutions being headed by military personnel.
Due to their inexperience in holding the offices they have been appointed to, some of the military men in key positions have run into various problems.
Major General Udaya Perera, who was the former Director Operations of the Sri Lanka Army, is the first serving Army officer to hold a diplomatic position as High Commissioner.
Perera is Sri Lanka’s Deputy High Commissioner to Malaysia. It is learnt that Perera has played a key role in the arrest of former LTTE International Wing leader ‘KP’ and has been stationed in Malaysia in order to crackdown on LTTE activities in the region.
However, he has now been accused by members of the Foreign Service of hampering the country’s diplomatic work in Malaysia.
It is learnt that Perera, unable to grasp the concept of a diplomat, was creating a mess in relation to investment and other business ties with Malaysia.
The appointment of another Major General to a Sri Lankan mission caused an uproar among members of the Tamil Diaspora.
Major General Jagath Dias, who commanded the 57 Division during the fourth Eelam war, was appointed Sri Lanka’s Deputy Ambassador to Germany.
Dias’s appointment was challenged by Tamil Diaspora associations who at the time filed a petition at the European Court of Human Rights against the Federal Republic of Germany for accepting his appointment.
Former Air Force Commander and Chief of Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Donald Perera, who is Sri Lanka’s maiden ambassador to Israel was also in the limelight recently over a controversial statement made by him.
In an undiplomatic move, Perera was quoted in an Israeli newspaper last year saying that Sri Lanka was a staunch supporter of Israel’s fight against Palestinian terror.
However, hours after the news was published, Perera issued a statement denying the controversial remarks attributed to him and said that the report was ‘totally erroneous.’
The government also tried to set up a Sri Lankan mission in Eritrea by appointing the former Head of the Directorate of Military Intelligence, Major General Amal Karunasekera as its charge d’ affairs.
Karunasekera’s mission was to hunt down LTTE assets in the East African country.
However, Karunasekera was later recalled following investigations into the killing of The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, who was assassinated when Karunasekera was heading the Directorate of Military Intelligence.
The government’s move to appoint military men to diplomatic missions have run into problems at an international level too.
Two such incidents were the appointment of General Shavendra Silva as the Deputy Permanent Representative to Sri Lanka’s Mission in the UN in New York and the proposal to appoint former Navy Commander, Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to the UK.
Although Silva’s appointment went ahead despite concerns raised by the international community due to allegations of war crimes leveled against him, Karannagoda was not so lucky.
The government had to shelve the plan of sending Karannagoda as the High Commissioner to the UK following strong objections raised by the Tamil Diaspora there.
Karannagoda is now tipped to be appointed as Ambassador to the Sri Lankan mission in Tokyo, Japan. He also served as Secretary to the Highways Ministry, a post that is usually held by a member of Sri Lanka’s administrative service.
Apart from the diplomatic missions, the government has also appointed military men to state-run institutions as well.
The most recent such appointments are former Army Commander Lieutenant General Rohan Daluwatte as the Chairman, National Gem and Jewellery Corporation, and the three armed forces chiefs to the Board of the Water’s Edge members-only club at Battaramulla.
Uniforms In Key Positions
Following are some of the military leaders who have been appointed to Sri Lankan missions overseas and to state institutions:
1. Air Chief Marshal Jayalath Weerakkody (former Air Force Chief) – Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Pakistan
2. Air Chief Marshal Donald Perera (former Air Force Chief and Chief of Defence Staff) – Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Israel
3. Major General Nanda Mallawaarachchi (former Chief of Staff of the Army) – Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Indonesia
4. Major General Udaya Perera (Director Operations of the Sri Lanka Army) – Sri Lanka’s Deputy High Commissioner to Malaysia
5. Major General Jagath Dias (former General Officer Commanding the 57th Division) – Sri Lanka’s Deputy Ambassador to Germany
6. Major General Shavendra Silva (former General Officer Commanding the 58th Division) – Deputy Permanent Representative for Sri Lanka in the UN
7. Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda (former Navy Commander) – Highways Ministry Secretary and tipped to become Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Japan
8. Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe (former Navy Commander) – Board Member, Water’s Edge Complex and tipped to become Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Australia
9. Major General Amal Karunasekara (former Head of the Directorate of Military Intelligence) – Charge d’ affaires for the proposed Sri Lankan Mission in Eritrea
10. Major General G.A. Chandrasiri (former Jaffna security forces commander) – Northern Province Governor
11. Rear Admiral Mohan Wijewickrema (former Navy Chief of Staff) – Eastern Province Governor
12. Lieutenant General Rohan Daluwatte (former Army Commander) – Chairman, National Gem and Jewellery Authority
13. Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya (current Army Commander) – Board Member, Water’s Edge Complex
14. Air Chief Marshal Roshan Gunathilake (current Air Force Chief) – Board Member, Water’s Edge Complex