The no-confidence motion moved by the United National Party (UNP) against External Affairs Minister G.L.Peiris was taken up for debate in Parliament on Thursday.
The motion was signed by MPs John Amaratunga, Ravi Karunanayake, Lakshman Kiriella and Wijeyadasa Rajapaksha.The motion alleged that Minister Peiris has failed to uphold and preserve the reputation and good name of the country internationally which has resulted among other things the Secretary General of the United Nations taking steps to appoint a Panel of Experts to advise him on human rights violations in Sri Lanka and the Minister making several contradictory statements on the issue.
He is also accused of over-reacting to the threat to deny the General System of Preferences (GSP) to Sri Lanka and making contradictory statements in this regard and disgracing the country by over-staying his invitation to China and thus abusing the hospitality of that country.
Chief Opposition Whip
This motion is not directed personally at Minister Peiris but more to draw attention to the shortcomings in the conduct of foreign affairs matters by the Government.
It is the duty of the Opposition to highlight these issues. There is the need to include Opposition legislators too in delegations that travel abroad. When the UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was the Prime Minister, he provided all facilities for the present President to visit the United Nations in New York. He even instructed our Ambassador at the time Charlie Mahendran to provide all assistance to him. Now Opposition legislators are ignored.
This is a laughable motion. It’s going to be six months since he took over the Ministry on October 22. Why is the Opposition targeting the External Affairs Minister and not bringing a no-confidence motion against other ministers. They could have brought one against me saying that there are problems in the health sector or against the Education Minister stating the education sector is in a mess. But they did not do that because the intention of this motion is to damage the reputation of this country. It is these every same forces who wanted the war stopped. This is not a rushed motion but a well planned one and there is a political conspiracy behind it. The UNP is politically bankrupt and is inflicted with an incurable illness. This kind of motion will not help the UNP to raise its head.
MP Ravi Karunanayaka:
The responsibility of the Opposition is to protect the country and not ministers. It has become the favourite pastime for Government members to engage in Opposition bashing but this is an occupational hazard of being an Opposition member. We are not so petty that we don’t give credit where it is due.
However, you are having foreign ambassadors who are basically foreign nationals. That the ambassador to Vietnam is not even a Sri Lankan is being talked about and a report has come to you. I must confess that it’s not an origin of yours and you have got to carry the bad brief of the past regime or past ministers, but as you are the minister now you can correct this. This has been brought to your attention.
However, Deputy Foreign Minister Geethanjana Gunawardena denied the allegation.
Continuing, Mr. Amaratunga said: Minister Peiris too understands the importance of having the GSP plus facility for Sri Lanka. In October 2007 (quoting from Hansard), he said the GSP is “absolutely vital” and that it provides a “lifeline to the economy.”
I urge the Government to work towards protecting the US GSP facility now that we have lost the European Union’s one. I’ll end with a quote from the Greek philosopher Plato who said, “The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”
Higher Education Minister S.B.Dissanayaka:
The decision was taken by the UN Secretary General to appoint a panel long before Minister Peiris took over the subject of external affairs. We also know the EU was trying to use the GSP plus to get us to stop the military operations against the LTTE. The UNP has behaved in this manner before attempting to provoke India, the USA, and the UN, etc. We could have had the GSP in five minutes if we agreed to their conditions but we did not do so. We have taught a lesson to the entire world by our actions. Today we are rebuilding our relations with the EU under the able minister. We all know that Minister Peiris is an intellectual who is held in high esteem. He is a source of strength to this Parliament. During the tenure of President Chandrika Kumaratunga he was under threat by the LTTE and had to be provided with special security. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said he is the best Foreign Minister he has met.
UNP Kandy district
MP Lakshman Kiriella:
This Government assured the country that no panel will be appointed by the UN but that has happened today. Unfortunately Minister Peiris has to carry the sack of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and not of Chandrika Kumaratunga or Ranil Wickremesinghe. This sack is full of human rights violations, abductions, disappearances, killings of journalists, etc. How can you go abroad and talk on behalf of the country when you are carrying such a burden. We also wanted a new start after the end of the war but this Government is heading in a more dictatorial direction.
Minister of Public Administration John Seneviratna:
This is a meaningless motion when you look at its contents. This is intended to damage his reputation and also of the country. The UNP even brought a no-confidence motion against the former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar who did a great deal of service to this country.
Matara district UNP MP
This debate on the no-confidence motion is not only against the capricious G.L. Peiris but also a debate and indictment of the foreign policy of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime.
Sri Lanka, in spite of being a little island of lesser significance on the global map, has had excellent relations with the rest of the world throughout history. Yet today Sri Lanka’s standing in the international community has reached ‘rock- bottom’ and nowhere was this amply demonstrated than at the recent UNGA sessions in New York where Sri Lanka participated with the single largest delegation in New York. T
he External Affairs Ministry in August had advised its missions in Australia, France, Brazil, Iran, South Korea, Russia, Qatar, UAE, and Germany and the UK to seek appointments with the heads of state attending the sessions in New York. However, only one or two countries responded to this request. President Rajapaksa who stopped over in Berlin en route to New York was unable to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in spite of several requests. Even the request for an appointment with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton did not materialize.
However, the unkindest cut was the virtually empty hall when the President spoke. The large number of empty seats made some observers speculate whether there was an organized boycott of the President’s speech especially in the light of the inaugural speech by President Obama where there was a veiled reference to the 18th Amendment.
This fiasco, further tarnishing the image of our country is in stark contrast to the first visit of President Rajapaksa as head of state to the UNGA sessions, when I accompanied the President as Foreign Minister. He was warmly welcomed and embraced by many heads of state. Unfortunately, within a short period of four years, Sri Lanka has managed to squander away the international goodwill our previous leaders had managed to cultivate over the years.
This ‘shoot the messenger’ policy of this Government is one of the main reasons for our present plight. The current regime’s immature and juvenile rebuttals to the genuine concerns expressed by our international allies have coloured Sri Lanka in a very unfavourable light.
The Government instigates rowdy protests in front of friendly embassies - for example the hooliganism displayed opposite the UK and Norway embassies, State vehicles put up posters calling various foreign leaders “terrorists”- for example the poster against US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Government ministers with small brains and big egos are encouraged to burn effigies of the UN Secretary General and to fast in front of the UN compound.
Our woes in the international sphere are further exacerbated by the lack of professional diplomats at our key missions abroad. At a time when Sri Lanka needs the services of experienced and refined career diplomats, more than ever, our foreign service officers have been replaced by political sycophants and ne’er-do-well relatives posing as diplomats.
In Washington, perhaps the most important mission, the ambassador is a person who at his best was a mediocre door-to-door tea salesman. The Ambassador’s only qualification to hold such a post is that he is a close relative of the first family. Likewise, our man in Moscow is a person who got his diplomatic training in the night clubs of Moscow. I must admit that this was an appointment made by me against my better judgment and that of the senior officials of the Foreign Ministry on the insistence of the powers above. A man with extremely dubious background, based in Colombia famous for its drug cartels, has recently been appointed as Consul General in LA and is tipped to take over in Washington soon.
Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, the Foreign Service is now full of such unsuitable material. The recent influx of military officers to the diplomatic services is bound to confound matters further. Various military types, sycophants of the Defence Secretary are now being sent en-masse as senior diplomats to some of our key missions. There was a time when retired commanders were sent as ambassadors but today our retired Army commanders are sent to jail by this regime.
In conclusion, I would like to say that the foreign policy of this regime is guided by a compulsion to grandstand to the gallery in Sri Lanka and by the need to keep some of the frog-in- the-well type of Marxists in the coalition happy. If this is to continue Sri Lanka will certainly become a universally despised pariah nation in the not too distant future.
DNA MP Ajith Kumara:
Today not only have the people lost confidence in Minister Peiris but in the President and the whole Government. This Government said in the Mahinda Chintanaya it would look after the war heroes but today it has jailed the man who led the country to victory. Today the law of the jungle is there. But this Government can’t stop him by its cowardly actions.
Although this debate was supposed to be about Minister Peiris, it has become a debate about Sarath Fonseka. This motion has been brought to distract attention from the internal problems of the UNP. We have to give credit to the Opposition Leader for his ability to do such things. I would like to appeal to the Opposition to stop using Sarath Fonseka for its political advantage. It is a shameful act.
External Affairs Minister G.L.Peiris:
It was the various statements the Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe made that led to the country being deprived of the GSP plus. In a similar manner, he also acted in a manner that set the background to appoint the UN panel. The allegation that I overstayed in China is a blatant lie. I stayed for two extra days to attend an investors meeting and my extra days stay was paid for by the Ministry. The UNP Leader has been making statements to coincide with my meetings with foreign leaders.
There was never an attempt made to arrange a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel or US State Secretary Hillary Clinton. The story that the UN General Assembly was empty when the President spoke too is a lie. There was a full hall when he spoke and his speech was well received. This motion has been brought due to jealously and malice. Some of its aspects are due to sheer ignorance.
Whatever I have achieved in my life I have achieved with hard work. Now I work hard in my post of External Affairs Minister as my work is appreciated and we can see results. You can bring no-confidence motions every week but I don’t mind it.