Nobody would object if Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama chooses to daub egg on his own face. But doing that on the face of the country, as he did in going along with the consensus in a Commonwealth foreign minister`s conclave now on in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, that Pakistan be suspended from that club of former British colonies is totally unacceptable. The government, shown up by its minister`s action, as an ingrate to a country we are deeply beholden, has tried to apply plaster to the injury ex post facto and subsequently recorded our dissent from the suspension decision of the majority. Perhaps the broken fence has been mended to Pakistan`s satisfaction and those in the corridors of power may be patting themselves on their collective back that they have come out of a tricky corner. But many questions remain to be answered.
If Bogollagama, skilled in lavishly spending public money on himself, has committed a colossal blunder as his cabinet colleagues decided when they took the view at an emergency meeting held in parliament that Sri Lanka certainly did not agree with any decision to suspend Pakistan from the Commonwealth, then he must be held accountable. The acting foreign minister, Hussain Bahila, claimed in parliament that `miscommunication` led to the massive faux pas. It was claimed that the cabinet had decided the previous Wednesday that Colombo would oppose any suspension of Pakistan. President Mahinda Rajapaksa had expressed `strong objections` at the Heads of Government meeting when views of governments were invited on the suspension decision at the summit. But he has offered no explanation for the stand taken by his foreign minister at the earlier Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group which recommended it. The cabinet decision now being talked about, we think, is an ex post facto repair job that is not likely to fool anybody.
Even if Bogollagama, who likes to spend most of his time abroad, all dressed up in his immaculate suits and living in five-star splendour, trotted off early for the Commonwealth meeting, Rajapaksa chaired the last cabinet meeting when this claimed decision, and we stress the word claimed as only the very naive would believe such a decision was ever taken. The 55 people who were in the cabinet room will know the truth or otherwise of that story. Didn`t the foreign minister at least consult the president who was also in Kampala before he did what he did? According to the president`s people here, the answer to that one is a resounding `No.` They said that Rajapaksa was mightily displeased by what happened. That is all well and good. What the country must be told is whether the person responsible will be brought to account. With another budget vote pending on December 14, the president would probably not want to rock the boat. But the people whose taxes support the lavish official life styles of too many incompetents, should not be exposed to future blunders such worthies, or more correctly `unworthies,` may make.
The LTTE might have had its Eelam but for Pakistan. At a time when India wanted to give us ships to evacuate beleaguered troops out of Jaffna in 2000, Pakistan gave us already deployed multi-barrel rocket launchers to fight our way out of a humiliating defeat. A former high commissioner in Islamabad tells a story of how he called on Field Marshal Ayub Khan, then President of Pakistan, in 1971 and asked what we must pay for equipment and other assistance made available when the 1971 insurgency exploded on this country. `Pay,` the old soldier had retorted. `When do we ask for payment when we help a friend in trouble?` Pakistan has repeatedly shown that she has not forgotten Sri Lanka permitting what was described as `technical stops` for Pakistani aircraft at Katunayake when the Bangladesh war was being fought and overflights of West Pakistani aircraft over Indian territory was prohibited. Mrs. Bandaranaike might have had some problems with her friend, Indira Gandhi, over that facility but in times of Sri Lanka`s travails, Pakistan has always been a steadfast friend. As Opposition MP Lakshman Kiriella, then Deputy to Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar said in parliament on Friday, Kadirgamar had been eloquent in expressing his gratitude to Pakistan. Does not Bogollagama know any of this? If not, he does not deserve to be foreign minister.
The president has shown himself as remarkably soft on failures of his ministers. A minister who allowed a friend to work a visa racket in ministry premises remains in office. Another had escorted a group to Japan where most of those persons disappeared, has resulted in the Japanese government tightening entrance requirements for Lankans going there including fingerprinting and photographing. Amazingly, one cabinet minister, allocated a lavish state-owned mansion in Colombo, ostensibly for security reasons, was not even present in parliament when the votes of his ministry was taken up during the committee stage of the budget. But the president allows all of them to continue as they please. As President Harry Truman of the US famously said, `The buck stops here` - that is at the oval office. If the president allows his ministers to remain in office when they demonstrate that they are not fit to hold such office, he must take the responsibility for what they do or do not do.
Let us wait and see how President Rajapaksa deals with this latest failure by an important minister.