01 April 2015

Thisara Samarasinghe’s Big Match(es)

When it rains, the cricket stops.  The Royal-Thomian doesn’t stop for anything; not for rain, not for a World War and not on account of terrorist threats.  The match this year was washed out with S Thomas’ having the upper hand.  Someone said, ‘S Thomas’ is a Combined Schools’ team and Royal had the support of the rain gods’.  That was obviously a Royalist. 

But rain didn’t stop what’s most important about the Battle of the Blues: people meeting people, old friends catching up, reminiscing and revelry.  The SSC was a paddy field by about 2.30 in the afternoon on Saturday the 14th of March.  Play was all but officially abandoned.  I wandered into the Grand Stand to catch up with two batchmates, Ranil Pathirana and Rajitha Dhanapala, both of whose sons were playing for Royal, Randev and Thiran respectively. 

Rajitha was with a friend.  I didn’t recognize him at first.  Introductions were made.  Thisara Samarasinghe, former Navy Commander and until recently Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Australia. 

‘So what are you doing now?’ I asked and he replied with a smile, ‘nothing…unemployed.’  I laughed and asked, ‘Thanks to yahapaalanaya?’  He laughed in return: ‘You’ve hit the nail on the head.’   We talked of this and that.  We spoke about his teacher, my mother, Indrani Seneviratne and how he had given me a lift from Gonaduwa after attending the funeral of another teacher, Upali Munasinghe.  I didn’t know who he was.  He didn’t tell me.  We were just two students attending the funeral of a teacher.  And until I spoke with this unassuming man, I didn’t know that his son was captaining Royal. 

I moved on.  And thought about this man.

He had been recalled before his term ended.  That was a political decision subsequent to the change of Government in January.  If we did have a fantastic foreign service leaders would not be forced to appoint people out of the service to important diplomatic posts.  The long term solution is to make sure that competency levels are such that politicians cannot cite ‘incompetence’ as excuse for rewarding the near and dear.  A responsible leader, even in this situation, would exercise caution and good judgment when making such appointments.  Our leaders have knowingly or unknowingly erred on many occasions.  To be fair, though, there have been good choices too in the past, but the bad ones have by war outweighed these. 

Thisara had the credentials.  He had a formidable challenge.  Australia is where the anti-Sri Lanka sections of the pro-LTTE, pro-Eelam Sri Lankan Tamil expatriates are most vociferous outside of Europe and North America.  The Australian Government at the time of his appointment was not exactly chummy with Sri Lanka.  I had followed all this for some time.  It was not easy for Thisara to ‘handle’ Australia, New Zealand and five other countries on this issue in addition to the ‘regular’ tasks related to exports, tourism etc. 

Perhaps for him it was just another battle, just another opportunity to serve the best interests of his country to the best of his ability.  As he had always done.  All we know is that during his time Australia-Sri Lankan relations improved leaps and bounds. 

He arranged for Scott Morrison and Julian Bishop, both in the Opposition at the time, to visit Killinochchi and Jaffna.  These were not manipulated visits and he caught some flak for doing this.  The two went back and supported Sri Lanka against her critics.  Scott, I remember, observed that had Afghanistan and Iraq achieved the post-conflict development obtained by Sri Lanka the entire world would want to give the government of these countries the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Suffice to say that both Tony Abbot and his predecessor firmly backed Sri Lanka on all counts thanks to his efforts.  It was recognized that Sri Lanka successfully fought a brutal terrorist outfit and ought to be applauded and not castigated for this.  Not many could have achieved this.  Thisara was the Northern and Eastern Commander of the Navy.  He knew what was what.  He had the language to communicate the truth and he did just that. 

The Foreign Ministry would probably know what he did in terms of facilitating public sector training, scholarships, exports and tourism, in addition to defence cooperation.  A few queries from Sri Lankans domiciled in Australia revealed that few diplomats in that country enjoyed the friendship and support of so many key members of that country’s government.  Perhaps indicative of this is the fact that several cabinet ministers and parliamentarians as well as the Speaker attended the Sri Lanka Independence Day celebrations which Thisara was High Commissioner.

He had a brief that was shared by all heads of mission in the post-conflict years: bring the particular country on to our side.  He did that.  Thisara, by all accounts, was hard worker.  He is known for his aggression but few would say he was arrogant.    He didn’t take his family.  He didn’t have a budget for PR.  He delivered.

He was recalled and that’s a blot if ever there is one in things diplomatic.  And not long afterwards the Prime Minister, no less, ruined it all by a crass and uncalled for remark on his Australian counterpart. 

Thisara is out.  That’s because he was considered a supporter of ‘the other guy’.  Well, other supporters have just been rewarded with cabinet appointments.  Thisara did his job.  He was made to pay.   Interestingly and ironically right now a lot of people who were accused of this and that, were called names and vilified on account of all manner of things including (in the very least) of supporting the previous regime are today holding cabinet portfolios.  They were welcomed with open arms. Mind you, many of these worthies are not exactly undeserving of the epithets they were tagged with.  But yes, Thisara is out. 

Sometime later that afternoon, when the match was abandoned, Thisara’s son Harith held aloft the Senanayake Shield which Royal retained thanks to rain and gods and who knows what else that yielded the particular outcome.  Thisara must have smiled. 



gdesilva said...

One of the very few High Commissioners in Australia who made a significant difference to Sri Lanka's image in Australia. This is Yakapalanaya, indeed - it's all too late folks - wait for the big guns from the LTTE very soon.