COLOMBO: In a major purge of the Sri Lankan Foreign Office, the new Maithripala Sirisena government has sacked 50 non-career diplomats who had been appointed by the previous regime on political and other non-professional grounds.
The purge covers 27 Ambassadors, High Commissioners and Heads of Missions; three Consuls General and 23 others. Among the prominent Heads of Missions sacked are: former Navy chief Adm.Thissara Samarasinghe (Australia); former Army Commander Gen. Shantha Kottegoda (Thailand); former Navy Chief Adm.Wasantha Karannagoda (Japan), and former Foreign Secretary Dr.Palitha Kohona (Permanent Representative at the UN in New York).
But Lanka’s High Commissioner in India, Prof. Sudarshan Seneviratne, a non-career diplomat, has been retained.
The removal of political appointees and restoring competence and professionalism in Lanka’s foreign service was one of the election pledges of President Sirisena. Politicization of the foreign service has a long history in post-independence Lanka, but it took a particularly virulent form during the 10 year rule of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who, in order to strengthen himself politically to be able to fight the war against the LTTE, encouraged defections from the opposition by offering Ministerships, Ambassadorships and other diplomatic positions as a bait.
Lanka’s foreign service has been small, and therefore, it has had to take personnel from other services and fields to man the increasing number of missions overseas. The ratio had been fixed at 60 career diplomats to 40 non-career personnel and political appointees. But this ratio had tilted in favor of non-career diplomats under the Rajapaksa regime. The Srisena government has vowed to have 70 career diplomats to 30 non-career ones.