10 November 2020
Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage
Sri Lanka Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Sir Baron Jayathilake Mawatha
Dear Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage:
It was with great admiration that I read the Press Release from your Ministry which said – Foreign Ministry successfully conducts an Orientation Programme for Ambassadors/High Commissioners designates.
Having worked at the Sri Lanka High Commission in Ottawa from June 1989 to May 1994, as the Director of Communications at the level of the Deputy, I believe the Ministry needed such an exercise. I will give you the reasons why.
While you might note from the Ministry files that Asoka Weerasinghe is the most misunderstood expatriate for whatever reason. You may also find that I gave back to Sri Lanka every cent’s worth of work Sri Lanka paid me, even though I was not fully remunerated what was promised, And I nearly went bankrupt having lost almost $2000 a month in wages if I had stayed in my job in the Public Service in Canada for 20-years.
I was asked by President Premadasa to help him in the Communications file at the Ottawa Mission which needed lots of help.
So I did and I was happy that he gave me the opportunity to give back to Sri Lanka, my Motherland, that nurtured me for the first 19-years of my life, giving me a free-‘Education at Nalan College in Colombo et.,cetera.
I was happy to read that you had included these subject areas in your programme, Public Diplomacy and Overseas Sri Lankans, I was disappointed that you all did not spend at least half-a-day on Office Management. This was lacking and was the pits when I joined the Ottawa Mission in 1989.
I worked under High Commissioners Walter Rupesinghe and Walter Fenando, both President Premadasa appointees, both excellent diplomats. So I would consider that we were a President Premadasa Team”, and did nothing to let him down, and that office in Ottawa had to function well.
- The Day I Joined the Mission
My work ethics and experience was picked up with my working in England and Canada, and I had no intention to change gears to fall in line with Sri Lankan ways of doing things like Time Management and Office Management which were basics to run a competent office.
The day when I joined them I was walked to my office by the Administrative Attache Karunarathna. The desk was bare, so I asked him whether I could have a typewriter. No..No..Sir, you don’t need one as we have a stenographer to do the typing.” Thanks for letting me know. This request is not meant to insult the stenographer, but I need a typewriter, as it is my work horse, please find me one.”
The following morning there was a brand new Brother electric typewriter on my desk and a box of 8”x10” typewriting paper.
If the Foreign Ministry wanted to find out whether they got good value for the money spent on the new typewriter, you could find out with an audit of letters that I typed just responding to Tamil persons seeking information of their disappeared loved ones from the north and east, and Amnesty International, who they accused the Sri Lanka Army as the culprits for their disappearance, Every letter they received was a personal reply and not a form letter. If I had a difficult response I sought Mr. Bradman Weerakoon’s guidance at the President’s Secretariat. I sent him a telex in the evening and there was always a Telex-reply on my desk the following morning. He was extremely accommodating and kind.
Here are the numbers – 235 letters (1989); 649 (1990); 1223 (1991); 872 (1992); 426(1993) and 257 (1994).
What was interesting is that I received 11 personal letters thanking me saying that this was the first time they had ever received a personal letter from a Foreign Government Mission in response to their enquiry.
- Helping the Commerce Portfolio
Beyond my work in Communications, HC Rupesinghe asked me whether I could help him in the Trade portfolio, as the Trade Counsellor Kanagaratnam had stayed back as a refugee together with his wife and two children. Sure, Walter. Count on me. This Mission has to function. I won’t let You nor President Premadasa down.” was my response.
In my research trying to find a Department that we could use to get our products introduced to Canada, I came across a semi-Government Department which was doing just that. Spoke with the DG who said that they very likely could help Five Companies introduce their products in an International Trade-Food Fair in Vancouver in a few months.
So High Commissioner WalterR and I went for a meeting with the DG who had his Coordinating Officer Anne, with him. The deal was that they needed 10 Company profiles. They will study them and Anne will go down to Sri Lanka speak to CEOs of the Companies and finalize bringing over the five Companies, all paid for travelling , accommodation for two persons of each Company and clearing their goods/cartons, through Customs, et cetera and facilitate bringing them in complying to all Canadian Trade regulations etc.
So I contacted M.L Fernando, the Director of the Department of Trade and Commerce, and explained to him the requirements for us to showcase five of Sri Lanka’s top Food producers at the Vancouver International Trade-Food Fair.
Pat came the response from M.L. Fernando. No, Asoka. We can’t let Foreigners come over and pick our Companies to be showcased in their Country International Food Fairs. It is our job and we can do it for them.”
So, ML, what you are telling me is that you will favour the top five Companies who garnished the palms of your Ministry Officers with the top ‘Kappan’ rupees, right.?
Sorry, ML, I just cannot accept that. Since joining the Mission, I have come to understand that this is indeed the culture in Sri Lanka.
The bottom line is, either you provide the 10 Company profiles as requested by this Canadian Department or let’s forget it.”
So M.L. Fernando agreed to provide the 10 Company profiles of which five were selected by Anne after her visit to Sri Lanka, interviewing the CEOs and looking at their products for the saleability in Canada.
Out of the five Companies that were given the opportunity to showcase their products were Dilmah Teas, Renuka Tea and Spices and Muzzumil Freshwater Fish. The other two companies have slipped my mind. Canada helped Muzzumil to air-freight a large plastic container of iced fish. At the end of every second day the fresh fish were auctioned on site.
One morning I got a call from a South Korean businessman. He says
Sir, I am a South Koean businessman from the States. I am searching for a Company that could produce cloth diapers. We will provide You with the cloth that will comply with the International standard of the quality of the cloth with a certain mesh size. All we want is a Company to cut the cloth according to the standard size, stitch them, pack them in a box/cartons and ship it over. You can pack thousands of them in one carton by adding a weighted pressure on them so that one could pack thousands of the diapers in one box.”
Sir, you are calling Canada, and there are Trade Counsellor offices in the States. It would be easier for you if you wish to contact them, and I could provide you with the telephone contact numbers”
Sir, I came to you with an excellent recommendation from another Businessman who said, ‘Contact Trade Officer Asoka Weerasinghe, and he will get the job done for you. If you are unable to accommodate me, Sir, I will find another Asian country to help me.”
Sir, thank you for that comment about me, you certainly made me blush. Of course, I will help you. Will you be able to call me at the same time tomorrow, I will provide the information.”
I sought help from HC Walter Rupesinghe, who came from the private sector in Sri Lanka. He spoke with one of his Company contacts, and the job was done. The South Korean Businessman was very content and happy with the final product.
So here is a Communications Director whose appointment was questioned in Parliament by Minister C.V. Gunaratne, helping the High Commissioner in other areas that needed help other than in Communications.
3. Time Management, I thought, was lacking among some of the officers sent from Sri Lanka, and one I considered was an arrogant ‘village fool’. I will comment to you on this person later.
Minister Ranjan Wijeratna visited Ottawa and wanted HC Rupesinghhe to see whether he could collect some funds from the Diaspora for his Department’s Defence Fund.
This is always a difficult proposition, as expatriates are very reluctant to open their wallets not knowing where the money would end up And I am one of them.. So HC Rupasinghe sent me to Toronto to speak to a gathering in a Community Hall and sought contributions for the Defence Fund. I took with me a receipt book with the Mission’s stamp on every receipt which I gave a donor who donated money to the Defence Fund. I promised that each donor will receive a receipt from the Ministry of Defence acknowledging receiving the monies. That satisfied the expatriates in Toronto and I brought back funds totalling around $4,500.
A few months later a Torontonian phoned me, and he says, Asoka, I am Uyanwatta (forget the real name starting with U”) who gave you a cheque for $100 for the Defence Fund, do you remember me?”
I am sorry, unfortunately I don’t. Is there anything that I can do for you?”
Yes, I wonder whether you could. I have an emergency to return to Sri Lanka and I have not renewed my passport for eight years. Can I get it renewed in a day, if I come over, as I hesitate to post it in case it gets lost.”
Mr Uyanwatta, I don’t deal with passports, it’s Mr. K.B. Fernando, our First Secretary. If you could hold on, I will try to find him and see whether he could do you that favour.”
So I went in search of KB. Found him in his office, relayed the request and he said. Sure, Asoka, ask him to come tomorrow at 9.”
Listen KB, I see you have a mountain of passports on your desk, why don’t I ask him to come on Friday at 9.”
That will be great Asoka.” So I conveyed the message to Mr. Uyanwatta.
Friday, I was buzzed on the telephone around 11:30 in the morning by the receptionist, and she said, Mr. Weerasinghe, there is a Mr. Uyanwatte who wants to see you.” I will be down in a minute” , and wondered whether he had received the renewed passport and wanted to thank me for the favour I had initiated.
Is everything OK?”. No Asoka, I drove from 4 o’clock in the morning to be here for my appointment at 9:00. Mr. Fernando met me only at 11. After considering my request, he told me that it will take him two weeks to have the passport ready.”
I was fit to be tied. I am sorry for your disappointment. Take a seat. Let me see whether I could reverse that decision.”
This was not good and I went in search of K.B Fernando, the Diplomat. Unfortunately for Him, I found him in the open-plan office talking to clerical staff.
I told him, I just heard from Uyanwatta that you can only get his passport renewed in two week. What you just did KB, was make me look an incompetent idiot. A liar. That is not fair, and please stop pretending that you are a damn ‘Tin God’ and please get that passport renewed as promised for Mr. Uyanwatta.”.
He turned around and flew upstairs to the High Commissioner, being upset. HC WalterR called me in. I explained to WalteR what had happened and told him, Walter this is a Public Relations disaster. To begin with KB was late by two hours for the appointment. This incident will go around the Toronto Sinhalese community like a wild-fire and the bottom line is no one in the Foreign Ministry is going to make me look a liar and a blithering incompetent idiot. I will not leave this office, nor will Mr. Uyanwatta, until I get that renewed passport as promised and get Mr. Uyanwatte off on his five hour drive home to Toronto.
HC WalterR felt the heat of my anger, stretched his hand out and told me, Give me the Passport and I will do it for you,” The passport that was going to take KB, the Foreign Departmnt Diplomat, two weeks, was done in one hour.
This incident falls into the category of Time Management” and ‘Public Relations” and dealing with the expatriate community.” which the Ministry most certainly needs, and their support and favours on and off.
4. Office Management, and here is a doozy, that gave High Commissioners Walter Rupesinghe and Walter Fernando enough headaches.
Almost every day, the High Commissioner’s get phone calls and letters from Tamil refugees” who want to know when they will receive their passports, which had been applied for months ago and paid for the service.
Not a day passed by when HC Rupesinghe comes to me, his Director of Communications and tells me handing over the ‘nasty’ letters: Asoka, please find out what this is all about and try to resolve it.”
So here was the problem. The lack of an intelligent/sensible/basic office procedure.
There was a metal cabinet by the Immigration-office clerk. When we received the pink passport application form from a Thangarajah, a Nadarajah, a Subramaniam, a Ponnaiah, a Thurairajah, a Swamy-pillai, a Chelliah, mostly from Toronto or Montreal, they are not recorded and dropped flat into the metal cabinet. So you find 200 to 300 pink application forms sitting flat in a drawer of the metal cabinet.
So one morning, Mr. Thurairajah calls the receptionist from Toronto, 450 miles away, to find out the status of his application, which he says was sent with the payment two months ago. There was a large ledger on a table in the receptionist’s office, where the passports mailed out were recorded. So she tells Thurairajah, could you please hold on and I will try to find out.”
The receptionist leafs’ through the ledger quickly and doesn’t find his name recorded. In the meantime the telephone call that Thurairajah was holding-on to, is ticking away emptying his wallet dime by dime… The receptionist moves on to the metal cabinet in the adjoining room and leafs’ through the pink application forms which were not stacked in an alphabetical order.
She is lucky if Mr. Thurairajah’s application form was, say the 21st sitting flat in the filing cabinet drawer, but if it is the 144th out of a 300, then she is in trouble and she encounters an abusing voice on the other end of the telephone wire. By then, Thurairajah was out of pocket by about $10. So the High Commissioner gets an angry letter from Thurairajah. He brings the letter to Me requesting me to find out what was going on and resolve it for him. This office procedure had been going on for donkey’s years. A voodoo procedure that gives a bad rap to the Mission’s public relations with the Tamil refugee community.
5. Creating a filing system for the Passport application pink forms:
The opportunity arose when the First Secretary was seconded to the UN Office in New York, , I believe for three months. HC Rupesinghe came to me and asked me, Asoka, do you think you could bring some order to these passport Application forms? It is a nightmare and it is giving me headaches every day with complaints.” So the Director of Communications tells him, Sure, Walter, let me give it a try.”
So I set up a very simple card and a file system. And this is how it worked. The 5”x4” cards were set-up in alphabetical order. When Rajah Ponniah sends his application form, the passport-clerk notes it in a card from the P” group. The name is noted with the date when the application was received, the address and the contact telephone number and any other information, like payments, etc. On the Top right corner of the card is ‘Given the number of the latest application that was received. Let’s say it was 272”. The vertical files in the metal cabinet are set up in numerical order. The file folder with Rajah Ponniah’s application is placed after file number 271. When Ponnaiah calls in six weeks to find out the status of his application, the receptionist goes to the card system which is in alphabetical order, go to grouping under letter P”, the card says it is the file number 272, and goes to the filing cabinet and pulls it out. By right, the passport clerk should have had the history of this application on the card . I thought it was a simple office procedure.
When the First Secretary came back from New York, he was confused with the filing system and was unhappy. So much for the diplomats running a smooth office.
This is why I asked you whether the programme that you all conducted , had a slot to train the new diplomats basics of Office Management, Records Management and Time Management, and also erasing the notion that I am a diplomat, a ‘Tin God/Tin Goddess.’ It is hard to accept but there is so much of it that I had to deal with. And that is the hard truth, coming from a former Middle-Manager in the Canadian Federal Government for 20 years. In my last assignment, I had to supervise 20 natural and human sciences scientists.
So now, the guy who was questioned in parliament for having been appointed as the Director of Communication by Minister C.V. Gunaratna is now not only taking care of Communications but also with other added responsibilities, however Temporary, the Trade Files, the Passport applicant Interviews when KB was not around.
6. The Pension Payment Files Saga:
One day, HC Rupesinghe had received two letters from lawyers, one from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the other from Toronto, for their clients, both Tamil pensioners, who hadn’t received their pension cheques for three months. The letters requested that their clients receive their pension cheques within a week. WalterR brings the letters to me, quite upset, hands them over to me and says, Asoka, can you please help me by taking over these pension files, and catch up with the payments. I will give you young Trishula Karunaratne to help you.” Sure, Walter, Don’t you worry I will take them over.” There were only 137 pension files to be dealt with. The Administrative Attache, Karunaratne who was responsible for these files was quite upset as he had lost his cash-cow since he used to come to office after dinner to do over-time to catch up with his administrative work. It was obvious he was loaded with work and needed a 10-hour working day rather than a 8-hour working day.
I contacted the lawyer in Halifax and almost begged him not to invoice this lady client who was only receiving a monthly cheque of $94. I promised him that I will have the three cheques on its way to her within two weeks. I promise, mark my word,” I said, He promised me that he will not charge this elderly lady pensioner a fee for his letter. To be absolutely honest, I was hurting inside me. That job was done. It took Thrishula and I two months to catch up with the arrears. And from then on, we managed to keep the 137 pensioners, mainly Tamil happy, and for them not to go to their lawyers to find some solace and dignity. I was determined to restore their dignity as pensioners whether it were Tamil refugees or Sinhalese refugees. We certainly had few of the latter.
7. Communications – Letters to Editors of Newspapers.
When my letters on behalf of the High Commissioners were appearing in important newspapers, I wasn’t sure whether it was a Foreign Affairs policy when First Secretary K.B. Fernando told me,
Asoka, you don’t have to respond to every news item that appears on Sri Lanka in newspapers.”
Why, is there a problem?” I don’t think we should start a dialogue with the Tamils!”he said,
That’s a load of bull KB. That is exactly what I want. A dialogue. There is no damn way that I can blunt the nasty propaganda against Sri Lanka by these Tamil separatists being a wimp!”
Why, am I showing you guys up badly at the Foreign Ministry, as there weren’t much appearing in the newspapers from the High Commission defending the honour of Sri Lanka until I came in.”
With my challenges there were 56 letters out of 64 efforts published in newspapers across Canada on behalf of the High Commissioner during my 5-year stint at the Mission. And that was Big!
What was interesting was when the Communications Counsellor of the Indian High Commissioner invited me for lunch at the Chateau Laurier one day, during lunch, he asked me , Asoka,’ everytime I open the Ottawa Citizen, there is a letter from you for the High Commission. How do you do it? I can’t even get one letter published.” So I coached him how to do it. I believe he had some success. The key was that a response to the news item went out within 36 hours of its appearing. In my case I write, approved by the HC, with edits or whatever, and boom it goes out.
But what was embarrassing was that I couldn’t reciprocate the Indian diplomat’s courtesy for inviting me for lunch as I was not given an entertainment allowance as promised. And that was not the first time. Even under that dark cloud of embarrassment, I carried on as best I could.
8. Communications – Promoting Sri Lanka via the Community TV Channel
What was never done before in the history of the Sri Lanka High Commission in Ottawa, it happened.
This Communication’s Director whose appointment was challenged in parliament by Minister C.V. Gunaratna, very likely sneaked by a member of the Diplomats at the Foreign Ministry, scripted and produced nine (9) half-hour shows, Songs of Sri Lanka, for Cable TV. All artifacts and video clips were from my private collection, since there was absolutely nothing available at the Sri Lanka High Commision. It was embarrassing and pathetic. Details of their content will be mentioned in the Final Report Card at the end of this brief. President Premadasa wanted me to promote Sri Lanka, and this was one effort towards accomplishing that request..
The Councillor for Communications, for the Malaysian High Commission, Mr. Mukundan, invited me for lunch at the best Indian Restaurant in town, Haveli. During lunch he wanted to know how I produced ‘Songs of Sri Lanka’ for cable TV as he too would like to do the same for Malaysia. So I walked him through the production process – storyboarding, scripting arranging artifacts and video clips, av-recording the voice narrative of the show and finally editing with the TV Station Director/Producer (Mr. Sahid Khan). After listening he tells me. O my God, Asoka, I doubt I could do it.” So he abandoned the idea.
What was embarrassing was that I couldn’t reciprocate his diplomatic courtesy by inviting him for lunch, as I did not have funds not been given an entertainment allowance as promised. So be it.
9. Communications – By introducing and promoting Sri Lanka to school students in the National Capital Region.
Through the courtesy of the Ottawa Board of Education and the Carleton Board of Education, I, Asoka Weerasinghe, Director of Communications at the Sri Lanka High Commission got invited by 13 primary and middle schools for a Show and Tell one-hour talks at each school about Sri Lanka.
All I requested from the school was a Globe and a VHS video machine to play back clips of videos I had on Sri Lanka. All children enjoyed the Show-and-Tell talks. All the artifacts, videos, were from my private collection. None from the High Commission as there were absolutely none. The hits were the Pinnawela elephant orphanage video and Sri Lankan gems that rested on their palms. And I described every gem, and introduced them to their Birth-stone.
They were in awe and so were the teachers. That suite of gems I bought from PunchiSingo’s on Chatham Street as my study collection as a Geology student in the 1960s. And lots of enthusiasm was generated to find out more about Sri Lanka. I distributed a tourist brochure and a tea-bag of Dilmah Orange-pekoe in a small zip-lock bag bought out of my personal funds to every student. I taught them how to make a good cup of tea.
At the end of the Show-and-Tell talk I wanted to hand the Principal of the school a Sri Lankan flag to hang it on Commonwealth Day. My request for 10 large flags from the Foreign Ministry was ignored. So I asked my sister Sybil, to go to Laksala and buy me 10 large Sri Lanka flags, parcel them well and take it to the Foreign Ministry to send to me in the diplomatic bag. I also gave her a letter to hand over to President Premadasa to facilitate the delivery of the parcel to me, in case the Foreign Ministry was reluctant to bring the parcel over to me. Thank God, they did, thus there was no need to request President Premadasa for that favour.
Before handing over the Sri Lanka flag to each principal, I made it a point to explain the significance of the symbology and colours in the flag, and most importantly the two colour stripes recognizing the two major minority groups, Tamils and Muslims in the island, saying, as I know of, Sri Lanka flag is the only Commonwealth country flag that recognized their minority communities.
Two school groups visited the High Commision on Range Road for the Show-and-Tell Hour. This presentation in the library was a slideshow of Sri Lanka in a Kodak carousel which was from my private collection synching with the poetry I wrote on Sri Lanka. There were 32 students and teachers sitting on the floor, and I had to ask the High Commissioner to give me a break by providing orange juice and 32 doughnuts as refreshments for the students and teachers as I was not given an entertainment allowance to pay for such an event. Both Walter Rupesinghe and Walter Fernando were kind and obliged. They knew how embarrassed I was.
10. Communications – providing research material for post graduate students for their theses and special papers on Sri Lanka.
Two instances come to my mind. The first was, when two High School students and their teacher from British Columbia met with High Commissioner Rupesinghe in his office. They had been assigned Sri Lanka as the country they should be representing in their mini-Commonwealth gathering in Ottawa.
After discussing issues with the High Commissioner he passed them on to me to hand them brochures. During the chat I asked them whether they would like me to coach them. They jumped with enthusiasm and thought that it was a kind and a wonderful idea. They went back home with the trophy for the Best Country Presentation. The teacher and the two students thanked me by taking me out for dinner at the Chateau Laurier’s Canadian Grill.
The second similar incident was when a British Master’s student in International Studies at Carleton University met with High Commissioner Rupesinghe as she wanted to see whether she could adopt Sri Lanka as her country subject. After meeting with the High Commissioner, he passed her on to me for brochures, et cetera. During our chat, I told G.D (initials of her name), that I will provide her with all the research material on Sri Lanka from my private extensive Library at home if she decides to adopt Sri Lanka as her subject country. And that is what happened. One of her seminars was taped to be played back to HC Rupesinghe. She started the seminar by introducing herself as, I am Walter Rupesinghe the High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in Canada and I will be……” The High Commissioner was amazed by the excellent presentation and he thanked both of us for this excellent presentation. She got an A+ for the seminar.
So this is the Communications guy whose appointment to the High Commission in Ottawa, was sneaked as a complaint by a Foreign Ministry diplomat, and questioned in parliament by Minister C.V. Guneratna.
All I can say to this ‘faceless’ diplomat at the Foreign Ministry is to Please stand-up. I just want to see what the Do-do’s face looks like!”.
11, Production of Communication Information Kits
When nothing in the form of information kits from either the Information Department nor the Foreign Ministry landed on my desk, I requested HC Walter Rupesinghe to find me $600 to produce’100 information kits for him to distribute among Sri Lanka Watchers in the Canadian Parliament and Government too. This exercise was to Inform and Educate them about the flipside of the separatist Tamil propaganda. So he did.
I worked one weekend at home and produced 22 one page information sheets like, The Land and its peoples (p.4); Economy (p.6); Guide to Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy (p.7); Ethnic conflict (p.8); Investment opportunities (p.22). I got them printed at Commoners, the publisher of my poetry collections. I gave a title for this Information Kit – Sri Lanka – its Mosaic at a Glance., January 1992. Went to Grand and Toy and bought 100 silver coloured pocket files. Went to Bouclaire, a fabric Store, and bought a few reels of silver-green ribbons and put the 100 kits together which looked very professional.
And do you know who claimed the authorship of my hard work? Weragama, Minister Counsellor who replaced me. So he was riding on my back to get Brownie points for his survival as a diplomat.
I produced the second Information Kit on 1 January 1994 for HC Walter Fernando which included 30, one page –Sri Lanka : The Hidden Secret Quick Facts. Mr. Bradman Weerakoon, Adviser to
International Relations to the President after reading the kit wrote a note to HC Walter Fernando which said – I am sure Asoka Weerasinghe, your innovative colleague working on Public Relations must have helped in the compilation of these papers….This is certainly a valuable addition to the information we already have, and I think should be shared with colleagues in Missions around the world.”
But do you know who took Kudos for my effort? You guessed it right. Mr. Weragama, the Minister Counsellor, the diplomat sent by the Foreign Ministry, who had the habit of riding on my back to pick-up Brownie points to shore-up reasons for his survival. He indeed was an irritant.
He is the diplomat who went around town accusing me of having stolen the Masks from the High Commission, that I used from my enormous Museum quality private collection for events and that I stole information files. And that is an ugly and an angry story.
I might have a few words about this character at the Mission before I end this brief. This diplomat was lucky that I didn’t get him by his collars and shake him until his bones rattled and dropped at his feet. As you see, after 26 years I am still very angry with this guy , who lacked class and sophistication, who never should have been sent to Ottawa as a diplomat.
This Minister Counsellor, Weragama could have phoned me and asked me, Mr. Weerasinghe, I was told that you had always exhibited Masks and puppets at every big event of the Mission. We have been trying to find them. Do you know where they would be?” Sure, Weragama, they are all at my home. They were all from my private collection as the High Commission had sweet buggerall and it was pitiful. You can borrow them from me as long as you guarantee me that you will be very careful handling them as they are hand selected valuable top-quality Museum artifacts.” I am a Museologist and had worked for Canada’s National Museums Corporation in the 1970s as Head, Thematic Research Section, Design and Display Division and as Head, Exhibits Section, for the National Museum of Natural Sciences at the Victoria Memorial Museum in Ottawa.
I reported this faux pas to High Commission Ananda Goonesekara, establishing my ownership with copies of receipts of purchase going back to 1970s, and also identifying the Antique store Daya and Sriya on Peradeniya Road in Kandy with whom I was dealing with to check the veracity of my claim.
I did not receive an acknowledgment from the High Commissioner Goonesekara. I was surprised. I wished and I wished that he together with Weragama made an effort to claim all my Masks and puppets as according to Weragama he had identified the thief, Asoka Weerasinghe, who had stolen the masks from the High Mission. I wish they came after me, the thief, who stole the masks from the High Commission. I am surprised that HC Goonasekera did not reclaim the alleged property of the Sri Lanka Government. That would have been fun. There was no apology for their stupidity and they were wrong on that assumption and tarring me as a ‘thief’. By not coming after me, the thief, I lost the opportunity to prove that there was an ‘unsophisticated village idiot’ among the High Commission staff.
12. High Commissioners Walter Rupesinghe and Walter Fernando make efforts to erase my embarrassments.
Both High Commissioners, Walter Rupesinghe, in particular felt that I had not been treated well by the Foreign Ministry, not having provided an entertainment allowance to reciprocate the courtesy invitations for working lunches and dinners paid by members of the Press Corp, nor the rent allowance promised so that I could continue paying my mortgage. They invited around 20 of my media contacts once a year for dinner at the High Commissioner’s residence on Range Road.
This was a most generous and kind gesture by both of them. This also gave them an opportunity to meet the media personnel who were active on the Sri Lanka file.
Both gave me permission to invite ten of my Media contacts for the Independence celebration evenings.
And what was sacrilegious on the Foreign Ministry treatment of this outsider was when they refused to provide me with a business card. Under my breath I said, ‘Don’t you ever try to treat me like an outcast, a stepson of the Ministry. When I told Secretary Bernard Thillekaratne, “Let me ask President Premadasa to provide me with a ‘business card’”, it was given to me. That was asinine.
13. Acknowledging my contribution to uphold the dignity and good name of Sri Lanka, by High Commissioner’s Walter Rupesinhge and Walter Fernando who were my superiors while working for the High Commission in Ottawa.
- It was February 5th 1993, when I returned from lunch H.C. Rupesinghe called me into his office and asked me to sit. We had a pleasant chat how we worked well together as a team, and said how he appreciated my giving him a hand when ever he needed help, like filling in the gap as the Trade Councillor; taking over the Pension files, and representing Sri Lanka at the UN’s Montreal Protocol, and that he could always depended on me.
He handed me a sheet of paper and said, This is the least that could do for you as a Thank You.”
The 8”x 10” paper had a Sri Lankan Government logo and beneath it was the inscription of the letter-head which said High Commissioner for Sri Lanka, Canada.” On it was a typed letter which said :
5th February 1993
Mr. Asoka Weerasinghe functioned as my Media and Communications Director during my term of service in the High Commission.
Asoka’s passionate love for Sri Lanka and his superb understanding of our political, economic and social problems, made him admirably suited to promote the image of the country and to counter the adverse publicity generated by elements hostile to our Democratic way of life and the unitary state. Asoka carried out these arduous and challenging duties withexemplary enthusiasm and finesse. He is indeed an asset to the Mission.
Asoka is an artist, poet and a person of several other intellectual pursuits. The amalgam of all these attributes, not found in one person, made him a Media and Communications Director par excellence.
I wish him well in all his future endeavours.
(Sgd,) Walter Rupesinghe
He surprised me. I knew that all these sentiments came from his heart, and I thanked him profusely and thanked President Premadasa for his vision to appoint us to work as a team, which worked out extremely well.
b, Walter E. Fernando, the other High Commissioner under whom I worked with, in a letter dated Monday, 25November, 1996 said:
We wish to thank you both for coming to the Airport andseeing us off. We appreciate very much your friendship and cooperation extended to us during our stay in Ottawa, and especially, you were an able Lieutenant in the High Commission and I had no fear when I requested you to do something because I was confident of positive results. Really you are a man of action. I know you are an advocate and a canvasser for Sri Lanka and your contributions in many spheres are appreciated……”
With warm regards
Walter & Chalini.”
What has baffled me Professor Colombage is with all these glowing sentiments, I am still the most misunderstood expatriate at the Foreign Ministry. Go figure that one out.
Perhaps, may be that I am a very visible foot soldier in the Volunteer Overseas Third Army, the face seen on TV monitors commenting on Canadian Eelamists, and scores of letters to Editors of leading newspapers with my name under them, and perhaps calling a spade a spade, battling the Eelamnists under the very capable Major Generals, Brigadier-Generals, Lieutenant-Colonels and Majors, in the honest amazing gutsy platoons of patriot-expatriates like Daya Hettiarachchi, Ira de Silva, Mahinda Gunasekera, Eric Perera (former Montrealer), Asoka Yapa, Harrison Perera (now in Sri Lanka), Malkanthi Perera, Ed Ferdinando, Prathap Perera, Sarath Lokuliyanage, and the like with whom I worked very closely with. All these senior and young expatriates could have turned their backs on Sri Lanka but they decided not to.
Some stood tall for their Motherland, Sri Lanka, for 30 long years, day in and day out, while the diplomats did their Government Musical Chair routine changes every third year.
That should be recognized, without ignoring them as Minister Counsellor Weragama did during Minister G.L.
Peries’s visit to Canada in 1997, which left a bitter taste in our mouths, including me. Since then I have kept away from the High Commission and so have they kept me away at arm length, except for three breaks during two High Commissioners and a Counsellor General in Toronto, who commanded my respect. The were amazing down to earth whose public relations with the expatriate community were exceptional and honest diplomats. They were Rodney Vandergert, Chitranganee Wagiswara and Bandula Jayasekera. Bandula was an amazing diplomat and we need a few more of them in Ottawa.
14. In the Orientation Programme for Ambassadors/High Commissioners designated you had slotted a spot on Overseas Sri Lankans.” That I am sure had its virtues.
Here is an incident that should have never happened on Overseas Sri Lankans, but it did happen. This incident could be used as a case study. This incident has the HallMark of an insolent High Commissioner Bull” Weeratunga, and the First Secretary Diplomat from the Foregn Ministry K.B. Fernando.
Here is the story:
On 1 November 1987, I sent a letter on a letterhead of ‘Project Peace for a United Sri Lanka’, addressed to The Editor, SUN & WEEKEND, Colombo 12, Sri Lanka. It was an
OPEN LETTER TO HON. GAMINI DISSANAYAKE, MINISTER FOR LANDS AND MAHAVELI DEVELOPMENT…
Mister Minister, on 17th October evening when you addressed a group of Sri Lankan-Canadians in Vancouver during a reception given to your Commonwealth delegation by members of Sri Lanka Friendship Association of B.C., you made it your business to attack me personally challenging my honour, integrity, and patriotism for Sri Lanka. Why?
In a letter of mine to The Globe and Mail (Toronto) on 16 September, which you had read to the gathering with remarks such as This is garbage”, as I had mentioned that Was it deliberate that this pact between Sri Lanka’s President Junious Jayewardene and India’s Rajiv Gandhi was hurried when Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa, a strong opponent of merging the North and East Provinces was out of the country’ He was in Japan and was never consulted.’
On the 18th October, I had 17 telephone calls from Vncouver, all angry with what you had to say of me, all angry the way you conducted yourself, especially as a senior Minister representing Sri Lanka,
Subsequently, I had the opportunity to listen to the audio tape of your speech. Having heard your reference to me by name, my immediate reaction was What damn arrogance, what a load of horse poop!”
Mr. Minister, you have placed me in an unenviable position to defend my honour and my patriotism to my Motherland that I left 31 years ago. And for the record, I will do so with humility and justifiable pride.
When Sri Lanka was burning in late July, early on 4th August of 1983 together with an articulate and a strong patriot, Asoka Yapa, we happened to be the first Sri Lankan Sinhalese-Canadians, who under the threat of death by the Eelamists spoke on camera on 4 August National TV 6 o’clock News defending your government………………..”
In December 1983, I spent my three week annual holiday cooped in my den researching, editing and typing a 22 page Fact Sheet…….. for circulation to 600 addresses in Canada and abroad, among the media, federal agencies, parliamentarians……………”;
For your information Mr. Minister, I have spent $8,000 from my own pocket to help the cause of your Government and Sri Lanka, while your Government spent $35,000 on 23rd November 1985, on full page advertisements in the Globe and Mail (Toronto) and The Citizen (Ottawa) to tell the Canadians who your President was by publishing his ‘Bio-data’. Did you honestly believe that the Canadians cared?………”;
Mister Minister, when your High Commissioner General Tissa Weeratunga was hounded day in and day out like a stricken doe in August 1986, as a Tamil torturer” by the Eelamists through the media which reduced him to a lame duck”, I went out of my way under the auspices of Project Peace” to defend him through the media under the heat of TV cameras…….Did you not know all this?
Of course not. Or else you wouldn’t have had the temerity and uncharitable gall to try to ridicule me in the presence of a large gathering in Vancouver.”………………………………………………………..”
Mr. Minister, you know by now that you have been unfair towards me, and I could catalogue many, many more items on my defence which would only prove that I am no less patriotic to Sri Lanka, than what you think you are………………………………………………..
In retrospect, if it were bad advice by your Government officials that made you get on your high horse in Vancouver to shoot darts of personal insults at me, then it is your prerogative to reprimand, demote or dismiss from the service the individual(s) as it befits the intensity of your embarrassment.”
As for me, Mr. Minister, I certainly wouldn’t let your intellectual-dishonesty and intellectual-thuggery pass by me without a challenge, when my integrity, my honesty and my patriotism has been questioned in public. I don’t intend to roll over and pretend I am dead just because a Senior Minister of Sri Lanka’s Government spoke. And that is exercising my democratic rights of freedom.
(sgd.) Asoka Weerasinghe
‘Project Peace for a United Sri Lanka”
16. To continue with the Senior Minister Gamini Dissanayake which should never have happened. The fault lies with the High Commissioner Tissa Weeratunga and First Secretary, the Foreign Ministry, K.B. Fernando who thought they were doing an excellent job reporting an expatriate who was effectively standing tall for his Motherland, Sri Lanka against the spitting, slapping, kicking and assaulting her by the Canadian-Eelamists. Bad judgement!
My letter to Minister Gamini Dissanayake of 1 December, 1987, was:
Dear Mr., Dissanayake:’
Reading Column 1680 of 12th November Hansard on Sri Lankan Parliamentary Debates, I was astounded by your breach of privilege when you mislead your Parliamentary colleagues with an untruth about your speech of 17 October at Vancouver, when questioned by Mr. Anura Bandaranaike, the Leader of the Opposition.
You said in Parliament that:
Can I just mention to the Hon. Leader of the Opposition that I did not know of this gentleman, nor did I communicate with him, but at the reception hosted by the Sri Lankans in Vancouver I only said, without referring to names that they should not judge what is happening in Sri Lanka from Canada” – (Hansard)
But what you did indeed say in Vancouver was:
Some people are shouting about….now this is a letter written by one Mr. Asoka Weerasinghe – is he here? This is a letter written by him. Postage is very cheap so you post these to the President, Mr. Anura Bandaranaike and many others. This should be really put into the wastepaper basket. This is what he writes….” (transcribed from audio-tape of your speech).
What is hilarious and annoying about this episode is to find out that your fire and brimstone” attack on me then, has turned out to be a mealy-mouth squeak. You are obviously embarrassed.
And as I had requested to you in my Open Letter of 1 November, if it was bad advice that put you into this act, then I hope you have taken adequate action to reprimand the person(s) for having placed a senior Minister in Sri Lanka’s Cabinet into this shameful lapse……………………”
What you have failed to acknowledge so far, is that the call for an Eelam is not only fought within the shores of Sri Lanka, but also in lands away from Sri Lanka by very strong lobbies of Eelam sympathisers. The defenders of Sri Lanka abroad are not only Missions abroad, and for that matter most certainly not the Mission in Canada – but by groups such as ours, Project Peace for a united Sri lanka”, and a few committed individuals like myself.
With this unfortunate incident, I hope you will correct this discrepancy, and not ‘rubbish’ the few dedicated expatriates who are fighting Sri Lanka’s cause as determinedly as you are. Foremost remember that Sri Lanka needs us and we need Sri Lanka.
And to conclude this letter, you did ask from the Vancouver audience whether Mr. Asoka Weerasinghe was here. When you damn well knew that I won’t be there as I did mention to the High Commissioner and the First Secretary that I won’t be coming.
You bet if I were there listening to your ranting and rubbishing me, I would have stripped a piece off you so that you would never try that stunt
again like- I am the BIG GUY from Sri Lanka, I can say whatever I want to say and rubbish anyone willy-nilly.
Oh No Mr. Minister, don’t you ever, ever try that stunt again mentioning my name and rubbishing me. Never again, as I will certainly strip a piece off you in public and that is going to hurt your I am the BIG GUY from Sri Lanka” persona. I want you to be a bit smarter than what you think you are.
(sgd) Asoka Weerasinghe”
P.S For your notes Professor Colombage, I did send that audio-tape by registered cover to Speaker E. L. Senanayake, hoping that he would listen and slap Minister Dissanayake’s wrist for the breach of privilege misleading the parliamentarians. It never happened.
My Museum quality Masks, puppets and Facsimiles of Heritage flags : two collections were acquired by the Canadian Museum of Civilization (Now Canadian Museum of History). All artifacts were well researched and written as Introductions and Labels for exhibition. The third collection was auctioned by Empire Auctioneers, and the Fourth collection of facsimiles of heritage flags were acquired by the University of British Columbia Anthropology Museum in Vancouver. Fifth collection is hanging on the walls of the basement of my home. All researched and explained in introductory and artifact labels. I also have a large library of literature on SriLankan Masks, and facsimiles of Heritage flags.
My political files of my writings etc of 30 years (1983-2014), 30 boxes of them, were donated to the Library of General Sir John Kotelawela Defence University at Ratmalana, on 9 April 2014.
The donation was officially accepted by Vice Chancellor Major General Milinda Peiris RWP RSP USP.
The transportation of the 30 boxes were facilitated by SPUR of Australia and SLUNA of Toronto, Canada, and a few individuals who valued my political writings and wanted them to be archived in a recognized library. I was lucky that they found a recognized home for my files or they would have been recycled through the black waste bins.
17. To conclude this brief, it is with utmost pride and humility that I present the Highlights of my COMMUNICATIONS & CULTURAL ACTIVITIES for the Sri Lanka High Commission, Ottawa, Canada, from June 1989 – May 1994. This is a partial record of my REPORT CARD:
*Published letters to the : 56 Letters Editors defending The Ottawa Citizen (Ottawa) incumbent Government’s The Globe & Mail (Toronto) policies The Toronto Star (Toronto) The Toronto Sun (Toronto) Surrey/North Delta Leader (British Columbia) The Whig-Standard (Kingston, On.)
Sri Lanka Abroad (Toronto)
Star India Journal (Toronto)
India Journal (Los Angeles, US)
The Island (Sri Lanka)
*Letters responding to : 235(1989); 649(1990);
Amnesty International and 1223 (1991); 872 (1992)
Lobbyists 426 (1993); 257 (1994)
*Television Shows : Scripted and produced Nine
(9) Songs of Sri Lanka” for
MacLean-Hunter Cable TV,
Highlighted the following:
Dancing – The Tea Pluckers
Dance, Gajaga Vannama,
Kavi Maduwa, Sinhala &
Tamil New Year, Kataragama
Tea, Gems & Jewellery,
Kolam & Sanni Masks and
Elephants and its influence
on folk art, Bharata Natyam,
Wesak, Interviewing Air
Commodore Leonard Birch-
all, Poetry on Sri Lanka
Reading to school children
(Note: All the Sri Lankan artifacts were from my private collection. There was absolutely sweet nothing to show-case Sri Lanka at the High Commission.)
*Exhibition The Art of Healing: Ritual Masks of
participation: Sri Lanka (Canadian Museum of Civilization);
Festival of Masks: Sri Lanka Ritual Masks
(Museum of Quebec);
Sri Lankan-Canadian Writers (Edmonton);
Focus on Sri Lanka (Algonquin College,
Sri Lankan Heritage flags, puppets and masks
(National Arts Centre, Ottawa)
Kolam Masks (National Gallery, Ottawa)
(Note: All the Sri Lankan artifacts were from my extensive private collection. There was absolutely nothing to showcase Sri Lanka at the Sri Lanka High Commission. It was abysmal and embarrassing.)
*Public Talks : * ‘Sri Lankan Healing Masks: The Delicious
Nightmares (Canadian Museum of Civilization);
* Claim for Separate State in Sri Lanka: The
Eastern Province whose Home Land?”
* Buddhist Spirituality in Meditation”
(Sai Baba 20th Anniversary Celebration,
Sri Lanka Masking Ceremonies” (Newfound-
*Talks in Schools: 13 Talks on Sri Lanka with artifacts, slide
and video presentations to school children
in the National Capital Region, sometimes
through my published Poetry on Sri Lanka.
*University Theses: Was subject advisor to two Masters
Students – one on anthropological
significance of Sri Lanka masking cere-
monies. The other on Sri Lanka Aid &
Development in today’s political environ-
*Provided : Carleton University (Ottawa), University of
research Ottawa, McMaster University (Hamilton),
material and my Brock University (St. Catherines), Brad
published College (New York, US), University of
essays and Windsor (Windsor), McGill University
critical writings (Montreal), Concordia University,
(from my per- (Montreal), Simon Fraser University (BC),
sonal Library) University of Victoria (BC),
to Ph.D., M.A., ,University of British Columbia (Vancouver),
& B.A students University of Manitoba (Winnipeg).
for their special
theses, exposing the
perspective of Sri
position in the ethnic
*The National :Coaching the students who represen-
Students Common- ted Sri Lanka at the Forum (1990, 91,92,
Wealth Forum 94);
*Museum Sri Lankan : Advisor on cataloguing at the Canadian
artifacts Museum of Civilization, Ottawa;
*Press Releases : 223
* Sri Lanka News : 54
* Information Kits :Sri Lanka-Human Rights (July 1991)
Sri Lanka – A Mosaic at a Glance
Sri Lanka -A Hidden Secret -Quick Facts
*Net Working : With Media personnel across Canada.
Law enforcing authorities, ‘Sri Lanka
United National Association’, ‘Project
Peace for a United Sri Lanka’ and other
Sri Lanka-Canada Associations
across Canada. I have established
contacts with all these Associations
since the Summer of 1983.
CONCLUSION : While identifying very poor basics of
Office Management , Time
Management and Records
Management which brought untold
headaches for the High
Commissioners, it is with honesty and
pride that I could claim that I created
several portals and bench-marks of
excellence”for the next Communi-
cations Officer that will be appointed
for the High Commission.
He or She will have no excuse not to
deliver as best as I did or better than
what I did performing tasks as the
Director of Communications of the
Sri Lanka High Commission in Ottawa
from June 1989 – May 1994.