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 This is Paradise

 


Kohona kolam and other tales

It must be that blasted bug that’s bugging me still. I don’t have to tell you that bugs have this nasty habit of bugging us in more senses than one.

There I was seated comfortably on my 200-year old sofa when I was nearly knocked off my perch on that historical piece of furniture.

For a moment I thought the bug was returning to bug me just when the Pachoris household had thought I was over the worst of it.

Wrestling

Having taken a firmer grip of my seat I wrestled with the idea of returning to bed and propping myself up with a couple of pillows and the day’s newspapers. My return to our favourite watering hole, Paradise Club, which I had not frequented for days, was obviously out of the question even if I felt fit enough.

One civil war in the country was quite enough. I did not want to open another front at home especially since there was not enough room to advance one square yard into enemy-held territory, leave alone one square kilometre because the rest of the household, armed with broomsticks and pales of water had taken control of the strategic A9 that leads to the front door and out into the garden.

Cut off

I might have considered a feint and then a flank attack but since my supply route had been cut off earlier I thought a tactical retreat, as a good drubbing is sometimes termed to avoid ignominy, I returned to headquarters for some rest and recuperation.

Having ‘snugged’ (as some modern wordsmiths say) myself in bed, I picked a morning daily for recreation. There, staring at me like some bright-eyed reptile was the headline "Lanka turning to Asian donors — Kohona."

There was no doubt who the newspaper meant. For beside a stamp-sized picture of the secretary to our Foreign Ministry was a quote by him. Always a man after a good quote, I Pachoris, read it with growing anticipation.

Finger-wagging

"There are ways we deal with each other, perhaps a quiet chat but not finger-wagging,"

What profundity, what a superb encapsulation of Asian values. At last a Daniel come to judgement, I thought. Well a Daniel anyway!

What mastery of the understatement. Palitha Kohona, the ultimate diplomat, the exponent par excellence of the quiet chat, the pride of the foreign service. While Professor Rajiva Wijesinha and Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleke are manning the battlements and firing at anybody who fires, not necessarily at them, Kohona — The Quiet, has decided to return to traditional diplomacy.

Surely the New York Times to which prestigious newspaper he had been speaking would have been suitably impressed. Not for him the finger-wagging of a Dominic Chilcott, a Robert Blake or a Jurgen Wurth from the Fourth Reich. No sirree.

Quiet diplomacy

Kohona — The Quiet believes in quiet diplomacy, the quiet chat, to use his words. But hold on a minute. Is this the Asian way or did Kohona mean the Sri Lankan way when he said there are ways we deal with each other? As happens sometimes there is ambiguity in what he says, consciously or not.

If, in fact, he means how Sri Lankans deal with such situations then he has been unfair by his countrymen (lest there be any ambiguity here I mean Sri Lankan not Australian).

As my fellow habitués of Paradise Club will say in one voice, the Sri Lankan way is much more subtle, sneaky and venomous than Kohona has given us credit for, which is unfortunate in the extreme.

Sri Lankans, and I generalise here for the sake of clarity, have a much better way of dealing with people they don’t like — their bosses, their friends and even their enemies.

There is nothing so productive as a whisper campaign. It might entail spreading stories far and wide or just whispering in your boss’s ear, or passing on information to the spouse or leaking information to the media about your boss, an intellectual superior or someone you think might replace you.

If this system of character assassination has yet not been introduced to the Foreign Ministry, Kohona should actually start a pilot project to test its efficacy.

This is a time-tested method which has proved so effective that many are the persons who have fallen by the way side as a result of its implementation at various levels of politics, administration and diplomacy.

Time-tested

I, Pachoris, can vouch that this method which has been handed down from generation to generation from the days of Mervyn Silva’s ancestor Dutugemunu, has been turned into a fine art by ambitious mediocrities that have crept into positions they should never have occupied.

This way of undermining your enemy and your boss could hardly be learnt at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy. This is essentially home grown.

As my university professor never tired of telling me, always buttress your argument with appropriate examples.

So lets try this for size, as they say. Say you don’t like your minister, never mind the reason, though I could cite many. He has a penchant for travelling and meeting people many of whom are not worth meeting.

Limelight

He is grabbing the limelight more than you, though you would like more of that light to shine on you. So what should you do?

First begin by whispering things into your big boss’s ear. If the big boss blows a temporary fuse but then does little because he cannot waste time over somebody’s shenanigans, why leak enough stuff to the press, first in driblets then in larger doses after having a quiet chat with a few journalists and pretenders to journalism.

If we might, on behalf of the habitues of Paradise Club, offer a piece of well meaning advice to the secretary to the ministry he could ask some poor sap of a ‘journalist’ to start undermining a couple of ambassadors here and a high commissioner or two there. That way one can test the system.

New ones

Talking about the quiet chat approach apart, I noticed that Kohona had spoken of the move away from traditional donors to cultivate new ones in Asia. Perhaps the Middle East too, though he has not mentioned it to the NYT.

Donors, as far as I could tell, were those who donated — gave away things free or, at worst, at nominal cost. In my school days I used read of the Sri Lanka Donors Meeting usually held in Paris — and so called the Paris Club — to which then Finance Minister Ronnie de Mel would faithfully go and tell the world how much the donor’s pledged as aid because of our sound economic policies.

Since we became a middle-income country all that has stopped except for a trickle from this one or the other, or the GSP Plus concession which is in danger of withdrawal.

According to the learned Palitha Kohona the new donors "are neighbours, they are rich."

Maybe climate change has rearranged the geography of our neighbourhood. But can you honestly see ‘rich’ neighbours? One would have thought that SAARC represented our neighbourhood. Can anybody really see a rich neighbour there, unless Kohona is referring to India?

Behind Sri Lanka

India might have a new entrepreneurial class, many millionaires and a growing middle class. But in terms of social indicators India is behind Sri Lanka which is anyway going down the drain in some sectors.

Kohona refers to India’s contribution growing to some $500 million this year and later refers to investment by Indian companies.

Now I am no Gamani Corea or Lal Jayawardena, not even an accountant like the Central Bank governor. Yet I would have thought there is a difference between a donor and an investor; an investor being interested in tangible profit. Unless, of course, through the goodness of his heart he donates all that to our government which is most unlikely.

Fivefold

Kohona also says that Chinese "assistance" has grown fivefold to nearly $1 billion eclipsing Japan.

Here again the word ‘assistance’ is not clarified. Does it mean outright grants, or credit-at low interest, commercial rates or what ever? Could any part of this be like the donor-recipient relationship that existed?

In any event China is hardly a neighbour, not unless Kohona’s understanding of geography is as elastic as perhaps, his imagination.   


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