Colombo, Foreign Relations, Politics and Governance, Post-War

Sending Dayan home: the triumph of folly in Sri Lankan politics?

I was tempted to write this article after a few days of reading different news reports about the ‘sacking’ of His Excellency Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka, Sri Lanka’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva. Different explanations have been provided by different quarters about the ‘reasons’ that led to Colombo’s decision to recall its most gifted diplomat. This article does not attempt at analyzing such explanations, or at making any judgments. Concerning Dr. Jayatilleka’s writings on Sri Lanka’s ethnic relations, his personal views expressed on the electronic media since his appointment to Geneva, and his work as Permanent Representative, there are many points that this writer and many others may not agree with. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that Dr Jayatilleka remains one of Sri Lanka’s best political analysts, scholars and public speakers.

Diplomacy is a strange professional domain, where high skills in many areas are appreciated. These generally include foreign language skills, a sound education in the areas of international relations, politics, history and related (and overlapping) academic disciplines, and excellent presentation skills. Most importantly, a good diplomat is marked by his/her ability to network thoroughly, defend his/her opinion in a logical, clear and graceful mannerism, and a strong resolve to defend the interests of his/her state in the international arena. However, the mere possession of these skills does not make a successful diplomat. To begin with, working for the diplomatic corps has been the reserve of the upper echelons of society in almost all states. Browsing through a list of French diplomats in office, one may notice that very few do not have a nom de famille à particule (i.e. a family name beginning with the preposition de, e.g. de Villiers) traditionally a sign of aristocratic descent. Those familiar with Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry and diplomatic apparatus may know the high utility of ‘contacts’ in making one’s way inside the Republic Building.

At the beginning of his term of office, President Rajapakse made a timely speech before diplomats of the Sri Lanka Foreign Service, at a workshop held at the Presidential Secretariat. In his speech, the President clearly stated that the job of a career diplomat is not limited to organizing evening receptions and providing a good education to one’s children. The overall objective of the speech appeared to be that of adding increased professionalism and credibility to the Sri Lanka Foreign Service. Three years later, one wonders what improvements have taken place.

Readers familiar with the Sri Lankan diplomatic corps may agree that the accusatory statements made by the President in the above-mentioned speech bear a fair degree of truth. The Sri Lanka Foreign Service (SLFS) is a service of lavishness, and consists of the most lucrative of government jobs. Diplomatic officials not only enjoy a very generous salary (when posted abroad), but are also provided with free accommodation, a considerably high entertainment allowance, business travel at state expense, and many other perks. One may note that these are normal privileges provided to diplomats by any state, and that Sri Lanka is no exception. I agree. Nevertheless, what leaves one perplexed is the Republic Building’s notions of the management of financial resources. Due to reasons of budget management, the Swedish Foreign Ministry has decided to close several of its embassies/consulates abroad, including their embassy in Colombo. Given the shape of our economy, it is extremely advisable that the state takes prompt measures to ensure that the diplomatic service, one of the most costly government services, is managed in a more cost-effective manner.

Visiting some diplomatic missions of Sri Lanka abroad, one is struck by the feeling that the massive budgetary allocations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are largely spent on paying salaries, perks, business travel and the comfort of diplomats; very little investments are made on embassies, providing efficient and fast services (especially in consular divisions), and in promoting the image of Sri Lanka abroad. A visit to Sri Lanka’s embassy in Paris is a fine example. The waiting area for visitors resembles an outdated government office in the deep recesses of Sri Lankan provincialism. It is completely cramped with visitors, and people queue up literally behind the back of one another, leaving very little room for privacy when dealing with personal issues related to civil status and immigration. There are no basic facilities such as a vending machine or a fountain. There is one counter, and on busy days, the consular division turns nightmarish. The ordinary man and woman visiting the embassy are therefore made to feel unwelcome, and as per customer services, the mark is a clear 0 out of 100.

Nevertheless, there are French nationals who work in the sectors of economic cooperation (who are paid by the Sri Lankan tax payer). Their officers resemble a world apart from the consular division’s waiting area. Adorned by state of the art furniture, Sri Lankan ornaments, paintings and other décor, one is left wondering if the two sections are part of the same establishment. Upstairs, the ambassadorial offices are also lavish, and the government of Sri Lanka owns an extremely sumptuous ambassadorial residence in Neuilly-sur-Seine, the top-most high residential area of Paris, which is also President Zarkozy’s constituency (he became the mayor of Neuilly at the early age of 28). Diplomats roam in the streets of Paris in luxury vehicles with diplomatic number plates, as the Sri Lankan taxpayer fuels their luxuries.

The point I making is that the Sri Lanka’s Foreign Service establishment is in need of a more cost-effective approach to management. There are many embassies abroad where next to nothing is done as prompt services to the nation, to expatriates, or to anyone else except to the diplomats in office. By adopting an approach based on quality services, maintenance of essential services and cutting down on the less essential, the state can save billions, and use that money for crucial sectors such as healthcare and education.

As some readers have noted on Groundviews and elsewhere, the skills’ of some of our top diplomats have been amply displayed in the last few months, on foreign media. It is an unarguable truism that some diplomats in office (in extremely crucial duty stations) are thoroughly incapable of defending Sri Lanka’s interests in an articulate manner. Public speaking and presentation skills of some senior diplomats are appalling; and very few can stand up and make an eloquent oration in a language other than Sinhala, Tamil or English. It is no exaggeration to state that in the absence of Ambassador Dr Jayatilleka, the Sri Lankan government would have faced major problems in the last few months. While expressing disagreement on some of his positions, it needs to be mentioned that no other serving diplomat would have been capable of defending the Sri Lankan state the way Dr Jayatilleka did in Geneva.

The misfortune of our land is that high talent is seen as something venomous, which requires different degrees of ‘elimination’. There are those who believe that in order to possess the skills mentioned earlier, one needs to come from an upper class background. If that is not the case, your skills may value less. Then, there are individuals, especially in the Foreign Ministry, who desperately cling to perks knowing that they are thoroughly unqualified for the positions they are in. Such personae share a high level of wrath towards anyone capable of shining more than them, surpassing their meager levels of skill, and demonstrating outstanding talent. They would make all possible efforts to promptly eliminate such rare talent from the Republic Building. This, together with the adamancy of the Sinhala nationalist far right, explains the brief fax message carrying the news of Dr. Jayatilleka’s ousting.

One is left perplexed, and wonders what would be the fate of Sri Lanka if practices of this nature are to be continued. This is a vicious circle, and breaking it is a common challenge faced by all Sri Lankans at home and abroad.

  • Grim Hope

    Maharajano and Rajapakse family just uses everyone to get their work done and then betray them… I predicted this on July 1st on groundview that Maharajano will betray Dayan as well.

    Good luck Sri Lanka! At the end of Rajapakse regime, Sri Lanka will be like Myanmar!!

  • Atheist


    I started to read your article with interest, thinking you were about to analyze the reasons for Dayan’s dismissal from his recent post. Lo and behold, it turns out that your article is just another bashing of the everyday Lankan.

    I will jump for joy the day all Sri Lankans are fluent in all three languages: English, Sinhala and Tamil. I live in a country where the second language is French; however, the majority of the English speaking people – besides saying “Bonjour” and “Merci”- cannot form a single coherent sentence in French. Leaving aside French for a moment, the Anglo-Saxons of this land are the ones that most often tend to be unilingual. Hence, it is this dominant, unilingual majority – and I have nothing against the unilingual – that rules the country. It seems like Lankans are not the only ones who need interpreters.

    Dayan Jayatilleka is highly looked up to by the young people of the Sri-Lankan Diaspora because of the confident manner with which he faces the various challenges brought on by western imperialism. Martin Blake’s interview of Dayan shows Dayan’s eclectic interests, including music, television shows and popular culture. It seems to me that Dayan’s good education and social background have not let him down. However, it is all too sad when so many pseudo, western, educated Lankans become self-hating – constantly looking down on the “ordinary” Lankan masses. Being self-critical is commendable, but self-hatred is not. Self-hatred is as equally detrimental to society and to oneself as hatred of the Other. I think this is the key difference between people like Dayan, and the bourgeois in Lanka and abroad.

    By the way, the absence of a vending machine in the Lankan embassy in Paris is a saving grace, my dear Chaminda. Why overdose on Coke and candy when people can do a bit of good for the environment and for their health by taking their own tea/coffee in a flask with a packet of rice to boot. This may even earn them a few points as hip greenies among a sea of cornichon munchers…hah! Hah!!!

    Regards from,
    A curry munching oldie!

  • Atheist

    I am sorry, I meant to say that the interview of Dayan was conducted by David Blacker – not Martin Blake.

    I think I’ve placed too much reading material at my desk. I apologize for the mixup.

    I never knew old age was catching up so fast!

  • Lal


    It is refreshing to learn that there are a few learned Lankans around. Our major problem is this few [edited out] with a bit of English who claims to know everything and whatever others say/do has no relevance. This group of [edited out] belongs nowhere; lost between cultures, happy enough to lick any arse and treat our people, our values with contempt. Let’s try to defeat these venomous serpents. Get lost Chaminda! Dayan has done his job as a true Sri Lankan and served the nation with utmost diligence. There is so much one can do; it’s the time for others to take his place and lead. Dayan 13A is not going to work, sorry to disappoint you.

  • Banda

    Nothing to do , our politicians have no basic education,they are simply idiots ……

  • cassandra

    Dayan has done a good job as ambassador in Geneva. He deserves the thanks of the nation, and it is a pity he should be leaving his post in the manner he is. However, part of the price you pay for being an ambassador for your country is the need to keep your private views to your self if they run counter to the official government line, and in this respect, Dayan appears to have failed. If you look at the position objectively, having continued to express his views on the 13th Amendment for example, contrary to what the President has said, Dayan cannot now call ‘foul’. He has stepped out of line and now must take his medicine like a man.

  • Das

    No diplomat can have ‘personal views’ – especially political – at variance with those of the government he serves. In this respect,he was a ‘misfit’ in the foreign ministry. Such diplomats have resigned – only in other countries.
    This must have been the cause for his dismissal.

  • Dayans may come and Dayans may go, but we gone on for ever – say the MR
    trio. This is Sri Lankan Politics and not Educational standards/achievements.

  • Dayan Jayatilleka

    Das is obviously unaware that one of the most important policy interventions of the postwar era, that which inaugurated the famous doctrine of containment, originated in an article written by George Kennan under the pseudonym Mr X, in the Foreign Affairs quarterly in 1947, while Kennan was a serving American DPL in Moscow. This was itself a reworking of a “long telegram” he had sent his bosses in Washington DC. Then again, just a few years ago, we had Francis Fukuyama’s highly controversial “The End of History”, which was firstly a journal article and then a book, published while Dr Fukuyama was a member of the policy planning staff of the US State Department.

  • Hari Narendran

    Cassandra, the President himself has consistently spoken of 13th Amendment
    + as a political solution upto this point, so if Dayan’s firing were a result of his espousal of the 13th amendment being counter to gov’t policy then it must mean the President has changed his mind. I’d hope thats not the case. but if so it would just reinforce what many of us have thought all along – this government has no wish to find a lasting solution to the ills that have long plagued our nation.

  • ashok

    Although Dayan did his job well he has no clear understanding of the 13A.He has tom understand one thing.
    He should not talk about his private views in public as they cannot be same as the views of the Government policy makers.He has to do his job and that is it.As Sarath Fonseka said he is a soldier and has nothing to do with politics or government policies regarding devolution.You cannot push the boundaries just because you did a good job in your field.This showed that Dayan was not a professional although he did a good job.

  • Pearl Thevanayagam

    I am a llittle tired of this debate but nevertheless for the sake of lcarity i want to endorse the writer’s views which are similar to what I want to say.

    The diplomats today enjoying the perks Sri Lanka offers with money meant for its population nave never had it so good.

    I had the occasion to visit an information counsellor (ex-journalist) in Norway a few years ago and I wasflabbergasted at the opulent house complete with sauna, a cellar full of all th sirits and wines, you name it there it was. And he was nto even a career diplomat.

    This is the post created for disinformation against the LTTE.

    Now Dayan is a different calibre in that he has a superior intellect and although I have only briefly met him once he cannot be bought for these perks because he would have enjoyed them since his childhood.

    But alas, the govt. wants to give everybody a chance at tasting the divine nectar of diplomatic immunity and diplomatic luxuries.

    It is indeed sad that we have to watch these goons in SL diplomatic missions not doing any service for their motherland but acquiring as much as possible for their families and living the grand life at least for a short while.

    Oh, by the way perhaps the govt. can increase the numbers now that it got the IMF loan.
    Hey let’s party. Never mind those silly Tamils in barbed wire concentration camps or those Sinhala villagers who are still eating manioc and pol sambol because rice is too expensive.

  • Grim Hope


    All these well formed sentences are very nice! But All these boils down to is people act with greed for power, money, position, recognition etc and also with hatred. Until we recognize this and agree to do something about it by implementing some checks and balances in the system, Sri Lanka is going to be like this. Few people with power and money will misleading and used the rest of the less able people. I think even before the 13th Amendment, implementing the 17th amendment is more important. At least will bring some balance to the enforcement and the executive.

    Recently, I read a news about appointing only Buddhist priest from all the Sects to the Ministry of Justice for weird reason? what do you think of this? Wouldn’t this be unfair to the other religious? I think these type of insensitivity will again lead to Religious and Ethnic tensions in the future.

  • Dayan Jayatilleka

    Grim Hope,

    I have always felt that the state should be secular, or if that is not possible, should function — as during Premadasa– as multi-religious, multiethnic and multi lingual.

  • Dear Readers,

    Thanks a lot for your comments, which have triggered an interesting discussion. Ahtiest: thanks for you comment, and I do appreciate your views on self-hatred and the vending machine. Concerning self-hatred, I have seen expressions of it in my own wonderings in the Diaspora (Sinhala and Tamil).
    Concerning vending machines, I do agree with what you are saying -BUT the point I was trying to make was that the state of the place I am referring to does not provide any facilities to the large number of people visiting it everyday of the week (it is very unpleasant for visitors with young children, especially when waiting periods are horribly long).

    Lal: I wish to make no comment about your expression of arrogance. I won’t get lost anywhere, as, by all means, I am a person with firm foundations in both East and West.

  • Athiest: a wee addition – concerning the language issue, I do agree with your ideas on monolingualism. In my article, I am referring to a specific group – the officers of the elite diplomatic service of Sri Lanka. Given the high foreign affairs budget, and SL-specific priorities, we need diplomats who can fluently converse in several foreign languages – this adds a tremendous plus to our diplomatic relations with certain states, and helps develop special relationships and higher levels of economic and cultural cooperation. It must also be said that there are several serving officers in the Foreign Service who are indeed proficient in foreign languages, but it is crystal clear that this is an area with space for a good deal of improvement.

  • To make a third point, I take outright offense to the statement that this article is ‘just another brashing of the everyday Lankan’. This is a view that results in a complete misreading and misunderstanding of my article. This rendering in no way looks down upon the ordinary masses, where I fully and integrally belong.

    However, a word on one issue I was reminded of when reading some comments:

    One issue that I could not mention in my article is a key point President Rajapakse mentioned in his speech to SLFS officers (referred to in the article). He notes that some diplomats are incapable of fluently speaking their mother tongue. He adds that he has met many high profile diplomats from other states who are fluent in their native languages.

    Now this problem is not limited to the diplomatic service. There are major issues with the teaching of Sinhala and Sinhala literature in Sri Lanka’s system of secondary education. This has resulted in a generation of ‘educated’ folks with little acquaintance of classical Sinhalese literature, its different periods of development from Anuradhapura to Kandy, rich texts including Amavatura-Buthsarana and Siyabaslakara to Kavsilumina and message poetry. This results in a low level of appreciation of one’s own language, literature and rich cultural heritage (or, as it is amply seen in present-day Sri Lanka, – a misreading of it all, for the wrong reasons).
    As the late Prof. Sarachchandra rightly stated, ‘Sinhala pamanak danna Sinhala vath hariyata nodani’. The state of teaching Sinhala partly explains the President’s comment in his speech to SLFS diplomats (and the lacuna is visible in all other areas of public service).

    I believe that the sorry state of teaching and learning one’s mother tongue has an impact on learning other languages. A high level of proficiency in one’s mother tongue results in a passion to learn and master other languages. I have met (apparently educated) people who appear to take pride in their little command of Sinhala and ignorance of Sinhalese literature. This is definitely not the way forward, and needs to be fixed by consistent government policy on teaching Sinhala.

    It goes without saying that teaching Tamil, and developing a good understanding and appreciation of Tamil literature (classical and mordern) among young Sinhalese at an early stage of their schooling (and vice-versa) is extremely important, especially in a place with too many ethnicity-related prejudices. A possible policy improvement obviously entails the teaching of English – which requires more investment and innovation – to say the least.

  • Pearl Thevanayagam

    Let’s not beat about the bush. Dayan has shown that he has integrity and we, the Tamil daispora, must back him to the hilt. He has no hidden agenda. He is the son of a very liberal jouranlist, Mervyn De Silva, an intrepid and just journalist who never earned kudos from a governing body.
    Dayan has all the makings of a just person that Tamils need. In his pursuit for enlightenment he earned the wrath of Sinhala nationalism.
    Mahinda should treasure him and give him his rightful place in bridging the vacuum created by selfish ego-centric politicians.
    Let us wait and see if he can deliver and bring peace to this island of ours which deserves his intellect and acumen.
    He does not seem to harbour extreme raicial prejudice.

  • Atheist


    I personally know of people who grew up, and are growing up, speaking three languages – Sinhala, Tamil and English – simultaneously at home. What is their mother tongue?

    It is great to learn literature. But, according to my understanding of your comment, people first need to master the literature of their mother tongue before going on to learn other languages. For example, does this mean that native English speakers need to master literature, ranging from the Medieval to the Modern: Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, T.S. Eliot, and Margaret Atwood etc…? If this is so, students outside the English Department will not be able to master a second language as you suggest.

    Teaching Tamil literature to the Lankan masses is going to be an arduous and expensive process because you will have to bring teachers from Tamil Nadu. However, if the government is willing to do that, hey, that is awesome. But, if they start with Kannagi, I say: “no way Jose!” Now for Sangam poetry, on the other hand, I say “Yah…thumps up”! This poetry will knock your socks off.
    If a student has an aversion to literature, is he or she going to be less than perfect? Unless one is keen on pursuing literature, must we make this mandatory?

    Toddlers can easily pick up more than one language simply by association. This is something to be encouraged, by the way.

    Ciao !

  • President Bean

    Dayan should know by now that you can’t run with the hare and hunt with the hounds!…War victories and 13 Amendments…like the earth and the sky…”Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”

  • Dear Pearl,

    Thanks for the two comments, and they are both insightful. I’m sure that a large number of Tamils share your views on Ambassador Dr Jayatilleka. When the late Lakshman Kadirgamar was assassinated, a Sri Lankan scholar described him as someone who incarnated the ‘quintessential Sri Lankan’. I sincerely think that this fully applies to Dr Jeyatilleka as well.

    Dear Athiest:

    Thanks a lot for your comment. Concerning teaching literature, I do understand the challenges you mention.

    Nevertheless, I referred to classical Sinhala literature in trying to make this point: for over the last few decades, the Sinhala language curriculum in secondary schools has not been strong enough to enable young people to delve in to its rich literature. Prompt measures to develop better syllabi would enable the younger generations to gain a better understanding and deeper appreciation of their mother tongue and its rich literature.

    Contrary to your statement in the second paragraph of your second comment, I am not saying that people should master the literature of their language before learning other languages. From my personal experience, I have found that attempts at understanding one’s own language and its riches is helpful when learning other languages. Now the whole area of language learning largely depends on individuals, their ways of learning, preferences etc.

    Concerning Tamil, it is something that requires a lot of strategic planning, which can include reforms of teaching Tamil at university level and teacher training colleges, making its consequences trickle down to secondary and primary education. If more Sinhalese can learn Tamil, and read Tamil literature in translation, this is bound to have a positive effect on ethnic relations. Understanding the language and literature of a people helps develop a sense of appreciation of that people – and I see this as a timely need for our society.

    I also mentioned classical literary texts in relation to President Rajapakse’s 2006 statement that some diplomats display lacuna in their mother tongue. For those who represent Sri Lanka abroad in diplomatic capacity, it is necessary to have a considerable acquaintance of Sinhalese and Tamil. Such people can actively promote cultural affairs in the diplomatic sector (supporting projects on literature in translation, developing viable projects at taking Sri Lankan cinema, writing, dance, arts, theatre etc etc. to the world; there have been instances where some diplomats have made significant contributions in these areas, but so far we lack a consistent government policy on developing cultural divisions(ENG)/services culturels (FR) in SL missions abroad.

    Measures of this nature can help develop a vibrant diplomatic service, that ‘serves’ the country in the truest sense of the term. It goes without saying that all this is easier said than done, but it is important that concerned citizens continue an active dialogue on related issues.

  • Anbu

    Mr. Dayan is an apologist on the international stage for the racist, inhumane regime of Mr Rajapakse. An educated fool is worse than an uneducated one. I agree his father was a gentleman but unfortunately his son has inherited the venom of racism permeating in SL. He is a hardliner in a liberal cloak.

  • Roger

    Anbu, everyone who disagrees with you is not a fool. Through all this I’ve come to understand that Dayan is a patriot! Hats off for that.
    End of the day the regime the people the cause doesn’t matter. There are those who love the country and those who don;t! People do a lot to defend their country and state. When they understand that they will understand why we fight. And when we’re left to fight alone we still fight because we do it for mother Lanka.

  • Dayan Jayatilleka


    The day that Sinhala racist hardliners are like me, will be your lucky day.

  • Kumari

    Dayan , what do you mean by “Sinhala racist hardliners are like me will be you lucky day”. Trying to be a smart ass with meaningless one liners? The web has more sophisticated readers than the dumbos you address at UN, so be more specific on the wen than writing like a thick skulled teenager !!! Your so called smart reply only shows how incoherent you are, but never mind, UN would buy any crap from criminals these days !! so you still have a bright future there.

  • Kumari

    Roger , anyone who disagrees with you is not wrong either. At the end of the day, you are still racist and chauvinist , under the cloak of patriotism and MOTHER Lanka blah blah blah…..

  • President Bean

    Roger…one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter…and one man’s patriot is another man’s racist! As long as the majority is unable to convince themselves that this country is a multi ethnic, multi religious and multi cultural country, and not a ‘Buddhist Country’ we will continue to argue who a patriot is and who a terrorist is, and there will never be any peace. All we will have is a temporary cessation of hostilities with armed soldiers standing at every street corner, checking peoples’s IDs and wandering when they will get their next ‘buth packet!’

  • Anbu,

    I invite you to witness the war crime debate on Sri Lanka at UNHRC, if you didnt follow. A playlist of 18 videos uploaded on debate on human rights violations in Sri Lanka for everyone’s benefit, to find out truths of war in different perspectives (user name:NoEalamInSL). There are more than 100 videos in my channel about war (I invested my time I should have spent for my studies shedding lights to people like you). You must not underestimate how sensitive people are for their motherland not as hardliners but as moderates who are concerened of innocent civilians of all ethnics battered from war for the last 30 years. Please revisit the debate:

    “Sri Lanka Conquered EU dictatorship at UNHRC”

    Dont you think it is unfair to call people “racists” and “hardliners”, after an issue was debated and a resolution was adopted? Why such democratic institutions exist? Why did Sri Lanka participate if they are racists and hardliners? Why didn’t rest of the world accept what you claim? Because “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”? Some people use Dayan’s situation to attack the governement. To be honest, I am for 3D strategy. De-militarization, Development, Democratization. Those “aspirations” are fake.
    Sri Lanka Chief Justice says 13A is not a wise solution: Be it any solution, bottom line is, every one must have freedom to live any where they want safely and freely. At the moment Sinhalese are restricted to south, Tamils, Muslims every where in the country. MR should change the situation.