In what appears to be a remarkable turn of events , President Mahinda Rajapaksa has ordered a twin pronged inquiry into the incident in New York on September 24 involving Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Dr. Chris Nonis, Galle district Parliamentarian and External Affairs ministry monitoring MP Mr. Sajin de Vass Gunawardena and External Affairs Ministry Secretary Ms. Kshenuka Seneviratne.
President Rajapaksa has instructed External Affairs Minister Prof. Gamini Lakshman Peiris to conduct an internal inquiry within the Ministry to acertain the truth about two related matters pertaining to the incident.The inquiry will firstly focus on whether Sajin de Vass Gunawardena did assault the envoy to UK Dr. Nonis .The probe will secondly focus on the conduct of Dr. Nonis prior to the alleged assault and examine whether the high Commissioner acted in a provocatively undignified manner.
The first part of the probe has been necessitated by a complaint and resignation submitted by Dr. Nonis to President Rajapaksa and Prof.Peiris.The second part of the investigation is a result of a formal complaint lodged by External affairs ministry secretary Ms. Kshenuka Seneviratne in which she alleges that Dr. Nonis in an intoxicated state abused her in foul language.
Although media reports stated initially that Sajin de Vass Gunawardena in an inebriated condition had assaulted Chris Nonis , subsequent developments have cast a different dimension to the alleged incident.
Relevant excerpts from earlier media reports about the incident stated as follows –
“Dr. Chris Nonis whose term of office in Britain was extended for another year till 2015 was reportedly involved in a skirmish with Mr.Sajin de Vass Gunawardena in New York on September 24th. The incident had occurred at a dinner hosted by Mr. Dilan Ariyawansa the Sri Lankan Airlines director based in New York.The guests were mostly Sri Lankans who had come along with President Rajapaksa to New York for the UN General Assembly sessions”
“Apparently a heated argument had ensued at the dinner between High Commissioner Nonis, Vass Gunawardena MP and External Affairs ministry secretary Ms. Kshenuka Seneviratne.A highly inebriated Sajin de Vass Gunawardena had allegedly abused Chris Nonis in foul language and at one point begun to punch Nonis”.
“A scuffle ensued when Nonis resisted after receiving a hard punch on his face.Chris Nonis allegedly lost his balance and fallen down whereupon de Vass Gunawardena had started kicking the man on the ground.Other guests at the dinner restrained the Galle district MP who was pacified by Ms. Kshenuka Seneviratne”.
“A highly agitated Nonis had left the place despite the entreaties of host Ariyawansa and External secretary Ms. Seneviratne not to do so and made a beeline to President Rajapaksa who was also staying in New York at the time.He had told the President what had happened and tendered his resignation to him”.
“Realising that Chris Nonis was in a highly emotional state, President Rajapaksa had calmed him down and asked the High Commissioner to return to London and continue with his duties. He had also refused to accept the resignation and assured Nonis that an inquiry would be conducted and appropriate action taken against de Vass Gunawardena”.
“Chris Nonis returned to his Hotel and left the next day for London.Chris Nonis had then telephoned External Affairs minister Prof. GL Peiris and said that he would be tendering his resignation with a month’s notice”
“Thereafter President Rajapaksa and Prof. Peiris who both value High Commissioner Nonis highly had engaged in damage control exercises. The President had instructed his chief of staff Gamini Senarath who was on a private visit to France to go to Britain and meet with Nonis. Senarath had done so and told Nonis that President Rajapaksa had summoned Sajin de Vass Gunawardena and lambasted him for assaulting Nonis”.
“Prof. Peiris who is closely associated with Nonis and was responsible for appointing him as envoy to Britain also communicated with Nonis and told him that he was notgoing to accept the high commissioner’s resignation because the President, Government and Country valued his worth highly and needed his services badly.A seemingly mollified Chris Nonis had agreed to reconsider his unaccepted resignation provided Sajin de Vass Gunawardena apologised to him”.
“It is learnt that Sajin de Vass Gunawardena is now being pressured to issue a formal apology in private to Chris Nonis. According to informed sources the apology is most likely to be tendered as President Rajapaksa has ordered de Vass Gunawardena to do so.If and when that occurs Nonis would accept it, withdraw his unacceptable resignation and continue as usual in London. The row would turn out to be a storm in a (Mackwoods)tea cup!”
Contrary to earlier expectations that the incident would be resolved amicably after an apology was issued by Sajin de Vass Gunawardena, the incident has transformed itself into one where the allegedly aggrieved party, Dr. Nonis is now placed in the dock and is being blamed as having falsely implicated the Galle district MP and also of insulting a superior official Ms. Seneviratne in foul language.
It is learnt reliably that President Rajapaksa who had earlier accepted Dr. Nonis’s version of the incident is now having second thoughts about the bona fides of his High Commissioner on this matter.Initially the President had been very annoyed with Sajin Vass Gunawardena and chastised him. He had asked Sajin to tender an apology to Dr. Nonis and pacify the high commissioner. The President had also told Sajin that he need not accompany him to Italy to meet Pope Francis in the Vatican.
Sajin de Vass Gunawardena however had refused to apologise to Dr. Nonis saying that he had not assaulted the envoy to UK as alleged. Sajin’s stance is that during conversation at the New York dinner an argument had erupted between himself, Dr. Nonis and Ms. Seneviratne.Dr. Nonis in an inebriated state had insulted the External Affairs secretary Ms. Kshenuka Seneviratne and called her a “Fucking Bitch”. At this point Sajin had allegedly remonstrated with Dr. Nonis asking him to withdraw the remark and say sorry to Ms. Seneviratne.
Dr. Nonis had refused and begun abusing Sajin whereupon the Galle district MP had tried to move closer to Dr. Nonis but was restrained by other guests at the dinner. Dr. Nonis had then tried to lunge at Sajin but had lost his balance and fallen on the ground. He was helped to his feet and had left the place despite people trying to calm him down.
Mr. Sajin de Vass Gunawardena’s version of the incident has been corroborated by Ms. Kshenuka Seneviratne in her complaint. The External secretary’s version of the incident tallies with Mr. Gunawardena’s version.Moreover Ms. Seneviratne alleges that Dr. Nonis had been insultingly abusive of her and that it was Sajin de Vass Gunawardena who came to her defence to protect her from Dr. Nonis’s atrocious conduct.
Besides Ms. Seneviratne’s “testimony” on his behalf, Mr. Vass Gunawardena has also obtained statements from several other eyewitnesses at the dinner including the host and other senior diplomats from Sri Lanka. It is also learnt that a litany of complaints against Dr. Nonis by present and former diplomatic personnel at the High Commission in London has been compiled and submitted to the President.
According to informed sources the facts and supportive statements presented by Sajin de Vass Gunawardena have made a different impression on President Rajapaksa. He had revised his earlier opinion and asked Sajin to accompany him to the Vatican. This last minute change had led to the cancellation of a press conference scheduled by Sajin de Vass Gunawardena where the External ministry monitoring MP wanted to explain his side of the story to the media.
Another fact which has irritated President Rajapaksa is the appearance of news reports in the social media about the incident. The President had wanted to resolve the problem amicably without any publicity and had instructed the parties concerned to act accordingly.
A “request” had also gone out to mainstream media in Sri Lanka to avoid reference to the incident. This had been adhered to in Sri Lanka but subsequently news reports had begun appearing in overseas websites.An irritated President has allegedly been informed that the primary source of the “inspired leaks” was Dr. Nonis himself.
It is against this backdrop that President Rajapaksa has now ordered an inquiry into the incident instead of hushing it up as intended earlier. Sajin de Vass Gunawardena who maintained a deafening silence earlier has now become confident enough to openly tell a TV channel from Vatican that he had not assaulted Nonis and that the envoy’s resignation was a personal matter. He has said that eyewitnesses in New York would bear him out. News reports have also appeared about President Rajapaksa ordering an inquiry after Ms. Kshenuka Seneviratne complained which indicate that the external affairs ministry secretary’s account of the incident has acquired credibility.
The tables therefore seem to have been turned on Dr. Chris Nonis. The perceived victim is now being portrayed in a different light. The Alleged “plaintiff” is being depicted as the alleged “defendant”.Dr. Nonis is very unlikely to receive any support from within the External Affairs ministry where the Sajin –Shenuka duo is reportedly in full control. Very few eyewitnesses in New York are likely to testify on his behalf if and when required to do so.Nonis is very unpopular with the former and present staff at the London High Commission and not likely to get any succour there. The Chairman of Mackwoods is an outsider to the ministry and his chief source of strength is his “patron” Prof. Peiris but the external affairs minister is not in a position to help Nonis even if he wants to do so.Thus even if the Nonis version of the incident is correct he will find it almost impossible to prove it conclusively. Besides there is always the possibility that the versions of Sajin and Kshenuka are indeed the truth.
Under these circumstances it is obvious that Dr. Chris Nonis is in an unenviable position. The High Commissioner to Britain who earlier refused to speak to the media saying he was a “professional” has now broken his silence and acknowledged to a TV channel that he had been assaulted and that he has submitted his resignation.It is indeed possible that some of the opposition parties and a group of dissidents within the Govt along with sections of the media may espouse his cause.This however will provide him much exposure for a period of time but will be of little use to him in the final analysis.
Difficult as it may seem, Dr. Nonis has in realistic terms no choice other than to follow through with the resignation he has submitted and call it quits. That way he could depart with dignity instead of being compelled to do so in disgrace.
There is no denying that Dr. Nonis has rendered yeoman service to the country as High Commissioner and projected a very positive image of Sri Lanka in extremely adverse circumstances. Nevertheless he will have to go as others like Dayan Jayatilleka and Tamara Kunanayakam have done so before. This sadly is the “nature of things” in Sunny Sri Lanka!
The “News!st”TV channel has reported that the resignation letter submitted by Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Britain Dr.Chris Nonis has been accepted, The news item is as follows –
Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Dr. Chris Nonis speaking exclusively to News1st confirmed that he was assaulted by the Monitoring MP of the External Affairs Ministry and that his letter of resignation was accepted on Friday.
However, speaking at an exclusive interview with News1st on Friday, MP Sajin de Vaas Gunawardena said that no such assault took place.
Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Dr Chris Nonis spoke to New1st on Saturday and issued this statement.
As has already been widely reported in the media, I confirm that I was unlawfully assaulted by the monitoring MP for the Ministry of External Affairs, in New York on September 24th. I met his Excellency the President and discussed the matter on the same day and I submitted my resignation on the same day the 24th, and returned to London that evening. My resignation was accepted yesterday. I must say that I very much and deeply appreciate the opportunity that was provided to me by his Excellency the President to serve our country and our people. As I have said in my letter of resignation – that my unswerving loyalty to his Excellency the President and his family will always remain. I feel I have performed to the best of my ability and I am pleased that I had the opportunity to serve the country and the people of Sri Lanka.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org