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Colombo govt may be sacrificing goodwill with Malaysian Tamil groups by recalling its High Commissioner Kalyananda Godage

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Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Malaysia Kalyananda Godage, will be leaving exit in a fortnight’s time. Pic by Rosela Ismail

by Balan Moses

ENVOYS are almost never sacked by home governments except in the event of a change of regime in the home country or if they are guilty of an exceptionally nasty faux pas in their host country.

Both do not seem to apply to outgoing Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Malaysia Kalyananda Godage, who will make an ignominious exit in a fortnight after a mere eight months of trying to further the Sri Lankan cause here.

And the offence that precipitated his recall by External Affairs minister, Prof G. L. Peiris, who just months ago was hailed by Godage as bringing a breath of fresh air into Sri Lankan foreign relations?

Asking the minister at a meeting of 59 Sri Lankan envoys at the army cantonment hall at Diyatalawa last month for answers to questions raised by Malaysian Sri Lankan Tamil groups on efforts to rehabilitate and empower Tamils in the Northern and Eastern parts of the republic after the end of the civil war.

It was enough to rile Peiris into taking the matter to President Mahinda Rajapaksa to urge Godage’s immediate ouster.

An ironical turn of events, as Godage was ostensibly recalled into service after a 15-year-retirement to handle the affluent and educated Malaysian Sri Lankan community which, at the best of times, can be testy and difficult when it comes to its countrymen on the island.

Since his arrival in Malaysia, the career diplomat with 36 years of experience in government under his belt began engaging local Sri Lankan Tamil groups favourable to efforts undertaken by Rajapaksa’s government in relation to the Tamil community in Sri Lanka.

Primary among them was the Federation of Malaysian Sri Lankan Organisations (FOMSO), an umbrella body for Tamil and Sinhalese groups in Malaysia, which very much wanted to do its bit for its countrymen on the island.

He steered clear, as he would probably have been advised by Colombo, of a handful of other Sri Lankan Tamil groups in Malaysia that did not even want to engage the Rajapaksa regime.

But even FOMSO officials, who had made several trips to the Tamil homeland with Sri Lankan government assistance to identify areas where they could offer help, were not totally satisfied with the paucity of answers from Colombo.

It is understood that a recent meeting between Godage and FOMSO representatives saw pointed questions being asked about the pace of the rehabilitation of displaced Sri Lankan Tamils.

While FOMSO president Datuk S. Kulasegaran declined to comment on Godage’s recall on grounds that the organisation was apolitical, its advisor Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam was surprised that “the messenger” had been shot.

Colombo should be ready with answers for questions from Malaysians of Sri Lankan descent on the welfare of Tamils in Sri Lanka and not punish Godage for raising the matter, the head of the Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute said.

“I regret Godage’s recall by the Sri Lankan External Affairs Ministry. A lot had been promised by the Sri Lankan government but little seems to be done for the Tamils there.”
Godage’s predecessor, Dr Don Dayananda Ranasinghe, was a political appointee who left hands-on diplomacy to his deputy, Maj Gen Udaya Perera, the much-applauded former Director of Army Operations, who began engaging FOMSO as soon as he arrived in Malaysia.

One would have thought that the Ministry would have realised that Godage, a political columnist in the past for The Island newspaper, would continue pushing for active Tamil participation in their rehabilitation as he had in the past.

So where does this sorry affair leave the complicated issue of engagement between the Sri Lankan Government and Sri Lankan Tamils in Malaysia?

The Sri Lankan government may find itself sacrificing much of the goodwill it cultivated here in recent years with Malaysian Tamil groups with what may be seen as a hardening of its stance on its Tamil population.

Godage’s recall also leaves doubt as to how well his successor will be able to engage Sri Lankan Tamil groups here who want to see justice done for their brethren on the island.
On a bilateral level, however, his unceremonious return will hardly cause a ripple as Malaysia proceeds to maintain its position as the largest investor in Sri Lanka with hundreds of millions ploughed into an island starved for development.

Is Godage a nascent fifth columnist as he appears to be made out to be by his superiors, or merely a misunderstood patriot? Only time will tell. Courtesy: NEW STRAITS TIMES

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