Request to remove community-unfriendly Honorary Consul

Sri Lankan Community Associations in New Zealand are calling the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister to remove the community-unfriendly Honorary Consul Mr. Viduranga Aruna Abegoonesekara. They claim the current Honorary Consul’s disconnection from the Sri Lankan Community in New Zealand has caused severe loss to Sri Lanka. During his 9 years term as the Honorary Consul, he has failed to take advantage of the unique qualities of the Sri Lankan Community in New Zealand.

In response to a letter circulating in New Zealand asking the Community Associations to support the extension of the Honorary Consul’s term, community organisations have written to the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister that they would not support the extension, and are urging the Minister to appoint a new community-friendly person.

The main reason given by the community bodies is that the Consul has repeatedly refused to work harmoniously with them, and has adopted an autocratic attitude when dealing with community bodies. The Sri Lankan Community in New Zealand is unique, and was listed in the New Zealand Government census as the highest income-earning and tertiary-qualified ethnic group in New Zealand. The community is full of doctors who work across the whole country, and are popular General Medical Practitioners in most of the rural towns. They have close links with politicians and many are closely associated with Government Ministers. The best way to promote Sri Lanka in New Zealand is to showcase the Sri Lankan Community, and to use their contacts to reach the high offices of the New Zealand Government, the community bodies have stated. But, the current Consul has denied himself this valuable resource, because he has alienated himself from the community and has run his office as if he had inherited the job.

It was strange that the letter was sent to many community organizations, but bypassed the United Sri Lanka Association (NZ), which is based in Wellington where Mr Aruna resides. If anyone is looking for the community’s approval, the automatic choice should have been to get the blessings of USLA. USLA is the largest Sri Lankan community organisation in New Zealand and boasts support from all the regions in New Zealand. USLA was formed in 1983 in Wellington, soon after the racial riots in Sri Lanka, to keep the community together so that we would be able to influence the events in Sri Lanka with a united voice. Since then and in the next 25 years, USLA supported the Sri Lankan Government’s efforts to fight terrorism in the country and bring peace to all the people. USLA has lobbied many Ministers in the New Zealand Government and had an important meeting with the former Prime Minister Honourable Helen Clark to stop New Zealand Aid (NZAID) channel funds in to the LTTE controlled areas, and instead got the funds distributed to the Sri Lankan Government hospitals in the war-ravaged areas. After the 2004 tsunami, USLA collected nearly $500,000 (with a dollar-for-dollar donation from the New Zealand Government) and used all that money to build 67 houses in Wenemulla near Galle. Over the years, USLA has made significant contributions of funds to various hospitals and has provided the Ranaviru Foundation over $20,000.

From the day that he was appointed, Mr Aruna has acted as if he had inherited the post, alienating himself from the community and marginalizing the community associations that have worked with the Sri Lankan Community for a long time. He often refuses to share with the community associations information about the visits of Sri Lankan VIPs, National Cricket Team, have often rejected approaches by community bodies to have public meetings with the visitors.

Again, because of his attitude that he would have the job no matter what he did or how he connected with the community, he has often insisted that every community association write to him formally to invite him for any community event, and would often pick the flimsiest error to create issues with community bodies. He has insisted that he would attend a community event only if he and his wife get free admission, free air tickets to fly to the events outside Wellington city, free hotel accommodations and has made the same demand to attend even charity events to raise funds for community projects.

Recently, The United Sri Lanka Association (NZ) organized a food-fair to raise funds for the flood victims, and the money collected was used to buy and distribute 300 mattresses and 300 school bags in the flood-affected areas. Mr Aruna was notified about the food-fair and was asked to attend and contribute by buying some lunch. But he did not attend.

Sri Lankan community organizations in New Zealand feel quite uncomfortable with the position that they have taken to reject Mr Aruna’s bid for an extension of the term, and they have never done such thing in respect of any previous Honorary Consul.  Although they wanted to complain about Mr Aruna’s attitude very early after he was appointed, he was protected by his brother-in-law Mr Ajith Nivard Cabraal, former Governor of Central Bank of Sri Lanka. He was a strong supporter of the former president His Excellency Mahind Rajapakse during his election campaign. He made numerous phone calls to the Sri Lankan families in New Zealand and asked them to influence their relatives in Sri Lanka to vote for Mahinda. Since the new government formed, he has changed his colors and act like he is a supporter of current government. He has recently told with his close associates that he was very close friend of one of the brothers of current Prime Minster Hon. Ranil Wickramasinghe and no matter who objects for the extension of his position, he will get the extension with the help of this “brother” of the Prime Minister.

The Minister should carefully consider the loss of goodwill during the term of the current Consul because of his disconnection with the community, and the Sri Lankan Government will reap the benefit of the value the expatriates can add to build better trade and diplomatic connections with Sri Lanka if a community-friendly Consul is appointed, the community bodies have pointed out.