|On Diplomatic transfers and appointments
By K Godage
It has been reported that n large number of party supporters are queuing up for appointments as heads of our overseas missions. They range from a village lad whose only qualification to be involved with foreign affairs is that his name rhymes with that of Nixon! (he has no facility in the English language either) to a septuagenarian official of yesteryear who had been put out to graze more than a decade ago. None of them are aware of the work of a Diplomat. To them it appears that the work of a diplomat is synonymous with having a good time overseas. Most unfortunately this impression has been created by all previous governments which appointed thoroughly unsuitable persons to our mission purely as payoffs or because of friendships. Do we citizens owe these people a living?+
A diplomat should have the following attributes, he should be interested in international relations, be politically aware, have presence. He should be personally acceptable and should be intellectually curious and versatile. A diplomat should have a good knowledge of the country he or she represents and its principal problems and the governments policy with regard to them. In a sense a diplomat must have knowledge if he or she is to be taken seriously by the receiving government or other diplomatic colleagues.
The work of a Sri Lankan diplomat in particular relates to Security issues, political reporting, economic work such as trade and investment promotion, image promotion and projection involving publicity and countering adverse publicity, Consular work, which involves the protection of our nationals abroad, Cultural work, tourist promotion, promotion of employment in the Middle East and Public Relations involving public speaking.
A Sri Lankan diplomat has his work cut out for him. The security issue is paramount. He must follow the LTTE trail and keep the government informed of LTTE activity abroad. Intelligence gathering on the LTTE is vital for our security as is the countering of LTTE propaganda. At the present juncture he or she would have to muster support for the peace process which would involve lobbying Legislatures, the local bureaucracy, particularly the local Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the media, Think tanks and all influential groups which may have been reached by the LTTE. The LTTEs arms procurements and shipping must be monitored for our security.
The economic work too is equally heavy. Every Embassy must earn their keep and be tasked to promote trade and investment and show results of their efforts.
Relating to the Sri Lanka Diaspora is another important matter. In almost all countries they are polarized on ethnic lines. And engage in competitive protest demos.
On the Cultural side, of particular importance is the matter of relating to Sinhalese Buddhist temples, which are today cultural and political centres. These are volatile places of Sinhala nationalism.
Before making appointments, the government should first decide on the importance of our relations country-wise and next identify its interests in these countries and after that appoint a Committee to interview candidates to examine their suitability for particular appointments. Too much is at stake for appointments to be made on the basis of friendships, relationships or as payoffs of political IOUs
During the previous administration of the UNP, our Missions abroad became a fertile ground (if you know what I mean) for the appointment of "girl friends" and other assorted types. The last government did not do much better, they appointed cronies and close relations (their only qualification for appointment). Three of our important Missions are virtually dead. Those bad appointment were wholly irresponsible and indefensible actions.
As stated earlier a new group of wholly unqualified, untrained and unsuitable persons to undertake the promotion of this countrys interests, are now lining up for appointment to Diplomatic posts. It would be crime and an irresponsible act to make such appointments and pay them from the public purse. They have no idea whatsoever of the work of a Diplomat.
Our world has undergone and is undergoing, a huge change. The role and work of a Diplomat not only calls for professionalism but is also an extremely challenging one. The globalization of the world economy, the revolution in Information Technology and the intrusion/extension of the tentacles of the United Nations and the international community into almost very area of human activity, from the Environment and Climatic change to Human Rights, Womens Rights, Population, Outer Space, coupled with easier international travel, and world leaders meeting at summit level on a regular basis, has made many 19th and 20th Century Institutions obsolete. The end of the Cold War and with it the general adoption of free market policies around the world has also contributed to the new situation, resulting in greater interdependence. Managing international relationships therefore calls for specialized skills which can only come through proper training.
Information, the life-blood of the Diplomat, is immediately available electronically. This introduces new pressures from citizens on governments. The very nature of international business has indeed changed; new opportunities have now become available. New structures need to be put in place to meet these new challenges. New actors, some of them quaint, have also arrived on the scene. The best examples of an outsider dictating International policy was the use of the Internet by a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for Peace. She used the Internet to bring pressure to bear even on the United States of America to sign the Land Mine Treaty. What better example of new actors determining foreign policy and reducing the exclusive power of States.
As I had stated in an earlier article too, old bureaucratic structures cannot meet the new challenges. As mentioned earlier, there are also new actors on the scene. Multi-Nationals operating without borders, some with budgets bigger than the national budgets of countries, supported by powerful governments exert tremendous influence on international relations. These Multi-Nationals and NGOO, working in many fields, including Population, Environment, Climatic change, Human Rights and Womens Rights, quite often set the agenda. The ICRC for instance plays what I would describe as a curious diplomatic role, in the conflict in Sri Lanka. There are also government agencies, which have become more important than the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Take an example from our own country, defence considerations dictated a major change in our foreign policy, when we resumed relations with Israel. In todays world many other Government agencies, other than the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are also involved in a countrys Foreign Affairs.
It is for these reasons that I say that the work of Diplomats cannot be done by any Perera, Silva or Fernando they must be trained professionals. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sri Lanka must also be ransformed into a coordinating Ministry and must be perched right at the top of the administrative pyramid or it should become the hub. It would have no other role in the emerging New World order -in which the classical Foreign Ministry would soon become an irrelevant relic. Our Foreign Ministry is not even in the classical mould today, its structure remains much to be desired and as for its professional personnel, we are today paying the price for sporadic and bad recruitment in the 70s and the 80s. A complete reorganization of the Ministry and the removal of drift wood and dead wood is in the countrys interest.
Yes, this calls for a fundamental change in the manner in which we manage our foreign policy. It is an imperative. We are living through critical times, times of uncertainty, a time of change, and the major political parties must give thought to re-imaging the structure of government and in such an exercise the Ministry of Foreign Affairs must have new role to play, it must be strategically located to enable the most effective pursuance of our national interest.
This is a time when we must have the best hands at the helm, but the Ministry has ordered the return of all officers who have been abroad for five years. On the face of it, it does seem reasonable that officers who have been abroad for as many as five years are being brought back but the matter is not all that simple. All the career officers have been cross-posted, that is they have moved from one overseas station to another. Take the case of Ambassador Bandara who was moved out to make way for Janaka Perera and would soon be moved out, he has been in his new station only for four months. This is an unnecessary and unfair disruption to the mans personal life, (the mans son has been in four different schools in the last ten years). It is also a waste of public money. Ambassador Kariyawasam has been transferred back from Geneva after just one year in Geneva- this is a specialized post and the transfer is with effect from April when the all important Commission on Human Rights is full session. Ambassador Chandra Wickremasinghe only presented Credentials to President Chirac last month.. What is the message that we are sending out? Further, do we have experienced people to take their places?
Further the transfers have been effected when the Secretary of the Ministry is away in Nepal and letters have been signed by an absolute newcomer to the Ministry who is designated Secretary to the Minister Assisting the Minister. She is acting Secretary. This officer may not have realized that Ambassadors are appointed by the Head of State and cannot be recalled without the concurrence of the Head of State.
This series of transfers should not have been effected behind the back of the Secretary. What was the indecent hurry to do this, it seems to be an act of sabotage- to cause disruption and bring the government into disrepute. Transfers in the Foreign Service, it is needless to state, is also costly in terms of the foreign exchange involved.
It is suggested that all transfers be suspended with immediate effect. The Prime Minister appoint a Committee headed by Mr. Bradman Weerakoon with perhaps Ambassador Vernon Mendis and the incoming Foreign Secretary, not only to look into these transfers but to also decided on transfers (and only where the exigencies of service require such transfers) to be effected. This is NOT a matter that should be left to any single person, for too much is at stake for the country..
|NEWS | OPINION | BUSINESS | EDITORIAL | CARTOON | SPORTS|