Drastic drop of career diplomats in foreign missions

by Shamindra Ferdinando
There has been a drastic drop in the number of career foreign service officers heading high commissions and embassies as the foreign ministry continues to pick non-career diplomats and retired diplomats on contract to head overseas missions.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga has endorsed foreign ministry’s nominees for key overseas posts, informed sources said. The president has also approved key posts for retired career service officers, the sources said, adding that the serving career service officers’ share has come down to about 35 per cent from over 70 per cent in late ’90s.

The parliamentary High Post Committee, too, has upheld these appointments.

Recently she approved overseas appointments for several career officers. But these appointments scheduled to take place over a period of time will not have any significant impact excepting in one case as they will be taking over posts held by career diplomats.

Tissa Wijeratne, director general/administration in the Foreign Ministry will replace Mahinda Bandusena in Tel Aviv in a few months time. It is the only case of a career officer taking over a mission headed by a non-career diplomat.

J.D.A. Wijewardena, additional secretary to the Foreign Ministry will take over the mission in Belgium from Romesh Jayasinghe. The ambassador in Belgium will be our ambassador to the European Union as well. Both are serving career officers.

Sarala Fernando, additional secretary in the Foreign Ministry will replace Prasad Kariyawasam as head of the permanent mission and consulate general in UN office in Geneva. They too are career officers.

Career officer Wijesiri Hettiarachchi, minister counsellor in London, will move to Egypt as our ambassador there in place of Darsin Serasinghe, a career officer.

Foreign Secretary Nihal Rodrigo, a career officer on contract, will take over our mission in China. He will replace Bernard Gunatilake in September, the sources said, adding that Gunatilake will take over the post of Foreign Secretary.

We have 12 high commissions, one deputy high commission and 31 embassies and nine consulates. Most of them are headed by non-career diplomats. Several high commissions, embassies and consulates are headed by retired career diplomats on contract.

Of the 12 high commissions, the missions in South Africa (T.B. Maduwegedera), Canada (Geetha de Silva) and Maldives (T.Z.A. Samsudeen) are headed by serving career diplomats. Six of the remaining High Commissions are headed by non-career diplomats, H.M.Farook (Kenya), Ajith Jayaratne (Singapore), Faiz Mustapa (UK), Rosy Sennanayake (Malaysia), Lt. Gen. Srilal Weerasooriya (Pakistan) and Janaka Perera (Australia). The remaining three missions are headed by retired career officers on contract — Gamini Moonesinghe (Bangladesh), G.W.Wijayasiri (South Korea) and Mangala Moonesinghe (India).

Seventeen of the 31 missions are also headed by non-career diplomats. They are Austria (D.L.Mendis), Cuba (S.Wijesekera),

Iran (Omar Kamil), Israel (Mahinda Bandusena), Kuwait (A.R.Mansoor), Lebanon (M.I.M.Musheen), Oman (Dr.A.N. Haniffa), Philippines ( Ariya B. Rekkawa), Qatar (A.L.M.Yoosuf), Russia (U.B.Wijekoon), Sweden (V.K.Walson), United Arab Emirates (Lalith Hettiarachchi), USA (Devinda Subasinghe), Brazil (Gen. Rohan de S. Daluwatte), Netherlands (Rupa Karunatilake), Poland (Chula Bandara) and Jordan (K. Marimuttu). Some of them had held previous appointments, the sources said.

The remaining 14 embassies in Belgium (Romesh Jayasinghe), France (Ananda Gunasekera), Germany (C.D. Cassie Chetty), Indonesia (H.K.J.R.Bandara), Italy (Rodney M. Perera), Nepal (G. Asirwathan), Saudi Arabia (I.Ansar), Thailand (Palihakkara), Vietnam (M.M.Jafeer), China (B.A.B.Gunatilake) Myanmar (D.M.Ranarajah), Egypt (Darsin Serasinghe), Japan (Karunatilake Amunugam) and Iraq (Amanul Farouque). Farouque quit Baghdad shortly before the US-led forced invaded the country. But the government recently decided to send him back to Bahgdad, the sources said. He is a retired foreign service officer on contract.

Head of our permanent mission in the UN mission in New York too is a retired foreign service officer on contract.

The high commissioners and ambassadors are among nearly 180 staff grade officers in missions abroad. The sources also said that many political appointees were among them. The sources said that about 250 other non-staff grade personnel had been sent from Colombo to our missions, while over 500 others, including many foreigners had been hired abroad.

Meanwhile, the sources speculated that the percentage of career diplomats would drop further in the coming months. A retired security forces commander, who backed the UNP at the last parliamentary elections and a former Nuwara Eliya district MP are tipped to take over the missions in Thailand and Indonesia respectively. If the retired general gets the nod, he’ll be the fourth senior officer heading Lankan missions abroad.