Save the Foreign Service by Statute



article_image

Ambassador Shirley Amarasinghe, one of our finest, under whom I had the privilege to work for a short time, was not nominated even as a delegate by the government to the Law of the Sea Conference but the UN recognized his worth. He was nominated by a number of other countries and elected as permanent chairman by acclamation. Then we have the case of Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala. He chaired what was described as one of the most important conferences of the 20th Century, the NPT Review Conference in 1995 he was acclaimed by the international community.


K. Godage


We need to statutorily secure the Foreign Service from predators. The Service must be, in the first instance, professionalized and become like any other professional service. This must be done in the interest of the country. Today there is a belief that anyone can represent the country and do the work of a diplomat. We were indeed grateful that, on the last occasion, the President himself intervened to save the service from an unethical and indefensible act of appointing friends and relations bypassing the examination process, denying hundreds of aspiring youth who had prepared themselves to enter the service but had no VIP friends or powerful relations, the opportunity. But who knows what would happen in the years to come?


I thought I should write this essay for the information of readers and to flag the fact that it took presidential intervention, in the nick of time, to save a critical interest of the country.


Diplomacy is the business on managing relations between states it involves the shaping and implementation of foreign policy. The work of diplomacy can be broken down to six broad areas:-


1) Representation----representing the country. Substantive work would involve explaining our policies, negotiating and promoting our vital interests.


2) The Embassy is a sort of listening post. We are required to study situations, advice and warn our governments on matters of interest to us and to take preventive action if and when our interests are under threat.


3) The third function would be coming up with initiatives to promote our relations with the country to which we are accredited to.


4) In the event of a dispute with the country you are accredited to, reducing that friction or dousing the fire would be an important responsibility.


5) Damage limitation and rebuilding the relationship is another important responsibility.


6) Improving and developing people to people relations is yet another responsibility.


Let us pause here to discuss what a Head of Mission needs to be. He or she MUST obviously have good knowledge of the home country he/she represents. In our case we must have a very good knowledge of our national problem in particular, which still lingers though the war itself is over. I would implore anyone seeking to represent our country to read Prof. KM de Silva’s book Reap the Whirlwind, which I think is about the most objective book on the subject. Yes those who represent us MUST have a very good knowledge of the country and its problems, our political history –our economy, our multi-cultural society and its structure, of our agriculture, industry, services and human resources ---in short the determinants of our foreign policy. The head of mission must be a person who is politically aware. He or she must have personal acceptability. It would be helpful to him or her if he or she was intellectually curious and versatile.


Over the years the nature of diplomacy has changed. In the 1960s we would have had around 100 countries in the ‘States system’. Today we have over 180, this fact has certainly changed the nature of the game from bilateral diplomacy and multilateral diplomacy, we now have omni-lateral diplomacy involving all countries and also non-state actors such as NGOs and even huge multinational corporations whose interests are involved. Then there is the continued growth of regional groupings, the EU, ASEAN and SAARC are but some examples. Last but not least there is what I would like to call personal diplomacy, when heads of government and foreign ministers travel and meet counterparts.


The role of the ambassador has indeed changed with the jet age and the communication revolution. Here I must refer to an important development on the international scene, which would also be of interest to diplomats and those aspiring to enter the profession. Sometimes ambassadors perform important roles on the international stage quite out of proportion to the importance of their countries. In this regard I shall give you just two examples both from home. Ambassador Shirley Amarasinghe, one of our finest, under whom I had the privilege to work for a short time, was not nominated even as a delegate by the government to the Law of the Sea Conference but the UN recognized his worth. He was nominated by a number of other countries and elected as permanent chairman by acclamation. Then we have the case of Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala. He chaired what was described as one of the most important conferences of the 20th Century, the NPT Review Conference in 1995 he was acclaimed by the international community.


The NY Times and the Washington Post amongst many papers around the world praised him editorially but our own government disowned him and refused to nominate him for the prestigious post of Director of the International Atomic Energy Authority. The UN however recognized his worth and appointed him to the post of Under-Secretary General for Disarmament a higher position than Director IAEA. His stock was very high and had he been head of the IAEA he would have been the automatic choice for the post of Secretary General; but this is Sri Lanka where we pull down our own kind, where envy dominates.


And now a few words about political reporting. An important thing to remember is that almost, I repeat ‘almost’ everything that happens in the so called Global Village affects us too. Our embassies must therefore observe, analyze and report. Incidentally to do this properly in an acceptable manner, we must know almost everything about the country we are accredited to, its politics, its economy, something about its history and culture and most importantly we must build a contact bank to get information this is why we are paid an entertainment allowance. Some think it is to treat Sri Lankans - that has to be on your own account. We must get our priorities right.


The first and most important constituency we need to relate to is the foreign ministry of the country of accreditation and other important ministries and departments such as the PM’s office, next the legislature, the business community, the media and of course the general public. As for the Sri Lankans who have adopted foreign nationality and those groups such as the Tamil Diaspora, they are no doubt important but the local constituencies are more important.


Now let us look at our interests to which diplomats must address their reports. In the early days after independence, the Heads of Missions merely flew the flag. After 1956 we entered a new phase becoming fully involved in international affairs adopting non-alignment as our foreign policy platform. We came to pursue a foreign policy that identified our country with the Third World and ‘Third World issues’. Politics became more important than economic development. Inward looking economic policies did not make it possible for us to cultivate the ‘rapacious west’ or to promote private foreign investment and foreign trade.


The political party then in power considered our foreign policy to have been a success because of two factors. We were put on the political map of the world because we held the Third Worlds political Olympics in 1976 in Colombo in the form of the Non Aligned Conference and we were also able to conduct equi-distant diplomacy with India and China - two adversaries after the Indo-China war of 1962. Our relationship with our neighbour could not have been better.


Reporting was essentially political. The ‘political report’ gained an unbelievable sanctity in the foreign ministry. Reporting on economic developments was almost unheard of. We had, as usual, got our priorities all mixed up. It was only in 1977, with the opening up of the economy, that the situation changed; but I do NOT think that adequate attention is yet being paid to the promotion of trade and investment and economic reporting. Our embassies are yet not structured to report in terms of our interests.


I cannot conclude this article without making a reference to the contribution made by the last minister of foreign affairs, the assassinated Lakshman Kadirgamar. He sought to infuse professionalism into the service and last but not least it was he who single handedly campaigned tirelessly against the terrorism of the LTTE. He put his life on line for this country and I do not think anyone can take that away from him even if his statue is not erected at the Kadirgamar Center.


As stated earlier it was the attempt to appoint 10 or 12 friends and relatives to the cadre service and our president fortunately intervening to stop this low effort, that led me into writing this essay; let us hope that the Opposition in Parliament will also take up this issue and support the introduction of legislation to statutorily safeguard the Foreign Service. Just as much as the president said that the country is not the property of any political party, it must be understood that, if, as the president has himself stated many times over, he hold office as a Trustee, the Foreign Service is not anybody’s private property; he should not let anyone pervert it to give jobs to friends and relations for them to have a good time at state expense, a practice which he himself condemned in no uncertain terms when he addressed the heads of our missions a few years ago in Colombo. Thank providence for him.


(The writer is a former member of the Sri Lanka Foreign Service who retired as Additional Secretary to the Foreign Ministry)


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
animated gif
Processing Request
Please Wait...