A welcome step | Daily News

A welcome step


In a welcome move, the Government in future will fill the country's Diplomatic Service with mostly career officers in the Foreign Service. Sri Lanka at present, as at no other time before, needs diplomats with stature and with the necessary negotiation skills to place the country's case cogently before the international community, particularly at a time we are in talks in connection with the country's debt restructuring in order to overcome the economic crisis. Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC told the media that they were in the process of recalling some of the envoys politically appointed to various capitals during the time of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as part of the Government's programme to appoint career diplomats as far as possible to fill the existing vacancies. While some of the envoys so appointed will continue in their postings due to their satisfactory performance and others given extensions for the same reasons the rest will return once their terms end shortly. Among the envoys to be recalled is Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva. It was felt that the envoy, a close ally of the former President, had failed to fulfill his mission satisfactorily, with the country drawing heavy strictures at the recent UNHRC sessions. There have been others too which fall into the same category- their appointments being purely based on their connections with the former rulers.

It is indeed time that we halted the practice of having political appointees to man the country's overseas diplomatic desks. All Governments are guilty of this. Not just political stooges, but even defeated candidates at elections too were thought competent enough to fit in as diplomats overseas. Into this lot also were included sons, daughters and in-laws, cousins etc. The result- Sri Lanka has had to pay a heavy price in terms of prestige and reputation not to mention credibility. The antics, escapades and shameful conduct of some of our politically appointed envoys had appeared in the media time and again in the past which indeed would have shocked many. There was also the incident where our Ambassador to Britain getting assaulted by a favourite acolyte of the former rulers, during an official function.

However, the most scandalous and shocking episode was when a close relative of the former ruler, who was our envoy to a superpower nation, getting caught with his hand in the till. Worst, the exposure was made by the law enforcement of the superpower concerned, which, needless to say, dragged this country in the mud and showed her in poor light as to the judgement of the rulers with regard to their choice of selection. This particular envoy who was doing business at the other end was so out of his depth with regard to his ambassadorial functions that Sri Lanka's Central Bank had to spend millions of dollars to hire a PR firm in that country to promote the country's image and lobby with the top officials in that Government.

The country's Diplomatic Service is too important an institution to be tainted by misfits and incompetents. Our Diplomatic Service should be free of all political appointments and a haven for the kith and kin and progeny of the rulers and Government Ministers. As mentioned, the country is too precariously placed to have joy-riders man our foreign desks. For it is exactly what they are. Most of these appointees due to political influence do everything else but work in the interest of the country. Some such envoys had been found to be doing business at the other end while others take the opportunity to educate their children in the countries of their postings. The country also has had the ignominy of seeing some of our envoys seek refugee status in the countries of their postings when being recalled following the fall of the Government. This situation should not be allowed to continue.

All vestiges of mediocrity should be removed from the Foreign Service which should essentially be made a professional one given the times. Thoroughly competent personnel handpicked from the Foreign Service should be posted to important capitals, not the cousins and in-laws of the rulers. Such personnel should be able to man the overseas desks efficiently and be able to negotiate trade pacts, promote tourism and above all improve the image of the country in the country of their postings and thus obviate the need for ministers to make frequent visits overseas with large delegations.

This is not to say that our Diplomatic Service should be strictly reserved for career officers. There are individuals in the Corporate Sector and business leaders who could perform as good, if not a better job, than career diplomats in getting the best benefits for the country. In the past too we have had non-career diplomats who made such a name for themselves vis-a-vis the country that they are still remembered with respect and honour. What is needed is a happy median- a careful mix of career diplomats and technocrats in the business world. The training given to would be career diplomats in the Foreign Service too should undergo a change and adapted to the rapidly changing international scene. It is time that a whole new approach be adopted with regard to our Foreign Service with recruitment standards improved so that we may produce the best talents to place the country's case to the outside world.



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