Lanka’s Foreign Service is being destroyed

K. Godage, from the Island, 9 March 2011 and Lanka Guardian, 9 March 2011

The Ides of March for the Foreign Service has come on the 9th of March before the traditional March 15. On this day, a fatal blow is to be struck by the Cabinet of Ministers to the professional Foreign Service. The cabinet is scheduled to approve the recruitment of 12 persons into the permanent cadre, outside the approved scheme of recruitment.

They would without doubt be sons and daughters of politicians and other so-called supporters of the government, some of them could even be presently living abroad. The practice hitherto has been to make short term appointments on contract and not to recruit into the permanent cadre through the back door. The government may of course come up with the flimsy excuse that there are a large number of vacancies in our missions abroad and that following the established practice of holding competitive examinations would take time. All I can say in response is; “say that to the Marines.”

The implications of this one act are very far reaching, particularly at a time when the West in particular and some other members of the international community are ganging up against us, pushing war crimes charges against us. We need the best hands on deck, but what is being done is the opposite; the government is destroying the morale of the present service.

Do these people who decided on this course of action understand what the management of foreign relations and diplomacy is about and what their actions entail. Diplomacy is the business on managing relations between states. Diplomacy involves the shaping and implementation of foreign policy. The work of diplomacy can be broken down to six broad areas:

1) Representation

Representing the the country. Substantive work would involve explaining our policies, negotiating and

2) Interpreting the foreign and domestic policies of the country you are based in. 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.

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 then 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.

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 one hundred and eighty; 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 multi-lateral corporations whose interests are involved. Then there is the continued growth of 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. Here I must refer to an important development on the international scene, which would also be of interest to the reader.

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 just two examples – both from home. Ambassador Shirley Amarasinghe, (one of our finest, under whom I had the privilege to work for some time), was not nominated even as a delegate by the government to the Law of the Sea Conference of which he was interim Chairman because President JR bore some grudge against him – but the UN recognised his worth. He was nominated by a number of other countries and elected 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 Non-Nuclear Non-Proliferation 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 IAEA though I, who was Additional Foreign Secretary at the time, was told by certain Permanent members of the UN Security Council that they would appoint him if he was nominated by us, which we refused to do for reasons best known to the government at the time. The UN however, recognised 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 SG, but this is Sri Lanka, where we pull down our own kind, where envy dominates.

To revert to our subject, one wonders how much these law makers, who are seeking to destroy the Foreign Service know about professional diplomacy and foreign affairs management. I raise this as an issue only because it appears from the intended postings of friends and relations to our missions abroad, (at a huge cost to the tax payer), that the authorities appear to think that any clown can, without any training, do the job of a diplomat and promote our national interests.

The professional diplomacy to state once more is the conduct of our relations with foreign countries, international organisations, other international institutions, regional organisations, business Corporations etc etc. Today the scope an substance of diplomacy has enlarged to such an extent that it is most complex and challenging. The mind boggling advancement of communication technology only makes the task at hand of a diplomat most demanding. Besides international political relations one would need to follow the international economic situation, the monetary and financial developments promote educational and cultural exchanges, scientific and technological cooperation, promote trade, investment and tourism and above all in our situation keep a tab on the activities of the new LTTE abroad and report on maters relating to national security. Conventional diplomacy is today a thing of the past and the wide range of activities (the expansion is both qualitative and quantitative) of a state calls for specialisation and training. Training is an absolute imperative. There is no such thing as a free lunch in this business any more. Surely the government only needs to see the quality of foreign diplomats stationed both here and in Delhi to understand that this is not a business for any Arnolis, Marthelis and Karthelis.

Sending untrained clueless people to promote the interests of this country is a crime against the state and the people of this country. If the exigencies of service require that we recruit temporarily from officers with an abiding interest in international affairs on contract, until permanent cadre are fully trained; the government should advertise and recruit from the AG’s department which has excellent material, (incidentally our Foreign Ministry must be the only one in the world without a Legal Advisor) or from the SLAS and the private sector, recruitment from the latter sector is particularly important for the promotion of trade, investment and tourism. What the government intends to do is wholly indefensible and is as stated earlier a crime against this country.

K. Godage, Nanda to his friends, is a former ambassador.

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