Joint-secretary’s appointment to New York mission defies practice, experts sayThe government has decided to send a joint-secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Nepal’s Permanent Mission in New York in a move that, foreign affairs experts say, downgrades the mission.
Published at : January 9, 2019
Updated at : January 9, 2019 13:23
The government has decided to send a joint-secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Nepal’s Permanent Mission in New York in a move that, foreign affairs experts say, downgrades the mission.
A Cabinet meeting on Monday decided to appoint Amrit Bahadur Rai as Nepal’s permanent representative in New York. Rai was recently recalled from South Africa as an ambassador. Recalling an ambassador and sending the same person to take up another ambassadorial position—that too immediately in New York—is a rare incident in Nepal’s diplomatic history.
Rai is third senior most joint-secretary at the Foreign Ministry, after Bharat Raj Poudyal (joint-secretary, UN Division) and Sewa Adhikari (Nepal’s ambassador to Pakistan).
Such incident—sending an ambassador to take up another ambassadorial position—was rare even during the Panchayat era, at least two Foreign Ministry officials told the Post, adding that the concerned diplomat, as per the practice, must serve for at least two years at the ministry before taking up a new assignment as ambassador.
Before leaving New York after completing his term, outgoing permanent representative/ambassador to the mission, Durga Prasad Bhattarai, had sent a long note to the Foreign Ministry, insisting that the profile of an ambassador in New York matters a lot and asking the ministry to send a senior official or a political appointee to head the mission.
He had urged not to undermine the New York mission due to Nepal’s growing engagements with the United Nations and other diplomatic reasons. He had also urged the ministry to take cognizance of the fact that Nepal should not delay the appointment of an ambassador to New York in the wake of the country’s increased engagements with the UN.
Rai, officials believe, has been appointed as permanent representative to New York because of his close association with Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli.
According to sources familiar with the developments, initially the prime minister and Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali were for sending Foreign Secretary Shankar Das Bairagi to take up the assignment in view of the longstanding tradition of appointing an outgoing foreign secretary to New York.
But Bairagi refused to take up the role, because he still has a long stint as a civil servant with prospects of rising to the post of chief secretary.
After Bairagi, Bharat Raj Poudyal could have been the next candidate on the basis of seniority. He has been heading the UN Division at the ministry for the last two years. But long before Poudyal’s name came up, PM Oli decided to recall Rai from South Africa to award him another ambassadorial position in New York.
“No doubt this post in New York is for a senior official,” said Nepal’s former PR/ambassador to Geneva, Dinesh Bhattarai. Joint-secretaries serve here on rare occasions, he added. “This mission should be led either by a political leader or the foreign secretary because it is an important diplomatic mission politically.”
“We require a senior official to head the New York [mission] because it is the platform where we can boost the image of the country, project the country in the global arena and participate in many engagements and meetings. Other countries also send senior people like ministers and secretaries to New York,” said Bhattarai. Bhattarai, a former foreign relations adviser to two prime ministers, said the decision to send Rai as the new PR/ambassador is politically motivated. “The PM wants to project him as his man,” he said. The government has breached at least three traditions and set practices while appointing Rai as the PR, said officials.
First, since the restoration of democracy in 1990, all successive governments have been sending at least the serving foreign secretary to New York as the PR/ambassador. Second, there is no tradition of sending a serving ambassador immediately to another ambassadorial post since it hampers the career growth of others. Third, sending one joint-secretary above another joint-secretary is not a good diplomatic exercise.
Nirmal Raj Kafle, a joint-secretary at the Foreign Ministry, has been the acting PR/ambassador in New York, after former foreign secretary Durga Prasad Bhattarai completed his term in July-end.
Rajan Bhattarai, foreign relations adviser to the prime minister, however, defended the move, saying that Rai was appointed in a bid to make ambassadorial appointments inclusive. “We want to set a system. So we decided to send Rai because all ambassadors should be joint-secretaries. And, we want to break the tradition that the PR/ambassador for New York is not a post exclusively for foreign secretaries. In the past we have seen several foreign secretaries leave their jobs to become the PR/ambassador. We need to change this.”
Only one joint-secretary, Jay Pratap Rana, served as the PR/ambassador in New York in the past. But he had also served in the same mission as deputy PR/ambassador.
Otherwise, the mission has always been led either by a political appointee or the foreign secretary since Rishikesh Shah was Nepal’s first PR at the UN. In the Panchayat era, Bhekh Bahadur Thapa had got to serve as Nepal’s ambassador to New Delhi after completing his term in Washington DC. Earlier, then-prime minister Matrika Prasad Koirala served as ambassador.
The government also recently downgraded Nepal’s Consular General Office in New York by removing the post of joint-secretary and decided to depute an under-secretary to head it.