Government plan to trim number of missions abroad triggers debateThe Ministry of Foreign Affairs four months ago formed a task force to review Nepali embassies abroad—and their scope of work.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs four months ago, in November, formed a task force to review Nepali embassies abroad—and their scope of work—amid a debate raging over whether the country should add more missions to expand its outreach to the outside world, or trim their number to cut costs.
In its policies and programmes, and subsequently in the annual budget, the government announced last year to review the country’s diplomatic missions operational in 32 countries.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Pradeep Gyawali also has stated time and again that time has come for Nepal to review the number of its foreign missions.
After the formation of the KP Sharma Oli government last year, Gyawali had sought reports from all of the country’s 32 diplomatic missions on their nature, performance and scope of work with a view to assessing their relevance.
The ministry’s task force, headed by Rudra Nepal, former Nepali ambassador to Australia, is entrusted with studying the reports and making recommendations, whether to bring down the number of missions, which will mean closing down some of the embassies, or keeping all of them intact. The panel is also expected to suggest how the country’s diplomatic missions can expand their scope of work—whether to engage in economic diplomacy equally while enriching its foreign policy conduct, as Nepal strives to increase its engagement with more and more countries to attract investments and build new relations.
“We are studying the rationale behind having embassies in some of the countries and also assessing their activities and functioning. We have yet to finalise our report. It will take another 15 days to submit the report,” Nepal told the Post.
All the missions which have submitted their reports to the task force are for giving continuity to them.
According to officials at the Foreign Ministry, a serious review of at least nine missions is in the process.
Multiple sources at the Foreign Ministry told the post that Nepali embassies in Canada, Denmark, Spain, Brazil, South Africa, Egypt, Myanmar, Bahrain and Oman could be considered either for their relocation or a drawdown of staff.
There will be some sort of readjustment of the missions, said a senior Foreign Ministry official who did not want to be named, saying the task force was still studying the reports.
The ongoing review was initiated after Prime Minister Oli wanted to shut down “unnecessary missions”.
The ministry official, however, expressed his dismay, saying, “Countries younger than us have 100 missions around the world, but we are planning to downsize them.”
“Downsizing the number of missions contradicts the policy pursued by the Oli administration which wants to uplift the country’s image, invite more [foreign] direct investment and increase the country’s outreach to the outside world,” he added.
The idea of bringing down the number of diplomatic missions emanates from a perception among some that the country is investing a lot in them without substantial return.
At present, the budget of the ministry is around Rs2 billion—or 0.51 percent of the total national budget—and most of the funds allocated to the Nepali missions is spent on rent for the buildings of diplomatic missions, chanceries and staff residence.
Nepal is spending around Rs800 million on the operation of its missions around the world.
“Now is the time for Nepal to spend adequate resources on foreign policy conduct as well as economic diplomacy. We cannot increase the country’s engagement with the outside world—especially with those countries which will be helpful in injecting investment into Nepal—if we show a stingy attitude,” the official told the Post. “It’s not possible to bring maximum foreign direct investment or overseas development assistance if we do not have effective diplomatic apparatus—and our presence,” he added. “The more we invest in our diplomatic apparatus, the more investment and assistance we can secure. Only then can we meet the goals of graduating from a least developed country to become a middle-income country by 2030.”
Former Nepali ambassadors also disagree with the idea of trimming the missions.
“If a three-man embassy is too costly, the government can downgrade it to a two-man mission,” said Pradyumna Bikram Shah, immediate past Nepali ambassador to Brazil. “Or else we can consider consular offices, but the number of Nepali missions should not be brought down significantly.”
Shah said there rather is the need for considering opening new missions in some countries like Indonesia, Italy, Portugal and the remaining South Asian and labour destination countries, given the changed context.