Country’s premier foreign policy think tank without chief for over a yearThe government is struggling to appoint the executive director at the Institute of Foreign Affairs, country’s premier foreign policy think tank under the aegis of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has remained without a chief for over a year.
The government is struggling to appoint the executive director at the Institute of Foreign Affairs, country’s premier foreign policy think tank under the aegis of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has remained without a chief for over a year.
Though three names were sent to the Cabinet three months ago, a decision is yet to be taken.
In the absence of the executive director, the institution has largely remained inactive.
The post of the executive director of the institute has been lying vacant after Professor Panna Kaji Amatya died last year.
The institute is the only state-owned foreign policy think tank which provides support, as necessary and appropriate, to the government, particularly the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, by imparting professional training to Nepali foreign service officials and personnel. It also offers suggestions and recommendations on foreign policy formulation, undertakes study and research programmes and publishes books and research materials related to foreign policy and updates and compiles historic documents and information on Nepal’s relations with foreign countries.
Rishi Raj Adhikari, former executive director of the institute, said that the think tank has lost its momentum in the absence of an executive head.
“We have barely seen any activities in the institute in the recent times,” Adhikari, who also served as Nepal’s ambassador to Malaysia, told the Post.
Shortly before the death of Amatya, the government had formed a panel under former ambassador Dinesh Bhattarai to suggest ways to strengthen the institution and make it a competitive think tank in terms of organisation and resources.
As per the panel’s suggestion, the government put out a notice about six months ago, inviting applications for the post of the executive director to be chosen through free competition.
Four people from diverse backgrounds applied for the post, but the government later cancelled the appointment process.
“The government side was of the view that none of the applicants was eligible,” an official familiar with the development told the Post on condition anonymity because he was not authorised to speak with the media.
The government again issued a public advertisement. Four more candidates applied, taking the total number of applications to eight.
A selection committee headed by Foreign Secretary Shankar Das Bairagi then shortlisted three candidates. The three names were then sent to the Cabinet about three months ago for selection to lead the foreign policy think tank.
Those shortlisted candidates are two former major generals of Nepal Army—Jagadish Chandra Pokhrel and Devendra Medhasi—and a former additional inspector general of the Armed Police Force, Rajesh Shrestha.
The criteria set for the post of executive director were at least five years of experience at the joint-secretary level and at least two years of experience in leadership position above the joint-secretary level.
But none of the shortlisted candidates has civil [service] background. Besides, they don’t have experience in international or national institutions and in research and publication sectors, at least two informed sources told the Post.
Similarly, applications were called from only those who were above 60 years of age.
This particular criteria barred many interested candidates from applying for the post, another official familiar with the process told the Post.
As the names of three shortlisted candidates reached the Cabinet, according to sources at the Prime Minister’s Office, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali and other ministers were sharply divided.
Some ministers and top bureaucrats objected to the names of all three shortlisted candidates, arguing whether the government was trying to constitute a military—or security institute—or a foreign affairs institute. This led to delay in the appointment of the executive director.
It is also a political post that demands frequent dealing with the leadership in the foreign ministry and other government agencies in order to inject dynamism and carry out various activities like seminars, conferences and research works.
For the past year, the institute has been only imparting training to the newly appointed ambassadors and foreign ministry staff.
On why there were not many applications, Foreign Secretary Bairagi said people from different backgrounds could have applied but it appeared there was a lack of interest.
“So we sent the names of the three candidates who we had shortlisted from among the eight applicants to the Cabinet,” said Bairagi. “No decision has been taken so far.”
Currently, its present Deputy Executive Director Indra Adhikari is looking after entire operation of the institution with limited resources and term of references.
The government allocates Rs6 million annually for the administrative cost and salaries for staff and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs releases separate funds for holding conferences and seminars.
“Leadership is crucial. An executive director can inject dynamism in the institution. The government should complete the process to appoint the chief at the institute at the earliest,” said Adhikari, the former executive director of the foreign policy think tank