Change in criteria to appoint ambassadors meets with widespread criticismThe share of political appointees among envoys has grown and if the candidate is a former minister a high school degree would qualify them for the role, officials say.
Nepal is in desperate need of Covid-19 vaccines.
Given that the commodity is rare at the moment, diplomatic efforts to secure them are paramount. Appointing seasoned diplomats as Nepal’s ambassadors would go a long way in helping procure vaccines.
Instead, caretaker Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli is busy doling out political largesse to his supporters to the detriment of the country’s diplomacy.
It has changed the criteria for ambassadorial appointments as per which political appointees do not even need a bachelor’s degree.
“The Cabinet has changed the qualification criteria for appointment to the post of ambassador,” an outgoing minister told the Post on condition of anonymity. “A person does not have to be a graduate to become an ambassador.”
Outgoing minister for information and communication Parbat Gurung during his regular press briefing on Friday said that the Directives for Ambassadorial Appointment have been changed.
“The Cabinet has changed some criteria for ambassadorial appointments and increased the quota for political appointments,” Gurung said.
According to two joint secretaries that the Post talked to, this particular criteria was changed to suit Yuvraj Karki, who has been recommended as the next ambassador to Bahrain.
“When we got his resume, we came to know that he was not even a graduate which means he didn’t meet the existing criteria to be an ambassador,” said a joint-secretary on condition of anonymity. “The Cabinet amended the criteria waiving this provision in case of former ministers.”
Karki, a former minister for general administration, is an Intermediate in Science.
The intermediate degree is equivalent to a high school degree—grade 12.
Foreign Ministry officials do not believe such a change has been effected.
“What kind of results are we expecting from our ambassadors if they are not qualified and only have the experience of teaching at middle school,” said another joint-secretary. “An under-secretary at the Foreign Ministry is far better than these unqualified political appointees.”
Former foreign ministers are equally appalled by the decision.
“If that change has been made, then it is not a good decision for the Foreign Ministry,” said Narayan Kaji Shrestha, a former deputy prime minister and foreign minister. “The Oli administration has totally ruined institutions. It has totally degraded ambassadorial appointments, which should be a matter of pride for the nation. We need to overhaul the Foreign Ministry and its conduct.”
Sujata Koirala, another former deputy prime minister and foreign minister, said that the government should discourage sending political appointees, leaders or cadres as ambassadors.
A retired middle school teacher, Sumitra Subedi, a resident of Oli’s home district Jhapa, has been recommended as Nepal’s ambassador to Denmark to replace Yubanath Lamsal, who is a former editor of the state-owned English language daily The Rising Nepal.
“When I was the foreign minister, I always tried to send more than 50 percent of career diplomats as ambassadors,” said Koirala. “But if the government has amended the criteria, then it will certainly set a very bad precedent. Oli is destroying state institutions one after another and this is another example.”
There had been the practice since 1991 of appointing 50 percent ambassadors from among career diplomats and 50 percent political appointees.
On the basis of reports submitted by several task forces in the past and a Supreme Court order, the Oli administration had introduced the criteria in 2018 as per which the tradition of sending 50 percent ambassadors from among diplomatic corps and 50 percent from among political appointees was formalised.
The Oli administration-introduced criteria state that those with “excellent academic record and capability to represent the country with a sound experience or knowledge of Nepal’s foreign policy and international relations” can be appointed ambassadors.
Point 6 of the ambassadorial criteria states that any aspirant for ambassador should fulfil the barest minimum standards—that they are above 35 years of age, hold a bachelor’s degree, don’t have criminal records, have not been convicted of corruption, and don’t appear to have any conflicts of interest.
Pradeep Gyawali, the outgoing foreign minister who is also the spokesman for the ruling CPN-UML, however, sees no reason to raise a hue and cry over the issue.
“Some changes were made in ambassadorial criteria but not that much significant,” he told the Post. “This time, the number of political appointees is higher than career diplomats but we have not changed the directives.”
But the portion of career diplomats being appointed ambassadors is getting smaller.
After amending the criteria, a Cabinet meeting on May 13 recommended 11 ambassadors to various countries. Of them only two were joint-secretaries from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the remaining nine were supporters of the ruling UML party.
Last August, the government recommended three joint-secretaries from Foreign Ministry as ambassadors to Pakistan, Belgium and Germany. Since then there have been nine political appointees and five career diplomats recommended as ambassadors.
Two joint-secretaries at the Foreign Ministry told the Post that they would certainly protest if the government had changed the criteria and slashed the quota for career diplomats.
“This will certainly degrade the institution,” said a joint-secretary. “It is against international practice and established norms, and these kinds of changes will not be acceptable to us.”
Former ambassador to Germany Suresh Pradhan called the decision unfortunate.
He also placed the blame on Gyawali for this turn of events.
“It is the weakness of the foreign minister who should have pleaded for making the Foreign Ministry strong,” added Pradhan. “It will damage the image of the Foreign Ministry by demoralising its human resource.”
Nepal’s diplomatic corps is despondent.
“These things have something to do with the lack of cultural maturity and political will. Looks like we have to wait for quite a long time before we can stand among the ranks of other better governed countries,” a joint-secretary told the Post.