Below the call of dutyIt is time to scrutinise Nepal’s lack of a regulatory mechanism for diplomatic envoys
The criteria applied by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s government to select ambassadorial candidates does not differ greatly from what was followed during the days of absolute monarchy or the decade-long chaotic political transition, punctuated by a series of short-lived coalitions.
People were expecting the ruling elite of the leftist alliance, who enjoy a two-thirds majority in Parliament, to extricate itself from the past legacy and pick appropriate candidates to fill in the long-standing diplomatic hiatus in several countries with due prudence and farsightedness.
However, contrary to popular expectations, the seemingly proletarian government appears to have found it more advantageous to perpetuate the feudal tradition than to evolve a new formula for these designations. It seems as though any chance in the existing criteria might run counter to their vested objectives. Therefore, from the standpoint of the grave responsibilities that these diplomatic worthies would be entrusted with, some of these nominations should be criticised.
Political expediencies, nepotistic considerations, proximity to power centres and, to a certain extent, familial predispositions appear to have overshadowed objectivity and propriety of the nominees concerned. Besides, several uncorroborated stories of shady economic deals, too, abound in public circles with regard to candidates picked from among the business community and other professional strata.
This is applicable to any party in power. Regardless of their insipid rhetoric of ‘administrative fairness’ or achieving new heights in diplomatic proficiency, the responsible stakeholders, operating the levers of the establishment concerned, have seemingly failed to transcend their parochial loyalties, political interests and familial options while appointing diplomatic envoys to represent the country’s paramount national interests abroad.
Owing primarily to these deficiencies, coupled with a systemic dysfunction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the evolution of an astute and professionally sound cadre to face the emerging challenges and complexities of international relations has been practically stymied. Like any other sector of the country’s administrative mechanism, its foreign service institution, too, presents a pathetic example of official frivolousness and marked dereliction towards a highly crucial and sensitive discipline of its bureaucratic structure. Relentlessly buffeted by political orientation and its responsible officers’ failure to extricate themselves from the past legacy of appeasement to the power centres, Nepal’s foreign service institution has been rendered an object of public ridicule and cynicism.
It is true that the ruling clique enjoys an exclusive prerogative to select ambassadorial representations of their own choice to certain countries whose proclivity towards Nepal is of vital importance for its political stability, economic development and strategic moves. Nevertheless, an objective evaluation of the candidates in question and their suitableness vis-à-vis the responsibility they will be entrusted with cannot be overlooked altogether.
Such decisions ought to be justified by incontrovertible rationale so that taxpayers are convinced of the propriety and judiciousness behind the selection. There is no dearth of talent in the foreign service establishment today; what is lacking is the system of providing proper opportunities to young aspirants to demonstrate their diplomatic dexterity, prescience and acumen.
Though it is somewhat gratifying to note that a number of foreign service officers, endowed with professional abilities and diplomatic experience, have been accommodated in the new list of ambassadorial nominees, their placements, however, do not seem to be compatible with their personal qualities.
There is enough ground to presume that, like previous regimes, the Oli government, too, harbors a propensity to relegate career diplomats to the fringes and reserve plum assignments for their political worthies whose tours of duty have been mostly unavailing and prematurely truncated.
Consequently, the poor taxpayers have had to bear the brunt of the expenditures involved in their movement. Professional or academic distinction, social or political eminence, diplomatic farsightedness, deep insight into bilateral relations, language proficiency, conversance with the history and culture of the country of possible assignment, personal track record and previous diplomatic experience are some of the pre-requisites for an ambassadorial nomination.
But in the Nepali context, these norms and practices do not hold strongly. All successive regimes over the years have taken the ‘diplomatic service’ as a repository of perquisites and rewards to be given away to their political favourites or economic benefactors.
A lady envoy is sent to a Muslim country where it is a social taboo for women to shake hands with gentlemen; a noted economist is appointed ambassador to a country with whom Nepal does not share any economic interest at all; a political rookie is assigned to a country which happens to be Nepal’s major partner in economic reconstruction. Similarly, a joint secretary is appointed ambassador to head an important mission where his second-in-command belongs to the same administrative hierarchy. These are some of the reasons why Nepal’s diplomatic performance overseas has always remained lackadaisical and recorded at the nadir of its professional competence.
Anyone attempting to portray an objective picture of Nepal’s foreign service institution and the diplomatic missions it oversees is likely to land himself amid a hostile landscape and be confronted with a barrage of accusations ranging from a diehard reactionary to a disgruntled administrative discard.
Nepal is perhaps one of the very few Third World countries whose diplomatic envoys, mostly politically appointed, are literally exempt from any sort of performance auditing or regulatory measures prescribed by the concerned establishment at home. With a very few exceptions, they have failed to live up to expectations and their tour of duty is simply a blissful spell of four years. To legitimise their diplomatic incompetence, they always resort to the same habitual escape hatch: not getting proper support from the establishment at home.
Misappropriation of the insurance amount meant for the family of deceased migrant workers, running business shops within embassy premises and reported human trafficking by misusing diplomatic privilege and personal clout are some of the despicable examples of our mission chiefs’ activities recently.
Having said that, however, one should not be oblivious to the commendable contributions made by a few eminent persons towards expanding the network of Nepal’s international relations and enhancing its dignity and prestige in the international community.
Let us hope that the proposed envoys of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal will be prudent enough to emulate how our neighbours have been faring in the arena of international relations.
Khanal is a retired chief of protocol. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org