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Appointments to Sri Lankan Missions Overseas

by Anjalika Silva

(June 30, Philadelphia, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Sri Lankan missions overseas whether Embassies or High Commission offices, represent not only their "special" connections within Sri Lanka but a larger picture of the image of Sri Lanka, its people and more not excluding a high standard of diplomatic duties expected of such positions.

Today, in a world filled with conflict and strife, a small country like Sri Lanka has to tread a very fine line with their interpretation of foreign policy and public statements on issues. Unlike any other era, those entrusted with such a role must be extremely diplomatic, well informed and articulate communicators who give thought to their actions and utterances.

We have seen a few excellent diplomats in key positions who have done a great job on behalf of the country in maintaining our status and standards. However, we are seeing more of the able career diplomats being swept away to be replaced by political appointees. Some political appointees are capable in certain professions but it takes more than one narrow area of expertise to be a diplomat. Others appear to have absolutely no education or well rounded accomplishments to warrant such positions except for connections. Holding diplomatic positions on behalf of Sri Lanka has become a joke! It has become a "have a good time" role at government expense or a place to occupy a seat, be on the government payroll to go to school to be groomed to marry into a big shot’s family. As an expatriate working closely with activities involving Sri Lanka, it is disappointing to note that some of the hard work of career diplomats in collaboration with dedicated expatriates will be lost due to misfits being sent as replacements in some critical countries. There is no regard for continuity. In some locations all of the staff is being replaced with new political recruits at one time. How can a mission function when all are new and there are no experienced people to make a smooth transition?

One main concern is that some of the new appointees have no experience dealing with key foreign governments. These roles require educated heads of missions who are articulate, knowledgeable people who can think on their feet or have the desire to project a professional image before committees on behalf of Sri Lanka when issues arise or to negotiate on behalf of the country when we are up against distortions of all proportions.

We are seeing the appointment of airline employees, businessmen, friends, relatives who don’t even have basic education and skills being placed in diplomatic positions. It is most disheartening because the criteria for appointments appear to be such that the country is the least important in the list of priorities for the foreign ministry with the blessings of the government. There is a huge difference between patriotism and nepotism.

Ideally, the government need not waste public money on exorbitant rents, perks, vehicles, entertainment allowances etc., at tax payer’s expense for people who probably don’t even know the dimensions of Sri Lanka leave alone the interpretation of foreign policy. A few retired expatriates earning foreign pensions can volunteer their time and run a more efficient outfit. Why is the President allowing standards to slide even further than it has slid up to now?

The LTTE will be even more successful in their lobbying efforts and we may see a total reversal their proscription in many key nations opening the flood gates for extortion and funding terror once again. They will definitely get the upper hand with their propaganda machine when we have diplomats who cannot communicate well or deliver with authority. Knowing Sinhala is great for self pride but we need to be realistic. Those of us, who speak Sinhala and English equally well, know the advantages. Knowing a third language is a greater advantage but English is the key for a global presence.

Even among those who know English, we seem to have acquired a taste for caustic journalism. Being a journalist doesn’t groom individuals to be diplomats. A caustic mentality doesn’t make a good diplomat. We have made fools of ourselves lately. Explanations don’t remedy thoughtless comments. When they come out of diplomatic missions, communications must be well thought out and weighed for ramifications. Misfits do more damage to the country whether they are passive, aggressive or both. Diplomacy is not about digging dirt and distortion. What a waste of resources to explain positions when words are bandied without thought?

Why do we have examinations to enter the diplomatic service? Don’t we expect some level of knowledge and skills that determine a fit? For everything else we look to foreign experts. The time has come to look for foreign experts on training legitimate diplomats and picking those that fit.

If the foreign ministry takes a poll from seasoned expats around the world, they will hear a mouthful about the standard of diplomats we expect. We who live in these countries know better about the standards that need to be met. Some appointees are an embarrassment to those of us who have held our heads up high and represented Sri Lanka in our educational institutions, work places, in public places and in our general presence as immigrants. Those who do a good job are dwarfed by the incompetence of those who don’t deliver.

What a sorry state of affairs we have been reduced to recently. It is sad, disheartening and disgusting to say the least!
- Sri Lanka Guardian

1 comment

cgudu said...

Yes, but do we need at this hour of need the so called carrier Diplomats where some did nothing but waste money and where some were engaged in nefarious activities bringing discredit to the country, rather than filling with non carrier high calibre persons who are capable of doing a tremendous work for the country?
For an example I am proud as an ordinary citizen of Sri-Lanka, of the two individuals who represent in Italy & Switzerland. We need persons of this module to tackle the present situation in all fronts whose work could be valued.

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