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Sri Lanka: Rotten Foreign Service

( March 16, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Government has picked a gem of a candidate for the post of Ambassador in Sri Lanka’s new Afghan mission. The official curriculum vitae of Shah Nawaz Marikar Bawa reveals that he has some experience in the gem and jewellery sector — but none in the field of diplomacy or international relations.

His three-page bio-data does, however, talk a great deal about his politically connected family members. It states that he was “actively involved in all political campaigns during the elections held since 1970 to date.”

Under the subheading ‘Political Background’ (a rarity in the curriculum vitae of trained, professional diplomats), Mr. Bawa says he had been appointed assistant secretary to the Democratic United National Front (DUNF) formed by the late Lalith Athulathmudali and the late Gamini Dissanayake in 1992. He also served as the DUNF’s Colombo District treasurer.

In what is likely to prove useless in his role as Sri Lanka’s chief representative in Kabul, Mr. Bawa once contested as a DUNF candidate at the Western Provincial Council election of 1993 and received “almost 15,000 votes”. In 2002 and 2004, Mr. Bawa was electoral coordinator for Parliamentarian Milinda Moragoda. Crucially (for him), he campaigned for Mahinda Rajapksa “at the Presidential Election held in 2004, and again in the Presidential Election held in January 2010″. Had Mr. Bawa checked his facts, he might have been pleasantly surprised to discover that there was no Presidential Election in 2004.

Be that as it may, Mr. Bawa declares proudly in his official CV — the one which will be presented to the Government of Afghanistan — that he had even been assigned to function from the campaign office at No. 405, 4th Floor, President’s Office, Temple Trees. “I was also actively involved in the Western Provincial Council Election in 2009 and the Parliamentary Election in April 2010,” the delightful document continues. It says he “assisted Hon. Thilanga Sumathipala’s political campaign as Manager/Coordinator for the Colombo East and West Electorates.”

“At the request of His Excellency, Hon. Mahinda Rajapakse, President of the Socialist Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka, I submitted a Report highlighting the reasons for the failure of the minorities to extend their support to the President at the Presidential Election held in January 2010,” the bio-data states. “In this report I have given suggestions to His Excellency to implement short and long term measures to overcome this situation in the future”. “Conversant in all three languages (English, Sinhala and Tamil) and having the experience and expertise in campaigning with a cross section of the middle class voters in the Colombo District,” it concludes.

How any of this is relevant to the Government of Afghanistan remains a mystery. The CV has just three lines under ‘Academic Qualifications’, one of them being that Mr. Bawa had worked at Vauxhall Motors Ltd, Luton, Bedfordshire, United Kingdom. It does not say what position he had held or how this could be interpreted as an academic qualification. He has fortunately studied up to GCE A/Level although the document does not specify his grades.

There are also two lines under ‘Professional Qualifications’, both of them related to the gem industry. Mr. Bawa does not even have a basic degree. His political connections are clearly expected to compensate for what he lacks in educational and professional background. For instance, he (according to his CV) is a nephew of Dr. M.C.M. Kaleel, a past chairman of the United National Party, Member of Parliament and Colombo Municipal Council. Faleel A. Cafoor, MP, is “closely related to my family” while “His Worship Hilmy Careem, Mayor of Matale Municipal Council is my Brother in Law”.

With the situation being what it is, forget about selecting educated, professional individuals to Sri Lanka’s diplomatic corps! The Government had better start at the bottom and run a course in CV-writing first. But who cares? There is nothing called an elite foreign service anymore!!

- Sunday Times, Colombo, Sri Lanka 

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