Prime Minister vs Foreign Ministry

shadow boxingThe Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasighe is one of most seasoned politicians in Sri Lanka. It is difficult to fool him. However, some officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have attempted to present some garbage to the Prime Minister as briefing notes for his Indian visit. Ranil was furious about them and he has just returned the briefing notes to the Foreign Secretary stating that he has no time to read substandard documents.

He has also informed the Minister Mangala Samaraweera not to include any Foreign Ministry official in his tour to India. In addition he has ordered the Minister to stop so called weekly media briefing by a junior ministry official. The lady media spokesman, who is a pet of the Minister and a mistress of a senior Ambassador is soon going to be the next Ambassador to UN although highly qualified senior officers to hold this post are available. This is a classic example for repetition of same horrible practices of the Rajapaksa regime.

Why Ranil was so angry about the Foreign Ministry? There are could be many answers to this question. Although he is 68 years old he is a modern thinker updated with new developments in the world. He is not a traditionalist. Therefore, what the officers did to please Rajapaksa regime will not acceptable to him. He is looking for something new and innovative. Fundamentally there is nothing wrong with that.

On the one hand, since Ranil was in the opposition for a long period obviously he is not familiar with the traditions of the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry. On the other hand, the officers in the Foreign Ministry may not be aware of what Ranil thinks or wants. During the last six months as the Prime Minister of the country he did not meet officers of the Foreign Service to brief them of the policies of the new government. This was essential as the officers had been brain washed by the Rajapaksa regime.  As of today, not even a single document on foreign policy of the new government has been released. In fact, the officers of the Foreign Ministry have not been updated with the priorities of the government.

Undoubtedly, there are many short falls in the part of the Foreign Ministry. Minister Mangala Samaraweera did not make any attempts to introduce any change in the Ministry and he just accepted the system prevailed during the Rajapaksa regime. He did not study the existing structure of the Ministry and identify the abilities and weaknesses of the officers as well as areas to be improved. Instead, he adopted a system of working only with a selected group of people neglecting some senior officers. He even did not listen to the senior officers and make any serious attempt to understand the problems of the officers.

With regard to administration, Foreign Minister blindly approved appointments, transfers proposed by the Secretary, who has no experience in administration. This has helped maintain the same unpleasant environment that prevailed during the Rajapaksa regime. More importantly, 10 junior officers of the Foreign Service have also been appointed as Ambassadors after the new government was formed. There was no transparency in making these appointments and no rules or traditions were followed. For example, for the first time in the history in Sri Lanka, may be in the world, an entire batch of Foreign Service officers were sent out as Ambassadors.

Usually, those who are already serving in the Mission holding the ranks below the Ambassadors do not appoint as Ambassadors. Existing practice was to select Ambassadors who serve in Colombo. Disregarding this practice, 06 of the officers appointed recently as Ambassadors were already serving over 03 years in the Missions. One of them was to be retired at the end of September 2015. This is an example for the naivety in the part of the Foreign Minister. Once again 18 political Ambassadors were also appointed to the major countries in keeping with tradition of the Rajapaksa regime.

The Rajapaksa regime made a huge mistake by appointing junior officers to Additional Secretary and Directors General in the Ministry again overlooking senior officers. Unfortunately, the new government was not keen on rectifying this mistake. A Director General is the head of a particular geographical division. He is responsible for all the activities including VIP visits to and from the region. Obviously, the quality of their work depends on their experience. As a result, Ranil cannot expect high quality briefings from an inexperience Director General. This was what happened during the Indian visit.

In the Ministry, area specialization has not been encouraged. Officers with special abilities were not considered when grating postings abroad or appointments within the Ministry. Often favoritism played a major role. This was created a culture of worshipping the political leadership for promotions and appointments. Officers did not make any serious attempts to pursue higher education.

In an environment of this nature, Ranil cannot expect anything special. However, the answer is not appointing his classmates to the Missions and the Ministry. It is time to look into the whole affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and introduce radical changes to make it an efficient and effective government institution.(Sri Lanka Guardian) 

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