Political appointees and downsizing Foreign Missions – Gimmicks by the Yahapalana Government

Soon after the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maheshini Colonne told a recent media briefing that the yahapalana government did never say that it would stop making political appointments to the surprise of many of those who wanted a true change comes the news that the government will be downsizing the Missions. Colonnes comments on political appointees came after the Yahapalana stalwarts, mainly incumbent Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, at every forum before January 8 found fault with the Rajapaksa government for making political appointments to Sri Lankan Missions.  

Answering a question by a journalist on why the political appointments are still being made Colonne who is even better than the former police spokesman clearly stated that political appointments will be made as there is shortage of officers in the Ministry. Lanka News Web has already exposed the conduct of Colonne who is a well known turncoat who changes colours faster than a chameleon. She was currying favour with the infamous Sajin Vaas and from January 8 this year became very critical of the Rajapaksa government and got round Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera. Now she is running the Ministry with Foreign Secretary Wagiswara counting her fingers to go on a posting.

What Colonne failed to say was that the number in the Foreign Service is at an all time high of about 185 with regular intakes in the pipeline. It is no secret that in the Ministry even mid level officers have to share the same table due to lack of space. She also failed to say that trade officers serving in the Missions come from the Commerce Department and the Defence attachés come from the three forces and sometimes those from the police are also sent. In addition officers from the Administrative Service are also sent to Mission. At lower level clerical and non-clerical positions government servants from the Public Management Service are sent. With all these specialised officers available how can the spokeswoman justify that there is a shortage of qualified officers. Can she say that these political appointees are more qualified and more experience that the career government officers. She has conveniently forgotten how during the Kadirgamar era Missions were run very efficiently with only a very limited number of political appointments made. By going through the spate of recent appointments we see relations, business contacts and party faithful are getting plum positions to educate their children, earn some money and to get medical treatment at state cost.  

Rajapaksas ruined the Foreign Service by appointing their catchers at all levels. Now the Yahapalana Government is slowly starting the same thing. Recently a career officer who was nominated as an Ambassador to a European Mission was cut and a political appointee who is a political turncoat well past the retirement age has been nominated. Yahapalana government has also started appointing people at lower diplomatic ranks and for clerical and non clerical lower places. This is a repeat of the madness of Rajapaksas. As exposed by Lanka News Web the yahapalana government has done even better than the Rajapaksas by appointing citizens of host countries as diplomatic officers to represent Sri Lanka making a mockery of our foreign representations. These people are drawing their salaries and enjoying the perks while the career government officers are doing the work.

After the election of Yahapalana government on January 8 most of the political appointees were recalled. The Missions were run by the most senior Foreign Service officer in the Mission. This period should have been an eye opener for the yahapalana government and Samaraweera. All these Missions ran without a problem and the lack of the political head or other political appointees was not felt. Some Missions even successfully handled visits by the President. What happened recently in Paris is a good example for the capability of career officers and how political appointees take the credit. It was the acting Ambassador, a career officer, who successfully coordinated, lobbied and spearheaded the election of Sri Lanka to the UNESCO executive committee. True to form the political appointee Thilakaratna Ranaviraja who is well over 70 years who assumed duties as Ambassador only about a month or two before the election sent letters to Colombo and the Missions thanking the President, Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister for the guidance given (we wonder what the guidance was) and conveniently forgot to give credit to his deputy. But if anything goes wrong the politicians are very good to pounce on the Foreign Ministry and the service officers.   

What Samaraweera should have done was to make the suitable acting Ambassadors permanent or even send some suitable career officers to head key Missions. But what he did was to send a few young career officers with two decades of proven experience to Far East and the Middle East as a publicity stunt and appoint a bunch of jokers to key stations. Samaraweera has made some very questionable and unsuitable career service appointments to the Missions also. Now he is talking of sending inspectors to Missions to check and report on compliance and performance. If suitable persons were sent in the first place then there is no need to send inspectors. He has not specified whether these inspectors will be drawn from the Ministry or outside. If it is from outside then there is room to treat some political lackeys with foreign jaunts. Samaraweera has forgotten that regular audit teams visit the Missions and carry out inspections. Even if there is a bad report, past experience shows nothing will happen to a political appointee who is in the good books of the political masters.

Deputy Foreign Minister Harsha de Silva has gone on record that government is downsizing the Missions. Rajapaksas opened many Missions in the African region with the reach Africa policy. Missions were opened in some other places to look after their favourites. Closing down not important Missions is a good thing. It will be good for de Silva to go through the report on restructuring of the Foreign Missions prepared by a committee headed by veteran civil servant M D H Pieris some years ago and get an idea on which Missions to close down. If de Silva actually wants to make a change we challenge him to stop loading the Missions with political appointees and scrutinise the political appointments already made and weed out the unsuitable ones. If a political appointee posses some unique qualification or experience which makes him indispensable then it is worthwhile. But as all are just political lackeys recalling them and not appointing replacements will automatically downsize the Missions without affecting the performance.

Both Samaraweera and de Silva seem to be just trying to get cheap media publicity without actually addressing the issues. People did not make a change on January 8 for this type of political gimmicks and if this continues the yahapalana niyamuwas will end up in the dustbin of history before long.

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