Diplomats Of Political Parties
For the past two and half decades, Nepal has witnessed a large number of ambassadors churned out of the ruling political parties. Each party tends to appoint its carders as ambassadors when it is in the power even as a coalition partner. Now the time has become quite ripe to introspect with fair and impartial mind this long-lingering practice. Decision-makers have to enquire for themselves whether such practice has done services to the country and its society, because such appointees go to assume their duties abroad as ambassadors of the country hired not by the respective political parties, but at the cost of state coffer, which is fed by the taxes and revenues collected from the people.
In the ancient and medieval times, ambassadors used to be the appointees of emperors, kings and dictators. More or less, they used to be personal agents of the rulers when democratic practices were not in existence. With the maturing of democracy and diplomatic process becoming more systematised and internationalised, appointments of ambassadors are done with specific purposes to achieve some targeted objectives of diplomatic value. Selection and appointment of ambassadors remain within the domain of the government jurisdiction, although such process may be generally encouraged and influenced by some noticeable and non-noticeable factors of party politics and strategic statecraft.
Some big and very powerful countries have also practiced the process of appointing non-Foreign Service career persons as ambassadors, but they follow the selection process of appointing only able and deserving people in the ambassadorial position. Take for examples, the United States has been adopting the appointment system of political nominees. But the US government appoints only the capable persons who are well educated and have background of appropriately deserving ability and personality. They are, however, minutely scrutinised under due process by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. If not found appropriate, their endorsement is withheld. If endorsed, they are required to undergo training specifically meant for the countries of their appointment. At present, the US government has made appointments of non-career ambassadors amounting to around one-thirds of the total appointees.
Although the process appears near perfect and looks doing normally, a litany of criticisms have been hurled at the practice as the system has disturbed the continuity of the diplomatic service process because the serving political appointees are made to return home in a very short span of time once the new President takes charge of the White House. People know how Donald trump had made the appointees of President Barack Obama return home before his inauguration on January 20, 2017. A number of Obama appointees were compelled to return in a hurry. That is the reason why the US diplomatic practice is called amateurish, which, sensible experts feel, needs to be reformed and improved for more standard and well-lubricated practices the world over.
Today diplomatic academies and training schools are run and maintained to meet challenges of educating and training the would-be-diplomats ranging from junior to high ranking diplomats. Unfortunately, no such institution exists in Nepal until now.
Now, when we come down to the diplomatic practice of the political appointment, the proportion of such appointment amounts to around two-thirds while one-thirds has gone to the personnel of Foreign Service. The practice Nepal has pursued stands just opposite to the US practice – just one-thirds to non-career and two-thirds to the Foreign Service career.
The question and concern now coming before the decision-makers of the coalition government are whether we are doing the thing only to serve the individual interest of the appointees or serving the collective interest of the people of the country. This is the serious inquisition that must be addressed in order that a well-knit system of appointment has to be put in place. There is a great need felt to know and learn from the currently pursued policy and practices carried on by the mature governments of democratic standing like those of the United Kingdom, Germany, France and a host of others worldwide.
The governments of the countries following the policy of appointing persons of political parties and their own choices have adopted the norms of appointments with deserving diplomatic and administrative arrangement put in place. They send their political appointees only after the contracts concluded between the Foreign Ministry representing the government of the country and the persons appointed as ambassadors who do not belong to the Foreign Service category. The contract so done succinctly enumerates the objectives to be achieved and the diplomatic businesses to be done. The term of tenure is also specifically mentioned in the contract. In general, the ambassadors of political appointment are not entrusted to carry on the administrative functions that can affect the career progression of career service diplomats working under him, nor is he entitled to oversee the financial transactions of the missions concerned. Every necessary detail is concisely listed in the contract to which they must be abided by, and beyond which they cannot move even a bit. It is also an international practice that unless they are not up to the expectations and could not perform as desired by the home government, they are recalled from their position.
It would also be very pertinent here to note that the Thai government has adopted since 2006 the diplomatic system of conferring the authority of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to any diplomat with the rank of ambassador. This Thai practice shows that they have attached the rank of ambassador with the corporate responsibility to make him more proactive in doing businesses of economic diplomacy, and equipped with diplomatic glamour and honour as well. This Thai system deserves vetting for its viability and appropriateness to follow the suit.
The Thai system might be a wake-up call for the efficient and effective functioning, especially for the conduct of economic diplomacy for which Nepal has been making continuous efforts to materialise for economic uplift of the country.
Merely handing over the Terms of Reference (TOR) to the ambassadors-designate as nominees of various political parties would not suffice to make them efficient and well-performing. The contracts must be signed with their specific duties and functions well enumerated if the current international practices are to be adopted. This step would be the way forward in making Nepal’s diplomatic performance abroad visible and service-rendering to the people.
At the moment, political appointees are working as ambassadors in the globally and regionally important capitals like Washington, New Delhi and Beijing. Soon twelve new entrants would join them as ambassadors of political selection. All these ambassadors belong to various political parties and groupings like the Nepali Congress, UML, Maoist Centre, RPP and others. As far as my information goes, they are not and would not be likely to speak for and to represent Nepal in a uniform voice and spirit, especially with regards to the sensitive national issue like the constitution amendment question as also related to the socio-political situation in Nepal.
Certainly, their voices relating to even major questions of national importance would be polyphonic and cacophonic, because they are not well-trained nor well-directed from Kathmandu. It is even doubtful that although they may have been instructed occasionally, they are not likely to represent properly abroad, simply because they owe their positions not to the politics of Nepal, but to the party of their embrace. The natural consequence is obviously a divided Nepal, not a single political entity. Nepal’s diplomacy and diplomats abroad resemble more polyphyletic rather than uniformity. This state of affairs is really worrisome when seen and compared to other countries that run their diplomatic service well in a manner to build their image.
A sincere advice to the current coalition government or any succeeding government is that as early as possible the government in power must be prepared to make a well-charted preparation of the foreign service bill to get it approved from the Legislature-Parliament to put the diplomatic service in its proper shape that can discharge the diplomatic functions with greater substance and significance. No losing of heart, but working with confidence needs to be on the cards.