Searchlight on dpl. service | Daily News

Searchlight on dpl. service

A special audit report on the performance of Sri Lanka's diplomatic service is to be released shortly, according to Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe. Speaking at an awareness programme for parliament journalists on Monday he said his Department is presently working on the document and Department officials will be sent to Sri Lanka's diplomatic missions overseas to collect the necessary information “There is a general opinion in the country that our diplomatic service is highly inefficient”. He said in 2017 alone, the country has spent Rs. 8.3 billion to maintain the offices of our diplomatic missions. What have they done to promote the image of the country? What have they given to the country in return? There has been no such assessment. “No statistics are available”, he went on to reveal.

This, no doubt, is a welcome move. Going by certain events in the recent past what actually took place in the name of diplomacy was the undiplomatic conduct of certain individuals. It is time our diplomats are made accountable for the huge amounts spent on their upkeep abroad. The public must be made aware of the work carried out by our dpls on behalf of the country. After all, it is the public that pays for the plush lives of these diplomats in world Capitals. Our diplomats, once they leave on their overseas missions, simply vanishes until they are seen receiving our leaders in the host country. Nay, some of these diplomats are left to their own devices at the other end, as is now being revealed in all its stark details.

Far from working to build the country's image, these individuals have been engaged in crooked deals and otherwise busy furthering their business interests. The case of our former Ambassador to Washington and envoy to Russia are glaring examples of how some of our so called diplomats have been conducting themselves, taking cover behind their connections to the powers that be. The former diplomat from Washington had the ignominy of serving a stint at the state run lodge in a case of embezzlement of funds while the ex-dpl. for Russia is presently on the run from an Interpol warrant for his involvement in a mega arms deal. They are both, today, fugitives from justice, in their own country as well as being probed in the countries where they served, a fitting epitaph, indeed, for their service to Mother Lanka, as diplomats. Far from working towards building the image of the country they have only succeeded in blackening the image of their motherland, both here and in the eyes of the international community.

The Auditor General, no doubt, will have to cover a wide area in compiling his report concerning our diplomatic service and he will have to deploy men with full knowledge on all aspects of the subject to obtain a clear picture. Investigations should not be confined to the mundane service of the diplomat. The probe should also extend to other areas such as the competence of the individual holding the diplomatic post. It all boils down to the cost benefit factor. In a milieu where career diplomats are vegetating in the Foreign Ministry while relatives and friends of politicians are given diplomatic postings, the AG, no doubt, will have to tread carefully in trying to ferret out information for his report. Ideally he should get involved from the beginning and ensure the right man/woman is picked for the posting.

This is not to say that non career diplomats should not be given appointments. In the past some of our non career diplomats were able to hold their own against the best of our professional diplomats and performed exceptionally in their missions. Unfortunately, we have had too many square pegs in round holes as our diplomats in recent times, not to mention boorish individuals who brought shame on our foreign service. There was the infamous incident of a so called Monitoring Minister of Foreign Affairs getting himself involved in a much publicized brawl during a dpl. function in Old Blighty where he punched our Ambassador to the Court and St.James.

It appears the investigations into our diplomatic service to check on its efficiency will apply only to the future. Had such a mechanism been in existence, before, billions of rupees could have been saved for the country, (i.e. if Mahinda Rajapaksa permitted such investigations, particularly into the affairs of his nephew posted to Washington). One recalls how an American PR firm was hired to polish the image of Sri Lanka during the war years by the then Governor of the Central Bank spending millions of tax payers’ money, while we already had a paid Ambassador to perform the task. The AG in his probes should also ascertain the losses incurred by the state from visits made by government ministers to foreign countries for tasks that should rightly be performed by the Ambassador. Even today we see ministers with large entourages making overseas trips to attend seminars or sign agreements, tasks well within the capability of the accredited Ambassador.


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