AMBASSADOR ROW: Unfair Delay

Even as dozens of Nepali missions abroad remain vacant, the government has nominated secretary of foreign affairs Arjun Thapa as Nepal's candidate for SAARC General Secretary

Oct. 7, 2013, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol: 07 No. -8 Oct. 4- 2013 (Ashoj 18, 2070)

After a long inaction in appointing the ambassadors in the Nepalese missions abroad, the cabinet, headed by Khil Raj Regmi, nominated foreign secretary Arjun Bahadur Thapa as the SAARC Secretary General. This is the second time in a row when Nepal got the position of the secretary general.

The government has now to pick up one of the senior joint secretaries for the position of secretary.  It is reported that Shanker Bairagi, the head of the Nepalese Mission in Geneva, is likely to be recalled to take the charge of acting secretary on the basis of seniority.

Although there are vacancies of ambassadors in over a dozen of Nepalese missions abroad, political wrangling has stalled the process of appointment.  Since Nepal is yet to have a clear criteria for selection of ambassadors, from political appointees and career diplomats, the appointments of ambassadors are getting delayed.

In accordance with the international practices and in South Asian countries, the ratio for career to political appointments is 75 to 25. However, it is not mentioned in Nepal and that has been creating problems. The recent incident of Qatar and other ambassadors showed that diplomats appointed on political quota are unable to contribute to promote national interest.

Under the recent amendments in the interim constitution, the provision of parliamentary hearing has been temporarily suspended and Durga Prasad Bhattarai and Dr.Niranjan Man Singh Basnyat have already been appointed as ambassadors to United Nations and Malaysia.

There are vacancies in New Delhi, Egypt, Thailand, Germany and Qatar.  The position in United States will vacate next month.  

The Ministry is yet to take any decision about filling the vacant diplomatic posts. In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a number of senior joint secretaries, who are natural competitor for the post, are waiting for the ambassadorial berth.

The process of appointment usually follows the seniority basis. Six senior joint secretaries will be appointed as ambassadors in various countries under the present sharing agreement between political parties and career diplomats.

Among the career side, there are disputes between those who started their career with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and those who made a late entry.  Those who spent their entire their career under the ministry are demanding preference due to their experiences and skills over those who came there through open competition.

Women in Waiting  

In the last five years, two women were sent to foreign countries to lead Nepal's foreign missions under a political quota and the performance of both the political appointees brought controversies.

However, the first career-based woman envoy proved her sufficient talent and completed her tenure with good performance. After the appointment of Bindeshwari Shah, who was later sent to India as Nepal's ambassador in 1989-90, no women career diplomats were chosen from the Ministry to head the foreign missions.

As the number of women in Foreign Service has increased, two women are now holding the post of joint secretaries. Joint secretaries Ambika Luitel is now heading northeast and China division, and  Sewa Adhikary is now holding deputy chief of the Mission in the United Nations. Joining in 1986 as a section officer, Ambika Devi Luitel claimed that she was the longest serving official in the Ministry now. Along with male joint secretary counterparts in the Ministry, she is also aspiring to be appointed as an ambassador in the coming round.

As per the established diplomatic practice, the government needs to name ambassadors well before the completion of term of serving envoys to ensure that these posts do not lie vacant. Last time Nepal appointed 50 percent of ambassadors from among career diplomats and the rest under the political quota. Leaders participating in meetings of the High Level Political Committee (HLPC) said the appointment process for ambassadors has faltered as the major parties differed over nominations to key countries.

Due to delay in the appointment, there is now frustration among ambassadorial hopefuls among career diplomats. "We spent our whole career in the ministry hoping that our service would be recognized. Along with affecting the career prospects of seniors, the delay has already affected successors’ plans," said an official at the Ministry.

"The government and political parties must start their process of appointments under the agreed principle: half the envoys from among career diplomats."

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