Foreign Service: Who’s in and who’s out? - Right of reply

With reference to our last week’s Page 1 news item headlined “Biggest diplomatic reshuffle”, the Foreign Ministry has sent the following response:

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs wishes to place the record straight of this tendentious reportage by stating the following factual developments with regard to the diplomatic postings. First and foremost, it is a misrepresentative statement to state that an unprecedented 14 Sri Lankan Ambassadors and High Commissioners have either returned or are to return shortly to Sri Lanka.

To elaborate, Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke has completed his three year tour of duty as the Ambassador in Washington D.C. and returned to Sri Lanka. He was posted to Washington D.C. in 2005 after his retirement in October of 2004. He was the Secretary of Foreign Affairs till April 2004 and subsequently served as the Acting Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to New York from May 2004 to April 2005.

Ambassador M. M. A. Farouque was posted to Lebanon after he retired from the service. Ambassador Farouque retired in January 2002. Ambassador S. B. Atugoda too was posted after retirement to Qatar. He retired in June 2001.

High Commissioner Romesh Jayasinghe in India would be returning in April 2009 and not shortly, as the article stated. Permanent Representative to the UN, Prasad Kariyawasam, is due to return and the former Foreign Secretary, Ambassador H M G S Palihakkara would take over this key posting. High Commissioner Kshenuka Senewiratne is now the Director-General of Europe & CIS and Ambassador Aruni Wijewardene, who was in Austria, is the Director-General of UN & Multilateral Affairs Division.
It is erroneous to state that “Malaysia remains headless”. Dr. D D Ranasinghe is already functioning as the Head of Mission in the High Commission of Sri Lanka in Malaysia. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in the process of sending a Head of Mission to Brazil, since Gen. S H S Kottegoda returned after completion of his tour of duty only on March 30, 2008.

It is a blemishing statement to state that five senior officers were due for promotion as Heads of Mission have been ‘bypassed’. Sudantha Ganegama Arachchi, Deputy in London, has already assumed duties as the Chief of Protocol. A L A Azeez is the Deputy in New York. T Raveenthiran is the Acting Director General of Africa Division and M R Gunaratne is the Acting Director General of Middle East Division.
Since Minister Bogollagama was appointed as the Minister of Foreign Affairs in January 2007, 13 Heads of Mission from career foreign service have been posted or in the process of being posted. For record, the Ministry wishes to submit the list of the names of these Heads of Mission: K. Amunugama (China), I. Ansar (Egypt), T.B. Maduwegedera (Germany), W.M. Senewiratne (Israel), Esala Weerakoon (Norway), M M Jaffeer (Austria), R Ariyasinha (Belgium), R. P. Jayasooriya (Sweden), C.F. Chinniah (Poland), V. Padukkage (Qatar), D. M. M. Ranaraja (Oman) respectively. Grace Asirwatham, currently the Director General of the SAARC & South Asia Division, is to be posted to Netherlands and K.S.C. Dissanayake, Director General of East Asia & Pacific Division, is to be posted to Kuwait, around mid August, after the SAARC Summit.

Further, the non-career diplomats appointed as Heads of Mission during this period are as follows: Prof. J.B. Dissanayake (Thailand), Professor Emeritus of University of Colombo; Dr. Dayan Jayatilake (Geneva), Senior Lecturer of Political Science at University of Colombo; Mr. Aloy Ratnayake P.C. (Philippines), former Chairman of ANCL; Mr. Hemantha Warnakulasooriya P.C. (Italy), former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka; Dr. D.D. Ranasinghe (Malaysia), Senior Consultant at Jayawardenepura Hospital; Mr. Jaliya Wickremasuriya (Washington), Businessman; Mr. H.M.G.S. Palihakkara (New York), former Foreign Secretary; Mr. S. Walagampaya P.C. (Australia); Justice Nihal Jayasinghe, Retired Justice of the Supreme Courts (UK); and Mr. A.A.M. Marleen P.C. (Saudi Arabia) respectively. The profile of these non-career Heads of Mission clearly demonstrate the criteria of selection as well as their credentials and professional endowments.

It is patently obvious that the title of the reportage “Biggest diplomatic reshuffle” was incorrect, both in content and in substance, and could mislead the readers. For all record purposes, there was absolutely no reshuffling of Heads of Mission and was only routine and customary transfers of senior career Foreign Service Officers.

Our Diplomatic Editor writes:

Judging by the misconceived response to our story last week ("Biggest Diplomatic Reshuffle"), the ministry of foreign affairs has got its arithmetic skewed and its facts in total disarray. We stand by our story that an unprecedented 14 Sri Lankan Ambassadors and High Commissioners have either returned home or are due to return shortly after their three-year assignments overseas-- although the ministry says it is a "misrepresentative statement".

The statement from the ministry admits that six of them (heading missions in the US, Lebanon, Qatar, UN, UK and Austria) have returned home. With two new Ambassadors (to Kuwait and the Netherlands) due to take up appointments after the SAARC summit (by the ministry's own admission) the total reaches eight (and counting).

The remaining six who have completed their three-year assignments include our envoys in India, Japan, France, Iran, Kenya and the Secretary-General of the Indian Ocean Rim Association in Mauritius.

There is a longstanding agreement (accepted by the ministry and the Foreign Service Association) that foreign service officers should serve a maximum of three years overseas while those returning home should serve a minimum of one year in Colombo before they are considered for another assignment overseas.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has apparently insisted that no extensions be given beyond the three year period-- not even on "compassionate grounds." But in the case of the six who are due to return home, the ministry has changed the rules in the middle ofthe game and run away with the goal posts. The agreement has been blatantly violated either for political or personal reasons.

Our man in New Delhi, who has been given an extension till March 2009, has not served in Colombo since he left for Brussels in 2000, and then cross-posted to India. That's almost eight years overseas.
Our current Ambassador in Nepal has been cross-posted to London as Deputy High Commissioner and has also been away from Colombo since 2000 (having also served in Chennai). That's another eight years away from home.

The new Deputy Chief of Mission in Washington DC served only for five months in the ministry after his return from Tel Aviv before proceeding to the US. Our envoys in Tokyo and Paris, who have both completed their three year assignments, are awaiting transfers until the government could perhaps find "suitable successors".

The ministry also disputes our report that Malaysia and Brazil have remained "headless". Although the post of High Commissioner in Kuala Lumpur was filled two months ago, what the ministry refused to say is that the post was left vacant for more than 12 months. Brazil has remained headless for five months and Canada for two months. The office of the Consul-General in Los Angeles is not far behind.
The ministry says it is a "blemishing statement" that five senior officers who were due for promotion as Heads of Missions have been "bypassed".

But how then do you account for the fact that all five officers-- who have been in the foreign service for more than 16 years-- have not served as Heads of Mission in any single overseas post, even though officers junior to them (with 14 and 15 years of ervice) have been made Ambassadors and High Commissioners?.

That amounts to a quintuple bypass.

The ministry also gloats over the fact that since January 2007, 13 heads of missions have been appointed (or in the process of being appointed) from the foreign service. But what is left unsaid is, of the 45 ambassadorial posts, only 17 (37 percent) are held by career diplomats. And of the Consul-General posts overseas, only one (Shanghai) is occupied by a career foreign service officer.

The ministry should at least have recourse to a calculator to get its head count right. Or hire the services of an accountant to do the number crunching.

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