Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Sri Lanka Foreign Service – Time to start all over again!
When everyone agrees that the SL Foreign Service is in need of a major overhaul, it falls onto the Prime Minister yet again to actually order that it be overhauled!
Lately the Prime Minister has been thoroughly pissed off with quality of the reports prepared by the Foreign Service in the form of briefing notes, prior to his first visit to India, and now on his Bullet Train ride from Osaka to Tokyo, his party has been complaining about the lack of assistance and cooperation from the Sri Lankan Mission. After all you cannot take to task Prof. Ganganath Dissanayaka who was only appointed to the Ambassadorial post a week or two ago, so it is the established procedures that are completely non-existent that needs a complete makeover.
Like I said in the heading, lets start over. Firstly, we must determine what our foreign policy is. Then we look at the inward and outward trade with Countries. Then we look at Countries from which we have visitors, and Countries where our Citizens currently live and work. Lastly we look at those of Sri Lankan extraction, currently Citizens of the Host Countries and if we have a policy for them!
This exercise is needed first to determine the order of priority of Foreign Missions. I am sure this has never been done before, and it is time we do it before we proceed. Once this is done, we can decide how much resource we should allocate to those Countries in terms of total Strength and breakdown of the relevant service officers of the relevant knowledge to man that mission. Due to high costs of running missions in certain countries, some missions may have to curtail the number of staffers that can be operated in situ, and decisions made instead to have shadow staff in Colombo to back the mission up, as being the most economical. We MUST take advantage of the massive technological gains to maximize the productivity of the missions without actually having too many people, especially in tasks that can be done from Colombo.
After all if Companies are outsourcing work to Colombo, why can’t the Foreign Service outsource work to Colombo too!!!!
I bet you no joker working the SL Foreign Service has even put up a paper in this regard, to make the running of our missions more efficient. That is what happens when you use old fogies to advise and there is enough and more suggestions from ex Diplomats, but NONE of them have made any suggestions coming to close to mine. It is clear that the Foreign Minister is not one who cares about the long term success of the Foreign Service and the PM should follow his gut instinct in making changes in ALL areas.
We can then take a new look at the recruits to the Foreign Service, and determine how they should be trained. They need a full years Course at the Bandranayake Center or Kadirgamar Center before letting them loose on a Country desk, and then being sent abroad. A basic requirement must be 4 International Languages excluding English, Sinhala and Tamil.
Don’t forget all Chinese Ambassadors before they come here, learn to speak Sinhala fluently! So why not for us? Middle Eastern Studies should be developed as a course in Universities, as we have 2Million people from Sri Lanka living in the Middle Eastern Countries.
Included in the overhaul, might be extending retirement ages to 65 or even 70, but like in the Army only for those who have achieved the Grade, namely of proficient diplomat, a position that cannot be easily replicated, that comes from experience in dealing in the International Sphere.
The main point I would like to stress, is that with this new Technology we have we can make our missions far more effective than they currently are. For example people in Sri Lanka are very proficient in buying airline tickets on line, and doing a whole lot of transactions on line. Ironically our staffers in Foreign Missions don’t even have a credit card in the host country to make payments, and have no idea of how to perform their tasks on line. It is easier for the PM’s secretary to book his “SHINKANSEN” ticket from Colombo, than ask the Tokyo mission to do so!
It is time we brief each of our Foreign Missions clearly about what is expected from them. As of today NO MISSION knows what is expected, how they should submit a progress report and no one is checking on their performance.
To correct this I SUGGEST we have a Presidential Commission on Foreign Missions, to monitor their performance, and manned NOT with OLD FOGIES, but with many Young People in the forefront of technology who can recommend more efficient methods in them performing their tasks. A retired diplomat with experience can check if the diplomatic protocol and right approach has been adopted in reaching a set objective with the Foreign Government.
Just think how simple all this is! As long as a focused approach is adopted. It is the Country’s long term interests in this Globalised World that is at stake here and we cannot leave it to Village Idiots to deliver!!! It will never happen.