Chow-Chow in Shanghai
When one sees the official programme of the Foreign Minister in his visit to Shanghai last week, the junior level appointments he engaged in are as glaring as the Chinese economic successes. All that the newly established Consulate could manage for the FM were the Deputy Mayor, Deputy Chairman of the Council for the Promotion of International Trade and the Vice Governor of the Zhejiang Province. One can see that there are no less than six (6) Vice Mayors in the Shanghai municipal administration. Interestingly, the MFA media release issued after the opening ceremony, did not contain a single word uttered by any Chinese official.
Many are left to wonder why this Consulate was not opened during the Presidential State Visit to China which included an official engagement in Shanghai just months earlier. Although many consulates were established years earlier, there have not been any reports to indicate that former MFA Kadirgamar ceremonially opened those offices such as the ones in Los Angeles, Toronto etc. While the MFA is touting the fact that three consulates were opened in 2007, many are also wondering as to why the Minister thought it fit to visit only Frankfurt and Shanghai to open the consulates in those cities and not the one in Ramallah, Palestine, a corner of the world much closer to the Presidential heart. Of course the answer is by way of a simple question; “Can you find designer shops in Ramallah?”
While the decision to establish a Consulate in China was taken during the Kadirgamar days, the decision of the present Minister to staff the Consulate has been shrouded in controversy. Our current Consul is an officer having barely completed eight years in a career with only one exposure in a Mission abroad. Having failed to complete the obligatory promotional benchmarks set for all public servants of the country, his current substantive rank is, Assistant Director (in Sri Lanka) or Second Secretary (if serving in an embassy overseas). On the contrary, the current Consul General of India in Shanghai is an officer with a career spanning well over 20 years of service in senior diplomatic positions in several key Missions such as Islamabad, Cairo and Tokyo.
In the meantime, the clerical officer transferred to Shanghai is also of a junior rank having been selected outside the well established criteria of the Public Service Commission, which stipulates that appointing clerical officers to overseas missions shall be based upon candidates passing a competitive exam and a thorough interview. It is now known that some higher-ups in the Ministry held these two appointments citing irregularities for as long as they could, but were later rendered helpless as the Minister directed the officials to comply since he had already decided to visit Shanghai before Christmas to open the Consulate. Even the transfer of funds for the establishment of the Consulate is said to be of an irregular nature since matters had be rushed to suit ministerial plans.
To justify his visit to Shanghai to the President the Minister tried everything possible to have an official programme in Beijing as well. As can be seen from his ‘low profile’ programme in Shanghai, the Chinese were not too enthusiastic in receiving the FM ‘again’ in a matter of months and hence another low-key programme in Beijing was contemplated. While the Minister was gearing for an extended visit to China for the family, another higher-up in the Ministry who smelled the ‘rat’ (2008 is the Chinese year of the rat) got the visit chopped in half by a subtle whisper in the Presidential ear, ironically at a birthday bash, organized by the Minister, for a famous scientist at a cost (to the MFA of course) estimated to be in excess of Rs.5 million (most expensive birthday party ever?) mainly to get a photo-op with the President just before a much anticipated reshuffle.
Having seen the final programme in Shanghai, a higher-up in the MFA quipped, “You appoint junior level officers, you get junior level appointments!”