Parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake, recently indicted in the High Court for possible exchange control violations, made a hue and cry not long ago, saying Sri Lanka’s non-career diplomats outnumbered the career diplomats.
He seems to have conveniently forgotten that in the short span of time the UNP was in power, back in 2002, several such diplomatic appointments were made. The most glaring instances of non-career diplomats were the appointments of two women, one a former beauty queen, who was posted overseas as a High Commissioner. (The beauty queen, it must be said, did a fairly commendable job.)
I thought of writing this letter because I have a fairly wide experience of our diplomatic missions overseas; how they compare with missions from other countries; and how they treat their countrymen.
This experience goes back to my days as a university student in India in the mid ’60s. I remember how, when my roommate, a Thai, fell ill with sinusitis, the Thai Consul General in Calcutta visited him in hospital. My friend introduced me to the Thai diplomat.
On returning to Sri Lanka in the early-’70s, I served the government for just over 34 years. My training and work took me to several countries in the West and the East. On one occasion I was a member of a top-level, two-member delegation to Germany. During our two-week stay the two of us were well looked after by the German officials, with one of them even staying at the same hotel to attend to our needs. It never occurred to us to visit our own embassy in Berlin, as we knew very well we would not be welcome there. I am quite sure the Sri Lanka Embassy in Germany was not even aware of our visit, top-level though it was.
Now back to the career
Virtually all of our career diplomats share the same mindset: They consider themselves a superior lot. What is worse, they all feel they have reached an El Dorado, and should make as much dollars and euros as possible in their time in the diplomatic service. They are more interested in the rewards than their duties as diplomats serving the country.
In fact, if we had dedicated and effective career diplomats in the West, we would have won the majority of the Tamil Diaspora over to our side before the LTTE swung into action and made them pro-LTTE.
Again, if we take a close look at those of our diplomats who have excelled, we see that it is the non-career diplomats who stand out. No career diplomat would have had the courage, commitment and competence to handle the mess created by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) special session in Geneva, when Sri Lanka was about to be exposed for trial for rescuing a section of its own people from the jaws of terror of the LTTE.
So it looks as if the government has no option but to appoint quality non-career diplomats in place of career diplomats in sensitive capitals of the world.