President Ranil Wickremesinghe seems to have once again thrown public sentiment and principles of good governance to the wind with his latest diplomatic appointment of former Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama as the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to the United Kingdom.
Bogollagama is notorious for having wasted colossal amounts of public monies on his insatiable foreign travels with family in tow. He is marred in numerous controversies ranging from blatant misuse of public funds, and nepotism to abuse of office. Appointing such an individual to a coveted diplomatic position demonstrates the disdain for public opinion, poor judgement and lack of concern and priority for Sri Lanka’s diplomatic relations.
Foreign Minister Ali Sabry is reported on local media saying that the appointment of Bogollagama was a well thought out decision,” adding that President Wickremesinghe had discussed the matter with him before it was decided to nominate Bogollagama to the post. Sabry is reported to have further said that the professional foreign service lacks officers to man all the stations, as a result of which it needs others, meaning political appointees to be appointed to key posts.
Today, the professional diplomatic service lies in great peril. Professional Foreign Service officers are not recruited ‘ready-made’. Under Sabry and his predecessors, most notably Bogollagama, the professionalism of the foreign service has been intentionally undermined. Bogollagama appointed his sister-in-law as high commissioner to Singapore during the time his son was studying there, provided free lodging for junior at Government expense. Later in his capacity as foreign minister he wrote to the UN Secretary General lobbying for a job for his son.
All along the professional foreign service was denied training and career advancement opportunities. At junior levels diplomatic positions were given to kith and kin of politicians. To date numerous foreign postings in key diplomatic capitals such as New York, Canberra and Washington DC are filled with children of politicians. In the meantime, junior foreign service officers recruited through island-wide open competitive examinations are sent to places where they have little chance of learning the many aspects of diplomacy that are critical for them and the country as they progress in their careers.
Minister Sabry who laments on the lack of foreign service officers to fill key positions has done nothing to recruit members to the professional service. The last time a batch of professional diplomats was recruited was in 2018. For over six years there has been not a single recruitment allowing even junior positions to be filled through political appointments.
Many heads of mission positions have also been filled recently with retired individuals who have had dubious records during their active careers. Therefore, even when former career diplomats are called back to service it’s clearly not done so on the basis of merit or their previous performance record but on political affiliation and personal association with numerous political powers.
In appointing Bogollagama, clearly, President Wickremesinghe is seen setting himself for failure in the international arena at a time when all efforts must be made to enhance Sri Lanka’s diplomatic engagement with the world.