Something is amiss at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The ending of the career of the most senior career diplomat in the country, the dissolution of the position of Director-General and the appointment of another diplomat as a Permanent Secretary amounts to a case where things have gone haywire.
The excuse provided by a senior government official for this travesty was the need for greater “synergy” between the official removed and the Minister. This is another way of saying that friction in interpersonal relations is responsible for the dramatic changes in the country’s Foreign Ministry.
The need for synergy is a poor excuse for treating Guyana’s most senior diplomat in such a shabby manner. A senior diplomat should not have had to face the indignity on a non-contract renewable because of problems of synergy.
A lack of synergy can be helpful. Friction between officials in a government is not bad. Public officials have to learn to manage such friction because it is now part of the culture of all workplaces.
The most absurd development of all was the dissolution of the post of Director-General and the appointment of a Permanent Secretary. The Foreign Ministry needs both posts. It needs a Permanent Secretary to administer the Foreign Ministry and its many missions around the world.
And it needs a Director General to assume responsibility for the diplomacy. There is a division of labour between the two appointments; they are not interchangeable.
Permanent Secretaries should be drawn from within the general public service. The government should have identified a senior public servant with financial administrative experience and appointed that person as a Permanent Secretary in the Foreign Ministry. You should not have had to ask an ambassador, with training in diplomacy, to assume the role of administering the Foreign Ministry.
The Foreign Ministry needs a Director General. You cannot have bevy of diplomats around the world and no central person to whom to whom they are responsible. This is a colossal mistake.
Another of the absurdities is the statement from the Foreign Ministry that the tenure of an Ambassador is usually three to five years but that for various reasons some persons have been overseas for more than twenty years.
In both the PNC and the PPP government, there were persons who were given overseas postings for long periods, and for good reason. You do not overnight acquire the contacts and the rapport with your foreign counterparts.
As such, for some diplomatic postings, it is more desirable to have someone who have been a fixture and who is known by his foreign counterparts. This three to five-year rule has hardly existed.
In fact, if you examine the names of most of the persons who are likely to be replaced, you will find that they have been in their posts for only a few years. Most of them were appointed by the APNU/AFC government a few years ago.
What is the plan of the Foreign Ministry? Is it to bring back all of those diplomats who have been overseas for more than three to five years. This will severely weaken the Foreign Service because the new diplomats appointed a few years ago are likely to be recalled even before they have had time to get their feet wet within the diplomatic service.
And some of the senior diplomats such as those in Brazil and Suriname and China, United States, Canada and the United Nations would have to return home and would have to be replaced by junior diplomats. Guyana cannot afford to have underlings manning those critical Missions
A poor country without the luxury of large budgets to spend on your foreign relations cannot afford to be chopping, changing and rotating its diplomats every three to five years, especially when dealing with certain high profile Missions.
The timing of the proposed reshuffle is perplexing. Elections are a mere three months away. Why have a major reshuffle now? Why not wait for the elections before making changes?
The Foreign Ministry is yet to deny reports in the media that the envoys to Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, China, Switzerland and Canada are likely to be replaced. If these reports are true, one would have to question why would anyone want to make such changes at this time given the strategic importance of all of these countries.
All of these envoys, save one, were appointed under the APNU/AFC and their five-year term has not yet expired.
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