The government’s decision to appoint ambassadors has always courted controversy in Nepal and this time it was no different. On Thursday, cabinet meeting decided to recommend ambassadors for four countries—Australia, Qatar, Bangladesh and Spain. Like in the past, meritocracy has been blatantly ignored as four persons recommended are close to one or other leader of ruling party. Mahesh Dahal, recommended for Australia, is said to be a close relative of NCP Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Mahesh Dahal apparently lacks experience and expertise in diplomacy. Narad Bharadwaj, recommended for Qatar, is a trusted colleague of Prime Minister Oli himself. Dawa Phuti Sherpa, recommended for Spain, comes from a family of tourism entrepreneur but does not possess any qualification of a diplomat. Banshidhar Mishra, recommended for Bangladesh, is a former State Minister for Health and a central member of NCP. The appointment looks more directed toward appeasing leaders and cadres of ruling party without any consideration for experience and expertise required to accomplish tasks as diplomat. It is alarming that this is happening right under the watch of Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali who had promised to bring reforms in ambassador appointment process and vowed to appoint only competent persons and who, to that end, had also developed certain criteria.
When he unveiled the new criteria for the appointment of ambassadors right after taking office, Minister Gyawali had announced that special consideration would be given to experience and expertise of candidates in the diplomatic field. Then it was said that aspiring envoys must have excellent English language competency and deep knowledge about host countries and the world affairs. In case of political appointees, emphasis was given on diplomatic capacity, specialized academic qualifications and experiences. Minister Gyawali had also committed to follow inclusive principle of the constitution while doing so. None of these criteria have been considered in the latest appointment. It is worrying that Foreign Ministry is defaulting on its own set criteria. Ambassador appointments have always become a matter of controversy in post-2006 politics because political affiliation, rather than competence, academic qualifications and experience, has been made the major benchmark of such appointments. This has cost dearly for Nepal’s international image.
Ambassadors appointed this way have failed to uphold Nepal’s image abroad. Only in February this year, Nepal’s ambassador to Australia Lucky Sherpa had to be recalled and made to resign over her alleged involvement in smuggling Nepalis to Australia. In 2013, Maya Sharma, then ambassador to Qatar and Kaman Singh Lama, ambassador to South Korea, earned infamy for failing to conduct themselves as per the diplomatic norms. All of these were political appointees. It is important for Nepal to appoint the best minds as ambassadors to represent Nepal abroad and properly communicate Nepal’s development priorities and help bring foreign direct investment, which is vital for developing infrastructures. For this, our ambassadors have to be able to properly communicate, negotiate and spread good message of the country. Besides, such appointment process also belittles the importance of the post of ambassador. For years, political leaders have appointed just about anyone for this most sensitive position. It must stop right now. Meritocracy, rather than political affiliation, should be the standard for ambassador appointment process.