Faux pas galore by the Sri Lankan Foreign Service political appointees
It is no secret that non-career officers or political appointees are usually not versed in diplomacy. Here are some of their goings-on that should raise a smile.
cartoon by Wijesoma
- A Third Person Note (TPN) is a standard form of communication with the host country. A recent political appointee to London who is said to have gone there with a ‘revolutionary spirit’ had a problem with the term ‘Third Person Note.’ He argued that, in the modern era, it made no sense to send communications in the TPN format.
He spent considerable time and energy trying to change things so that any communication with the host country was in First Person/Second Person format. He found fault with SLFS colleagues who refused to depart from this well-established practice and began to shoot his own notes to the host country’s Foreign Office in First Person/Second Person format. In no time did a bundle of notes come back from the Foreign Office, personally addressed to the career officer at the mission. A handwritten personal note from the desk officer at the Foreign Office was attached to this bundle: “Tell your new officer who has written and signed these notes in First Person/Second Person Format not to send ‘love letters’ to us anymore.”
- A political appointee in Australia started a new business; that was to go from house-to-house in the dead of the night putting into mailboxes leaflets and brochures from companies wishing to promote their products. Every 10 leaflets thus delivered earned him a dollar. He carried a sack full of brochures each night, accompanied by his wife who carried another. The target was to earn 50 to 60 dollars each day. Their agent would assign them to different areas in the same locality. One day, after stuffing nearly 100 odd mailboxes, the pair, with sacks on their backs, walked into the lawn of a grand house only to be greeted by a familiar figure. “Oh dear, are you carrying Sri Lanka’s DPL pouch in the middle of the night?” the Pakistani diplomat asked our crestfallen diplo!
- The political appointee who held ‘minister’ rank in the Kuwait mission was hardly fluent in English. He would go to houses of Sri Lankan migrants to ‘sing and recite poems in Sinhala.’ That was during nights. Back in office, he would write Sinhala language petitions against his mission colleagues and send them to higher authorities in Sri Lanka under the name of those migrants he visited. Once, the Kuwaiti Foreign Office telephoned the mission over an urgent matter. He picked up the receiver and shouted to his colleagues: “Aney, mey miniha ingirisiyen katha karanney”! (“Hey, this man is speaking in English!”) This man is now an ambassador-aspirant!
- One political appointee at the Sri Lanka mission in Washington was given his position while he and his family were high profile asylum seekers in the US. Being a shrewd politician, he took up the assignment while allowing his wife and children to remain as asylum-seekers. The ambassador supported him until one day, at a party, an ‘unsuspecting’ Sri Lankan went up to him and said, “Your ambassador is a very handsome person and his English is superb.” From then onwards, the two men tried to outdo each other until the handsome guy left the mission.
- A politically appointed second secretary in New York would take visiting politicians to casinos. He scratched so many lottery tickets that the story was other Sri Lankans would ask him advice on what lottery was best!
- A non-career man in Australia was assigned by the mission to authorize Sri Lankan visas by placing his signature on the relevant page. Imagine the disgust of one foreign applicant who was returned his passport with two signatures-one rightly belonging to the Mauritian authorizing officer and one wrongly belonging to our Sri Lankan political appointee—on the page containing his Mauritius visa while the Sri Lankan visa remained unsigned! An urgent last minute intervention allowed him to proceed to Mauritius but he avoided Sri Lanka in disgust.
- Another of our political appointees was a hearty ‘belcher.’ In the middle of a dinner hosted by the Indian ambassador, our man kept belching repeatedly. This went on until, as observers say, he was politely asked by the host to leave early.
- One political appointee in the West insisted that all his staff and callers from his own Foreign Office should address him as ‘Excellency.’ One day, a person from the Foreign Ministry needed to convey an urgent message to His Excellency, the President, who was visiting this political appointee’s country of accreditation. She telephoned the political appointee and told him, “Ambassador, we want to convey an important message to His Excellency.” Our man demanded that she should correct herself and call him His Excellency first. The caller persisted, saying, “But this is a message for His Excellency, the President.” The incensed political appointee yelled at her and hung up.