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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.



This is very unfortunate situation all familiar to many of us. Couple of years ago, I needed to renew my wife's SL passport. I contacted the Los Angeles SL consulate office in USA. Unfortunately, the person I talked to could not speak English properly and could not understand English. I have to talk to him in Sinhala to get our things done. It took several frustrating calls over couple of months. They did not even seems to know where other cities within their service area is located. They keep asking us to come to their office next day even though we are located too far to just drop by.

The experience I had with the SL Washington Embassy is somewhat better. But, then it took 6 months to get a simple document. I wish the SL government appoint well qualified personnel to work on their overseas offices so that our country reputation can be enhanced or at least not damaged.


Posted by: Sunil | March 20, 2011 07:36 PM

We are not a Third World Country any more; why the hell should we have to send these people notes in Third Person Format? Who do they think we are.

Under the Mahinda Chinthanaya Second Edition we're heading towards being the Wonder of Asia (in the Third Edition it will be 'Wonder of the World').


Posted by: Kamal | March 23, 2011 06:38 AM

We must also detail the mistakes and faux pas of the "career diplomats". I am writing this using info from two of my class mates who have been in missions aborad. In most cases, when a non-career diplomat arrives, he relies on the first secretary or some such "career diplomat". But they are all out to tarnish the "non-career" man and so set him up to things that would destroy him. I do not want to mention specific names, but some relatively recent victims were non-career people from Canada, it seems.

In most missions, when a Trade commissioner (TC) comes (and trade commissioners are important), the dpls all gang together and oppose the TC, as the TCs are part of the trade ministry and not part of the foreign ministry. The dpls claim thet "they can do the trade work" and there is no need of a TC.

When a defense attache (DA) comes, he is under the defense ministry and not under the foreign ministry. Here again the dpls gang together and attempt to destroy the DA. In the end, even places like London and Toronto (where there are large hostile diaspora groups) end up without DAs, or even TAs who could promote trade.

The ``career diplomats" would do anything to preserve their turf. But they do little to help the country. There usual answer to any things is, we are awaiting advise from Colombo -- we do NOT do anything on our own initiative .

The career dpls do not promote the country, but promote themselves. Some of their wives have been known to use their domestic staff to make string Hoppers, Dosai and vaddai and sell them to the community to make a buck. There are worse iniquities that I don't want to mention as I know them only by hearsay.

The whole point is, it is not being a career diplomat or not that matters. What matters is the intrinsic quality, culture and education of the man or woman appointed to the post . The appointee having a direct line to the rulers of the country that he represents is surely a great asset.

That is why the US uses political appointees extensively.
The US routinely appoints non-career people as heads of missions in London, Paris etc., and it is the job of the career diplomat next in command to advise the non-career man who is expected to bring his own personal political connections, prestige and ideas to the mission.

Posted by: Nadesan | March 23, 2011 08:04 AM

We sri lankans we must be proud of our languges but as a diplomat we must learn english language. and specialy how to talk to other diplomats and political figures people etc etc plus how to approach a forign govt office. very good exaple. sri lankan embassy in sweden. jathika aparadayak.

Posted by: Lion | March 23, 2011 05:59 PM

Mr. Nadesan, what you have mentioned is only a drop in the ocean on what our "career diplomats" get upto. For instance what about the "Career Diplomat" High Commissioner in London a few years back who was for years earning a few bucks regularly by transporting weekly in his own vehicle loads of spices and Sri Lankan products of a certain entrepreneur to shops in London and as far as Leicester! It was shocking to see His Excellency opening the boot of the vehicle and personally lugging these bags into the shops.
Perhaps an "appointed" diplomat may publish a book about what our career diplomats' and subordinates in various global missions get up to. That would be interesting and an eye opener to the "hate-appointed-diplomats" brigade who are currently on a high attacking "appointed diplomats"! People in glasshouses should not throw stones or as the Sinhala saying goes "Uda Balang Kela Gahanna Epa"!!

One ex-career diplomat of the highest rank in his regular vituperations against the "appointed DPLs" uses such language as monkeys, Karathelis and Marathelis. That speaks volumes about the training these shameless authors had for decades in being leading officers and gentlemen of the Sri Lankan career diplomtic corps!

The facts of the Rajapaksa regime appointees are very different. They are mainly, ex-Major Generals [i.e. officers and gentlemen of the highest calibre with training in Psy-ops], erudite academics, senior and successful lawyers and judges, as well as entrepreneurs of proven success.

Compare that with the appointees of the UNP regime who ranged from ex-beauty queens of dubious reputation, dodgy businessmen, minority-religiously prioritised relatives of a certain Minister and his brother who, it is rumoured to have made a harem of the Sinhala secretarial staff at the Foreign office; the latter being promoted overnight to Junior diplomat ranking and a few today in the highest echelons of Missions in crucial western missions and globally represented and empowered Missions.There are others who were simple Protocol Assistants overnight absorbed as junior diplomats and today in the ranks of Additional Secretaries.

Where the career-diplomat DPL privileges have been abused, stories are less than a penny a dozen. They range from private exuberances, alleged "dens of bribery and corruption" in consular matters to anti-state activities of a cloak and dagger variety together with the practice of "running with the hare while hunting with the hounds". Activities ranging from leaking sensitive state information to terrorist and journalistic sources as well as accompanying dubious "journalists" embedded with the UN and Foreign office staff in official vehicles in travel behind the former terrorist dominated "enemy" zones would be interesting reading on matters of anti-state activities.
There is significant evidence of "national private sector journalists" not only being in regular cahoots with "career DPLs" to obtain otherwise classified and even personal information from the Foreign Office but also being paid by the Foreign office for dubious activities. Many were paid cash advances for services and in one case the FO had written off the financial advance because the said "journalist" was murdered in a public place in broad daylight under mysterious circumstances.

Posted by: Asitha Gamage | March 23, 2011 11:37 PM

Foreign ministry is a joke. This article focuses only on the political appointees..but .seriously even the career diplomats are garbage. Most of them have terrible English, furthermore, they don't know how to behave among the foreigners. They lack one important characteristic.. that is how to be a diplomat. They don't even know what that really means. They think it's a chance for them to go abroad, travel, and make as much money as possible and pocked the entertainment allowance (without actually doing any entertaining). They don't want to do any work for the country, they will shoot down anyone who tries to do any work, they sit all day long and ponder how they can rip the government off. Some embassies have backlogs of more than 10 years! It's a bunch of classless clowns. SL embassies serve absolutely no purpose, they are just eating up our poor people's money.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 24, 2011 01:03 AM

War between career and non career is as old as world.You will find everywhere. The article above is a collection of mud slinging compiled by career men, I guess.Among career men also you will find many deadwoods. Its a matter of supervising by the Ministry and the Head of the Mission.
All are not 100% perfect. No doubt that best should be appointed.Defence and Trade the officers should touch their hearts and think themselves.Then they will realize.

Posted by: Mohan | March 24, 2011 09:36 AM

Why blame present day contract appointees? Doesn't one know what happened under UNP days when ACSHamid or his brothers ran the show in the F/O.

A bird frm Minister's Bureau whispered to the Ambassador in Paris that the First Secretary (Hamid's appointee)was being asked to get assistance from French govt.and the french Police to get him (the Ambassador)to vacate the official residence when he was on leave prior to return to Colombo.It was done at the request of the F/S herself who wanted to move into the residence which she did finally.

The F/S did not know how to approach the French govt. She asked the Sri Lankan French interpreter for advice and he prepared a Note to the French Foreign Office to say Ambassador has ceased to function and she was in charge.The foolish woman had also contacted diplomatic police chief.

The interpreter got a call to say the French Foreign Minister wanted to meet the Ambassador which he had to pass on to the Ambassador and also reveal the conspiracy at work. At the meeting the Minister had probed if the Ambassador needed any protection!The Ambassador was assured that he was the recognised head of mission till he left the country. The Second Secretary, another teacher who was also Hamid's appointee had told another Muslim Sri Lankan in Paris that the woman was asked by the Colombo Foreign Ministry to make one of the official cars available to the Ambassador but she did not want to.

So Ambassador had to visit the Foreign Minister in a borrowed car from another Ambassador. This is the minimum that can be said of a sordid story. These things are on record and shamed this country in the face of foreign governments.

Posted by: Mal Cingahale | March 24, 2011 07:06 PM

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