April 26, 2014
Career diplomats on the mat
M. Serajul Islam
The news that came in the media about two top Bangladeshi career diplomats recently, one in London and the other in New York, should be particularly worrisome for the new Foreign Minister of Bangladesh as he takes charge of his Ministry. The two career diplomats are supposed to be the best among the career diplomats to have been posted in two such important posts. One of them, Mijarul Qayes was the Foreign Secretary before he was sent to the coveted post of High Commissioner in London. The other, former Consul General in New York is the new Bangladesh Ambassador to Morocco.
The allegations against the two are of different nature. The High Commissioner in London is under the spanner because of a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), the statutory watchdog of the government to oversee that its expenditures are all accounted for. The allegations against him are all what is known in the foreign ministry circles as audit objections. There are in all 57 such objections in the way he ran his High Commission’s finances and administration and with 47 of these objections; he has failed to provide satisfactory answers. In the way the media carried the news, it tried to give the impression that these are cases or corruption through which he has misappropriated government funds for himself.
The media, deliberately or otherwise, has also missed out of a number of other crucial issues in the way it reported the report of the CAG related to the High Commissioner. In its eagerness to prove that the High Commissioner is a corrupt person without giving him the right to defend, the media has failed to consider that he is still in service and has a pension awaiting him that would be a very healthy one no doubt. If he failed to meet the audit objections, the government would simply deduct the amount from his pension at the time of his retirement. The audit objections against the High Commissioner will become charges of corruption only when the government would fail to recover the amount from his pension and that too, only after he would refuse to return the amount in balance. Thus, the media clearly jumped to wrong conclusions on misinterpretation of facts.
The media also forgot or cared not to consider that the High Commissioner is posted aboard and that too in a major station where Bangladesh’s image is important for developing bilateral relations with which the country’s interests are directly involved, in covering the CAG’s report. The CAG acted within its rights in bringing the audit objections by the High Commissioner to the notice of the government. However, it hurt Bangladesh’s image abroad adversely because it failed to appreciate the dangers of the report ending in the media that sent the message to Great Britain that the Bangladesh Government has serious questions about its High Commissioner there. Therefore, the CAG is guilty of allowing a matter of audit objections against the High Commissioner become an issue of embarrassment to the country. The CAG, in view of the delicate nature of the case, should have brought the audit objections to the attention of the Foreign Ministry and together resolved the matter. If the objections were serious and needed immediate attention, the High Commissioner should have been recalled to Dhaka to allow proceedings against him to continue.
The Foreign Ministry, instead, defended the High Commissioner in the media, arguing that the issues against him are not corruption charges but audit objections thus weakening the case of the CAG. The rejoinder unfortunately came too late because the damages had all been done with the report going to the media in the first place. Therefore both the CAG and the Foreign Ministry must share responsibility for harming the country’s image in handling audit objections against the High Commissioner from being interpreted at home and abroad as issues of corruption. The Foreign Ministry complicated matters by posting the High Commissioner to Brazil that the media interpreted, and in this instance correctly, as a punishment that lent credence to the CAG’s report as serious ones of corruption. It has also given Brazil cause to feel slighted for sending to it an Ambassador whose integrity is in question. As for Bangladesh, it made little sense sending an Ambassador to a post with such a baggage. Thus between the CAG and Foreign Ministry, the case with the High Commissioner can be described appropriately as a “tragedy of errors.”
The Foreign Ministry is much more at fault with the case of the Consul General in New York. The officer was under order of transfer to Morocco as Ambassador when his male domestic aide charged him in a federal court in New York for not paying him the amount he said he would in the contract he signed with the US Embassy for his visa. The charge is similar to that against the Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade but also much worse. The Consul General and his wife have been accused of gross human rights violations not there in the case of the Indian diplomat. The news of these violations became top news in New York and rest of the United States that gave Bangladesh very bad publicity.
The Consul General did a trick on the US legal system that the Indian diplomat was unable to do or was not allowed to do. He simply decamped without a word to anyone and went to Rabat to take up his post. The case against him is still on and will go full course where the CG can come back and defend his case or appoint a lawyer to defend him. There is no doubt that the CG has been allowed to decamp with the green signal of the Foreign Ministry that brings to question the wisdom of its action. While the media in NY and elsewhere in USA made mincemeat of the CG, the Moroccan Embassy in Washington most certainly has also sent reports on what came out in the media about the CG to Rabat. Therefore, the former Consul General went to his post in Rabat with a baggage and that too, on issue of integrity.
Even the barest level of common sense should have dictated the Foreign Ministry to bring this Ambassador home instead of allowing him to go to Morocco. To expect the Bangladesh Mission under him to build Bangladesh’s image in Morocco and develop Bangladesh-Morocco bilateral relations would be expecting something that would just not happen. In fact, leaving the Bangladesh Embassy in charge of a CDA would have served Bangladesh’s interest incredibly better instead of allowing this former CG to join as Ambassador. And, such a step would have also saved the government a huge deal of money too.
The Foreign Service cadre officers, the BCS (FA), suffered a great deal under the last Foreign Minister as posts of Ambassadors/High Commissioners at important posts went to retired BCS (FA) officers or to political appointees. The cadre officers were also unable to prove their worth. Some of them were involved in activities unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman. Two very senior cadre officers were retired; one of them senior to the present Foreign Secretary. Another Ambassador was brought home on charge of sexually harassing a local staff at the Embassy. There are charges galore about BCS (FA) officers ranging from audit objections to issues of more and sexual nature.
Now that a new Minister, a former career diplomat is in charge of the Foreign Ministry, it is high time to look into the BCS (FA) cadre seriously. He would do his own reputation that is well acknowledged a great deal of good and so to the country’s image if he were to pull up the cadre as well as ensure that the country does not pay huge sums of tax payers money to have Ambassadors/High Commissioners embarrass the country where ironically such credible institutions as the office of the CAG, wittingly or otherwise, become a party and where it too is adding its fair share of responsibility by sending the two top diplomats to new posts as Ambassador while under cloud on issue of integrity.
The writer is a retired career Ambassador. His email id is firstname.lastname@example.org