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In recommending new ambassadors, Cabinet goes against foreign ministry's criteria

- ANIL GIRI, Kathmandu

Jun 9, 2019-

Going against the foreign ministry’s new criteria for selection of ambassadors, the Cabinet has recommended four names for ambassadorial appointments.

A Cabinet meeting on Friday recommended Mahesh Dahal, Narad Bhardwaj Wagle, Banshi Dhar Mishra and Dawa Futi Sherpa as ambassadors to Australia, Qatar, Bangladesh, and Spain, respectively. These recommendations contravene the criteria for ambassadorial appointments, announced by Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali last year.

Article 5 of the criteria, a copy of which was obtained by the Post, states: “While keeping the view of the principle of inclusiveness, the welfare of the country, representing the state; an experienced, having an excellent academic record with diplomatic capability, the ambassadorial appointment will be made.”

Article 6 further states that “ambassadors must be capable and have the experience of Nepal’s foreign policy, international relations, dynamics of bilateral and multilateral diplomacy”.

However, none of the four candidates has any diplomatic experience or credentials. They only satisfy the barest minimum standards--they are above 35 years of age, hold a Bachelor’s degree, don’t have criminal records, have not been convicted of corruption, and don’t appear to have any conflicts of interest.

The criteria also state that ambassadorial appointees should hold “country-specific knowledge”, but neither of the four candidates has any relevant experience--professional or academic--on issues pertaining to their countries.

There was little debate over the recommendations when Gyawali proposed the names at Friday’s Cabinet meeting, a minister told the Post on condition of anonymity as Cabinet decisions are only being made public every Thursday.

“Since they are all new faces, we knew little about them,” the minister said. “We assumed that the names were choices of the prime minister and senior leaders, so the proposal was approved without any debate.”

The four ambassadorial positions are split among Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and two senior party leaders, Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal. Making political appointments to ambassadorial positions has long been a tradition for the Nepali diplomatic corps, with appointments divided evenly among those from the foreign service and political appointees.

However, there is dissatisfaction within the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) over the recommendations.

“I do not have confidence in the capability of these candidates because they lack expertise in their fields,” said Narayan Kaji Shrestha, former foreign minister and spokesperson for the ruling party. “I am not aware of any discussion in the party regarding the appointments. I hope the leaders who recommend them know why they were recommended.”

All four countries--Australia, Qatar, Bangladesh and Spain--have specific problems diplomatically so they require people who understand these issues, according to foreign ministry officials.

Party insiders say that Mahesh Dahal, recommended for Australia, has close relations with Pushpa Kamal Dahal, co-chairman of the Nepal Communist Party. He is believed to have been rewarded for his support to Dahal during the 2017 elections, after switching from the Nepali Congress, said one ruling party leader who did not wish to be named.

Ever since the resignation of Lucky Sherpa as ambassador on February 1, the Nepali community in Australia had been asking the Nepal government to appoint a career ambassador as Australia has a significant population of Nepalis. So the decision to send Dahal is not a good choice, according to a central member of the ruling communist party.

Mahesh Dahal, however, told the Post that he had the experience working for several institutions dealing with foreign affairs, including the Institute of Foreign Affairs and the Nepal Council of World Affairs.

“I am confident that my experience at these institutions will allow me to work impartially and to conduct political diplomacy while understanding social, cultural and other aspects of Nepalis living in Australia,” Mahesh told the Post. “As I am aware of the challenges, I have accepted them.”

Wagle, recommended for Qatar, is a former assistant professor of English literature at Tribhuvan University and an old friend of Prime Minister Oli. He had spent 12 years in jail after the Jhapa revolt and had later worked in the international department of the CPN-UML. In 2016, Oli recommended him as ambassador to Sri Lanka, but the then Sher Bahadur Deuba administration did not uphold the recommendation.

The ambassador to Doha is an especially crucial appointment as Qatar remains one of the top destinations for Nepali migrants, who often encounter various problems. Qatar has also expressed interest in various large-scale projects in Nepal, including the construction of the second international airport in Nijgadh, Bara, and the export of fresh mineral water from Nepal to the desert country.

Wagle could not be reached for comment.

Mishra, recommended for Bangladesh, is a career politician and a former health minister. He was a board member of the controversial Manmohan Medical College and is believed to have close relations with NCP leader Madhav Kumar Nepal.

“As I have travelled to over 30 countries in the last 28 years since becoming a Member of Parliament in 1991, I am confident that I can make it happen,” said Mishra. “I have been to Bangladesh several times and I know the various facets of our diplomatic ties.”

Mishra said that he had already prepared 11 points that could be implemented to expand relations with Bangladesh, ranging from transit issues to energy cooperation.

“Keeping national interest at heart, I will perform my duty in the best way possible,” said Mishra. “In any case, we already have an institutional mechanism in Bangladesh that is very functional so that I am quite confident I can deliver.”

Transit via Bangladeshi ports, a ban on Nepali medical students studying in private Bangladeshi medical colleges, and proposed energy cooperation are agendas of interest for Nepal in Bangladesh.

Sherpa, recommended for Spain, is the daughter of the late Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, the first Nepali woman to summit Everest, and Lakpa Sonam Sherpa, brother of the late tourism entrepreneur Ang Tshering Sherpa, who was considered to have close relations with Oli. At 37 years, once appointed, Sherpa would be one of the youngest Nepali ambassadors. She had briefly worked with the World Food Programme.

Sherpa declined a request for comment.

A mission revision report from the foreign ministry last year proposed that the Nepali embassy in Spain be closed. Bharat Rayamajhi, the first Nepali ambassador to Spain, was prematurely recalled by the government after completing nine months in office for political reasons. Since Spain does not have a mission in Kathmandu, Nepalis living in Europe have asked that the Nepali embassy in Spain be relocated to countries with a sizeable Nepali population, like Portugal. A foreign ministry team, led by former ambassador Rudra Kumar Nepal, is currently reviewing the rationale behind a mission in Spain.

“Since so many outstanding issues are associated with these four diplomatic missions, it’s going to be a tough job,” said a senior foreign ministry official on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media. “We aren’t convinced that these inexperienced candidates can make a difference.

Published: 10-06-2019 07:00

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