Keeping House in Order

 

Unsurprisingly, news is floated from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that a new Diplomatic Code of Conduct has been unveiled, which was approved by the cabinet last month. Regulations pertaining to conducting foreign relations with focus on managing diplomatic meetings, communicating with foreigners and attending various functions hosted by foreign missions and their officials are not new at all. This is the second time within two years and a half that the government of Nepal has announced the formulation of Dos and Don’ts for public officials in diplomatic dealings.

Ironically, the second version of so-called Diplomatic Code of Conduct has been made public at a time when the bosses of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, both political and bureaucratic, are faced with demonstrable moral crises. Mr. Jhala Nath Khanal now leads a mere caretaker government. The present Foreign Minister is no more than a beleaguered politician, whose promise that the political parties would also be brought under the purview of 2011 Diplomatic Code of Conduct, sounds hollow. More frustratingly, the incumbent Foreign Secretary has been recently slapped a fine of one hundred rupees by government-formed investigation commission chaired by a retired judge set up for probing the cases of some politicians allegedly involved in anti-China activities for not co-operating in the commission’s inquiry.

A retrospection of Prachanda-led government (2008-09) reveals how the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was embarrassed not being able to implement the Diplomatic Code of Conduct. At that time the emphasis of the above code was on managing the diplomatic meetings with the government ministers including the Prime Minister. The issue at hand was the tendency of the Kathmandu-based foreign embassies/missions to bypass the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in arranging meetings. No foreign embassy was keen to request the Department of Protocol under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to schedule any official meeting either for its Nepal-based diplomats or the visiting delegations. In realization of this preference by the foreigners to directly contact the ministers and fix the appointments, the effort of the Foreign Ministry to execute the Diplomatic Code of Conduct was commendable albeit the lack of political will and commitment needed for implementation threw that code into waste paper basket.

Against this painful background comes the latest version of Diplomatic Code of Conduct, which has the likelihood of meeting the previous fate not only that the current political leadership remains to be persuaded on its usefulness but also because the present team at the stakeholder ministry itself is weaker than before to convince other government ministries, whose officials are equally required to be compliant with the code. The ministers will likely defy cabinet-endorsed code and the foreign representatives will as usual try to capitalize on this weakness. Unless the government ministers are convinced and behave in conformity with the code while meeting foreigners officially and even joining their formal programs, the reformulation of code of conduct will make no difference. The core of the problem lies with the politicians’ true commitment to conform to the said code of conduct.

In the recent past some scandals have brought disgrace to our prestige and that has severely impacted on our abilities to conduct foreign relations effectively so that our national interests are better safeguarded. The utter misuse of diplomatic passports has gone unabated with legal action against the perpetrators of crime moving at a snail pace. Unfortunately, the majority of abusers of diplomatic passports were found to be lawmakers of a political party whose leader is country’s top diplomat. But would that leader show moral integrity to fully assist his own government in investigating the crime of misusing the diplomatic passports even though the alleged offenders in this regard belong to his party?

The misuse of diplomatic passports can be minimized if not altogether eliminated by strictly requiring the holders to return back their documents to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs once the official tour is completed for which the passports were issued by the government. Instead of taking initiative in this regard a few months earlier by the Foreign Ministry itself as an issuing authority to take back the used diplomatic passports by some parliamentarians, those who wanted to return their passports in compliance with the international practice were disappointed as none from the concerned government authority was prepared to bear its responsibility. The chances of loss of such sensitive government documents are more when not deposited with the ministry.

The latest scam of two so-called Nepali citizens under the name of Jayan Tenzing and Chhiring Lama, whom the Nepal police has arrested and initiated action related to the controversial letter from the U.S. embassy, is a reminder of the fact that corruption is rampant among government officials. If those two passengers heading towards America from Tribhuwan International Airport were indeed Tibetan refugees as claimed by the embassy’s letter addressed to the U.S. Immigration Official at the port of entry, how come they obtained Nepali passports. Only genuine Nepali citizens are entitled to be issued Nepali passports.

In view of introduction of Machine Readable Passport, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has centralized the distribution of such passports for about a year. It is definite that some illegal activity has taken place, otherwise, no non-Nepali citizen can obtain Nepali passports. Either the claim of the U.S. embassy that those identified above are Tibetan refugees is false or those who have been involved in issuing Nepali passports to the Tibetan refugees are responsible for such heinous crimes. The fact that different categories of passports and travel documents have at times been found missing from the stores of Foreign Ministry and the conviction of some personnel in the past for passport forgery cast a shadow on the working of the government agency. Before asking others to follow diplomatic manners, maybe the Foreign Ministry starts to keep its house in order first and in this connection the role of the political leadership becomes crucial though caretaker in fact since last week.

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