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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Foreign Ministry braces for departure of 16 diplomats, new faces expected

  • Diplomatic succession debate ensues amid ambassadorial term expiry
  • Middle-ranking officials' career progression impacted by tenure extensions
  • Appointment transparency questioned amidst qualifications versus influence debate
Update : 15 Feb 2024, 09:33 AM

This year, sixteen Bangladeshi ambassadors stationed in various countries are reaching the end of their terms. Among these diplomats, eight will proceed on pre-retirement leave (PRL), while the contractual appointments of the remaining eight will conclude.

If these ambassadorial positions are not renewed, it is anticipated that numerous mid-level diplomats could seize the opportunity to ascend to ambassadorial roles, according to multiple sources.

According to an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, currently, ambassadors from the 20th batch of officers are serving already. However, some senior officers from the 17th and 18th batches are yet to be appointed as ambassadors. If the tenures of the existing ambassadors are not extended, a significant segment of these senior officials may assume ambassadorial roles.

Humayun Kabir, a former Bangladesh ambassador to the US, emphasized the necessity of appointing qualified individuals as ambassadors, irrespective of their professional or non-professional background. 

He stressed the importance of appointing individuals who can effectively represent the country's interests, rather than solely based on personal preferences.

Humayun Kabir cautioned against appointing individuals who lack the requisite qualifications or understanding of the ambassadorial role, as they would be unable to advance the country's image effectively. 

He advocated for a merit-based approach to ambassadorial appointments, devoid of tenure extensions, which he believed could compromise efficiency.

Expressing his policy stance, he said: "I firmly believe that tenure extensions are unnecessary. We should abandon the practice of extending tenures, as it diminishes efficiency. Recruitment should be conducted through a standard process, focusing on professional competence. There exists a fundamental disparity between domestic and foreign responsibilities."

He highlighted the importance of discerning that success in domestic roles may not necessarily translate into effective performance abroad, underscoring the need for decision-makers to recognize this distinction.

Who may leave?

Among the diplomats, Md Monirul Islam (Italy) and Ashud Ahmed (Greece) will go on pre-retirement leave (PRL) in April. 

Additionally, M Allama Siddiqui (Australia), Mahbub Hassan Saleh (Belgium), Rezina Ahmed (Portugal), Saida Muna Tasneem (UK), Muhammad Abdul Muhith (New York, UN), and Md Mustafizur Rahman (India) will begin their PRL next December.

Regarding contractual appointments, Khalilur Rahman (Canada) will conclude his term in April. 

Furthermore, Mohammad Sufiur Rahman (Switzerland) and Maj Gen Md Ashikuzzaman (Kuwait) will conclude their appointments in May, 

Sultana Laila Hossain (Poland) and Mohammed Abdul Hye (Thailand) in June, Shahabuddin Ahmed (Japan) in July, Mohammad Fazlul Bari (Iraq) in September, and Kamrul Ahsan (Russia) will conclude his terms in December.

Sources within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs suggest that the tenures of some of these ambassadors may be extended considering necessity or influence.

Who can become ambassador?

As per government regulations, officers holding the rank of joint secretary or higher within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are deemed eligible for ambassadorial positions. 

Traditionally, ambassadors are drawn from the foreign cadre and do not serve on a contractual basis. 

However, the president retains the authority to appoint qualified individuals from outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as contractual ambassadors.

According to sources within the ministry, Bangladesh currently maintains embassies in 60 countries, with appointments being made by the president from either the foreign cadre or external candidates.

Typically, a minimum of 70% of ambassadors are selected from the foreign cadre, while a maximum of 30% are contractual appointments, often serving terms of three years. However, adherence to this quota system is not consistently observed.

Why is tenure of ambassadors extended?

If the Ministry of Foreign Affairs deems that expired ambassadors possess unique qualifications to serve the country, it may recommend extending their tenure. 

However, such decisions often align with the preferences of influential figures outside the ministry, leaving the ministry with limited influence in the process. 

The Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Public Administration execute the extension process following decisions made at the policy-making level.

An official said: "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs seldom independently recommends extending ambassadors' terms," citing the belief that the duties of an ambassador can be fulfilled by others in most cases. For instance, before the January election, the tenure of around seven ambassadors had expired, prompting a recommendation to extend their terms by six months.

Another ministry official said: "In nearly all instances, recommendations for term extensions originate externally." The Ministry of External Affairs is often compelled to extend ambassadors' tenures due to pressure from influential figures advocating for such extensions.

Additionally, the official noted: "Many professional ambassadors publicly align themselves with political ideologies or engage in political activities during their tenure to demonstrate loyalty." 

Furthermore, some individuals author books on Bangabandhu and so  aim to clarify where their allegiances lie.

Effect of extension

Extending the tenures of ambassadors directly impacts middle-ranking officials. Regarding this matter, an official said: "According to government regulations, professional diplomats enter PRL at the age of 59, thereby disengaging from government duties. If this regulation is adhered to strictly, middle-ranking officers would have the opportunity to advance to ambassadorial roles. However, the current system obstructs this natural progression."

Another middle-ranking official said: "We currently advocate against extending the terms of those whose tenures have expired. However, when we find ourselves in similar positions, we might also lobby for term extensions."

Why does everyone want to become an ambassador?

An ambassador serves as the direct representative of the president and endeavors to safeguard the interests of the country, its people, and the government. 

However, many question whether all foreign cadre officers possess the requisite qualifications for this role.

In this regard, an official said: "Not only in Bangladesh, but many countries worldwide have regulations stipulating that not all members of the foreign cadre automatically ascend to ambassadorial positions. For instance, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and several developed nations follow similar protocols."

He continued: "In Bangladesh, there's an assumption that all professional diplomats will eventually become ambassadors. Yet this practice often grants opportunities to individuals who lack the necessary qualifications, which is undesirable."

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