Ambassadorial assignments send mixed signals

Fresh look at appointments emphasised  

Shahidul Islam Chowdhury | Published: 00:09, Sep 23,2020


The government is appointing ambassadors and high commissioners from various tracks— politicians, regular public servants and retired government officials — with political appointees giving mixed signals to the receiving countries and diplomatic quarters.

A section of appointments have created an impression that Bangladesh might have ‘downgraded’ its relations with the receiving countries, while authorities in some host countries think that Bangladesh considers relations with them from ‘security’ perspectives.

The scope for contract appointments on political considerations have opened doors for anyone willing to get a berth in the foreign service, especially as a mission chief at a Bangladesh embassy abroad.

The governments of at least two countries — Japan and Morocco — were surprised knowing that Bangladesh confirmed some ambassadorial appointments and made public announcements in this regard prior to getting concurrence from the respective receiving countries.  

Japanese diplomatic quarters in Dhaka and Tokyo were surprised at Bangladesh’s latest ambassadorial appointment to Japan, making some of them curious to know whether Bangladesh has downgraded its relations with the East Asian country, a Japanese diplomat in Dhaka told New Age.  

The ministry of public administration issued an official order granting former food secretary Shahabuddin Ahmed a contract appointment as the ambassador to Japan for three years without informing the host government, cancelling his post-retirement leave in January 2020.

Shahabuddin, a retired administration-cadre officer, took over as the ambassador to Japan on 11 August 2020 after the foreign ministry secured confirmation for his appointment from the Japanese government through diplomatic channels.

The ministry of public administration issued a similar office order on September 15, 2020 granting Mohammed Shahdat Hossain the contract appointment as the ambassador to Morocco for two years without getting concurrence from the African country, according to Moroccan diplomatic sources.

Shahdat Hossain, a career diplomat, until his retirement from the foreign service on July 31, 2020, was posted as the ambassador to Belgium before getting the new assignment. 

‘The government can issue contract appointments in the public service up to 10 per cent under the president’s quota,’ state minister  for public administration Farhad Hossain told New Age over phone on Sunday.

Asked about the announcements of positing as ambassadors on contract by the MOPA before getting concurrence from the host countries, he said those were ‘nominations’ with their appointments finally depending on the acceptance of the host countries.

Bangladesh Enterprise Institute president Humayun Kabir said that ambassadorial assignments were no more a routine kind of work as ‘we used to do in the past’.

But Bangladesh is now in a developmental transition with requirements for multi-dimensional and multi-faceted engagements — in areas of politics, development finance, employment for expatriate workers, remittance, foreign investment and technology transfer — in respective host countries with an eye on regional and global changes.

‘We need to select people, who would be able to deliver with high-level skills and through diplomatic engagements in securing benefits for the country,’ Humayun, who was an ambassador from the foreign service to the USA, said.

‘The country [Bangladesh] may not get desired level of achievements if we falter on that,’ he added 

Stressing the need for looking afresh at the ambassadorial appointments, he said, ‘When we make an appointment, the host country too assesses how much importance we are attaching to that country.’

Sending ‘anyone, who is, perhaps, not up to the mark,’ as an ambassador ‘sends a wrong message,’ he went on.

Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan, a former chairman of the National Board of Revenue, is the new ambassador-designate to Germany on contract on political considerations.

Mosharraf received the two-year assignment and is set to replace Imtiaz Ahmed, who was also sent on the same assignment on contract after retiring from the foreign service on August 31, 2018.

The immediate-past inspector general of Bangladesh Police Javed Patwary bagged a contract appointment as the ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

He replaced Golam Moshi, a leader of a Jatiya Party faction and an ally of the ruling Awami League from Chattogram. Moshi had been the ambassador to the KSA for over five years since February 2015.

Former inspector general of police Hassan Mahmood Khandker has been the Bangladesh ambassador to Spain also on contract appointment since August 2015. 

Abu Maksud M Forhad, a retired joint secretary from the administration cadre, has been the ambassador to Iraq on contract since August 2016.

Abdus Sobhan Sikder, another retired administration-cadre official, has been the Bangladesh ambassador to Italy on contract since September 2016.

Six foreign-service officers, including Shahdat Hossain, who have recently retired from their regular jobs, have been made ambassadors to six countries.

Mosud Mannan has got a contract appointment as the ambassador to Turkey after retiring on April 20, 2020. He was earlier the ambassador to Uzbekistan.

Supradip Chakma has been appointed on contract to continue as the ambassador to Mexico after retiring from the same position on May 3, 2020. He has been the ambassador to Mexico since December 2014. 

M Shahidul Islam has been the ambassador to the USA on contract after retiring from his regular diplomatic job on June 9, 2020. He replaced Mohammad Ziauddin, another contract appointee to the post.

Mahbub Uz Zaman has been assigned on contract to continue as the ambassador to China after he retired from his regular diplomatic job on August 24, 2020. 

Muhammad Imran has been on contract to continue as the high commissioner to India after going to retirement from the foreign service on February 27, 2020.

Five senior military officers have, meanwhile, received ambassadorial assignments.

Major General Md Ashikuzzaman has been the ambassador to Kuwait since July 2020.

He replaced SM Abul Kalam, a leader of the ruling Awami League from Chattogram, who had held the post for four years since June 2016.

Major General Ajmal Kabir has been the ambassador to Indonesia since December 2016.

Major General Md. Jahangir Kabir Talukder has been the ambassador to Kenya since September 2019.

Major General Md. Jahangir  Al Mustahidur Rahman has been the ambassador to Lebanon since July 2020.

Rear Admiral Mohammad Nazmul Hassan has been working as the high commissioner to the Maldives since March 2020.

Md Zahangir Alam, an additional secretary from the administration cadre, was appointed the ambassador to Uzbekistan in July 2020.

Eighteen out of 61 Bangladesh ambassadors and high commissioners now are not foreign service officers.

Sending ‘anyone’ aspiring to become an ‘ambassador’ to head a Bangladesh mission in some country also limits the scope for promotion and posting for career foreign-service officers to ambassadorial assignments, said a diplomat.   

Some serving and retired government officials, including a section of career diplomats, have started lobbying for the ambassadorial assignments in Thailand and Brazil, who are foreign-service officers, and are set to retire from regular service this year, officials mentioned.

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