Ambassadors not to be appointed on contract for now

Contractual appointment and extension of tenure of ambassadors affect the career of mid ranked officers, especially those who are on the pipeline of getting appointment of ambassador

Foreign ministry

The government is not going to appoint anyone new on contract as ambassador in Bangladesh missions abroad. Following this decision, 10 ambassadors whose contracts and normal tenures are set to end have been asked to return home. Apart from this, the services of seven other ambassadors, who are on contract and will retire, are scheduled to end by 31 December.

Officials at the foreign ministry say that in total, 17 ambassadors will be reshuffled this year, which will be a major reshuffle among the top diplomats after the current government takes over. In addition to this, the two-year contract period of foreign secretary Masud bin Momen will also end in December this year. Outside of this, the contracts of Bangladeshi diplomats in four countries including the United States are also going to expire next year.

In all, contracts and normal tenures of 21 ambassadors are set to expire in the next year and a half. There will be a change in the position of the foreign secretary during this time as well. Because, in addition to the 10 ambassadors asked to return home, the normal service term of six ambassadors assigned to India, at the permanent mission in New York, in the United Kingdom, Brussels, Australia and Portugal will also end next December.

The term of office of the contractually appointed ambassador to Russia will also end in December. Apart from this, Bangladesh High Commissioner to Pakistan Md Ruhul Alam Siddique was transferred to Dhaka on 24 March.

Several current and past diplomats have raised questions about the trend of contractual appointment of two years while speaking with this correspondent

According to diplomatic analysts, 18 missions will see reshuffles of high commissioners and ambassadors in a year after the current government comes to power. Besides this, a new person has to be appointed for the post of foreign secretary. This will be the first time since independence that such a large number of reshuffles have taken place in the same year.

Officials at the foreign ministry said that the ambassadors of Bangladesh in Canada, Geneva, Germany, Japan, Kuwait, Poland, Thailand and Iraq were performing their duties on contract. Their contracts expired before the 12th parliamentary elections. But in September last year, the government extended the contract of all of them for another six months. On the other hand, the normal term of service of two diplomats serving in Italy and Greece ends in April. Ten of them have already been asked to return home.

30pc quota in ambassador post

Bangladesh has 81 missions and consulates in 58 countries. Of those, the embassy in Sudan is currently closed due to civil war in the North African country. Fifty seven ambassadors have been working at the remaining 80 missions abroad.

There are no written rules on how many per cent of the ambassadors in foreign missions could be appointed on contract. But the practice of appointing 30 per cent of the ambassadors on contract started from the tenure of HM Ershad.

The subsequent governments elected by democratic process in the post 1990-era continued this precedence set by the autocratic ruler. The rate of appointment of ambassadors even surpassed 30 per cent during some governments. Generally, retired and serving civil and military officers appointed in ministry on deputation as well as political favorites are appointed on contract.

It can be noted that late president Ziaur Rahman first started the assimilation of the self-confessed murderers of the Bangabandhu and the army officers involved in the jail killing case. Army officials of various ranks were later attached to the foreign ministry. This trend continued during the reign of Ershad. Also, several officials of Rakkhi Bahini also joined the foreign ministry.

Two years on contract is the new normal 

Contractual appointment and extension of tenure of ambassadors affect the career of mid ranked officers, especially those who are on the pipeline of getting appointment of ambassador. The trend of extending the term of service by two additional years after the end of regular service started to be widespread in recent times, especially since 2017. As a result, all officers nowadays expect to get a two-year contractual appointment at the end of the service period.

Several current and past diplomats have raised questions about the trend of contractual appointment of two years while speaking with this correspondent. They said such contractual appointments to posts of ambassador also mean that officers who were supposed to get promoted and take over the posts are ignored. Foreign Service Association officials raised the issue during a recent meeting with foreign minister Hasan Mahmud. They requested the minister to do away with the trend of extending the tenure.

Who is going to be next foreign secretary

The tenure of Bangladesh’s 26th foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen ended in December 2022. The government extended his job for two years on contract before his service term ended. The contract of Masud Bin Momen will end on 5 December this year. The process to find his successor is supposed to start several months before the expiration of his contract. The names of Syeda Muna Tasnim and Md Mostafizur Rahman-- Bangladesh high commissioners in the United Kingdom and India respectively—are appearing as forerunners. However, these two officials of 11th BCS are to go to Post Retirement Leave (PRL) on 26 and 31 December respectively.  As a result, if any of these officers are to get recruited as foreign secretary, they will have to be appointed months before their PRL date.

Later the one selected for the post will have to be given an extension of the job on contractual basis. There was no such example of extending tenure on contract within months of appointment as foreign secretary in the last two decades.

It can be mentioned that the name of Rabab Fatima, the former Bangladesh ambassador in the US, came to fore as the successor of Masud Bin Momen at the beginning of 2022. Later the government extended Masud Bin Momen’s tenure for two years. Rabab Fatima later in June that year became the under-secretary of the United Nations.

Former foreign secretary Md Touhid Hossain told Prothom Alo the decision to choose a former diplomat contractually over a regular diplomat is a political decision.

He thinks the foreign ministry has enough quality diplomats to perform the duties of ambassador. So there is no reason to appoint diplomats on contract for two years after the normal term of service. The recruitment process would have been easier if professional diplomats were routinely posted as ambassadors years ago.

* The report, originally published in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza and Galib Ashraf