Article 87 of the Constitution of Mauritius effectively gives the Prime Minister the power to appoint any person as Ambassador or High Commissioner to head our diplomatic missions overseas. These appointees are, most often, not qualified and experienced for diplomatic jobs and, consequently, represent an ineffective use of the State’s resources. Further, a change in Prime Minister is followed by a replacement of his appointees leading to a break in continuity of diplomatic representation in foreign countries. To resolve these issues, our Government should set up a procedure similar to the one existing in the United Kingdom (UK) where an independent Civil Service Commission selects Ambassadors and High Commissioners among career diplomats who are public servants with a steady professional connection to their country’s foreign policy.
Mauritian Prime Ministers generally appoint members of governing political parties or close relatives as Ambassadors and High Commissioners without taking into account qualifications and experience required for the job. Mr Showkutally Soodhun, our newly appointed Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has no previous diplomatic experience and, even worse, he was involved in a big diplomatic gaffe in June 2017 when he was Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Housing and Lands. His office issued a communique falsely stating that Mauritius had suspended diplomatic relations with Qatar, a move that had to be quickly denied by the Mauritian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Unlike Mr Soodhun, web information reveals that the US and French Ambassadors and the UK and Indian High Commissioners in Mauritius had a sound academic background before joining their civil service at a relatively low position. During their subsequent career, they have been assigned to diplomatic missions outside of their home countries and have risen through the ranks to become deputy Ambassadors or deputy High Commissioners prior to their present assignments.
In line with the practice in UK and other countries, Mauritius must appoint career diplomats to lead our diplomatic missions overseas because our Ambassadors and High Commissioners are expected to participate in the implementation of an effective foreign policy that brings benefits commensurate to their high costs. The attached table lists the costs potentially borne by the taxpayer to finance the Mauritian Ambassador based in Washington. We find from the table that the Ambassador is entitled to monthly benefits well above MUR 600,000, which exceeds the monthly pay of the Prime Minister. We incur nearly the same costs for each of our Ambassadors or High Commissioners based elsewhere.
Instead of bringing benefits, the implementation of our foreign policy is prone to blunders, a case in point being our recent initial participation and subsequent withdrawal from the futsal (indoor football) competition in Morocco because the South African Development Community (SADC), whose membership includes Mauritius, does not agree with the Moroccan annexation of the former Spanish Sahara. As a result, Mauritius incurred financial losses of Rs 2,649,000 (air ticket and hotel expenses of the team) and Rs 2,775,000 which is a fine imposed by the Confederation of African Football (CAF). Further, CAF has banned Mauritius from participating in the next two African football tournaments. Mauritius has also spoiled its diplomatic relations with Morocco. The blunder and its attendant costs could have been avoided if we had an efficient foreign service with diplomatic missions headed by career diplomats who would have understood all issues affecting relations between SADC, Morocco and Mauritius.
Costs Potentially Borne by the Taxpayer to Finance the Mauritian Ambassador based in Washington, USA
(Assumption: The Ambassador has a Spouse and Two Children)
|Amount||Currency||Exchange Rate||Amount Converted into MUR|
|Foreign Service Allowance||6,186||USD||35.4||218,984|
|Utility Charges – Electricity, Gas, Water, Telephone, Internet||1,500||USD||35.4||53,100|
|Additional Monthly Benefits|
|Official Car and Driver|
|School Fees for Children (80% refundable)|
|Medical Expenses for Ambassador and Family (90% refundable)|
|Every Three Years|
|Air Tickets (Plaisance –Washington -Plaisance) for Ambassador and Spouse||703,808||MUR||1||703,808|
|Air Tickets (Plaisance –Washington -Plaisance) for two children||544,728||MUR||1||544,728|
|Warm Clothing Allowance for 4 Persons||1,100||Pounds||51.52||56,672|
|Baggage Allowance (To and From Washington)||560||Pounds||51.52||28,851|
|Additional Three Yearly Benefits|
|Container (10 cubic meters) for Personal Effects – Transported by Sea|
Source: PRB Report 2016. Rent and Utility Charges are estimations.
We should avoid appointing politically connected persons as Ambassadors and High Commissioners because they must all be replaced in case there is a change in Government as happened in December 2014. Besides the high costs entailed by such replacements, continuous leadership in diplomatic missions is broken for several months just when Ambassadors and High Commissioners must be available to explain any change in Mauritian foreign policy to foreign Governments. Other countries who appoint career diplomats are not faced with such problems when there is a change of Government. For example, India appointed Shri Anup Mudgal as its High Commissioner to Mauritius on 15 January 2014. He stayed on as High Commissioner until 31 May 2016 despite a change from a Congress led to a BJP led Government in Delhi in May 2014.
On foreign policy, the Government Programme 2020 – 2024 states the following at paragraph 194: – “The roles, operations and strategy of our embassies and missions abroad will be re-organized to ensure greater transparency, accountability, efficient use of public funds and the achievement of economic benefits.” In line with the foregoing, the Government should walk the talk by entrusting to the Public Service Commission the responsibility of appointing career diplomats as Ambassadors and High Commissioners through a transparent and merit-based process.