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It takes two to bungle

Any problem adversely affecting our foreign service must obviously be addressed as soon as possible

Wisma Putra: A diplomatic faux pas? - Wikipedia

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The hasty recall of two of our diplomats in West Asia recently is concerning to retired diplomats, senior civil servants and Malaysians.

It is harsh, if not humiliating, treatment meted out to the senior officers of our diplomatic service, whose competency and professionalism are said to be highly regarded among former diplomats and their peers.

Wisma Putra accused the two diplomats, our ambassador to the UAE, Mohd Tarid Sufian, and consul-general in Dubai, Mohd Hasril Abdul Hamid, of failing to coordinate administrative and logistics matters pertaining to Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s visit to the UAE last month.

It appears that something is amiss in our Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

One of the concerns raised by members of the public was, how could such a routine as observing the standard diplomatic protocols of receiving our dignitaries abroad be overlooked by seasoned diplomats?

Mind you, these are diplomats with the right credentials who are supposedly cut out to do their job efficiently and effectively – as opposed to, say, a few politicians who were appointed to similar positions as political rewards but ill-equipped to perform satisfactorily.

Surely, the diplomats were able to understand instructions given by Wisma Putra – even if they were written in our national language, given the official policy that stands now – as presumably they are well-versed in both the English and Malay languages, if not other foreign languages as well.

The two diplomats were reported to be the only ones present at the airport to receive the prime minister in Dubai and there were also no senior UAE officials present, as is customary for the arrival of foreign dignitaries.

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Certain quarters rightly maintained that such an important person as our prime minister should not have been subjected to diplomatic embarrassment, particularly patiently going through the customs and immigration checks like an ordinary visitor at Dubai airport.

Worse, given that Ismail was not accorded ‘official guest status’, security arrangements were apparently completely absent, which is disturbing.

It is misguided to say that Ismail deserves the treatment usually received by mere mortals at the airport just because he and his motorcade had refused in the past to give way to a rushing ambulance in our country – and, therefore, this is poetic justice, as certain netizens argued. Not that obstructing a speeding ambulance is an act worthy of praise and emulation.

To be recalled home abruptly suggests a serious dereliction of duty on the part of the diplomatic officers concerned, which is troubling. Were they that clueless, and if this was indeed the case, would this not be a sad commentary on our diplomatic service?

Soon after the incident, on Sunday, an audio clip was posted on social media that revealed a complaint purportedly made by a male officer about his Ministry of Foreign Affairs facing many problems under its minister, Saifuddin Abdullah. One of the purported challenges is to fill a “minimum 33 vacancies” (due to deaths, retirements and other reasons) in Malaysia’s overseas missions.

The ministry dismissed the content of the audio clip as “baseless accusations”. That is not enough of a rebuttal because it would still leave the public wondering whether the 33 vacancies have already been filled, as this concerns Malaysia’s interests and concerns that are supposed to be effectively represented by the missions abroad. Specific data is obviously required.

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Besides, the emerging new cold war and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, apart from the Covid scourge, have serious implications worldwide. Our overseas missions have a heavy responsibility to inform our government of these new developments and their consequences.

Additionally, former foreign minister Anifah Aman weighed in to insist that it is the duty of the foreign minister to go to the country concerned prior to the prime minister’s official visit to check if all necessary preparations have been made. So, is there an implied dereliction of duty here?

Any problem adversely affecting our foreign service, once much admired, must obviously be addressed as soon as possible and the root cause of the malaise weeded out.

A diplomatic faux pas can be more than just embarrassing. – The Malaysian Insight

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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T C Koh
T C Koh
18 Apr 2022 3.53pm

The perils of being illegitimate.

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