Dennis Ignatius: Not all seems well at Foreign Ministry over vacancies

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Vacancies left unfilled for top positions in Malaysian missions abroad have raised questions over domestic happenings in the Foreign Ministry, according to a former diplomat.

When contacted, former ambassador Dennis Ignatius said there is an established process when it comes time to fill a vacant ambassador or high commissioner’s position.

“The question of vacancies is actually a very routine thing. They are brought home, sent somewhere else, it’s standard practice,” he said.

“It’s not rocket science to fill a vacancy.

Yusof Mat Isa

“The way the system works is the minister will propose to the prime minister a list of ambassadorial appointments for approval. Most of the time it’s routine unless the minister or PM has another candidate in mind,” Ignatius told Malaysiakini.

He said this when asked for comments on the contents of an audio clip that has gone viral on social media since yesterday, purported to be a conversation between an unidentified male Foreign Ministry officer and a “Datin” familiar with ministry matters.

Among others, the male voice lamented that Foreign Ministry staff are facing many problems under Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah, including having to fill a “minimum 33 vacancies” due to deaths, retirement or other reasons in Malaysia’s missions abroad.

Wisma Putra

“The fact that so many positions are left vacant makes you wonder what is going on.

“I know for a fact that the ministry is anxious to fill these posts, there are also many officers anxious for their promotions and to move on (to another country),” said Ignatius.

Further, Ignatius said the leaked audio appeared to suggest mounting anger within the Foreign Ministry towards Saifuddin, where in the past such matters would not have been openly discussed.

“From my understanding, morale in the ministry has never been lower,” he added.

The male voice in the audio also made references to orders issued for the return of Malaysia’s two senior diplomats from the United Arab Emirates, confirming a Free Malaysia Today report quoting sources who said the duo will be placed in “cold storage”.

“We were surprised. It would be fine if they were just recalled, but to be ‘sacked’ and sent into the JPA (Public Service Department) pool […],” he said, adding that the Foreign Ministry secretary-general had called for a meeting of all division secretaries to discuss the matter.

Free Malaysia Today yesterday quoted sources who said the duo – Malaysia’s ambassador Tarid Sufian and Malaysia’s consul-general in Dubai, Hasril Abdul Hamid – were recalled over the lack of “official guest status” for Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob during his visit to the Emirates last month.

The report said Tarid and Hasril were the only senior officers present at the airport to receive Ismail Sabri when he landed in Dubai.

There were also reportedly no senior government officials from the UAE present to receive the delegation that also included Saifuddin.

The ministry in a statement described Free Malaysia Today’s report as “containing inaccurate information, speculations and baseless allegations”.

However, it went on to confirm orders issued for the return of the two diplomats over failure to coordinate administrative and logistical affairs related to Ismail Sabri’s visit, particularly during his arrival on March 29.

“These failures include the prime minister’s lengthy wait at the normal arrival hall for passport clearance.

“Aside from that, (media) coverage and security details, as well as motorcades usually prepared for the prime minister as per standard procedure were also not provided,” said the Foreign Ministry, adding that the facilities come even without a formal guest status.

Further, the two officers were blamed for allegedly failing to inform the ministry of the World Government Summit (WGS) held within the Dubai Expo 2020 area, as such there were no preparations made for Ismail Sabri to deliver a speech.

The Foreign Ministry said UAE’s Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem Ebrahim Al-Hashimi, during a meeting with Saifuddin, had extended an invitation for Ismail Sabri to attend WGS’ closing ceremony.

It added that the UAE government had also provided Ismail Sabri with facilities including static guards of honour at the airport prior to his departure, on top of issuing a formal invitation to deliver a keynote address at WGS 2023.

“The move to recall the two officers is not out of the ordinary and done through discussions with relevant parties including the Public Service Department.

“It was done to protect Malaysia’s bilateral interests with the countries involved, aside from ensuring the competence of the public sector,” the ministry said.

Commenting on the reported orders, Hulu Langat MP Hasanuddin Yunus said Saifuddin should have advised Ismail Sabri to postpone his trip.

“This is a major weakness as it involves the country’s dignity and reputation,” Hasanuddin said in a statement.

“A civil servant will not reach the highest position like an ambassador with no academic background and years of experience.

“Do not so easily lay the blame on civil servants who have done their level best. Political decisions are what has failed in our diplomatic affairs,” he said. – Malaysiakini