NEW DELHI: During the five-day marathon meeting of the heads of missions earlier this month, the government told the Indian ambassadors to gird up their loins. They were also informed that their performance will be under greater scrutiny than ever before with the long-dormant Directorate General of Inspections (DGI) to be institutionalised and made proactive.
Foreign Secretary Dr S Jaishankar told ambassadors that it can’t be business with usual. To keep a tab on performance and strengthen the DGI would be one of his priorities, Jaishankar told the gathering of over 120 Indian envoys.
The government spends Rs 1,800 crore on running diplomatic missions in 127 countries, which also have concurrent accreditation to an additional 74 nations. The need for a robust, institutionalized Foreign Service inspectorate was first broached in the 1966 report of NR Pillai, but it was never implemented in spirit. In 2002, the SK Lambah committee report on MEA had also talked of reviving the post of the Inspector General.
With the number and the mandate of Indian missions rising, the Directorate General of Inspections was formally set up in 2004, with a four-point mandate—the first being to evaluate the functioning of the mission in all aspects from political, economic, information, relations with local Indian community and cultural diplomacy.
An important area of evaluation was to look into the “interpersonal relations” within the missions—whether the top officials were able to “lead” or not—all of which fed into the delicate matter of morale in an Indian embassy or consulate.
However, the number of inspections conducted, so far, is not exactly clear. A report of the August 2011 standing committee says that 89 missions have been covered since 2004. But the standing committee report published in December 2014 says that inspection teams have been “sent to more than 50 missions/posts abroad since 2006”.
However, one thing is clear that since 2011 there have been no inspections done by the DGI. The reason given by the ministry was that it was processing “follow-up actions”, “implementing various recommendations” and “institutionalizing” the DGI over the last three years. Incidentally, the 2011 standing committee report gave a flavour of the recommendations made so far by the inspection teams—withdrawal of an assistant each in Tashkent and Bishkek, the need to recruit two additional staffers each in Dushanbe and Lisbon, and curtailing number of local staff in Asghabat by one-third.
MEA officials point out that whenever senior HQ officials visit the missions, they also assess the functioning of the mission. The regional audit offices of the ministry also go through the financial health of these posts. But, as other officials point out, these checks are done in silos.
After the February meeting, officials are awaiting new rules on how the inspections would be conducted, what would be their frequency and how the findings would be implemented.
Currently, the DGI is supervised by special secretary (Americas and consular, passport and visa) R Swaminathan, with joint secretary (CNV) Arun Chatterjee being the desk head for inspections. Sources said that after a long hiatus, some inspections took place in the last few months.
An Indian ambassador said that more frequent inspections will help missions, who often feel cut-off from the headquarters, to get their views across in a comprehensive check-up. “We usually take one or two issues to HQ for resolution. For others, we say that we will deal with it ourselves. But with the comprehensive inspections, it helps us to get all the systems analysed and put all our issues in front of HQ,” he said.
A former MEA secretary, Kishan Rana, who is now a known expert in foreign office management, said one of the impact of inspections is that “it gets embassies and consulates to feel that their work is in line with what the ministry does”.
Rana, who retired in 1995, said that during his time in the ministry inspections “were on ad-hoc basis”. “Suddenly, somebody decided that Africa should be inspected, so there would be inspections of five to six embassies at the same time. There were no institutionalized procedures,” he said. One of the key reasons for not having a robust inspection mechanism for Indian missions has been insufficient manpower, Rana added.
Incidentally, most of the foreign offices of the big powers have strong inspection teams. The reports of the Office of the Inspector General of US state department are published online. “The most thorough inspections are by the German foreign ministry. This includes going through all outgoing communication from the mission for the last six months, interviewing each and every personnel—whose records are then destroyed—to ensure honest feedback,” Rana said.