21 May 2007 ~ 0 Comments

Menon needs manpower


Menon needs manpower For some time now the MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) has been struggling to keep pace with the increased demands on its resources and expertise. The diplomat’s role has never been more demanding than in today’s complex unipolar, globalised world. Many of Menon’s predecessors recognised the need and could see the changes coming, but it has fallen on Menon to take the bull by the horns and take steps for positive action. In a resurgent economy like India’s the MEA is expected to be more than a skilled purveyor of diplomatic tact and stratagem. It needs its mandarins to be aggressive marketers, shrewd boardroom tacticians, economic wizards, cultural specialists as well as effective communicators. It is a highly challenging job by any standards, and one that requires more than the 4,746 personnel (down from 4,866 ten years ago) currently on board. Out of the 4,040 personnel working in missions abroad, 1,708 are locally recruited employees. Although the ministry’s budget has trebled over the last few years, a sizeable amount of it is earmarked for assistance to neighbouring and developing countries and another large chunk for special diplomatic expenditure, which actually leaves the ministry with half the actual budget for its employees. Meanwhile, India’s foreign trade has increased manifold, as has India’s international commitments. So Menon has recently sought more resources, both human and money, from the members of the parliamentary Standing Committee for External Affairs. Those in the know say that Menon was well prepared with statistics to argue his cause. The ratio of Indian to Chinese diplomats is a dismal 1:7 and there are four Brazilian diplomats for every Indian counterpart. And while the numbers are whittling (the MEA is down to less than 700 IFS officers), the workload has increased manifold. Among other things, the ministry issues over 57 lakh visas and 44 lakh passports every year. It also handles the visits by foreign dignitaries that have increased by almost 165 per cent in the past few years. Although the finance ministry has sanctioned 220 additional posts for the consular and visa wings of Indian missions, especially those in the Persian Gulf, clearly, it is far from enough. The MEA is overburdened at the joint secretary level who have to handle coordination, policy planning, special tasks, dignitary travel, cadre management, UN matters et al, apart from territorial and functional divisions in the missions. Signals emanating from the government seem to indicate that Menon’s proposals are being given due weight and the MEA may well be double its current size within the next five years or so. Seasoned MEA observers, meanwhile, are waiting to see how much Menon is able to extract from the doubters and sceptics among the khadi-clad. This could well be the foreign secretary’s acid test.

Leave a Reply