Feathers have been ruffled within the Malaysian diplomatic community over attempts by several politicians, including former ministers, to land jobs as ambassadors in key Western capitals, MalaysiaNow has learnt through sources familiar in the field.
It is understood that at least three former ministers have been silently campaigning for diplomatic jobs including in the US and Switzerland.
Any such move would mean reversing the previous government’s policy not to appoint non-career diplomats as ambassadors.
A source in Wisma Putra, which houses Malaysia’s foreign ministry, confirmed attempts to reverse the policy.
“Yes, but as far as we understand, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is committed to abiding by the policy,” the source said.
When contacted, a source in Putrajaya confirmed that no decision had been made.
“The Cabinet has been in recess due to several members being told to quarantine themselves,” it said.
In July 2018, newly appointed foreign minister Saifudddin Abdullah announced that ambassadors would only be assigned from among those “who meet the job requirements and are capable of doing the job”.
“Ambassadors must be selected from the pool of trained diplomats who can do their job well,” he said.
His statement came amid resistance encountered by the Pakatan Harapan government from politically appointed diplomats just months after the coalition took over power in May 2018.
It planned at the time to replace them with career diplomats, a move welcomed by the diplomatic community.
Politically appointed top diplomats during the Najib Razak administration included Zahrain Mohamed Hashim (Indonesia), Bernard Dompok (Vatican), Blanche O’Leary, the wife of MyPPP president M Kayveas (Finland), Zulhasnan Rafique (US) and Hasan Malek (Cambodia).
Other prominent politicians who became diplomats during the Barisan Nasional era include former deputy prime minister Musa Hitam who became Malaysia’s special envoy to the United Nations, and the late Jamaluddin Jarjis, who served in Washington.
MalaysiaNow meanwhile understands that at least one former minister who is hoping to be sent overseas is embroiled in a corruption case. However, it cannot independently verify the claim.
“But it is not certain whether a top diplomat’s job would ensure him freedom,” said a source in Umno.
When contacted for comments, former ambassador Dennis Ignatius warned that any move to appoint politicians, especially those implicated in financial improprieties, would be “a huge mistake”.
“It will mean the end of the career foreign service, the politicisation of our foreign policy and a setback to decades of promoting Malaysia overseas,” Ignatius, a former ambassador to Canada with 36 years’ experience in the foreign service, told MalaysiaNow.
“It is also terribly disrespecting of the countries they are sent to.
“But coming after the takeover of GLC positions by politicians, I am not surprised. This government is so shameless and self-seeking that everything is being bartered for political support. At this rate, one of the consequences will be the complete political takeover of all institutions of government with a resulting loss of integrity, creditability and professionalism.”