Thursday, 12 August 2004  
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Saving the Foreign Service

The decision by Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar to appoint career diplomats to the upper rungs of the Foreign Service and to weed out staff redundancies in other sections of this vital arm of the State, is bound to be resoundingly welcomed by the public. We congratulate Minister Kadirgamar on this far-sighted and long overdue move and request him to work steadily towards making a true meritocracy of the Sri Lanka Foreign Service.

There was a time when our Foreign Service sparkled with the cream of our intelligentsia. That was a time when politicization had not made its corrosive inroads into our body-politic.

Some of the most edifying minds in our public service occupied the top-most echelons of our High Commissions and embassies abroad and did Sri Lanka proud in the most august of international fora.

With time, political interference in the Service and accompanying mismanagement took the shine off a career in the Foreign Office and reduced it to a veritable dumping ground of political appointees and favourites although this is certainly not true of everyone who is pursuing a career in the Foreign Service. Nevertheless, it is true that in recent years, political considerations have come to dominate the appointing process of key personnel abroad. Some of them are retired hands who have had nothing to do with Foreign Affairs.

Consequently, a qualitative decline has been witnessed in our Foreign Service, with the image of the country suffering considerably as a result. So, we warmly welcome moves by Minister Kadirgamar to stem the rot and to place the correct persons in the correct places in the Foreign Ministry.

There is no ignoring the need to adopt the correct criteria for recruitment to the Service. In former times exacting written examinations and personal interviews formed the basis for recruitment to the Foreign Service. Such procedures should be continued and completely insulated from political interference. Nothing but the best minds need to man the Foreign Ministry and it is hoped that fool-proof procedures would be adopted to enhance its prestige and integrity.

Disenchantment and disillusionment on the part of personnel who had the necessary qualifications for promotion and top placement have taken a heavy toll on the Service. Quite a few of them opted to leave the Service and lavish their expertise on global institutions. Thus have we lost the services of men and women who could do this country proud.

Merit is the most objective yardstick for recruitment to the Foreign Service and promotion thereafter. May this standard be always honoured.

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World Youth Day

We all wish we could be forever young. Alas, youth comes but once in a lifetime. Next to childhood, it is the best time of our lives. Today, the world celebrates youth, the very essence of life.

International Youth Day is dedicated to the world's one billion youth (aged 15-24), most of whom are in the developing states. In fact, by 2025, the ratio of youth living in developing countries will grow to 90 per cent.

This is why Governments around the world should take youth issues into consideration in the development and social welfare agendas. Providing jobs for youth is thus the number one priority of most Governments. The Sri Lankan Government has taken cognisance of this need by initiating a program to provide jobs to initially graduates and A/L qualified persons. It is expected to be expanded to cover all segments of the youth population.

Among the other crucial issues that authorities and youth agencies must consider are education, hunger, poverty, health, environment, drug abuse, juvenile delinquency and leisure activities. Apart from these common issues, there are many that are specific to girls and women who are marginalised in many societies.

Most problems faced by youth are inter-linked and governments must address them as a whole, not in isolation. For example, poverty forces many children of school-going age to engage in menial jobs, thus depriving them of education.

Governments must address these issues now, because today's youth will be tomorrow's elders. Neglecting youth needs and aspirations will result only in a bigger burden for the economy in the future. By 2050, the number of people 60 and older will triple, to nearly 1.9 billion.

As UN Secretary General Kofi Annan points out in his Youth Day message, "two decades from now, today's youth will form the middle generation that supports ever-increasing numbers of dependents - they understand the importance of fulfilling this responsibility, but they will be able to do so only if we invest now".

This year's Youth Day theme of 'Youth in an Inter-Generational Society' should be viewed in the light of this observation. As medical advances and improved lifestyles pave the way for enhanced longevity, several generations have to share the world's resources together. All members of society, regardless of age, can contribute positively to the collective uplift of humankind.

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