January 28, 2012
The article in The Star by Tan Sri Mohd Radzi Abd Rahman (below) is shallow and it shows his lack of understanding of what Wisma Putra should be about. That is disappointing since he is the Secretary-General whose job is to provide much needed strategic thinking in the shaping of Malaysian foreign policy and the conduct of our diplomacy.
The consular service is a minor aspect of the Malaysian Foreign Office. As a former Foreign Service Officer under the Late (Tun) Ghazalie Shafie, I know that Wisma Putra is about the serious business of public diplomacy and projecting and representing Malaysia’s interest to the rest of the world. Certainly, it is not a travel agency specialising in the care of traveling VIPs and the issuing visas for visitors to Malaysia!
When I was living in Phnom Penh in the early 1990s, I was privileged to witness how Malaysian diplomats under our Ambassador Dato’ Deva Mohd. Ridzam’s leadership worked to represent our interests in Cambodia. Our mission was involved in advising Malaysian business investors, and helping then the fragile government in capacity building, providing invaluable intelligence to the Malaysian Government on political and economic developments in the host country, and networking with host country leaders and officials and members of the political opposition.
The Malaysians visiting Cambodia sought useful advice from our Ambassador and his senior staff. I was a witness to instances when Dato Deva intervened to ensure that Malaysians who got on the wrong side of the Cambodian law were given a fair treatment. I am, therefore, surprised to read that “many Malaysians abroad do not see the need to contact the embassy unless they are in trouble”.
Does this Secretary-General not understand that Malaysians do contact embassy officials when they are confident that they can get good commercial and personal advice, not because it has a “wander-ful service for travelers.” If Malaysians avoid the embassy, it is because they do not believe that the mission can help them.
Maybe, Tan Sri Radzi is now confirming the reality that Wisma Putra is now reduced to a consular office, post office and a VIP travel agency, all rolled into one composite whole, staffed by over paid, mediocre and incompetent personnel. And that is indeed a great pity.
The article also reflects the intellectual quality of this top Wisma Putra official. I have yet to see a serious article from him about our foreign policy or listen to or hear of him talking at any public forum on Malaysia’s diplomacy. That is not surprising either since all he can do is to write an article on consular administration, which should posted on the Wisma Putra website, or given to BERNAMA for wide coverage.
I have also not heard our Foreign Minister, Anifah Aman, speaking in Parliament even with prepared answers on foreign policy issues. It is, in fact, an open secret that the Foreign Minister is afraid to face his adversaries in Dewan Rakyat. It is indeed regrettable that Wisma Putra is no longer what it was when the Late Tun Ghazalie Shafie was the Permanent Secretary, and Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Today, in public diplomacy, Malaysia is punching below its weight. Our diplomats can neither write nor talk English, the language of international diplomacy and commerce. During the 1960’s, our diplomats were well read and articulate. They were respected by their colleagues in the region and elsewhere for their ability to draft treaties, communiques. and press releases.–Din Merican
A ‘wander-ful’ service for Travelers
AT YOUR SERVICE
By Tan Sri Mohd Radzi Abd Rahman
THE public face of the Foreign Affairs Ministry is the consular service. This is an important arm of the ministry that Malaysians are familiar with.In the past year alone, around 15 to 25 million people entered and left the country. With the increasing number of Malaysians travelling abroad and foreign expatriates making Malaysia their temporary home, consular achievement has now become one of the yardsticks to measure the effectiveness of the Foreign Service delivery system.
Unlike the economic, political, bilateral and multilateral diplomacy the Malaysian diplomat is familiar with, consular service is the “citizen service” that deals directly with the ordinary people, who are treated as important clients.
The function of the consular office at Wisma Putra, or at the 21 Malaysian consulates and 81 embassies abroad, is guided by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations 1963.
The consular functions include notary duties, attestation of documents, processing certificates of good conduct, birth registration, extending assistance to vessels and aircraft, and issuing of passports, travel documents and visas to persons wishing to travel to Malaysia.
Paramount among these functions is assisting its nationals within limits permitted by international law.
To many Malaysian diasporas, tourists and students studying abroad, the embassy is the consular office, and nothing more. The other functions of the embassy that deal with the privileged entities such as the palace, president’s office, ministries or people holding high appointments are hardly known to them.
In fact, Malaysians traveling or living abroad do not see the importance of coming in contact with the embassy unless out of necessity – such as to register a newborn, the renewal of passports, or when requiring emergency assistance such as during a tsunami, the Bali bombings, 9/11, the SARS epidemic crisis of 2003 or the 2010 volcanic eruption in Iceland that put air travel throughout Europe at a standstill.
A good number of Malaysians also appear at the consulate or the embassy when they are in distress, in cases where their passports, air tickets and money are stolen or lost and they are stranded with no change of clothes.
When this happens, one has to agree with Paul Theroux that travel is glamorous only in retrospect. Losing a passport through theft, negligence or disasters is one of the inconveniences for Malaysians when abroad.
In the case of a lost passport, the consulate or embassy is not authorised to issue a new passport to replace a lost one; it can issue an emergency certificate, a temporary, one-way travel document enabling one to travel home, but not valid to be used to travel to other countries.
All Malaysian embassies and consulates can facilitate the renewal of a Malaysian passport, but not all of them can issue a new Malaysian passport.
Where it is necessary for the embassy or consulate to forward an application for renewal or for a new Malaysian passport back to the Immigration Department in Malaysia, the process will inevitably take longer.
Within the boundaries of the consular functions, those who come for assistance are expected to be served with the highest level of professionalism.
The consular office can assist in notifying next-of-kin in the event the Malaysian is injured, arrested or detained.
It can communicate with the family or friends to request for emergency repatriation funds or arrange for the return of the remains of a deceased to Malaysia.
The consular officer also identifies bodies at the mortuary, visits those detained or imprisoned should there be a request from them to do so and ensure that due process of the law is accorded to them in the country they are arrested or detained.
To the Malaysian embassies abroad, the contact with Malaysian nationals is a pleasant experience. Especially at the embassies which are located where hardly any Malaysian travels, it is a delight for the Malaysian diplomat to meet another fellow citizen.
With the Government’s diaspora policy in place, a friendly contact with Malaysians working abroad is also useful. These individuals relate stories of their businesses, their expertise and the fascinating researches they are tasked to carry out at their new place of work.
With affordable travel, the world has become a smaller place.This means the consular offices have to be an effective problem-solver. In carrying out this task, the Malaysian diplomat is sometimes swayed by sympathy rather than logic.
On one occasion, a stranded Malaysian girl who was back-packing around Europe was “adopted” by the embassy staff with each one taking turns to provide her with food while waiting for her family to send over money for her return ticket home.
Upon reaching home, she sent a postcard to the embassy thanking them for the “five-star hotel” service and the excellent meals and warm clothes. Such instances are an exception rather than a rule.
There is only so much a consular office can do. Some consular offices are under-staffed and when unable to meet the expectations of the clients, they are sternly criticised and sometimes unfortunate stories get to the press.
What is helpful for the Malaysian traveler is to know what it takes to be in another country. They should come prepared, take pains to know whether a visa is required to enter the country, ensure that their passports exceed the six-month validity, bring sufficient money, have a travel and medical insurance ready, check websites of embassies and consulates in the country they are traveling and — as a precaution in case of emergency or natural disaster — register themselves at the embassy either by e-mail or in person.
The poet Saadi is apt when he said that a traveller without observation is a bird without wings. As a significant contributor to public diplomacy, the consular office assumes an important role in current-day diplomacy but when Malaysians work in tandem with them, the end-product benefits not only themselves but also their country – and not all those who wander are lost (J.R.R. Tolkien).