Failure to start healthy practice in governance has created problems which the country has found extremely hard to shake off. This neglect has been even more galling after every major political upheaval, including the overthrow of the Rana regime 55 years ago and the 1990 pro-democracy movement. Needless to say, during the three decades of autocratic Panchayat and three and a half years of King Gyanendra’s active rule, not much could be expected because of the character of the regime. There are so many ways in which a good start could be made. One is the appointment of people to key posts drawing salary out of the public purse. In the past, such posts were filled mainly on considerations other than merit and probity. The posts of Nepali ambassadors are no exception. After Jana Andolan II, more than a dozen ambassadorial positions have fallen vacant since the ‘political’ appointees under royal rule were recalled.

Reports are surfacing that the seven-party alliance (SPA) government is considering filling these vacancies on the basis of quotas for the parties represented in the current administration. This would be a continuation of the unhealthy past practice when personal, partisan or pecuniary factors weighed heavy — and unfortunately — whether the candidates concerned would be able to do their country proud in foreign capitals was often ignored. In the regime just past, those handpicked by the King were given the opportunity, and hence those with military backgrounds were given higher priority. If the recent appointments in the bureaucracy and to the posts of chief executives of public corporations are any guide, the nation is unlikely to set great store by the upcoming diplomatic appointments.

However, the recent declaration of the House of Representatives has sought to introduce a positive element into the appointment of ambassadors — that of vetting by an appropriate parliamentary committee before the nominees could take up their assignments abroad. Something like this has been in practice in the United States and some other countries. It is a system that facilitates good governance by screening out those with dubious merit and with skeletons in their cupboards. Indeed, this system should be extended to other high posts, such as the chief executive or top management slots of any government corporation, as also to key government posts such as the secretary or chief secretary. Now is the time to set about implementing this concept in all earnestness, setting criteria against which candidates have to be judged — experience, personality, persuasiveness, language skills, a record of probity in earlier positions or in their lives as ordinary citizens, etc. However, party affiliation should not act as a disqualification, but, undoubtedly, the candidates must meet other criteria. The political parties should stop making the public posts such as ambassadorships places for rewarding their functionaries at the expense of the Nepali taxpayers.