How evidence-based policymaking can help Nepal control air pollution

Air pollution is a silent, yet pervasive threat to human health, and its impact is felt acutely in regions like

In Nepal, why has implementing the diplomatic code of conduct become a tough job?

Kathmandu: Narayan Kaji Shrestha wears many hats. He is the leader from the ruling Maoist Center and he currently serves

Impact of economic tourism policies on local communities

Economic tourism policies, designed to attract visitors and boost local economies, are a double-edged sword. On one side, they can

Techno-Medusa: A modern myth for the posthuman era

The global push to grant artificial intelligence citizenship is gaining traction, proposing that AI should be endowed with rights to

Neprican voice: Love, life, nostalgia and the pursuit of an American dream

I just love the word Neprican. It perfectly describes my state of being even though it is a word that

In Nepal, why has implementing the diplomatic code of conduct become a tough job?

Experts point to factors from politicians’ personal greed to political ambition to complete disregard to code compliance by the head of government.

Foreign Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha (right) shaking hands with Sun Weidong, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of China, during the latter’s visit to Nepal in June. Photo courtesy: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nepal

Kathmandu: Narayan Kaji Shrestha wears many hats. He is the leader from the ruling Maoist Center and he currently serves as the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs. He was Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs from March 2023 to March 2024, preceded by a brief stint as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Physical Infrastructure and Transport from December 2022 to March 2023. 

He led Foreign Ministry from 2011 to 2013.

In a diplomatic circle, Shrestha is known for one good reason: For introducing and attempting to implement the diplomatic code of conduct, which he issued while he was the foreign minister in 2011.

After becoming the foreign minister for the second time, Shrestha reiterated his stand in implementing the code of conduct. Right after taking office as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs in March,  Shrestha said executing this code would be the point of his focus during his second inning in office–a mere wish, it appears, it will be since he will be out of office very soon.

What’s in the code of conduct?

The diplomatic code of  conduct has many things that, if fully implemented, will not only help ensure transparency about the meetings between our leaders and the members of the diplomatic community but also set a discipline for the procedures, protocols and standards to be followed by  ministers, officials, Nepali diplomats, politicians and those holding public office in the days to come.

The diplomatic code of conduct sets forth ‘dos and dont’s’ for persons holding public offices regarding courtesy calls, official talks and meetings with foreign diplomats and dignitaries, organizing official ceremonies, agreements, commitments and diplomatic correspondence, foreign visits, representations, presentations and reporting and language and dress code, among others.

For one, it requires ministers of the government of Nepal or officials of the constitutional bodies or other senior officials to invite representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other related ministries while meeting ministers, ambassadors or senior officials of the foreign governments. The representative of the Foreign Ministry should prepare the record of talks held on those occasions. But in case of the inability to invite the representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or other Ministries concerned to the meeting under special circumstances, the agency concerned should make available to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs summary report of the talks held during the meeting.

Also the ministers or officials of the constitutional bodies or other senior officials should, as far as possible, give prior intimation to the Foreign Ministry before receiving foreign diplomats or other officials for courtesy or farewell calls, formal talks and meetings. 

The main objective seems to be to check the practice of foreign leaders and diplomats meeting Nepali political and bureaucratic leaders, without securing approval from the ministry of foreign affairs, keeping the details of such meetings often secret and Nepali leaders being ready to meet any foreign diplomats at their beck and call without fulfilling the due processes.

In other words, the diplomatic code and conduct is about making Nepal’s engagement and interaction with the rest of the world dignified, professional and official by keeping Nepal’s national interests above all else. 

But the reality on the ground is that this widely appreciated code of conduct has not been implemented and in many cases it has been openly flouted. Political leaders are often seen to hold one-on-one meetings with foreign diplomats with no presence of the representatives from foreign ministry. Foreign dignitaries and diplomats still appear to enjoy unrestricted access to the ministers, officials and political leaders and most often what they talk about during such meetings go unreported. Points of discussions during such meetings remain a secret to only discussants.

The situation is such that “[foreign] diplomats often get unrestricted access to political leaders and senior policy-makers and exercise freedom to advise and criticize the Nepal government, something their counterparts in the respective nations cannot even contemplate,” wrote Bhagirath Basnet, a former Nepali diplomat recently. He further wrote: “Foreign ambassadors in Kathmandu can walk into the offices of the prime minister, foreign minister and any senior government officials in short notice. They can call the heads of state and high ranking government officials directly and set up appointments. Surprisingly, Nepali policy makers too eagerly wait for such opportunities to meet, dine and chat with ambassadors.” 

So why is it that enforcing diplomatic code of conduct has remained a tough job? Is it because it is practically impossible to enforce it? Or is it because Nepali side simply does not give a hoot about our national interests? Why do leaders and officials not comply with the diplomatic code of conduct? 

“Primarily because of greed. There are other interests such as party interests and this desire to show to the others that I have connection with so and so person. But mainly it is greed,” he said.

Diplomats argue that implementation of the code of conduct will be possible only if the head of the executive follows it in letter and spirit first of all.

“What seems like the new efforts to implement the code of conduct will be a mere joke if the implementation process does not start from the top,” said Gopal Thapa, who in the past served as the chief of protocol in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “In Nepal Prime Minister himself often violates the diplomatic code of conduct. If the PM stops meeting the foreign delegates without seeking official consent from the foreign ministry or without having a representative of the foreign ministry in such meetings, the other ministers and officials would surely comply,” he further said. “When the PM does not follow the code of conduct, who else would follow?”

According to him, the practice of violating the code of conduct started after the political change of 1990.  The prime minister of the day started to allow unrestricted access to the foreign diplomats and this became a norm and continued in the post-2007 era.

“We really need a strong commitment from the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister if we really want to implement the code of conduct.”

A strong message for the successors of Prime Minister Dahal and Foreign Minister Shrestha.