Disquiet in FO over ignoring its ‘achievements’

Qureshi writes to SAPM questioning performance evaluation criteria


Kamran Yousuf February 12, 2022
A view of Foreign Office building in Islamabad. PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD:

There is an uproar in the Foreign Office after the ministry was not listed in the top 10 best performing ministries and divisions, prompting Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to question the criteria for performance evaluation.

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday rewarded top 10 best performing ministries and divisions with appreciation certificates.

The top ministries are communications, planning and development, poverty alleviation and social safety division, education and professional training, human rights, industries and production, national security division, commerce, interior and national food security and research.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was listed at number 11 and was not rewarded with any appreciation certificate. This led to a serious backlash in the FO. “We were certainly shocked to see that the foreign ministry was not even listed in the top 10 best performing ministries,” an FO official while requesting anonymity commented. The officer said the FO works in challenging circumstances and “often literally 24/7”. “But to see the Foreign Office being ignored like this is demoralising,” the officer added.

The resentment was so intense within the FO that compelled Foreign Minister Qureshi to write a letter to Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Establishment Muhammad Shehzad Arbab questioning the criteria for performance evaluation.

The copy of the letter available with The Express Tribune reveals that Qureshi raised serious concerns over not listing the foreign ministry among the top 10 ministries and divisions.

“While the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been ranked at number 11 among performing ministries, I note with serious concerns that this ranking by the Peer Review Committee (PRC) did not correspond to the ministry’s demonstrated performance against the targets set in the performance agreement,” Qureshi wrote.

He then went to mention that of the 26 targets set out for the first quarter of the performance agreement, 22 targets were fully achieved by the ministry. Of the remaining targets, one was at 75-99% of completion stage and three were delayed for reasons explained to the PRC on October 27, 2021.

“I was informed by your letter of November 22 that the average completion rate of all ministries was 62 per cent whereas MoFA had achieved 77 per cent rate of target completion in the first quarter.”

The minister noted in the letter that of 24 targets set for the second quarter, 18 were fully achieved. Among the remaining targets, four were 75-99% of completion stage due to pendency on the part of other ministries/departments and two could not be pursued at all for reasons explained to the PRC on January 12, 2022. The PRC confirmed that the target completion rate of the ministry was 89.2 per cent quantitatively.

The ministry ensured that there was no pendency on its part during the review period.

Read: PM rewards top performing ministers

The letter said in addition to demonstrating sustained commitment towards achieving the targets locked in the performance agreement, the ministry also completed several high impact activities during the review periods, which were not envisaged at the time of finalisation of the agreement. Their details including post-August 15, 2021 Afghanistan focused diplomatic outreach, help in evacuation of stranded foreigners and other initiatives were shared with the PRC by the foreign secretary on January 12.

“Hosting of extraordinary session of the OIC council of foreign ministers at a short notice of 45 days was a landmark achievement of the ministry during the review period and was duly acknowledged by the prime minister.”

Qureshi continued that no concern was raised about the quality of MoFA’s initiative/targets at the time of final approval of the performance agreement by PRC or at the time of peer review.

He raised certain questions about the belated introduction of rating ministries by the PRC through quantitative weightage (70 per cent based on achievement of PA targets) and qualitative weightage of peer review of the performance agreement.

“No modalities/guidelines for the 30 per cent qualitative review process have been shared with the ministries. What benchmarks were used by the PRC members for qualitative evaluation,” he asked.

“The criteria/competencies used for membership of the PRC are not clear/shared. The TORs of PRC are also not notified. What is the basis for having permanent membership of PRC? International best practices for peer review processes do not involve permanent members,” Qureshi wrote to the SAPM.

Many retired diplomats also raised their voice in FO’s favour.

“After many successes in foreign affairs, like OIC CFM on Afghanistan, coming OIC CFM, recent China visit, surely foreign ministry cannot be at number 11. What are we telling the world? There is a problem in this listing, [it] needs rectification,” former foreign secretary Tehmina Janjua tweeted.

Another former foreign secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani said it was unfair not to include the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the top 10 performing ministries. “Wondering if it was lack of understanding of the working of the Foreign Office whose work can’t be quantified or inter department prejudices,” Jilani tweeted.

Questions including seeking confirmation of the letter written by the foreign minister and reason behind not listing the foreign ministry among the top 10 best performing ministries and divisions were sent to SAPM Arbab but he did not reply till filing of this report.

The FO spokesperson also did not respond when approached to seek his reaction over the disquiet within the FO.

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