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Under the microscope : an inspection at the French Embassy in Syldavia

Gautier Mignot - 16 septembre 2014

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The days of Ambassadors and Consuls-General being accountable to nobody are well and truly over. Today, in what is known as 360° assessment, all diplomats must undergo evaluations, including Heads of consular posts. Detailed inspections are also regularly conducted by the French Foreign Ministry’s Inspectorate General.

NB : Any similarities with actual inspections are purely coincidental... !

Arriving in Syldavia

It is a chilly Monday morning and a faint mist hangs over the airport in Klow, the capital of Syldavia. Three figures emerge from the plane : inspectors from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, arriving from Paris. Their mission ? To inspect the French Embassy in the Kingdom of Ottokar IV.

They are greeted by the First Counsellor and whisked off to the Embassy. Barely have they dropped their luggage in the rooms at the Ambassador’s residence when it is time for the scoping meeting with the Ambassador himself. The atmosphere is somewhat tense, the Ambassador having undergone a 360° assessment a few months prior with very mixed results.

All Ambassadors are evaluated in this way on an annual basis. The directors of the Ministry which is in contact with him, as well as his co-workers, are consulted anonymously on all aspects of his performance, from team management to political work to his relationship with local officials.

The Minister had recently terminated the mission of another Ambassador who had received a poor assessment and two disastrous reports from the inspectors. It was thus with some apprehension that two weeks earlier our Ambassador in Klow had received the diplomatic telegram informing him that an inspection team would soon be on its way.

A battery of meetings

But during the first few hours of the mission, the atmosphere lightens : it is clear from the first individual meetings between the inspectors and each Embassy official that the Ambassador has learnt from the 360° assessment and that his management style has improved significantly.

He had taken robust measures on economic diplomacy, one of the Minister’s priorities, as was confirmed to the inspection mission the following day by the main French CEOs in Syldavia.

The Ambassadors from Germany and the United Kingdom, and the Head of the EU Delegation, who were also consulted, gave similarly favourable feedback on the work of the French Embassy and its role in European dialogue within Syldavia. The inspectors also used these meetings to compare their mechanisms and resources to those used by the French in Syldavia.

The mission continues : review of the various services at the Embassy

The second morning begins with a meeting with locally-recruited Syldavian and French officials, in which it quickly becomes clear that there is a serious lack of social dialogue at the Embassy. Despite much lower salaries than the other European Embassies in Syldavia, the hierarchy had made no effort to address its officials’ concerns or to bring this issue to the Ministry’s attention. The inspection recommended that a detailed study be carried out to determine the exact difference in salaries and to propose an update to the salary structure.

The visa service

The consular section’s visa service is running smoothly, with heavy demand from Syldavian tourists wanting to visit the Eiffel Tower.

The inspectors pay particular attention to compliance with established procedures, as rumours of corruption had recently surfaced online : they conduct random checks of visa applications, making sure that each has been processed by at least two officials, and confirm that managers carry out regular spot checks. They also ensure that applications are processed within a few days, which is a priority for the Minister, and that the public are made to feel welcome.

The cooperation and cultural action service

The cooperation and cultural action Counsellor has a number of concerns to raise with the inspectors : the service’s cooperation budget has suffered heavy cuts year after year ; the French-Syldavian lycée, which is overcrowded, must find a new site and the corresponding funding in order to expand ; finally, the French Institute in Syldavia, whose French lessons are hugely popular and whose cultural events are a hit with the locals, is still not doing enough to develop partnerships with other Syldavian or foreign cultural institutions and French companies.

The management service

No problems were identified regarding the management of the Embassy and the residence : the accounts are fully in order and the management tables show that refunds given to the Ambassador match the expenses incurred for his receptions. For his wife and for non work-related travel, the Ambassador owns a privately-purchased vehicle, and he personally employs a cleaner to maintain the private section of his residence.

Embassy buildings

Finally, the inspectors visited all the properties owned by the French government in order to identify sites which could possibly be sold. It has now been several years since the Ministry of Foreign Affairs received funds to construct new buildings or to carry out major maintenance on its properties : its only income is from selling its existing property and land, most of which that was saleable has already been sold.

The building adjacent to the Embassy in Syldavia, which provides accommodation for a number of Embassy officials (who pay rent to the Budget Ministry), is in a deplorable state of repair. With the Head of the joint management service, the inspectors look into the possibility of setting up a public-private partnership with a property developer who, like in Tokyo, would build a taller building in order to let it out and in return would provide us with new apartments.

Mission feedback

Upon completion of their four-day mission, the inspectors hold a feedback meeting with the Ambassador before departing for Szohôd, capital of neighbouring Borduria, where they must inspect a diplomatic mission which for several months has been run by a diplomat on her first ambassadorial posting (first-time Ambassadors are almost always subject to an inspection).

Quand on fuit la délégation syldave et qu’on tombe sur la délégation bordure au grand complet.
(Source : Chroniques diplomatiques)

Once back in Paris, over the next few days the inspectors will compile their inspection reports along with their recommendations. These reports are then read by the Ministry’s highest authorities, starting with the Minister himself, who often adds notes and provides instructions to be implemented. Six months later, the two Embassies and the Ministerial services must show that they have implemented the recommendations arising from the inspection. On the rare occasions when serious problems remain, another inspection may be carried out, often as a prelude to tougher measures.

The inspection : a fascinating insight into the world of Embassies

Inspection missions highlight the diversity of our diplomatic representations, whose size and missions vary dramatically according to local environments and France’s relations with the host country. These inspections are performed by around fifteen inspectors, themselves experienced diplomats, sometimes in tandem with inspectors from other Ministries. In the vast majority of cases, the inspections reveal that our Embassies are operating efficiently and making the best possible use of the limited resources available to them, far from the stereotypes of free-flowing champagne and pyramids of Ferrero Rocher at the Ambassador’s receptions…

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