Global Policy Forum

South Faults Double Standards on UN Top Jobs


By Thalif Deen

Inter Press Service
March 14, 2007

When Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon took office in January, he made a public commitment to revamp the U.N. Secretariat, inculcate high ethical standards and make his new administration fully transparent and accountable.

"My watchword will be meritocracy, with due regard for gender balance and geographical representation," he pledged, speaking of impending appointments of senior officials. But several diplomats from developing nations are questioning whether this principle has been applied -- or will ever apply -- to nationals from the five permanent members (P-5) of the Security Council, namely the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, who have given successive secretaries-general little or no choice on their nominees for high-ranking appointments.

Among Ban's initial appointments from P-5 countries were Lynn Pascoe, a U.S. national as under-secretary-general for political affairs; Sha Zukang, a Chinese national as under-secretary-general for economic and social affairs; and John Holmes, a Briton as under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs. A fourth senior appointment -- Kiyotaka Akasaka as under-secretary-general for public information -- went to a national of Japan, a country perpetually clamouring for senior U.N. jobs, primarily because it is the second largest contributor to the organisation's budget (about 20 percent), ranking behind the United States (22 percent).

"How much of leeway did the secretary-general have on any of these four appointments?" one Third World diplomat asked. "And how many of them were short-listed and merit-based?" He said that traditionally the big powers always hand-picked and nominated their nationals, giving little or no choice to successive secretaries-general -- thereby ignoring principles of merit, gender and geographical representation.

The secretary-general also opted to keep three other senior officials from P-5 countries in their existing key jobs: Jean-Marie Guehenno of France as under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations; David Veness of Britain as under-secretary-general for safety and security; and Sergei Ordzhonikidze of Russia as the director general of the U.N. Office in Geneva.

However, Ban may have had a relatively free hand on some of his other senior appointments, including Asha-Rose Migiro of Tanzania as deputy secretary-general; Vijay Nambiar of India as chef de cabinet; Alicia Barcena of Mexico as under-secretary-general for management; and Muhammad Shaaban of Egypt as under-secretary-general for general assembly and conference management. Just after he took office, Ban called on all 55 senior officials, including 19 under-secretaries-general and 36 assistant secretaries-general, to tender their resignations, so that he could choose his own management team. He accepted the resignations of 15 of the 55. Under-secretaries-general and assistant secretaries-general hold the third and fourth highest ranking positions in the U.N. system, after the secretary-general and his deputy.

Ban's second round of appointments, due to be announced in the future, will include four key posts: a high representative for Least Developed Countries; executive secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia; special advisor to the secretary-general on Africa; and executive secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. He will also appoint new deputies in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations; Department of Economic and Social Affairs; Department of Political Affairs; U.N. Children's Fund; and the U.N. Population Fund. At least most of these appointments are likely to be donor-driven, with pressure coming from major donors, including Scandinavian countries, demanding jobs for their nationals. But some of the developing nations in the 117-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) feel that if the secretary-general was so concerned about drawing up a short-list and appointing officials on the basis of meritocracy, he should have used this same criteria from the very beginning.

"Now that P-5 countries and major contributors like Japan have been satisfied (in some cases with only one name being submitted by them for the post they have been given), he appears to be looking to fill the remaining posts using a slightly different method and one which could work against developing countries," a NAM member told IPS. The concept of meritocracy, he said, should not work to the disadvantage of the developing world. "There should be a level playing field."

Last month, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies put out a study titled "A Priority Agenda for the next U.N. Secretary-General," which advised Ban to "look to human resources from the global South to expand the diversity of U.N. ranks, especially at the higher levels." At present, over 75 percent of managerial positions are filled by individuals from the North, said the study, which was based on a series of discussions and seminars held in New York last year.

"This problem of appointments began with Ban himself, who was selected by the P-5, so it is not surprising that it continued with his most senior appointees," says James A. Paul, executive director of Global Policy Forum, which tracks the day-to-day activities of the United Nations. He said the problem is endemic in the United Nations, and is part of the P-5 system which gives so many special privileges to these five powers. At the same time, he pointed out, "it is both sad and funny that the United States and the UK are constantly calling on the United Nations to adopt transparency, appointments based on merit, more efficiency, better management and the like." "But they are often the worst offenders when it comes to secrecy, appointments based on influence, managerial qualities sacrificed to political goals and so on," Paul noted.

In a lengthy piece in a recent issue of the U.S. newsmagazine Newsweek, Sebastian Mallaby of the Council on Foreign Relations said that Ban's selection as secretary-general "was the result of backroom deals rather than a merit-based contest." William R Pace, executive director of the Institute for Global Policy, said his group has called upon the new secretary-general to endorse and significantly advance efforts by his predecessor Kofi Annan to make high level U.N. appointments more transparent and accountable, by issuing job descriptions, specifying qualifications candidates should possess, announcing timelines, and conducting appropriate interview processes.

"Further, along with literally hundreds of governments, civil society groups, think tanks and other experts, we advocated for the secretary-general to avoid perpetuating the practice of powerful, often P-5, governments 'owning' the positions of the head of a major U.N. departments or agencies: Europe over the International Monetary Fund; United States over UNICEF, U.N. management and the World Bank; and UK over the Department of Political Affairs." "Of course, Annan also gave political positions to the powerful P-5, and instituted the reforms only towards the end of his term," Pace told IPS.

If, as rumoured, the secretary-general plans qualification-based selection of officials in his second round of appointments, this in fact must be recognised as progress, he said. Indeed, Ban seems to have turned over some of the old tables in not giving the department of political affairs to Britain and not appointing a U.S. national to head U.N. management, Pace noted. Ban broke a longstanding tradition by appointing a Tanzanian as deputy secretary-general and a Mexican over management. Even the very controversial appointment of a U.S. diplomat to lead the department of political affairs breaks the old pattern, since Pascoe does not seem to have been advocated by the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, but is a diplomat Ban has known and respected for many years in Asia.

"The best way to change the corruption of the P-5 controlled appointments is to applaud the secretary-general in instituting merit and transparency, and insisting all appointments be made according to these better practices in the future," Pace concluded.

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