Archive for November, 2006

The work continues

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

UNSG.org was created to provide a useful, comprehensive resource that makes the selection of the eighth UNSG more accessible and open to both close observers and the general public. The word from friends at several missions, non-governmental organizations and in the media would suggest that it has been not only informative but influential in that objective. Now that we know Who will be the Next UN Secretary General, those same colleagues have asked what will be the site’s focus?

The objective remains, for the most part, unchanged. Minister Ban is to be congratulated on being selected, but the site will not transform into a ”Ban Watch” or otherwise judgmental assessment of his administration. The larger goal will remain to provide information on the process of selecting the Secretary General of the United Nations and highlighting ways that process can be made more open, transparent and accountable.

That being said, over the next several weeks the site will cover the appointments of UNSG-designate Ban to the vaunted Under Secretary General positions and other key posts. A short review of the process will be posted in the next few days followed by rumored names and nationalities.

In general however, UNSG.org will follow up on efforts to reform the selection process, significant progress toward which occurred this year. A number of the proposals advanced this year by governments and civil society groups however deserve continued consideration. Many of the reforms suggested were realized not through formal action but at the initiative of candidates or civil society groups, and such may provide more momentum toward their formal acceptability the next time. Governments and civil society should also not fail to critically review new procedures used this year (was the new Security Council processes effective?). 

But the more important reforms, ones which would require intergovernmental agreement in the next selection (formal qualifications for the office, a timeline for nominations and selection, and public forums or hearings), will require civil society groups to stay committed to a more open and transparent process not just in but rather over the course of the next 5-10 years.

Such continued engagement on the selection of global leadership is not unrelated to civil society or government’s immediate interests. The heads of the WTO, WHO, UNDP, OECD, WFP, World Bank, IMF, UNHCR and the IAEA have been filled in the last three years. The senior posts that will come open in the next five years will provide sufficient opportunities for governments and civil society groups to recognize the more effective and accountable methodologies in filling such positions well before 2011/2016.

Otherwise, we’ll all be right back here again in a few years.

Campaign finance

Thursday, November 9th, 2006

Following the selection of Ban Ki Moon, I highlighted some remarks by some observers of the race and expectations for the UN under Ban’s leadership. Much more was written however and only a lack of time has prevented me from highlighting them. 

One particularly important topic which has been woefully under-examined was the economic aspects of the selection process. Scott Lyons looked at this in a thought-provoking comment on the aid-packages-of-interest from South Korea which were offered to several non-permanent members of the Security Council during Ban’s campaign trips. 

Further, Ban Ki-Moon had negotiated several trade agreements with countries that chose the next Secretary General, thus placing himself to be in a position to be rewarded for these financial connections that enrich nations. Ban Ki-Moon is without question highly qualified to be the next Secretary General. The question is whether this has ushered in an era where economic considerations play a role in choosing this position.

While most observers eventually dismissed the accusations as insubstantial (and meaningless), the Wall Street Journal caved to neo-conservative angst about the UN, suggesting there must be a “culture of corruption” (to borrow a phrase from recent U.S politics) and that Ban was joining in. 

…it is telling that the South Korean Foreign Minister helped secure his new post with blandishments and pledges of aid to some of the Security Council countries that voted on him. Judging from the record of U.N. scandal, he’s right to conclude that what really talks at Turtle Bay is money.

More thoughtful observers, however, will recognize Scott’s point as a much more tangible concern in the selection of the UNSG, particularly if reforms toward a more open, competitive selection process continues. The economic costs of campaigning may pose difficulties for the small or middle power countries from which the eventual nominee has traditionally been chosen. In fact, it may already have had an impact.

The high costs of running a global campaign have handicapped secretary general candidates from some of the United Nations’ least powerful countries, who previously fared well in races for the top U.N. post. Jayantha Dhanapala, a Sri Lankan diplomat and one of the candidates, said it has been “impossible to mount the high-cost, high-budget campaign” that a president, foreign minister or top official from a wealthier country can afford. “I can only assume that some of the candidates have been able to do more extensive travel than I’ve been engaged in.”

Bill Pace with the UNSGselection.org coalition suggested that this development makes a General Assembly review of the selection process more critical now, not less. Pace has reminded colleagues that South Korea is the 11th largest economy in the world. Even putting aside the issue of nukes in North Korea, this makes it far from a small power disinterested in global power politics.

As has been referred to before, one of Ban’s fellow candidates, Latvia’s Vaira Vike-Freiberga noted in an interview last April some concern over how economics could taint a competitive UNSG selection process.

“I would hate to see the selection of the secretary general being the sort of a process where candidates run around the world looking for financial supporters, where financial supporters affect the selection process and where votes are bought. It opens up a rather horrifying prospect.” 

Anonymous insider TopAppointmentsAdvisor suggests some guidelines might be in order, noting that ”the elections for the top international posts have indeed transformed into a major business…”

Scott, Bill and TAA may be on to something here. But are governments and civil society still interested?