by Thalif Deen
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- Former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, whose attempts to win a second five-year term were torpedoed by a U.S. veto, once recounted the aggressiveness with which Washington pursues high-level jobs in the world body.
In his 1999 book titled "Unvanquished: a U.S.-UN Saga," he says the United States always assumed that the top job at the UN children's agency UNICEF should remain in American hands.
When the UNICEF executive board took a straw poll opting for the appointment of a Finnish woman in 1994, Boutros-Ghali was pressured by Washington to convince the board president to "plead" with other members to overturn the vote in favor of an American.
"If an American is not elected," then-U.S. Ambassador Madeleine Albright told Boutros-Ghali, "it will be a defeat for me personally."
The executive board, under pressure from Washington, jettisoned the Finnish candidate and recommended a U.S. citizen as UNICEF chief.
Kofi Annan, who succeeded Boutros-Ghali as secretary-general, was no exception either: he has also failed to pluck up courage to reject U.S. demands for key jobs in the organization.
Following the path laid by successive secretaries-general, Annan has offered some of the most politically-sensitive jobs in the Secretariat to the United States, as well as to the other four veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, namely France, China, Russia and Britain.
The under-secretaries-general for political affairs; peacekeeping; management and administration; and general assembly and conference management have remained mostly in the hands of the Big Five.
"Only the crumbs from the table go to developing nations," says one Third World diplomat, who also points out that developing countries comprise over two-thirds of the membership of the world body.
Most Western nations, he says, have always grabbed some of the most important jobs either because they wield political clout or are key donors to UN agencies.
Since the beginning of this year, Annan has made three senior level appointments, two of them British nationals and one an American: Mark Malloch Brown as chief staff and David Veness under-secretary-general for safety and security (both from UK), and Ann Veneman, the outgoing U.S. secretary of agriculture, as executive director of UNICEF to replace another U.S. national, Carol Bellamy.
And now stung by criticisms of mismanagement, fraud and sexual harassment in the UN system, Annan is trying to clean up the troubled-plagued Organization by launching a global search for persons of "unimpeachable and professional integrity" to hold several senior jobs which have fallen vacant.
In a letter to the 191 member states, Annan says he wants them to submit candidates for three key jobs up from grabs: administrator of the UN Development Program (UNDP), high commissioner for refugees, and head of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).
He says the selections will be based on a "transparent selection criteria" for the "best qualified candidates."
All three officials will hold the rank of under-secretary-general, third in line after the secretary-general and deputy secretary-general.
The decision to make appointments based on "merit" instead of the traditional "geographical diversity" is drawing skepticism from longtime UN watchers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that closely monitor the inner workings of the world body.
Jeff Laurenti, senior scholar on the United Nations and international affairs at New York-based think tank Century Foundation, says the calls for Annan to abandon politically-driven appointments on geographic lines in favor of a "merit"-based system arouse deep suspicion in many developing country circles.
In these countries, he said, it is assumed that the present move is apparently to break down the geographical distribution and rotation system on which developing nations have claimed a share of senior UN posts for their nationals.
"This is not an unreasonable fear, and reformers will have to devise a merit-driven system that acts affirmatively to assure developing country nationals are adequately represented at senior levels," Laurenti told IPS.
Still, a shift in the appointment process from government nomination to a global search could not only improve the quality of senior leadership, but would represent a major step in freeing the secretary-general from the political patronage pressures of powerful governments, said Laurenti, author of several essays and studies on the UN system.
Annan (a national of Ghana), the chief administrative officer of the world body, has a deputy Louise Frechette (Canada) and a senior management group of advisors.
The group, also known as the cabinet, consists of about 31 under-secretaries-general, of which only nine are from developing countries. It also has five heads of UN regional commissions.
All five have to necessarily be from the region: Europe, Asia and the Pacific, West Asia (Middle East), Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean, thereby adding four more nationals from developing countries to Annan's inner circle of advisors.
"The fact of the matter is these appointments are the result of bare-knuckle political brawls between member states," says Jim Paul, executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum. "And that has always been the case."
"The idea that somehow selection is based on purely merit criteria is not at all realistic," Paul told IPS. He said there have been proposals and attempts in the past to change the mode of selections based on merit.
But judging by the last three appointments of two Britons and a U.S. citizen to senior level jobs, "I don't think what I have been seeing going around in recent weeks provides any sign that there is careful consideration based on transparency and open criteria."
Paul also said that new guidelines may only be "a smokescreen for a very politically-driven process that involves not only pressure from major member states but also from donors."
The condition laid down by donors, he says, is pretty clear: "If you hire our person here, we will increase our donation."
Unfortunately, said Paul, "that is the sad truth of the matter."
If Annan really had a global search committee, "an Ann Veneman might seem an improbable candidate for executive director of UNICEF -- but logical under the traditional political-appointment system, which restricts the secretary-general's range of choice to the candidates nominated by governments that have some political claim to a post," says Laurenti.
The same logic will not apply to the selection of heads of specialized agencies (such as the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization), who are elected by their respective assemblies, he said.
"These are intensely political selections. American or European advocates for 'meritocratization' who imagine that developing countries will abandon their claim to lead agencies in periodic regional rotation are surely smoking illegal substances," Laurenti added.
"The power in the United Nations is with those who control the budget" -- in this case the United States, which provides about 22 percent of the funding, says Katarina Sehm Patomaki, executive secretary of the Network Institute for Global Democratization (NIGD), a think tank operating from Finland and Peru.
"Should U.S. contributions be decreased? What new innovative finance mechanisms can we identify? Should the United Nations be moved out of New York and to a southern city in the developing world?" she asked.
In an interview with IPS, Patomaki said the way to go forward is to strengthen the UN's finances so that "the organization becomes the independent organization it was created to beš and not depend on heavy handouts from a single member state.
She also said that the merit-based system, which Annan is now advocating, is obviously a system favoring Anglo-Saxons.
"But recruiting person from the global South with degrees from Harvard, Oxford or Cambridge will not provide the diversity expected at the United Nations either," she added.
March 9, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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