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SO MANY SENIOR POSTS, SO MANY SEEKERS -- AND ITS ONLY FOR TWO YEARS

15 March 2005

Let's see. There is the top job for UNDP; UN High Commissioner for Refugees; Commissioner of UNRWA; Under-Secretary General for Administration and Management; Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs; Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) to replace Dileep Nair, and possibly another department head who does not know it yet. There are also two senior regional posts coming up soon: executive secretaries for economic and social commissioner for Western Asia in Beirut and for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok.

UNCTAD was up in the air until the surprise appointment of S. Panitchpakdi, the Thai director of the World Trade Organization. The swiftness of that designation after a six month delay may be due to the fact that there is a serious candidate interested not in UNCTAD, but in WTO post which the astonished Thai had to vacate. Diplomatic sources have it that former European trade negotiator Bernard Lamey is angling for it, now that he has more time on his hands. The earnest and influential Frenchman has had an interesting working relationship with his American counterpart at the time -- Robert Zoellick. Now that Mr. Zoellick moved to the number two post in the State Department, he will be in a position to extend a supportive tennis shoulder to his competitive playing partner. These days, a brief telephone to New York will do. There are already other candidates for WTO, four to be precise. But Monsieur Lamey is way ahead in stature, background, and track record.

Now that the field is wide open, several donor countries are jockeying for the post of Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP). It used to be limited to U.S. citizens until the current Administrator, new Chief of Staff Mark Malloch-Brown, a U.K. citizen, was appointed. Already Norway presented its Minister of International Development Hilde Frafjold Johnson, who was born in Tanzania to missionary parents and speaks Swahili. The drawback is that there are at least two senior Norwegians at the level of Under-Secretary General, Jan Egeland and Terje Larsen (who was said to be leaving but shows no sign of it). The Brits don't want to lose that slot and have supplied a formidable candidate: Valerie Amos, the first black leader of the Upper House of Parliament and a prominent development advocate. But there are already three senior Brits in key positions: MMB; Sir David Vessens, the New Security Czar; and Sir Kieran Prendergast (who was said to be leaving but apparently not yet).

As usual, there is always Ahtisaari, former President of Finland and former boss of the current Secretary General. Clearly, the Horn of Africa is not adequate enough and Finland is one of the most generous countries to the UN without seeking or getting anything in return. The fact that the process is now open to all by invitation from the Secretary General may mean that a) Mr. Annan already has someone in mind and would wish to show that the selection was made in the most transparent manner, b) that the selection may be a surprise and/or c) that Mr. Malloch-Brown will be looking also after UNDP for awhile. All that speculation however may come to a swift end if the U.S. government puts its foot down and insisted on its candidate. In these days of self-survival, it would be an offer Mr. Annan could not refuse. Greece has put forward the name of its European Commissioner for Environment Stavros Dimas. That would be the first Greek in a senior position since 30 years.

Replacing the High Commissioner for Refugees seems to be almost in the clear. Sweden has put up the name of Hans Dahlgren, one of its top notch diplomats. Dahlgren made an impressive tour of duty in New York where he clearly upheld the Swedish tradition of an unflinching commitment to international legitimacy. By now, he has the overall support of the European community. One other candidate would have been Jan Prock, who had sought the job earlier with European support but he is now fully preoccupied over Darfur.

The UNRWA post will have to be announced soon. Peter Hansen's contract ends up in March and the Secretary General declined his offer to continue. Maybe Annan will consult on this post with the Israelis and Palestinians during his visit to the Holocaust commemoration. As mentioned in previous issues, two fairly junior officials seeking it are Steffan Demistura who seemed to disappear totally from Beirut and a Norwegian working in the Political Department. Which brings us to Sir Kieran Prendergast, whose posting to the Middle East was thrown in doubt. A European may be the most likely replacement, and not an American as was fleetingly rumoured. The Americans reportedly want to keep the post of Under-Secretary General for Administration and Management. When Ms. Catherine Bertini prepares to leave -- at her own pace within months as she initiated her own departure -- a proposal from Washington will arrive.

For the OIOS post replacing Dileep Nair, the frontrunner is reportedly from South Africa -- but last word was he may no more be interested after all these negative reports on the incumbent.

So many senior jobs. So many seekers. And its all for about two, three years maximum. A new Secretary General will wish to appoint his own team. Meanwhile, may the best candidates win -- for the Secretary General's credibility and for the sake of a struggling United Nations.