15 June 2006

In an hour-long interview with IPS, Malloch Brown dismissed as "unfair" a characterisation that he is now the "de facto secretary-general of the United Nations" -- despite the fact that he is running the day-to-day operations of the world body while a beleaguered Annan is on the road visiting world capitals before he steps down in December.

"I think it is very unfair since I left a wonderful job at UNDP to come over to a U.N. in crisis at that time -- including (the) oil-for-food (scandal) and also at a time when the U.N. was in the throes of a crisis in its relationship with the United States," he said.

"I worked very hard with the secretary-general to stabilise things. And when I look at myself as having done is being the loyal lieutenant to a very successful secretary-general: being right up on the pedestal and kind of getting knocked off it. And that I helped him to recover his authority and his reputation, and that I have done it for someone whom I have known for 20 years and is a very close friend. I have done it for an organisation I care about and I am proud to serve."

Following is a partial transcript of the IPS interview.

IPS: As both former chief of staff and now as deputy secretary-general, why have you attracted controversy?

MMB: If the organisation is not well run, it is not the secretary-general of the day but the poor bloody chief of staff (who has to take the blame). People stuck pins on wax effigies of (former Chief of Staff Iqbal) Riza. It comes with the territory. I very much hoped that when I left the post of chief of staff (in April 2006) and moved out, I would have left the problems at that end. But they migrated with me. One just needs to be thick-skinned and keep the sense of humour.

I don't mind admitting that in the process of clearing up things in the last year and half, I have been willing to take very tough decisions and I think decision makers are fairly rare around here and do attract controversy and acrimony. But I think I can point to what I have been able to do in 18 months -- and say, far from being, to use your words, a de facto secretary-general, I have made our secretary-general a lot stronger than he was 18 months ago. Wouldn't you disagree with that? He's now back on form coming towards the end of a very successful term. The organisation is generally running quite well again, and he is the leader, and this redounds to his credit, and so it should.

IPS: When the post of deputy secretary-general was created in 1997, we were told there was a "gentleman's agreement" t hat if the incumbent secretary-general was a male, his deputy should be a woman. Any truth to this?

MMB: The secretary-general doesn't seem to be aware of it -- and never raised it with me. Obviously, if the secretary-general was appointing a deputy for a full term, it would be very sensible in today's world that if you have a male secretary-general, there should be a female deputy and vice versa. So, I would expect that if the next secretary-general was a male, he would choose a female as his deputy. However, it is not for me to more than guess. I would expect the new secretary-general would indeed follow that norm if you want a team that would enjoy maximum confidence in today's intellectual, social and political climate.

Up here (in the secretary-general's 38th floor offices), it has not changed the balance. Yes, we have two males in the top two jobs, but then for the first time ever we have a female chief of staff from a developing country (Mexico). Overall, in the senior leadership team on the 38th floor, in terms of gender and developing country, the balance has not changed: Ghana (secretary-general), Britain (deputy secretary-general), Mexico (chief of staff), India (senior adviser); and Guinea-Bissau (political director). I remain the only Westerner in that top group.

IPS: There is speculation that if there is a deadlock in the elections leading to the secretary-general, you could be a compromise candidate. Your comments.

MMB: Well, if you ever wanted a reason why people might be setting up the challenge that I was the de facto secretary-general, it must be people who are worried about that. But I can put them out of their misery because, as far as I am concerned, I am absolutely sure that a first class Asian secretary-general will emerge long before the end of December. And I am also even more certain what this organisation needs at this time in its life is somebody who represents the emerging world of Asia and who represents a new leadership. And so as a loyal U.N. staffer, I am absolutely committed to the cause of trying to -- in any way we can in the secretariat -- help a smooth election process which will allow a fabulous new secretary-general from Asia to take over this organisation next year.

IPS: Are you so confident that the next secretary-general will come from Asia?

MMB: Well, that's for member states (to decide). I don't have a business in having a view on that. I think it should be -- and I certainly believe in this issue -- the best person for the job (who should be the next secretary-general). But part of the intangible criteria, which Kofi Annan had in such abundance, is to capture the aspirations of the world the moment that person takes office. And you know a Brit from inside the U.N. would not do that.

(It's a job) for a modern leader from Asia who has direct experience of this extraordinary phenomenon of economic growth, political change, environmental challenge and occasional instability that Asia faces. And someone who has experienced all that would capture exactly what the U.N. needs in the next 10 years. They need to be a great diplomat, a great manager, and a strong leader as well. But I think the Asian bit is a critical part of the elixir.

IPS: You have made a public statement you will be leaving the United Nations along with the secretary-general. But there is a conspiracy theory among some diplomats: that whoever is elected the new secretary-general -- be it a woman, an Asian or an East European -- will be told by the big powers that as a condition for their support, he or she will have keep you as the deputy secretary-general. Under these conditions, if the new secretary-general insists, will you stay?

MMB: First, the reason it now works well is the secretary-general and I have been friends for 20 years. Plus we deeply understand each other and our friendship is longstanding. The situation you describe would be a secretary-general who would have me imposed -- which would have none of the pre-existing 20 years of friendship. Why on earth would I want that? And particularly because people forget that I am a development guy. Kermal Dervis thinks he has got the best job in the world being administrator of UNDP. I thought the same (when I was administrator). I am longing to get back to something in the area of development. And I loved it here. Come Dec. 31, I am done. I am carrying the boss's bag down to the car when he leaves.