15 January 2008

While having to stay overnight in the building during December's tug-of-war over his first budget, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon must have had his first real experience in U.N. labyrinth combat. He at least won the endurance test of hanging in there until a resolution was passed, just before Christmas bells.

Almost every main item had to go through the mill as budgetary facts mixed with political considerations. Although a proposed conference in South Africa seemed to face opposition by the U.S., a major contributor, a real issue was about the proposed creation of a second Department in Peacekeeping to deal mainly with supplies, purchases, and logistics. It is one of the reforms suggested and implemented by the new Secretary General. The real "fight" continues to be about who would lead that new professionally-vital politically-sensitive financially-laden post.

Where billions of dollars are involved, countries big and small, and individuals, dedicated or otherwise, have an enthusiastic interest. Peacekeeping supplies, or procurement, is already a heated topic. A wave of leaks started alongside the parallel turf war about who will have the final say. Singapore put up a formidable fight on behalf of its Mr. Toh while those behind the new procurement supervising group sought to discredit him. Ban Ki-moon, ponderously assisted by Mr. Kim, may have wondered how the media suddenly got hold of so much confidential stuff.

The Acting occupant of the post, Jane Holl Lute, who was caught in the controversy over a $250 million no-bid contract in Darfur, wrote to the Washington Post a letter reminiscent of those "no stone unturned" Mortimer proclamations during Food-for-Oil scandal. No comparison, of course, but someone should have advised her that such type of correspondence is counter-productive. She has support in Washington not only because of her husband but on her own political connections. Yet it will be unlikely to give her the post when another Westerner, a French citizen, holds the first Peacekeeping job, an American heads Political Affairs, and a U.K. diplomat heads Humanitarian Relief. The "battle" fought by the Group of 77 in the Fifth Committee on the Budget was to insist that one of its own should be appointed. That understanding was inscribed clearly as the Budget was finally approved. The process started moving and a short list is being drawn. While there was talk about a woman from inside the Secretariat, several outside candidates were mentioned in the running.

There is, of course, the forever lobbying Ambassador of Pakistan Munir Akram, who seems determined not to go back home. He has been running for anything anywhere for the last five years, starting with UNCTAD in 2003. His quest is complicated by the retainment of other Pakistanis like Qazi (whose re-appointment was demanded persistently by Pakistan's Foreign Minister) and Riza (who has a totally different connection). Also, the impression that he creates difficulties in order to bargain for an outcome does not help him. A former Algerian diplomat to the U.N. was briefly mentioned in December, to be followed by the name of another Algerian who works in Addis Abeba with the African Unity. Morocco objected. The Ukraine came up with an aspiring diplomat who made some headway.

By 14 January, the most recurring name was that of an Argentinean woman who competently runs field logistical operations at the U.N. World Food Programme.

While several delegations are hopefully pushing their candidates or actively blocking others, practically canceling one another out, and the Secretary General started his January round of formal general consultations with regional groups, those who believe that he has his closely guarded own candidate all along point out the following:

  1. The creation of that particular post was one of the first steps announced by the new Secretary General when he took over.
  2. There is no other high-level Korean (with due respect to Mr. Kim who is mainly a "factatum") except for a former Permanent Representative recently appointed as Special Envoy for the Cote d'Ivoire, Ambassador Young-jin Choi, who met the Secretary General in the course of his new duties on Monday 14 January; that almost symbolic appointment is thought by some to aim more at building up his resume as a peacekeeper rather than hanging around Abidjan.
  3. Korean firms have a keen interest in intra-national business. Through a reputation of very hard work, swift delivery and readiness to exchange acceptable arrangements, they reach out effectively to every potential corner of the globe. In brief, they feel as qualified as anyone to conduct the required role.

If, as is increasingly mentioned, Ban Ki-moon intends to eventually make inroads in the politics of his own country, he has to deliver more than welcome photo opportunities. So, don't rule out a Korean surprise.