15 FEBRUARY 2009


UNDP Administrator post is practically the second most important in the U.N. The Deputy Secretary General of Chef de Cabinet, may seem more influential, but the head of UNDP, though appointed by the Secretary General, has more autonomy, a separate Governing body, a bigger budget, and the widest network of field representation. While the U.N. Information Centres have been cut to half, UNDP Administrator in effect became the king of the U.N. bureaucratic jungle. Whether it would be a lion, a lamb, a fox, or a rattlesnake, will depend on the selection process -- and, of course, on available candidates.

Who are the candidates?

Those already mentioned include: Helen Clark of New Zealand; Hilde Johnson of Norway (who is number two in UNICEF); and the current number two in UNDP, Ed Melkart of the Netherlands. That is a very initial list. The very capable Ms. Clark has not yet gathered wide support; Ms. Johnson had gone for that post earlier (on the strength that she had Tanzanian credentials), before settling for ad interim in the Children's Fund. Mr. Melkart, who gets some internal praise from within UNDP, has a lot of negative baggage; he is still targeted for his role in the departure of former World Bank Director Paul Wolfowitz, by an influential group within the Washington establishment.

When the irrepressible Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press asked Deputy Spokesperson Maria Okabe if a short list of candidates will be made public as it was under Kofi Annan, the answer was: No.

Expect, then, a long drawn-out process at a time when Secretary General Ban, who officially makes the decision, becomes more vulnerable to pressure, particularly from Permanent members of the Security Council, who could help or block his reelection. In that case, forget about the first three already mentioned. They are only up there to be shot down.

Two other more serious candidates would come to mind, for different reasons.

The first is Chef de Cabinet Vijay Nambiar. He will certainly do a better job at U.N. Plaza than at U.N. premises. His background as an experienced ambassador of one of the most important U.N. countries, India, would allow developing nations to feel that one of their own was replacing another. Additionally, his personal temperament and a lifelong handling of human development issues, would give him a noticeable edge. Besides, he will be able to function properly in an autonomous position rather than be fettered by an overly controlling Deputy. In fact, there is an appropriate precedent. Legendary Chef de Cabinet C.V. Narasimhan (also Indian) moved to the UNDP top post, although for a while he kept his two offices. His young staff at both ends would amuse each other by drafting notes for his signature from one self to another. It went something like "I greatly appreciate your prompt and appropriate action..." to "I am surprised to learn of your decision..."! Actually, it brought a jolly atmosphere to both sides of First Avenue until the move became final.

Another advantage to Mr. Nambiar's appointment is that Secretary General Ban will be able to accommodate a Permanent member, like the U.K., to place one of its distinguished citizens, like Sir John Holmes, as his new Chef de Cabinet. As we mentioned three months ago, the U.K. wanted more than Humanitarian Emerging Relief. Although Sir John has performed admirably, perhaps more actively in recent months than any other senior official (in Gaza, Congo, Sudan, etc.), he probably feels he could be more useful in a more political or management role. As the U.S. may most likely keep Political Affairs, his initial target, Chef de Cabinet would be quite appropriate. He would also follow another distinguished U.K. compatriot, Lord Malloch-Brown, also a former UNDP Administrator, who discreetly (and effectively) observes U.N. affairs from his ministerial posting in London. If not Chef de Cabinet, Sir John, as a European, would be equally eligible for UNDP.

Another potential candidate, if the U.S. wished to recoup its once long-standing UNDP leadership, could be a woman. Nancy Soderberg, who was Deputy to U.S./U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke during the Clinton administration, was mentioned as the only American candidate. That sounds credible. An experienced diplomat with wide connections since her assignment at the Clinton White House National Security office to her work with the International Crisis Group, she displayed her formidable credentials and gained impressive support. Most likely, if the U.S. requested the post (and that is still an if, though mentioned by a fairly informed source), an anxious Ban Ki-moon will most likely be eager to please.

Hence, no short list; no public announcement of candidates. Let's wait for September. Why September? Keep tuned.