15 NOVEMBER 2012


Topped with an U.N. emblem, two posts of Assistant Secretary General and one for a D-2 (Director) were spotted recently in The Economist.

Advertisement of regular posts is not new. It started decades earlier, in the Eighties when Kofi Annan was head of Personnel. (He was the best, by the way!) Reaching out to The Economist and similar media started actively in the early Nineties when Samir Sanbar chaired the Appointment and Promotion Board (which was deleted by Kofi Annan as Secretary General!).

An unprecedented advertisement of top posts like Assistant and Under-Secretary General was introduced only recently by Ban Ki-moon.

Since such appointments are habitually for the Secretary General to make, skeptics questioned its serious impact. Since it is mainly a balance of political power, particularly that Permanent members of the Security Council and European countries (who make up one-third of the Council) predominate the appointments, they ask, why pretend otherwise?

In fact, public notification on such posts does make a difference. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will have a wider range of qualified candidates to select from. Even if pressured by an overwhelming governmental request, he could -- if he chose to -- offer alternatives from the same country or region. This is specifically relevant as there is an increasing number of Permanent Representatives who are themselves angling for jobs, claiming it was their country's demand.

Because of the need, officially at least, for an "equitable geographical and cultural balance," the Secretary General -- again, if wished -- could draw on the feedback from the advertisement to select better a qualified candidate from the region.

A transparent and open appearance of a competitive process also gives the impression of good governance; if the U.N. is urging countries to be more open, it might as well start at home.

Our recollection is that the post of Under-Secretary General for Public Information was among the first to be announced through the media. While it is too early to evaluate the selected candidate who just took over, there was no dispute that a full process was applied.

Even member states will benefit. They may not be aware of their own available human resources, despite a general interest in a specific area.

The currently open posts start with "Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator." As the Chief Co-ordinator (USG) is British, it would imply that the Deputy (ASG) would come from a developing country -- Asia, Africa, Latin America; not Europe. A main requirement indicated "the ability to build consensus during a crisis." Could that mean selecting a diplomat over a field expert? Let's see. A welcome signal is that applications from women is strongly encouraged. Could that lead to a formidable female leadership duo? Inchallah!

The same encouragement for women is indicated for the other publicized post: ASG, Office of Central Support Services. That would come under the Department of Management. A main requirement is to have strong management and leadership skills in a complex political and diplomatic environment. As the Under-Secretary General for Management Yukio Takasu is Japanese, the post would most likely go to a non-Asian. That selection will be credibly balanced; the experienced Mr. Takasu, who knows the system both as a delegate and as a senior Secretariat member, is one of Ban Ki-moon's best choices and will seek to select the most qualified candidate.

The third post, Director for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea (D-2), is in the Legal Department. A model woman is framed inside it. Most likely it will be an inside promotion. It would be hard to overlook so many talented women already involved in relevant issues -- unless the Department head who came from outside is looking to get more help from outside.

At any rate, these posts are within the Secretary General's competence to decide. His decision to invite world-wide application is positive, helpful and -- whatever the choices -- yields more information and open results.