Development & Aid, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse

U.N. Chief Will Pick New Team to Usher in Second Five-Year Term

Thalif Deen

Marcela Valente

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 28 2011 (IPS) - When U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon took office in January 2007, one of his first announcements was to call for the resignation of all senior high-ranking officials so that he could pick his own team of players.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

As requested, virtually every single official, mostly holding the rank of either under-secretary-general (USG) or assistant secretary- general (ASG), sent in his or her resignation.

But the U.N’s newly-anointed chief administrative officer, the eighth to hold the post since Trygve Lie of Norway in 1946, did not receive a resignation letter from a USG based in Europe.

Instead, Ban received an appeal requesting that he be permitted to stay on his job because he had terminal cancer. If he resigns, the letter pleaded, he would lose his medical insurance provided by the United Nations.

Responding to the plea, Ban allowed him to continue with his job on humanitarian grounds – and the ailing USG died in office a couple of months later.

As the secretary-general begins his second five-year term next week, he has called for the resignation of most senior staffers whose five- year contracts end in early 2012.

At least eight USGs and five ASGs are expected to leave the organisation and its agencies, with more resignations scheduled through the middle of 2012.

U.N. Associate Spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS that more announcements will be made over the start of the New Year.

“The five-year rule will be respected,” he added.

Asked the basis on which new appointments would be made, Haq told reporters this week they will be based both on geographical rotation and merit.

“We try to make sure that all of the regions in the United Nations are fairly represented, including at higher levels,” he said.

At the same time, he pointed out, there are merit-based searches, where you try to find the best person for the job, “and we’ll try to see how we can fit all those in”.

“We wouldn’t flag in advance any post for any particular positions to any particular regions or any particular countries. Ultimately, that will have to be determined at the end of the search process,” he added.

The eight USG positions which will fall vacant include the following: heads of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management; the Department of Public Information; the Department of Political Affairs; the Department of Economic and Social Affairs; the Office for Disarmament Affairs; the Office of the Special Adviser for Africa; the Economic Commission for Africa and the Economic Commission for Europe.

In addition, Ban is expected to appoint five new ASGs at the various funds and programmes, three at the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) and two at the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA).

The UNDP appointments will include the assistant administrator and director, Bureau of Management; the assistant administrator and regional director, Regional Bureau for Arab States; and the assistant administrator and regional director, Regional Bureau for Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States.

At the UNFPA, the new appointees will include the deputy executive director (programmes); and the deputy executive director (external relations, U.N. affairs and management).

In an announcement early this month, the chief of staff Vijay Nambiar said the secretary-general’s intention is to build a new team that is “strong on substance and diverse in composition, complementing one another and working as a team”.

In so doing, he will be guided by the following three overarching benchmarks, according to the press release:

Firstly, the five-year rule will be applied across-the-board, as the secretary-general did five years ago when he first took office.

While some senior advisers with less than five years of service may relinquish their positions for personal and other reasons, those at the five-year mark will be the focus of the change.

“This is to demonstrate his firm commitment to mobility and to lead by example providing top down push to the on-going human resources reform including inter alia mobility schemes.”

Secondly, the secretary-general intends “to balance the need for bringing a fresh perspective in addressing the major challenges with the need for maintaining continuity of purpose and priorities.”

Thirdly, he is expected to continue “to focus on empowering line departments as well as on leveraging organizational synergy by streamlining work process and minimizing institutional duplication”.

With the above benchmarks in mind, the secretary-general is currently undertaking a thorough review of his entire team and plans to roll out the changes in his senior team in a phased manner, according to the statement.

Against this backdrop, he will also seek nominations from member states for the first batch of eight under secretary-general (USG) positions at the helm of the departments and offices.

“This will supplement his own search and will follow up on his commitment to have an inclusive and objective selection process for the appointment of senior advisers,” the statement says.

Those currently holding these positions will leave during the first half of next year or thereabout depending on the expiration of their current contracts and other considerations, including the ongoing task of preparation for the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development known as Rio+20 in Brazil in June.

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