The top posts of some of the world’s most prominent international agencies have fallen vacant and must be filled soon. Three of the agencies that need new or reappointed heads are the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). But the appointments will not be made in accordance with the methods usually employed to choose chief executives; nor will candidates be subject to selection by all members of the organisations concerned. Instead, the appointments will be determined by a bargaining process that enables the US and European countries to dictate the appointments.
One result of the bargaining process is that the head of the World Bank is always an American, while that of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is European. And this disgraceful process – which humiliates other countries whose economic policies and development are affected by the organisations’ strategies – shows no sign of being abandoned or challenged. As the Financial Times of London put it, “shamefully, the US and the EU show no sign of abandoning the stitch-up by which an American runs the World Bank in return for a European running the IMF.” According to this editorial, the practice followed by competing ‘regional blocs’ affects other organisations and is already being applied to the choice of candidates so far announced.
A dramatic example of the manner in which the US is determined to dictate the appointment and reappointment of heads of international agencies came in late January, when it blocked the reappointment of Peter Hansen, head of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), who has said that he will quit on March 31. The US government blocked his reappointment, saying that he is anti-Israel, after a campaign by conservative and Jewish groups in the US and by the Israeli government. Hansen agreed on January 19 that his failure to win reappointment has been caused by political factors. “I was willing to stay,” he said. “There are certain facts … Certain groups in the US and Israel… influenced the decision not to reappoint me.”
The real reason is that Peter Hansen performed his duties in accordance with the conditions and international rules that related to his position and the conduct of his duties in office. TheUS is determined to see that the heads of international agencies carry out their duties in such a way that the US’s interests, and those of its protégés and allies, are protected, instead of in accordance with the conditions of their employment or according to international law or the rules of their organisations. Hansen is guilty of censuring Israel for its bombardment of Palestinian camps and for the murder of Palestinian children, thus earning for himself the accusation of being an “Israel-hater”. But, as he explained in a statement quoted in the Western media on January 20, he had only been doing his duty as he was supposed to.
“I don’t have a record of being an Israel hater, but I can’t in all honesty not criticise Israel’s actions that harm Palestinian refugees,” he said.
“My job is not to put myself at the midpoint between the Israeli view and the refugees’ view. My job was to represent the refugees.”
Hansen’s reappointment was backed by some European and Arab countries, but their support obviously has no weight: a development that should alarm Muslim members of international organisations in particular, as well as the UN General Assembly and Security Council. In fact, Kofi Annan, UN secretary general, has been quoted as telling Hansen that he cannot not help him to be reappointed because he has no influence with the Bush administration: “I don’t have the political capital with the Americans to keep you,” he is reported to have said. For the secretary general of the UN to admit that Washington decides who leaves or stays as heads or employees of international bodies is alarming, as is Annan’s decision to seek another term of office when his first ends soon. This indicates how determined and bull-headed Washington is, and how willing most of the rest of the world is to accommodate it. Annan himself was appointed secretary general because the US wanted him in that post: it was secure in the knowledge that he will serve its interests.
But the willingness of most of the rest of the world to put up with the distortion of the rules relating to international organisations is beginning to irk some heads of those organisations – though apparently only when they are leaving. To take a recent example, Donald Johnson, outgoing secretary general of the OECD, said that it would be very healthy for the OECD to break with tradition and appoint an Asian politician to his post after him. Johnston, a former Canadian minister who has been in his current job since 1996, said that the agency (based inParis) should reflect Asians’ growing importance in the global economy. “The epicentre of world economic growth is shifting to north-east Asia,” he said in an interview on January 17. “The Japanese-Korean-Chinese triangle is going to be the major driving economic force. They should see that this organisation belongs to them, not just Europe or America.”
Other critics of procedures governing selection of heads of agencies also draw attention to the growing importance of the Asian countries’ economic might. But their call for increased influence for those countries appears to be confined to India, China and Japan. Almost everyone seems to prefer to keep Muslim governments and countries well away from any position of real and significant influence in the modern secular system.
Clearly the Asian non-Muslim ‘economic giants’ alone will benefit from any improvement of the international procedures. It is clearly time for Muslim countries and governments to take heed, unite, and organise to seek meaningful changes that will benefit all countries and peoples.