Wednesday, September 23, 2009

UNESCO: The Need for Due Diligence

Yesterday saw the Executive Board of UNESCO vote 31 to 27 for Irina Bokova over Farouk Hosny for the position of Director General of UNESCO. Hosny was seen as the leading candidate at the beginning of the year, but Bokova emerged from the other eight candidates during five days of voting to win the election.

Hosny's candidacy was reportedly beaten by three concerns (I had more, but they appeared not to have been shared).
  • That he held anti-Jewish or anti-Israel views,
  • That as Minister of Culture of Egypt he had significant responsibility for the censorship that occurs in that country, and
  • That he was implicated in the escape from prosecution of some terrorists responsible for the Achille Lauro hijacking (an allegation that surfaced in the press only last weekend).
The first of these concerns, apparently not shared by the Government of Israel, were supported by many quotations and highlighted in widely viewed editorial pieces in influential journals. The second, made by Reporters Without Borders appeared well researched and was repeated in many influential journals. The third was made in an online Arabic newspaper that is widely viewed, but the charge was not widely republished (except on the Internet).

There were allegations, especially from the Hosny camp, that there were significant negatives in the background of the three main competitors: Irina Bokova, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, and Ivonne Baki. These charges surfaced quite late and were not substantiated in the media as far as I could see. (I have posted links to some 250 articles on the election, and read more.)

Farouk Hosny announced his candidacy for the post in the summer of 2007. It is reported that the government of Egypt had secured support for that candidacy from Arab and Islamic nations and from the African Union, as well as from other states such as Brazil. I very strongly suspect that the promises of support for his candidacy were made with very little investigation of his background and qualifications for the position.

During five days of voting many of the delegations appear to have changed the candidate that they supported. Hosny went from 22 votes up to 29 before receiving 27 votes on the final round. Bokova went from 8 to 31 votes.

What did the voters know about the candidates?
  • When each person was nominated, the nomination was accompanied by a statement of qualifications from the nominating government. One assumes these statements were less than frank about the negatives for the candidate, but they have not been made public.
  • Each candidate submitted a vision statement, but it is assumed that these statements were the result of joint efforts by the candidates and their advisors.
  • There was a one hour interview for each candidate, which included 20 minutes for the candidate and five questions, each by a representative of a group of member nations of the Executive Board.
  • Of course there was also information available in the form of glossy brochures created to support the candidacies, public spokespersons for the candidates, the media and the Internet.
My guess is that many of the delegates and many of their national governments knew very little about the reasons against the candidacy of any of the nominees.

I spent years selecting people for post-doctoral fellowships, probably looking at more than 1,000 applications. We always obtained confidential recommendations from people who knew the candidates well as well as curricula vitae and vision statements. So too when hiring for the Government, we always obtained and checked references.

Would it not be wise for the secretariat of the Executive Board to hire a professional executive search firm to do a background investigation of each of the nominees for future elections, and make the results available to the voting delegates?

In this election, acting as a private citizen, I created a website to make information on the election and the candidates widely available. It received some 13,000 visits during the campaign and voting. I am rather sure that an official website for the election managed for UNESCO by an independent organization (to avoid charges of favoritism) would be much more visible and much more used.

Such a website might provide reliable information on the candidates and organize access to the media coverage of the campaign. It might indeed stimulate more and better media coverage.


Anonymous said...

A clarification. The Farouk Hosny campaign office never once produced or relayed any official communication denouncing any of the other candidates, even though there was a plethora of such material circulating in unofficial circles. Indeed, the response of one of the other three candidates to whom you refer as being the target of such material made her own allegiance very clear in the last three days of the election campaign. How ironic that you should find yourselves on diametrically opposed sides of the fence in the closing stages. But then that person could obviously tell a vicious, racist, anti-Arab smear campaign when she saw it, which only adds greater credit to her as a person and a politician. I note that the reporting of reaction in the Arab media has, temporarily at least, dried up on your website, perhaps because the target of their wrath - pro-government and OPPOSITION newspapers alike - is people like you and the French blog, which has mysteriously disappeared altogether now that its despicable job is done - perhaps fearing that much of the material it had fabricated or distorted and the insults it had thrown might be the subject of legal proceedings. You may hang your head in shame for the truly disgraceful role you and your friends - if not all of them! -have played in provoking the biggest rift between North and South and between the Arab world and the West in recent years. And having opened up those gaping wounds, one wonders how you intend to "heal" them - that is if you even want to.

John Daly said...

An editorial in Nature states: "The election highlights UNESCO's faults. The agency publishes a list of the candidates' names, but nothing on their qualifications or vision for the agency. In truth, nominations and the secret voting are largely down to horse-trading among member states.

"Such anachronistic processes need to change, but so does much else at this suffocatingly bureaucratic organization."

John Daly said...

I personally received emails making charges against the three principle challengers to Farouk Hosny, and refused to post them because they came unsubstantiated. It seemed clear from the context that they came from supporters of Minister Hosny, as I stated.

I am grateful for the clarification that they did not come from his campaign officee and that they were not official communications.

Anonymous said...

Not only was no official communication of any of that material made but a deliberate decision was taken on the final morning to withhold it, even though it would have proved highly damaging to the candidate in question. The Hosny team made a conscious decision not to stoop to the methods of the opponents' supporters' blogs. This is the mark of the man and the team that worked for him. For you to claim elsewhere that Hosny was not "gracious" in defeat - or prior to it, for that matter - is just one more outrageous slur to add to all the others. Indeed, his first action upon hearing the result was to call the winning candidate to congratulate her.

John Daly said...

Read my posting on Minister Hosny's reported comments to the press on his return to Cairo, and judge for yourself. Note in a comment on that I noted the gracious statement he made to the winner when he called to congratulate her.