Vacancies at Unesco test merit promises

May 19, 2000

Unesco's selection process for four top-level posts, including head of its education directorate, is presenting director-general Koichiro Matsuura with a test of his election promises to modernise the organisation and lead a more open and honest administration.

But given the the delicate nature of filling a high-profile position, there are fears of a long wait before a new head of the education directorate is appointed.

The outgoing assistant director-general for education, Australian academic Colin Power, retired from the organisation after the landmark Education For All conference in Dakar last month, where member states set educational targets for the year 2015.

A senior source close to Unesco said: "We're coming to the end of a six-year cycle, now it's a tabula rasa: what should Unesco be doing, and what priorities in the context of EFA? We need a new person in place able to seize that. Maybe I'll be surprised, but it might be next year before we have a successor."

Notices for the posts could have gone out as soon as Mr Matsuura took over as director-general in November. "I should have thought he could have advertised posts as soon as possible to get them in place," the source said. "I don't think we can get our act together on education and planning for the future."

Mr Matsuura was elected to his post last November in the wake of a critical report that revealed corruption, cronyism and nepotism in the organisation. About 40 per cent of senior appointments and one-third of promotions were not made through proper channels, according to the independent report carried out by the Canadian government.

As well as assistant director-general for education, the unfilled posts in science, culture and communications - senior appointments that were previously made by the director-general without being publicly advertised.

Mr Matsuura is committed to a more open system which includes widening the field of candidates for senior posts. All the jobs criteria are accessible on Unesco's internet site, and posts are being advertised in the press.

Under the former "closed" system, sensitive geographical balances could be relatively easily maintained. But Unesco's rules require that personnel should be appointed principally on merit, which could cause problems if a disproportionate number of good applicants from, say, Western Europe, surface. A recent case before an employment tribunal at the Food and Agricultural Organisation in Rome, which has the same constitution as Unesco, awarded compensation to a top-rated candidate who was passed over in favour of the second candidate who came from an under-represented area.

The only senior appointment made since Britain rejoined Unesco was of former Essex University academic Denise Lievesley as director of Unesco's institute of statistics last year.

It is not yet clear how Mr Matsuura will guarantee that the most suitable candidates are appointed or whether geographical balance will play a role. The answers are keenly awaited because, for demographic reasons, many members of staff are due to leave in the near future.

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