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Top Post in UN Women's Agency Slated for Spain in "Donor-Driven Process," $700 Million Echoes

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, April 7 -- Moves are afoot to give the top post at the UN women's agency UNIFEM to a Spanish national because of $700 million in funding which Spain gave the UN Development Program last year. The candidate, Ines Alberdi, is said not to have been the recommendation of the selection panel, but as one insider phrased it to Inner City Press, "in the UN these days, you have to pay to play."

            Inner City Press called the spokesman for the Spanish mission to the UN, Jose Caballero. He said he was not surprised by the juxtaposition of Ms. Alberdi's name and the UNIFEM post. "Spain is not well represented at the high level" of the UN, he said. "We will have more and more representation because we are under-represented."

            Inner City Press asked Mr. Caballero directly about the nexus with the $700 million. Mr. Cabellero said, "Some years we give a large amount and money and there is nothing, this year..."

            Perhaps the difference is more targeted funding. According to UNIFEM's most recent Annual Report, Spain was the largest donor to its Trust Fund, click here to view, at page 21.

            To be clear, this conversation with the Spanish mission was not the confirmation that Ms. Alberdi would be named to the post. The confirmation came less than two hours after the conversation, when UNDP rushed out a press release. But the prospect of Ms. Alberdi being given the top UNIFEM post caused considerable push-back from non-governmental organizations and feminists. They point out that Ms. Alberdi's experience is nearly entirely in Spain, and as an academic. Some say that at a time when Ban Ki-moon is speaking of strengthening the "gender architecture" of the UN system, such a nakedly donor-driven appointment sends the wrong message.

Ban Ki-moon in Valencia, Spain in November 2007, Ines Alberdi not shown

  On the other side of the gender-political spectrum, others wonder of the consonance of Ms. Alberdi's views with not only the Pope, slated to visit the UN this month, but with other regional groups in the UN General Assembly.

            Back on March 7, a coalition of non-governmental organizations wrote to Ban Ki-moon about the leadership vacuum at UNIFEM, and about UNDP's selection process. While the advocacy may have sped up the process, the results has not been what the advocates expected. "If it's all about money," one said, "why is Spain only getting the head of UNIFEM? They should have gotten an under-secretary-general post!"

            But in fact, Spain is getting more for its $700 million. In November 2007, Ban Ki-moon traveled to Valencia to "unveil a plaque at the site of the future United Nations Peacekeeping Logistics Base." Some called this gun-jumping, and wondered about Italy and the UN Peacekeeping base in Brindisi. But which country has been giving more money to the UN these days? Watch this space.

Footnote: in the aftermath of UNDP's 6 p.m. garbage time announcement of capitulation to Spain on the UNIFEM post, it emerged that NGOs from all over the world had told the UN that their candidate of choice was the Indian Gita Sen. (Some of these NGOs says that even among the European candidates, Ms. Alberdi was less qualified that the director of Amnesty International in Germany.) While rebuffing this nomination-from-below, UNDP's Kemal Dervis made another appointment, announced at 6:18 pm., of Ajay Chhibber from India to replace Hafiz Pasha as UNDP's head for Asia. And UNDP preaches, or pretends to preach, meritocracy and transparency...

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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