There Should Be Public Discussions Among Candidates

This year there will be an election to determine who will be the next Director General of UNESCO. The election is especially important because UNESCO has been experiencing a financial crisis and because its operations have been seriously criticized by some member states. The Director General in the 2014-2018 period will be expected to lead reforms to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the Organization, and possibly to lead in meeting a financial crisis while assuring the Organization continues to promote peace through its efforts in education, science, culture and communications.

The Constitution of UNESCO states:
National Commissions or National Cooperating Bodies, where they exist, shall act in an advisory capacity to their respective delegations to the General Conference, to the representatives and alternates of their countries on the Executive Board and to their Governments in matters relating to the Organization....

One of the most important decisions of the Executive Board and the General Conference is the selection of the Director General of UNESCO. Yet the National Commissions in the past have had little or no opportunity to learn about the candidates for the office.

In the 2009 election, candidates were allowed 20 minutes to address the Executive Board and 30 minutes to answer questions, with no answer lasting more than 5 minutes. Moreover, the meeting in which this occurred was closed. There was no opportunity for members of national cooperating bodies to view the presentations. While candidates did publish vision statements on the Internet and while many of them visited capitals of member states or participated in UNESCO activities, they remained largely unknown to the members of the national commissions of UNESCO's member states.

The Executive Board will meet in April and will consider the procedures to be used in interviewing candidates this year. They will probably opt for an equally closed process.

I am informed that "a number of UN agencies hold more open discussion between candidates and the Board, even publishing the dialogue. The IMO and FAO elections in 2011 were done very well." I believe it is time for UNESCO to open its selection process in order to assure that the most qualified candidate is elected Director General. Importantly, the National Commissions should be empowered to carry out their duties of advising their representatives at UNESCO on the qualifications of the candidates.

I therefore suggest that several national commissions invite the candidates to participate in public discussions before the voting takes place. Since the working languages of UNESCO are French and English, I would suggest that the British and French national commissions invite the candidates to discussions for their members in their national languages:
In order to reduce costs, it might be useful to hold one or more other meetings in European venues, perhaps by the Dutch, German, Portuguese or Spanish national commissions.

Were there to be three discussions, given the mission of UNESCO, there might be one each on:
  • Education
  • Science and
  • Culture
The hosting bodies would coordinate on the timing of the meetings. The hosting National Commission would decide on the format for the discussion and name one or more moderators. They would jointly issue invitations to the candidates.

The discussions should be streamed on the websites of the hosting national commissions. This is crucially important because in that way all national commissions could see the discussions, and the discussions could be shared widely with the educational, scientific and cultural communities that UNESCO serves.