Issue 150 - August 27 - Transition in Leadership at UN-Habitat

New York, August 27, 2010 - With Anna Tibaijuka's term at UN-Habitat ending this month, the General Assembly has elected Joan Clos of Spain to succeed her as Executive Director.

Tibaijuka, who is from Tanzania, has led UN-Habitat (formally known as the UN Human Settlements Program) since 2000. UN-Habitat's focus is ensuring shelter for the poor in an environmentally sustainable way. It is based in Nairobi, Kenya.

The Executive Director of UN-Habitat is at the level of Under-Secretary-General. The person must be elected by the General Assembly "upon nomination by the Secretary-General after consultation with Member States," according to GA Resolution 56/206 of December 21, 2001.

Ban was expected to make a selection in April of this year to allow for a transition period between Tibaijuka and her successor; Tibaijuka's term ends on August 31. The final-hour appointment is cause for concern by Tibaijuka, who has written to the Secretary-General in a letter that was leaked last week.

In the six-week interim between the end of Tibaijuka's term and Clos' arrival, the Secretary-General is expected to task another official to lead UN-Habitat. (Tibaijuka reportedly has suggested that the Deputy Executive Director, Ms. Inga Bjork-Klevby, be relied upon for the transition in leadership.)

Nomination and Election

This Monday, August 23, in Note A/64/897, the Secretary-General nominated Clos to begin as Executive Director starting on October 18, 2010, for a term of four years.

On Wednesday, August 25, the General Assembly met to take action on the election of a new Executive Director for UN-Habitat. GA President Ali Abdussalam Treki asked, "May I take it that the GA wishes to elect Mr. Juan Clos as Executive Director of UN-Habitat for a term of office of four years ...? There are no objections. It is so decided." He gaveled the decision.

About Tibaijuka

Tibaijuka has headed UN-Habitat since 2001, when the GA established it to replace the UN Centre for Human Settlements.

Tibaijuka was the first African woman elected by the GA as Under Secretary-General of a UN programme, and until the appointment of Asha-Rose Migiro of Tanzania as Deputy Secretary-General, Tibaijuka was the most senior African woman in the UN system. In 2006, she became the Director-General of the UN Office of Nairobi (UNON), with oversight of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in addition to UN-Habitat.

In March 2009, however, Secretary-General Ban demoted her as Director-General, so that she led UN-Habitat but not UNEP. Instead, Ban tasked Achim Steiner of Germany, the head of UNEP, with leadership of the UN Office.

The unexplained replacement raised a number of questions, including about gender balance and geographic representation in high-level positions at the UN, and it sparked protests - both written and in-person - from the UNON staff, which believed the change was "against the principles of gender balance you have been promoting."

Also causing concern was the perception that Ban Ki-moon had changed a UN rule to allow Tibajuka's removal. According to previous practice, the head of UNON was to be a national of an African state. The Bulletin of the Secretary-General that framed that practice was ST/SGB/2008/7, which stated, "The Office is headed by a Director-General, at the Under-Secretary-General level, from among the heads of United Nations programmes headquartered at the duty station, namely, UNEP and UN-Habitat."

In a Bulletin of the Secretary-General issued on February 26, 2009, Ban "promulgates the following: ... The Office is headed by a Director-General, at the Under-Secretary-General level, designated by the Secretary-General from among the heads of United Nations programmes headquartered at the duty station, namely, UNEP and UN-Habitat."

The difference is the added phrase, "designated by the Secretary-General." The 2009 bulletin also "abolished" the 2008 version. The new Bulletin entered into force on March 1, 2009, the day that Tibaijuka's removal took effect.

Ban's office said, "The Secretary-General made this decision in view of his policy of rotation among his senior managers."

According to the East African, which obtained "a long trail of confidential documents," there was evidence that Tibaijuka was removed for questioning the appearance of fraud related to construction at UNON. "It appears that immediately Mrs. Tibaijuka assumed office, she ordered the audit [of the procurement for a $25 million upgrade to the Nairobi headquarters], which was to cover the period between 2004 and 2006, when UNON was headed by Mr. Toepfer. When the report was released on February 28, 2008, it detailed serious fraud. Conducted by the Office of Internal Oversight Services' Internal Audit Division, the audit report said UNON could have lost as much as Ksh10 billion ($130 million) in procurement and administrative irregularities over the period."

In November 2009, Tibaijuka was awarded the Gotebord Award for sustainable development, by the city of Goteborg, Sweden.

About Joan Clos

Joan Clos of Spain was the mayor of Barcelona for two terms, from 1997-2006, and the country's minister of industry, tourism and trade from 2006-2008. Currently, Clos serves as Spain's ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan (2008-present).

He has served as the president of Metropolis, the international network of cities, and the World Association of Cities and Local Authorities (WACLAC) and Chair of the UN Advisory Committee of Local Authorities (UNACLA). Clos has received awards from the Royal Institute of British Architects and from UN-HABITAT, which was given "for his contribution in encouraging global cooperation between local authorities and the United Nations."

Clos has a background in medicine and public health. His biography is posted here.

On August 26, upon news of his election, Clos said that as Executive Director he would emphasize sustainability: "With over half of humanity now living in cities, we must prioritize both urban poverty reduction and environmental sustainability - especially as there are now almost 1 billion slum dwellers."

He also stressed the importance of collaboration for achieving sustainability: "Through collaboration and partnership with governments, local authorities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the private sector and all Habitat Agenda partners, our urban areas can be environmentally, economically and socially sustainable."

Tibaijuka's Letter to Ban

In a confidential letter to the Secretary-General on August 10, Tibaijuka expressed concern about the lack of a successor and the potential leadership vacuum at UNON upon her departure. Ban's not having appointed a successor in a timely way, she said, meant that she was not able to ensure a smooth leadership transition.

She believed that the absence of visible leadership could undermine donors' confidence in the Programme and threaten its financial stability. It also could lower staff morale: "...It is already difficult to attract and retain staff in Nairobi due to the inherent difficulties facing this duty station. A period without confirmed leadership runs the risk of putting us back to the situation of uncertainty and lack of morale I confronted when I arrived."

In sum, "It is unconscionable for me, having striven so hard for the gains that have been made, to see UN-HABITAT run the risk of being derailed due to an inevitable management and leadership vacuum that could have so easily been avoided through timely action."

At the time of Tibaijuka's letter, Ban had not yet nominated Clos. However, the six-week delay between Tibaijuka's last day and Clos' first day may mean her concerns still pertain.

Tibaijuka also was skeptical of the process by which Secretary-General Ban was finding her successor. Her input on specific candidates or the general profile had "never been sought....I find it surprising and difficult to imagine that there would be no more qualified senior advisor in the UN system than myself in the field of human settlements to offer such advice."

(According to Ban's office, Tibaijuka's views "on the process and the possible candidates" were "carefully considered" and Ban's nomination of Mr. Clos reflected her input.)

Finally, Tibaijuka found it unlikely for the "legal reality" of the Programme - which requires the Secretary-General to consult with Member States on the nomination - to be fulfilled, given the short timeline left for making the nomination. Failure to conduct this element of the process would be "a reversal of the gains made in the governance and management of the agency, and contrary to the spirit of UN reforms that you have emphasised."

On August 22, Turtle Bay reported that Ban's office said that he "has already made his selection and we have taken the matter up with the regional groups."

This statement seems to confirm that the selection was made prior to consultation with Member States.

Other Candidates

In January of this year, the African Union endorsed Agnes Kalibbala of Uganda to replace Tibaijuka. Kalibbala has been Uganda's Deputy Permanent Representative to UN-Habitat and the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), as well as the Chair of the Committee of Permanent Representatives to UNEP.