UNITED NATIONS, March 13 -- A UN Secretary General asks for the support of UN member states, not only to endorse his programs but also, as is the case these days with Ban Ki-moon, to vote for a second term. Should there be rules governing how he goes about lobbying for this support?
On March 11, Ban's deputy spokesman Farhan Haq announced that Ban has appointed Lakshmi Puri as an Assistant Secretary General in the new UN Women entity.
Haq dismissed the question of if Ms. Puri is the wife of Hardeep Singh Puri, the Permanent Representative of India, currently a member of the Security Council which must vote on Ban getting, or not getting, a second term as Secretary General.
Haq said, "I am not aware of the family relationships of the people I just named. I only just got this list."
On March 12, Inner City Press wrote directly to Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri to ask for confirmation, and ask for a “response to those that say it might have or appear to have any impact on how the Secretary General is viewed or treated, especially but not only as he goes for a second term.”
On March 13, Hardeep Puri called Inner City Press and presented his side. He said that he and Lakshmi have been married for some 35 years, adding that “my being here and her being there has not made any difference in terms of one influencing the other... She was in Geneva with UNCTAD... Then here in New York as director of High Representative on Least Developed Countries, since October or November of 2009. She applies for jobs as do several others in the UN system.”
Inner City Press asked Hardeep Puri if he thought that any rules should apply to the Secretary General giving jobs to spouses of the Permanent Representative who will vote on his second term.
Hardeep Puri to his credit acknowledged that if a person “completely from the outside, without the qualification, were offered the job... in this kind of situation, obviously eyebrows would be raised.”
Rightly or wrongly, in this case some eyebrows have been raised. One analogy is to a public corporation, in which it would be problematic for a chief executive to give a job to the spouse of a board member who is supposed to oversee his performance and continued employment.
Hardeep Puri issued a challenge, telling Inner City Press to watch “if you suddenly find Hardeep Puri restrained.” We will.
Hardeep & Lakshmi Puri, center, S-G rules not shown
The question remains, should the UN enact rules to govern this situation which is fraught with the possibility of conflict of interest?
Footnote: after this response, Hardeep Puri called back to make two final arguments, first that it was Michele Bachelet that interviewed Lakshmi Puri, and not Mr. Ban himself. In fact, this was pointed out in spokesman Farhan Haq's announcement, perhaps acknowledging that if Ban himself did the interviews and was entirely responsible, there would be an issue. But Ban is the decision maker here, and the issue remains.
Second, Hardeep Puri argued that a country's position would not be influenced by such a hire. But it is widely reported that France conditioned its support of Kofi Annan second term as Secretary General on being given the Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping post. So the danger of conflict of interest and improper lobby remains. There should be rules.
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