SUNS #4431, Friday, 7 May 1999

Supachai "very much" in race, Chair can't rule him out

Geneva, 6 May (Chakravarthi Raghavan*) -- Some 50 delegations from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe, supporting the candidature of Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi issued a statement Wednesday evening (5 May) that only the General Council could decide on a Director-General, rejecting the view of the Chair and the western press that Supachai had been taken out of the race by the Chair and facilitator.

Earlier in the morning, some 58 delegations, not all of them fully behind Supachai, but nevertheless concerned about the process, had earlier met with General Council Chair, Amb. Ali Mchumo of Tanzania to impress on him the need to reconvene the General Council quickly.

The open-ended consultations, as one of them later described it, was "to clear a number of issues in a friendly manner", and that the process for selecting a candidate which began in July (and had been conducted by the facilitators and now by the Chairman and facilitator) had ended with the report of 30 April, and the normal rules of the organization and rules of procedure would have to apply.

The delegations had asked for an "open-ended consultations" with Mchumo, open to every member. But it would appear that the US and others campaigning for Michael Moore kept away or had not been asked by the Chair to attend.

Mchumo reportedly told the group that met him that he would need to consult with others about the Council meeting. Subsequently, the WTO said a meeting has now been set for Thursday afternoon.

Delegations who were at the "consultation" meeting and expressed their views reportedly included Malaysia for the ASEAN, Australia, Mexico, Kenya, India, Brazil, Pakistan, United Kingdom, Dominican Republic, Hong Kong China, Panama, Japan, Egypt, Zimbabwe.

The views of various delegations, as some of them reported to the media later, suggested that there was a wide-spread concern over the way things were proceeding, and the way WTO constitution and its rules were being in effect bypassed to force a consensus around New Zealand's Michael Moore, who is backed and promoted by the US, and the overall negative effects it would have on the institution.

Several of the delegations have been critical of the way the Council and its processes have been handled and angry with the "biased" and one-sided reporting in the western media, ignoring the views of others. The Financial Times has "distinguished" itself in this kind of reporting, delegates commented.

The delegations, as one of them put it, in a "non-confrontational but firm way", told Mchumo that no matter how much they respected him and the chair, they had not handed over to the Chair the right to select or decide on a DG, that this right belonged to the Council, and the Council was now in a new phase where it had before it a constitutional proposal (that of Kenya to the effect that there was no consensus for Moore and that a consensus be formed around Supachai be built).

Australia reportedly said at the meeting that the Kenya proposal may or may not succeed in forging a consensus, but had to be tried. The Council could then consider what to do. Mexico reportedly said the idea of the 'open ended' consultation was to find out when the Council would meet next, not on discussing with the Chair the candidacies, since the issue was now for the Council to meet and decide. At the time the meeting was suspended on Tuesday, Malaysia had been asking for the floor, and the Council must resume and proceed from there.

Kenya wanted the chair to place its proposal before the council for serious discussion, while India, agreeing with others, said the Council must meet without further delay. Several of the delegations wanted a meeting on Wednesday evening itself, but the chairman reportedly said that this could not be done and he would need to consult with others.

He denied that he was trying to usurp the powers of the Council, but that there were problems of procedure and rules. In his view the discussions on his own proposal (to elect Moore) had not been concluded, and in the meanwhile another had been made. But under the mandate it was for the Chair to make a proposal which he had done.

Brazil said the Council must meet from day to day, consider the Kenya proposal and then perhaps pause if there were no consensus around it.

Pakistan reportedly pointed out that the differences between delegations might have been reduced if informal consultations had first been held as was the WTO practice. The process in the Council must continue in a calm manner without damage to the institution. But the decision on the next DG had to be made by the Council, and the world was watching. The Pakistan representative reportedly referred to the Financial Times headlines said this was "most unfortunate" (about Supachai being ruled out of the race). The Council must arrive at a decision acceptable to most. The chair's proposal had been fully discussed. They could discuss it more, but the Kenyan proposal had to be placed before the Council and considered as fully as any other.

The UK reportedly said that it shared the Australian perception of the process, and that the selection process that began in July had now ended, and the normal rules must apply. The Dominican Republic supported the Australian and Brazilian stands, while Mexico insisted that the report of the chairman on 30 April was the end of the process. The issue was now entirely in the hands of the General Council, and the chair having further consultations would mean that the 30 April report was not final.

Hong Kong China reportedly viewed the Chair's remarks (about Supachai) on 3 May as "extremely damaging" and urged that he must publicly clarify that Supachai was in the race.

Mchumo reportedly insisted that as far as the process launched in July was concerned, Supachai was not in the race. But Supachai could not be ruled out when the proposal from Kenya was on the table.

Panama was concerned about recourse to voting and not sure whether the Mchumo process had ended.

But Japan associated itself with the other views, including that of Hong Kong China.

But Mchumo reportedly insisted that by proposing one name, he had excluded three names from the process. Kenya's was a new proposal, and he would clarify it to the Council.

It was not very clear to some delegations, who spoke later on a background basis as to what the Chairman's move might imply or whether it meant that the Chair's proposal would be the one that would be put to the Council, and if needed voted upon.

Zimbabwe insisted that the wrong message (about Supachai being out of the race) was already there, and this must be clarified immediately, without waiting for a General Council.

Hong Kong China repeated its view that the members had been with Mchumo and his process till 30 April, and agreed that he had to make a proposal. But he could not say on 3 May that Supachai was out of the race. What were the developments between 30 April and 3 May to enable Mchumo to say this. This was the basic difficulty.

Mchumo reportedly said that he had been giving his opinion as a reaction to the Kenya proposal. However, Hong Kong China contended that the Kenya proposal on the table could not be ignored, nor could Mchumo say that Supachai was not in the race.

India reportedly said that Mchumo had done a difficult job, but some of his statements on 3 May gave some discomfort to the members. It would not be fair to say that Supachai was out of the race. The General Council might even have decided that Mchumo should be given more time to try and build a consensus. Even in the case of McLaren, the chair and facilitators had only told that it was "impossibe to build a consensus" around him, not that he was out of the race.

Japan reportedly added that none of the General Council meetings had authorized the chair to say that one candidate was out of the race, and the candidacy of Supachai was there, and not merely put back on the table because of the Kenya proposal.

The council chair reportedly said he would need time to interact with others and the council would reconvene as soon as possible.

At a press conference later, asked about the views of the chairman on Tuesday night at his press conference -- that he had a mandate to put forward a single name, and that this involved elimination of others, and he had put forward the name of Moore -- Amb. Alejandro De La Pena of Mexico said only the Council had the right to decide on a candidate.

"If we give the Chairman the right this time, the next time we will have to be arguing and fighting about the Chairman and facilitators to be named," he remarked.

Japan said that the friends of Supachai had decided to hold a press conference in view of the misleading and distorted information in the press. De la Pena clarified at the press conference that because of the misinformation (presumably a reference to the press office briefings), he had asked in the Council about the rules relating to the release of information to the press, and had been told that under the rules the council chair was to issue a communique at the end.

Mexico was happy that this had been followed up, and Chairman Mchumo had gone before the press to brief them.

The Mexican representative said that only the General Council had the authority to decide this matter, and the Chair "had no authority to exclude any candidate or to declare any candidate 'out of the race', especially four days after presenting his final report to the Council."

Well in advance, twelve hours before the 4 May General Council at which the Chairman declared that Supachai was 'out of the race', Kenya had submitted a formal proposal that consensus now be formed around Supachai and that proposal was fully in accord with the rules of procedure of the General Council, Mexico said.

Kenya's Amb. Dr. Kipkorir Aly Azad Rana cited from Mchumo's report of 30 April to show that two of the criteria used -- extent of tolerance and geographical spread -- were purely subjective and did not persuade him to reach the conclusion in Mchumo's report. Nevertheless, Mchumo had proposed the name of Moore. But the discussions on 30 April and 1 May showed that there was no consensus. It was necessary for the Council to assume its responsibility, and the Chair had no authority to exclude any candidate or declare any one out of the race four days after the final report to the Council. The Kenya proposal that attempts be made to forge a consensus around Dr. Supachai was entirely within the rules. Some 26 to 30 delegations had spoken on 4 May to support it. No member had ever formally objected to Supachai. Mexico pointed out that the chair itself, in the report of 30 April had agreed that the "tolerance" criteria was a subjective one. As for geographical spread, it was difficult to understand what it meant.

"If my neighbour supports me, does it mean it has less weight than the support given to me by a distant country?"

In all the council meetings, there was no explicit agreement or acceptance of any criteria, and several members had expressed their reservations. Under the rules, only the members had the right to object to any candidate, and neither chair, facilitator nor the secretariat had any such right. And no member of the WTO had so far formally objected to the candidature of Supachai.

Amb. Narayanan of India said from the time of the 14 Dec meeting, when the facilitators made a report first and had mentioned the criteria used by them, several members had expressed their reservations and each time this issue had come up members had expressed reservations, particularly about the "degree of acceptability", which apparently has now been made into "tolerance". It was technically not correct for anyone to contend that the General Council had approved these criteria. The rules adopted in 1986, clearly say that the Director- General shall be appointed by the Contracting Parties and it was for the membership to take a decision.

Japan told the press conference that it was obvious that there was no consensus around the chairman's proposal.

Japanese Amb. Nobutoshi Akao, responding to a question about the "dirty campaign" against Supachai, noted that pieces of papers had been passed around about the promises for jobs and others made by Supachai, and said it was unfounded to spread stories that any deals had been made between Japan and Supachai or Thailand. He deplored such methods.

The Netherlands minister Otto Genee, who was at the press conference and on the podium, later said that his own country had been similarly besmeared, and that when Dr. Supachai had visited the Hague he had not made any commitments, but had said that if he was elected one of the deputies would need to be from Europe.

The Dutch government had appreciated this stand and had supported his candidacy.

Akao later also repudiated the interpretation of the rules and the contention (of the Chair at the press conference on Tuesday) that the rules were not clear about any voting or balloting for a director-General or that a postal ballot was provided for. A postal ballot, Akao and other delegates explained at the end was possible only where under a WTO agreement a qualified majority of the membership as a whole was required, and even such a ballot was not automatic. Narayanan said that he would not characterise the situation as one of a crisis at the WTO, nor did he believe that the preparations for Seattle had been endangered, though the General Council process could get delayed by a few days. Other bodies were meeting and carrying on with their work, he noted. He was sure that members would find a way out of the current impasse. The issue of director-general was one involving one person. Much More difficult questions of commitments had been tackled by members before, he noted.

Some of the delegates, speaking on background, later hoped that the chair would not create more problems by rulings, and get the council bogged down in further endless procedural votes. The rules were clear that the issue was one of election of a Director-General, and the chairman's proposal for consensus having failed, they had to go back and vote on the candidates if that became necessary.

The diplomats at the press conference refused to speculate on what could be done if both candidates failed to reach a consensus, and insisted that the council's efforts must concentrate on the candidates and efforts to formulate a consensus around one of them.

The present procedures are unsatisfactory, and before the next election "we have to formulate clear rules," Kenya said. Mexico said they could not have a procedure whereby a candidate proposed by the chair had to be accepted, since it would then create a new controversy as to who should be chair. Kenya said that given the need for focus on development, some of the delegations like his had felt that one with some experience of the problems should head the organization, which till now had leadership only from Europe.

"This press conference has been organized to make it clear that Dr. Supachai is in the race and the misleading impression being created that he is out of the race is wrong," Narayanan said.

* Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor of the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) in which the above article first appeared.

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