Dr. Tedros Adhanom’s WHO countdown

18 Sep

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

Beyond the self & TPLF-sort electoral deceit!

In their wisdom, the architects of the World Health Organization (WHO) have given the processes and mechanisms to elect the director-general serious consideration and all the necessary attention. Driving their actions has been the realization of WHO’s vital importance to the peoples of the world and hence the need to select the right person for the job, to steer the organization toward its vision, based on the nine established principles, enshrined in its constitution.

Still today WHO’s objectives and functions remain the same, according to the constitution,  which is essential  and “basic to the happiness, harmonious relations and security of all peoples”. It is with that in mind, it states in Chapter I Article (1) that WHO’s objective “shall be the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.”

Nowhere in its 19 chapters and 82 articles does WHO allow or provide for discrimination, the burning alive of political prisoners — as happened in Kilinto on September 3, 2016 — or the abuse out of impunity of individual citizens  and commissions of crimes against humanity based on ethnicity, politics, ideology, disinterest to support ruling TPLF politics, religion, class, etc. Today, in the 21st century this is being openly preached and practiced in the ‘Federal democratic’ Republic of Ethiopia, in violation of national and international law. We saw that in these past two years in particular, this leading to greater killings and state lawlessness in the country, as the United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner told the Human Rights Council at the opening of its 33rd session on September 13, 2016.

WHO electoral processes must be able to plug any holes to prevent such from seeping into this important program through those that have been advocating and practicing dictatorial politics masquerading under the guise of ‘democratic developmentalism’.

To the disappointment of all decent people, democratic developmentalism has even managed to succeed in grafting its repressive politics in regional organizations focussed on development (not worth mentioning the African Union (AU)), such as  the programs of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

Nevertheless, through the 69 years of WHO’s existence in selecting the director-general one set of criterion and consideration have  remained vital to this day – satisfying the rigorous screening criteria in place. That is, the election is based on whether the winning candidate and thus: (a) has the right qualifications, (b) commitment to the organization’s principles and the United Nations Charter, and (c) sound personal integrity.

Owing to this, the entire processes justifiably take a life of their own. In other words, the efforts involved tax both WHO and the candidates a full year of diplomatic, administrative and logistical preparations.

I have great confidence in the integrity of the above WHO mechanisms for the election of the director-general.

Forums for the candidates

Regarding the current election processes, WHO has announced, the last date for the registration of candidates is September 22, 2016. That is also the date for the international community to be officially informed of the total number of candidates by name, qualifications, experiences, nationalities and their proposers.

WHO has notified all member states that in November 2016 it would hold three-day forum to enable the candidates present their respective visions, i.e., how they aim to strengthen WHO‘s mission and their ideas how to help it achieve its objectives. Following that, the 34–member WHO’s Executive Board would first draw up a short list of up to five candidates by January 2017. After interviews by Executive Board members, up to three finalists would go forward to the 194–member World Health Assembly (WHA) in May 2017.

Surely, there would be no curiosity who the African candidate is. Unlike other regions, his name and nationality were made public already the moment he was nominated and later endorsed by the African Group at the end of January 2016. As a politburo member in the ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Dr. Tedros Adhanom’s nomination and endorsement processes were adorned by the extravaganza of wining and dining, at Mekelle, Tigray, presentation of memorabilia to delegations and excursions, catered to all African ministerial delegations. The Africa Union’s (AU) 23rd summit delegations were jetted in from the Union’s established headquarters in Addis Abeba at Ethiopian taxpayers’ expense.

Clearly, the TPLF regime’s generosity has made good return to their candidate in the form of his endorsement by the Africa Union (AU), with reservation on the record by a few. To many, it did not come as surprise, especially those that are aware of the AU’s horrendous reputation for selecting dictators and butchers of citizens to membership, for example, into the Human Rights Council in 2013 and 2015. Today, the living examples are Burundi and Ethiopia, the poster children of impunity and brutality. TEO  would address this matter in greater detail from both the perspective of international law and national and African political governance before the election of the in-coming WHO director-general.

Another matter that perhaps needs fresh reflection is the costs candidates to WHO top post generate on poorer nations. These are expenses the respective governments spend to enable their candidates share their ideas and visions with the WHO member states. Beyond organizing encounters on the sidelines of international and regional meetings, this is usually better done through visits to capitals to get face-to-face contacts with representatives of governments. The problem is that in Ethiopia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is another office that lives  budgetary over-expenditures, although not comparable to the defense and intelligence outfits that are given the nod to live in breach of the nation’s financial regulations.

Those onerous costs relating to WHO director-general posts are met through public finances. The situation now signals the need for some innovative ways to explore in the interest of securing better qualified candidates in future. The intention here is not to suggest added financial burden on the WHO budget. All that this writer is interested in is the need to avoid unequal participation of nations in WHO’s work, which by implication means preventing good qualified candidates from poor nations from effectively getting their ideas across to the voting eyes and ears of representatives of member states.

The following paragraphs elaborate the above concerns by concrete example.

Onerous campaign costs

As a national governance problem, the more powerful the aspirant of the WHO post is the more burdensome and limiting the expenses become to poorer countries with little or without accountability laws, as in Ethiopia.

For instance, Ethiopians have seen it from their experience thus far how costly this has been, when the African candidate and the ruling TPLF politburo member Foreign Minister Dr. Tedros Adhanom has traveled around the world to drum up support for his candidacy. Dr. Tedros has logged huge milages touring the world: from Russia to Jamaica,  Sri Lanka to Southern and West Africa, to Singapore in Southeast Asia, and the in–betweens, to South America and the Caribbean, from the Middle East to Asia proper to Eastern and Western Europe.

In addition to traveling across the globe to solicit support, Dr. Tedros Adhanom was already in Geneva in May 2016 campaigning and hosting dinners to WHO members and the entire Geneva–resident African ambassadors.

This means that the TPLF has spent huge Ethiopian resources to support the candidacy of its foreign minister. The stone this has now left in every Ethiopian’s shoes is manifestness of the politics of ethnicity. Given the ethnicity-based politics, which empowers one side and disempowers the others, one cannot be sure, if the TPLF regime could accord the same treatment to all Ethiopian candidates.

The worry now is, if Dr. Tedros survives the WHO’s various screening stages, the financial pinch for Ethiopia would not still be over. The African candidate would still continue his huge spending of the nation’s resources through May 2017. At a time of continuing drought and hunger in the country, this has surely been burrowing a big hole in Ethiopia’s national budget. As has always been, even the budget, presumably fed by double-digit economic growth, is still cobbled together for over third of its part from domestic and international loans and donor aid – a sad tradition.

Every annual Article IV Review by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) of the nation’s books has often brought reminder and warnings to Ethiopia, as the most forex-starved nation that manages to live on two–week forex reserve diet on all its import needs. Ethiopia is the only nation in Sub-Saharan Africa that subsists with a reserve of less than three months of reserves, notwithstanding automaticity and omnipresence of its double-digit mantra.

For eventualities sakes and in the interest of better WHO program management and financial administration, one only hopes that the organization’s program budget administration has mechanisms to ensure effective utilization of its little over $4.0 billion budget and that of future budgets. The idea is WHO must ensure to primarily continue to focus on program priorities – more specifically, as pledged in April 2015, on improving health outcomes, improving coherence in global health and fostering an organization that pursues excellence.

Generosity is good quality in human beings. However, when managers especially tend to be more generous at no cost to themselves, there is very serious problem. Ask the Global Fund’s Ethiopia experience, how its program budget allocations went all over, i.e., outside agreed allocations and intended purposes, when Dr. Tedros Adhanom was Ethiopia’s minister of health from 2005-2012.

Interestingly, the umbrage has not been totally forgotten. Auditors revisiting the books of the health ministry have established “misappropriation” of funds amounting $7,026,929 and that the request has long been in  for the TPLF regime to reimburse those unauthorized expenditures to the donor, according to the audit report.

With this forthcoming election of the director-general at the WHO, it is to be seen if the member states in the World Health Assembly (WHA) have taken note of this and thus will use their vote to appoint a person with proper sense of responsibility, authority and personal integrity to assume the organization’s leadership by 1 July 2017.

*Updated; title re-adjusted.

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