Wednesday, April 9, 2008

DAWN: "UNDP's hiring process is flawed and with no integrity"

Women activists criticize U.N. appointment

By Patrick Worsnip

UNITED NATIONS, April 8 (Reuters) - An international women's network voiced dismay on Tuesday at the naming of a Spaniard to head the main U.N. women's organization, saying the U.N. had bypassed the most well-qualified candidate in response to funding concerns and pressure from Spain.

The United Nations said the selection process for the new executive director of the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) had been "comprehensive and extensive". A spokeswoman said there was "no direct connection" with funding issues.

The criticism came from Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), a group that had backed the candidacy of one of its founders.

The U.N. Development Program (UNDP) announced on Monday that Ines Alberdi, a sociologist and former member of the Madrid regional assembly representing the ruling Socialist Party, had been given the job.

She succeeds Noeleen Heyzer of Singapore, appointed last year to head the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

Earlier last year, Spain signed an agreement with Heyzer to give 3 million euros, at the time worth $3.9 million, to a UNIFEM-managed trust fund to combat violence against women.

In a statement, DAWN, a network of researchers on gender issues based in Africa, Asia and the Americas, expressed dismay at the choice.

"We feel the selection process has been deeply flawed and its integrity violated," it said.

DAWN said it understood that the interview panel looking at six shortlisted candidates had identified Indian academic Gita Sen, a founder of DAWN, as the best.

"However, because of the U.N.'s concerns over funding and significant and open political pressure from the government of Spain, other names from the shortlist were brought back into consideration," it said.

"This is a tragedy for the U.N. in terms of its ability to to draw competent candidates, transparency and fairness, and its credibility with women's movements and development organizations."

In its announcement, UNDP said, "The selection process was comprehensive and extensive." It said Alberdi, who has also worked as an expert in the European Union's equal opportunities unit, brought 25 years of relevant experience to the job.

U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas, asked whether the appointment had been linked to funding, said, "There is no direct connection."

"I can tell you that there is a constant concern to have geographical distribution within the system," Montas told a regular news briefing.

Last month, 10 U.S.-based non-governmental organizations wrote to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressing concern that the UNIFEM post had been vacant so long and urging him to appoint the "one strongly qualified candidate" -- an apparent reference to Sen.

Officials at Spain's U.N. mission could not immediately be reached for comment.

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