Number of top jobs at OECD must be reduced

as governments begin search for new secretary-general

The Financial Times

Friday, July 29 2005

Letter from Kumiharu Shigehara



At a time when member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development were starting to consider the six candidates nominated for the post of secretary-general, your editorial "A think-tank revamp"(20 July 2005) provides fair and pertinent descriptions of the main challenges for the OECD to remain relevant in a world undergoing fundamental changes.

Further enlargement of full OECD membership would not be enough for better management of the global economy with the increasingly intimate interplay of macroeconomic and structural policies of both member and non-member economies. While Group of Eight and other forums at times provide opportunities for co-operation with new key players on the global scene, they are not equipped with permanent professional secretariat services for systematic co-operation at various governmental levels.

Many Asian countries are actually not interested in OECD membership. It has taken several years for China to fully participate in the activities of prestigious Working Party NO.3 (in charge of international adjustment process) of the OECD economic policy committee.   It was in 1998 when, in positive response to the letter I sent as Deputy Secretary-General of the OECD to Chinese finance minister and central bank governor, their deputies were sent to Paris for the first time to participate in an ad hoc session of the working party's meeting chaired by Larry Summers, then US Treasury deputy secretary.   Time has come for the OECD to strengthen co-operation with India as well on a wide range of policy issues.

The political clout of the leaders of the OECD secretariat would be required not only to deal with such new and emerging areas of international co-operation, but also to straighten out the governance structure of the organisation which includes officials responsible for OECD matters in capitals as well as their delegations in Paris.

Moreover, in addition to your argument in favour of reducing foreign ministries' domination of the OECD (and hence the costs of government representation), the internal structure of the secretariat needs to be reviewed. It is singularly top-heavy with the top management resources remaining untouched -- a secretary-general and four deputy secretaries-general. The management team consisting of a secretary-general and his two deputies until early 1990s ran the Organisation; later, two additional posts for deputy secretaries-general were created for nationality and other considerations.

Member governments should agree to reduce the number of posts for deputy secretaries-general from four to two.   They should also decide on the successor to Donald Johnston and two new deputies jointly as the three key persons for revamping the OECD.

In making such choices, nationality should be the least important consideration; good knowledge on a broad range of domestic and international macroeconomic and structural policy issues, practical international experience and managerial skills as well as political clout and communication capacity for a wider audience are the key for new leaders of the OECD.