Resurgence & Ecologist - Vol 21 No 2 - March / April 1991
reducing food losses during storage, its proponents claiming that it will allow chemical control methods to be reduced or eliminated. In December 1988, FAO co-sponsored a conference in Geneva with the International Atomic Energy Agency, WHO and the GATT/ UNCTAD International Trade Centre, which gave the green light to the more widespread use of irradiation and the trade in irradiated foodstuffs.
FAO has remained impervious to the consumer advocates and others who have argued that there are still considerable doubts over the safety of food irradiation. They claim that FAO is putting its weight behind a "technology in search of an industry", which is irrelevant to the problem it is supposed to be handling. As in so many other instances, FAO has embraced a capital-intensive, hightechnology "solution" which will further increase the dependence of Third World countries on the North.
FAO's Power Structure
FAO's headquarters on Rome's Circus Maximus. Many of the work here are reported to be demoralized with the constricting bureaucracy. (Photo: FAO)
A similar impression is given by FAO's support for the tobacco industry. In June 1989, FAO's Committee on Commodities held a special discussion on tobacco. An opening statement was made by a WHO observer, K.E. Stanley, who pointed to the two million deaths caused by smoking every year, and argued that "in the long term, tobacco consumption is not only a major health hazard but also a burden to national economies, due to associated health and social costs". He also stated that "economic analyses should not be the sole basis for determining government policy with respect to tobacco".13
Such arguments cut no ice with the committee. Although it recognized the concerns over health, it remained adamant that, "tobacco is of great socio-economic importance... a large number of people worldwide depend on tobacco cultivation for their livelihood". The role of tobacco in export earnings, government revenues and so on were also evoked in support of the industry. Arguing that "malnutrition and infectious diseases" were "more pressing health concerns" in Third World countries than smoking, the committee went on to request that FAO provide technical assistance to improve tobacco cultivation. Yet it is hard to see how expanding tobacco cultivation, which mines the soil and entails taking land out of food crop production, will help combat malnutrition.
FAO's bias towards industry also explains its support for the Tropical Forestry Action Plan (see George Marshall, this issue) and food irradiation. The latter is being promoted as a means of
over 3100 staff who nature of the huge
FAO is governed by a conference of all its member states held once every two years. A council, which meets twice a year, oversees the organization's activities between conferences. Eight standing committees deal with:
finance, programme, legal and constitutional affairs, commodities, fisheries, forestry, agriculture and food security. Finally, regional conferences meet in non-conference years.
Heading the secretariat is a Director-General who, in the absence of any effective checks and balances, is all-powerful. In effect, member governments have very little control over how FAO operates or how it spends the funds they place at its disposal. As has been pointed out by the late German journalist Otto Matzke, who made a detailed critique of FAO, the office responsible for auditing FAO's accounts is directly dependent on the office of the Director-General.14 It is hardly likely to provide sincere and searching reports on FAO's use of funds. The external auditing of accounts is carried out by the United Kingdom's Comptroller and Auditor General, whose staff is too small to carry out substantial evaluations.
Neither is there any independent procedure for assessing FAO's operational effectiveness: the only evaluations are carried out by FAO itself. The service which deals with field programme evaluation and inspection is located within the office of the Director-General. Finally, the Finance and the Programme and Budget Committees are too large (over 30 members each) to perform detailed scrutiny of FAO's activities. In 1987, the FAO Conference reluctantly agreed to order a "Review of Certain Aspects of FAO's Goals and Operations".15 However, this was top-heavy with representatives of member governments under secretariat influence and resulted in a virtual whitewash for
The Ecologist, Vol. 21, No. 2, March/April 1991
FAO's current activities and approach. Not a single totally new idea came out of the $2 million exercise.
The Director-General's Personal Ambitions
The policies and and functioning of FAO depend critically on the management style of its Director-General. I f the Director-General so chooses, he or she can use his or her considerable power constructively, selecting high-profile, competent close colleagues, delegating responsibility, interacting with member governments, developing relations with sister organizations and providing lead-
Outsiders or former staff members who dare to question the system go on to a "black list": no question of their getting back in, even on short term contracts.
ership in FAO's areas of competence. Alternatively, the DirectorGeneral can be secretive, scheming, eliminate "rivals", centralize to the extreme and be confrontational with governments and other agencies. Since 1976, and the rise to power of the current incumbent, Edouard Saouma, it is the second management style which has prevailed.
Typical is Saouma's decision to set up a network of special FAO ambassadors directly responsible to his office. By convention, the UN "resident representative" in any country is the most senior UN official. His or her office also houses the offices of the other UN agencies. Saouma decided that this was demeaning for FAO and in 1976 began setting up his own separate representatives (FAOR in the jargon). Today, there are over 70 such representatives covering 100 countries and costing FAO some $22 million a year, excluding the salaries of the regular staff who work for each FAOR. Even countries as small as Cape Verde and Barbados have their own FAOR.
The system was presented as an important step in the decentralization of FAO; in practice, FAORs have no autonomy whatsoever — indeed, they often give the appearance of being mere election agents for Saouma. Though the 1989 conference decided that the country representative system should be strengthened, in private senior agriculture ministry officials in many countries ask why FAORs exist at all.16
Saouma was originally elected for a fixed term of six years. One reason for limiting the mandate to a single six-year term, starting with the 1975 election, was because previous DirectorsGeneral had spent too much of their first term (originally four years) seeking to secure re-election. This had led to what might be termed "electoral sclerosis" since the Directors-General preferred to avoid any new initiatives for fear of offending their "electorate".
No sooner was he elected, however, than Saouma convinced the Third World countries that it was in their interest to lift the restriction on the number of mandates. A constitutional amendment was duly passed and the way was open for Saouma to spend the rest of his life at the helm of FAO. Re-elected unopposed in 1981, Saouma was not expected by many observers to secure a third mandate against his charismatic opponent, Benin's Moise Mensah, to whom the Organization of African Unity (half the total
Third World vote) had pledged their unanimous support no less than three times. But political mistakes by Mensah, astutely exploited by Saouma and his allies, the unashamed use of the organization itself and of the carrots and sticks available to the incumbent, finally saw Saouma victorious by a wide majority.
Saouma's re-election in 1987 was met with despondency by FAO staff who in their vast but silent majority favoured a change at the top. Worse still, perhaps, Saouma had to pay the "debts" accumulated in gaining re-election. Already, he had systematically ousted anyone who, even unwittingly, might become a rival. A flood of wholly unsuitable political appointees to decisionmaking positions now followed.
When the new Assistant Director-General of the Development Department — which encompasses the whole of FAO's field programme — took over his post in 1988, he had no experience of agricultural development in the Third World. This might have been interpreted as an exciting and daring innovation by Saouma to inject new blood and a new approach. The reality is far more banal: the new ADG's appointment was a debt payment. He had been chef-de-cabinetto the Agriculture Minister in the right-wing French government which had campaigned actively for Saouma and had probably swung the African vote in his favour.
The other main department of FAO, the Economic and Social Policy Department, has also been headed since the 1987 election by someone of doubtful qualifications. Where an imaginative specialist with the ability to develop new ideas and give a real impetus to FAO's work in this field was needed, an FAO career bureaucrat was nominated.
All the staff are aware of cases of candidates — for both external and internal recruitment — who have gone successfully through the selection process and been short-listed with one or two others only to discover that a complete outsider is eventually taken on. Outsiders or former staff members who dare to question the system go on to an unofficial "black list": no question of their getting back in, even on short term contracts.
Saouma's political appointees are a major source of discontent
A new approach is urgently needed: one that starts from peasant practices
and seeks to solve problems as the
cultivator sees them.
and frustration within FAO today. One middle-ranking fisheries technician complains: "Sometimes I arrive home in the evening completely demoralized: the man above me is afraid to take the slightest decision. My work can be held up for weeks because of this." A very senior secretary of over 25 years' standing says: "The Director-General has only just begun to realize the huge damage done to the organization as a result of all the political appointments he has made in the framework of his re-election campaign. The trouble is, it is too late to do anything about it now and the organization is suffering tremendously as a result." Another secretary of similar rank and experience considers that FAO could save a million dollars a year simply by sacking incompetent managers: "We have secretaries here doing those people's work already; what little they do themselves has to be double checked, which creates even more work." A technical professional complains: "This organization is no longer being managed, it is being
The Ecologist, Vol. 21, No. 2, March/April 1991