November 17 1999

British threat over UN agency leader


BRITAIN served notice on the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) yesterday that it would consider withdrawing financial support for the famine-fighting organisation if its constitution did not change to prevent the flamboyant director-general, Jacques Diouf, from perpetuating his "autocratic" leadership style.

George Foulkes, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for International Development, made the threat in an interview with The Times on the fringes of the 30th general conference of the FAO. He said that Britain was forming a "reform coalition" of countries after the re-election - in what the minister described as "a set-up" - of M Diouf, a Senegalese agronomist, to a second six-year term.

The new alliance will aim to rewrite the constitution at a bi-annual meeting of the agency in November 2001, to reinstitute a clause preventing director-generals from holding office for more than two terms.

"It is very vital to have term limits so that the incumbent does not just go on and on," Mr Foulkes said. "The incumbent always has an advantage in elections. Diouf has been campaigning for two years, using the organisation's money. His leadership style is autocratic, with senior staff not being involved in decision making.

"We are enthusiastic about the UN. One of the first things we did when we [Labour] took over was to go back into Unesco. But, equally, we are determined to make the UN agencies more effective because they are spending our money, the taxpayer's money."

Asked if Britain would consider withdrawing its contribution from the FAO if reform did not take place, the minister said: "I think that if there's not some indication of change, if there is the prospect of Mr Diouf getting elected for a third term of office, then obviously we would have to review our position.We are going to monitor what is happening at the FAO very closely."

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