Mr Gurría, who is 55, will become the fifth secretary-general since the OECD was founded in 1961. An economist with a distinguished career in public service, he served as Mexico’s minister of foreign affairs from December 1994 to January 1998 and as minister of finance and public credit from January 1998 to 2000. He currently acts as adviser or board member for a number of private companies, multilateral institutions and non-profit associations focusing on development, international finance and globalisation.
As part of the team that negotiated Mexico’s entrance to the OECD in 1994 and subsequently as a government minister, Mr Gurría developed close relations with the organisation, overseeing the initial years of Mexico’s membership. In 1999, he chaired the OECD’s annual Ministerial Council Meeting; at his initiative, a number of emerging and developing countries were invited for the first time to participate at this meeting in a dialogue with OECD countries on relevant policy issues. Mr Gurría later wrote a piece summarising the outcome of that event for the OECD Observer, aptly entitled “Facing forward together”
Outgoing Secretary-General Johnston, a former Canadian government minister, announced at the start of 2005 that he would retire in May 2006, after 10 years in the top OECD post. During his tenure, the organisation expanded its membership and stepped up co-operation with some 70 countries. Non-OECD economies are now regular participants at the annual OECD ministerial meeting. Mr Johnston also set about a programme of reform, streamlining the organisation’s management systems and extending the scope of its work in important areas including education, health policy, e-commerce, taxation and communications.
One of the principal tasks facing his successor will be to strengthen the OECD’s role against a background of increased interdependence both among OECD countries and between OECD and non-OECD countries. As secretary-general, Mr Gurría will oversee the work of the OECD’s secretariat, whose mainly Paris-based staff of 2,000 economists, lawyers, administrators and other professionals assist governments in tackling the challenges of the global economy. The secretary-general also chairs the OECD Council, as well as working with national delegations and capitals. And he will take forward the strong dialogue built up with business, labour organisations and civil society, notably through the annual OECD Forum.
The OECD is more than an intergovernmental process of course, and as secretary-general, Mr Gurría will be heading one of the world’s leading publishers of intelligence and data on the economy, society and the environment, which businesses, research and the media also value highly.
A transparent contest
Mr Gurría’s appointment stands out for several reasons. For a start, the announcement was made just ahead of a deadline that was originally set (according to some, with excessive optimism) for 1 December 2005.
The search for Mr Johnston’s successor started on 30 March 2005 with an invitation to OECD countries to nominate candidates according to strict criteria, such as broad international experience and proven leadership qualities, and an ability to enhance the competence and global influence of the organisation. Also among the requirements were experience of the OECD’s core economic areas and broad range of its work, proven management skills and an ability to represent the OECD at the highest level with governments, other stakeholders and academic institutions. First rate communication skills, preferably in the two official languages of English and French, completed the list.
The professional nature of the entire head hunt has also won applause, with the final selection based on merit.
Another key point is that Mexico, despite an exemplary first decade in the organisation, remains one of the OECD’s least wealthy member countries. As Mr Gurría pointed out in a press conference just after his appointment, this fact should help him to enhance the OECD’s work in helping to promote development and shape globalisation. Finally, the head hunt set an example for top public appointments by making a virtue of transparency and keeping people informed about progress via the Internet from beginning to end. An announcement was posted in July 2005 that six high calibre candidates were shortlisted–from Australia, France, Korea, Japan, Mexico and Poland (see OECD Observer, No 251, September 2005, page 40). The field was gradually narrowed to two by November 2005, with Mr Gurría’s appointment announced on 30 November.
As Swiss ambassador to the OECD, Wilhelm Jaggi, who led the search, put it, “the guidance and procedures…for the conduct of a fair and transparent selection process stood the test and can serve as a model for future appointments.” Apart from testifying to the organisation’s professionalism, the procedure’s success will no doubt further enhance the new secretary-general’s credibility as he sets about his new tasks.
Rory J. Clarke
For more detail, please visit: www.oecd.org/secretarygeneral.
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©OECD Observer No 252/253, November 2005