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An old broom can sweep cleaner: Tharoor

August 31, 2006 14:56 IST

India's nominee for the United Nations secretary general's post Shashi Tharoor has rejected the contention that lack of political experience would be a hindrance in performing his duties as the world body's chief.

The lack of parliamentary experience is, in actuality, an advantage in practical terms, Tharoor said. "The secretary generals of the UN have in every case without exception been largely unknown diplomats or civil servants when they got elected. They were all people who emerged with the ability to run an organisation that has become more and more complex over the years, and that is simply not analogous to running a government," he said in an interaction with reporters over Webcast.

The United Nations, Tharoor said, is a government of 192 prime ministers telling the incumbent what to do.

So it's not a job that someone who has actually been a prime minister or president would find "particularly palatable", he said.

Tharoor pointed out that he himself has served as an international civil servant from the age of 22 -- he is now 50 -- having worked on refugees and humanitarian issues, peacekeeping and management reform.

Currently, he is under secretary general for communications. Replying to questions, Tharoor said the United Nations is an extremely complex system which would be difficult for an outsider to run.

"The learning curve for somebody who is not familiar with the UN would be extraordinarily steep. (Most CEOs) brought into the UN would probably find themselves resigning in frustration in six weeks having to deal with a system where there are 192 countries looking over their shoulder and limiting very severely how much they can do," Tharoor emphasised.

About his "campaign" travels to present his credentials, Tharoor said, "This used to be a job for which people didn't have to campaign. I remember Kofi Annan (the current UN secretary general) when he entered the race in 1996 being able to do his work as under secretary general for peacekeeping while the Security Council discussed names behind closed doors. The press interaction was hosted by Sreenath Sreenivasan, dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism, who asked questions on his own behalf as also submitted by reporters.

"Now governments expect that if some candidates come to them, why shouldn't all candidates come to them? And so it is necessary to go out and present one's credentials to the world," he said. 

Asked why he was running for the post, Tharoor noted, "I have a first-hand experience from the inside and from the ground up of some of the most important issues and challenges which a secretary general can face. I also feel quite strongly that whereas being an insider may not be the ideal from everyone's point of view because many feel that the UN needs a new broom to come in and sweep clean, but the UN is the kind of organisation where an old broom can sweep cleaner because it will know where to sweep and how to sweep."

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