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Why the Next UN Aid Chief Is Simply No Job for an Amateur

It is surprising that the Conservative MP Andrew Lansley, who was removed from his role as health secretary in Britain after such a disastrous tenure, is David Cameron's top choice for a role will be dealing with such an intimidating to-do list.

This week, interviews for the world's top humanitarian job are set to conclude. But the in-tray of crises' would make anyone pause before saying yes to the challenge.

Boko Haram is bombing and attacking civilians across four borders in West Africa, the conflict in Syria has created the biggest global refugee crisis in 70 years and Ebola still stalks West Africa. In addition to these three, conflicts are raging in South Sudan Ukraine and the ISIS franchise threat continues to stretch across the Middle East and North Africa.

It is therefore fair to say that the demands on Baroness Amos's successor are greater than at any time in the UN's history.

Given this, it is surprising that the Conservative MP Andrew Lansley, who was removed from his role as health secretary in Britain after such a disastrous tenure, is David Cameron's top choice for a role will be dealing with such an intimidating to-do list.

The critique is simple. Mr Lansley simply isn't qualified for the job. He has not held a ministerial role with any international mandate, has no experience of international development issues or given the feedback for those that experienced his presence in the NHS, a strong track record in nuanced bridge-building needed to get the job done.

Apparently after Ban Ki-moon challenged Cameron that his nomination of Lansley was not appropriate, he added two others names to the UK short-list. The names he put forwarded are said to be ex-Environment Minister Caroline Spelman and Stephen O'Brien, who is the most qualified of the three with experience as a minister at the department for international development.

Wrongly, this role has been ring-fenced for British candidates, rather than opened up to an international competition and this appointment has to be the time that this precedent ends.

But given that the UK has such a deep bench of talent for global humanitarian leadership, why is the British Prime Minister pushing Mr Lansley for this role?

Former UN deputy secretary general Mark Malloch-Brown calls it "a case of political dumping" and his nomination looks very much like a favour from David Cameron, who was given his first job in Conservative HQ by the former Health Minister. Since Lansley left office, Cameron has tried to get him a post in the European Union. Now he's trying his luck with the UN.

It's an odd decision by the Prime Minister when held up against the strong leadership that he has displayed in protecting the 0.7% aid budget from austerity and attacks from the Daily Mail, his personal assertion on Radio 4 that Britain's humanitarian work is one of the things "that makes Britain great" and his personal leadership on Ebola.

But more than than that, the UN is the world's civil service. If nation states look to push partisan appointments into it, then the whole world suffers. This is a job, more than any other that needs to be hired on merit.

Thankfully, Article 100 of the UN Charter gives the secretary general and his staff the protection to be independent starting that they "shall not seek or receive instructions from any government or from any other authority external to the Organisation." The independence of the Secretary-General has been seen with a drive for women from the developing world in key leadership roles.

The decision around who gets this job is being watched carefully. Across Britain, 70,000 citizens have backed the Avaaz campaign urging the secretary general hire on merit and over 80 aid agencies have written to the secretary-general to support him choosing the best person for the role.

Among candidates with the sort of CV worthy of Mr Ban's consideration include Martin Kobler, who heads up the UN's efforts in Congo as well as Kenyan Minister of Foreign Affairs Amina Mohamed, who has chaired the UN's International Organisation of Migration. An Avaaz survey of over 200 UN staff found that Kobler was the preferred choice of a third of people asked, while only 8% thought any of Cameron's nominations were up to the task.

Inside this crisis lies a precious opportunity for reform. The legacy that must emerge out of Cameron's handling of this appointment, which could undermine Britain's diplomatic status, is that member states are no longer able to simply slot their friends into the most senior positions in the UN.

With the next secretary general due to be recruited in 2016, this is a golden opportunity to ensure that those victims in Syria, South Sudan, CAR and northern Nigeria get the best person for the job. This is a job that really speaks to the the ideals of Dag Hamarskjold, the UN's second secretary general who said, "only he deserves power who every day justifies it."

Mr Ban, who has final say on the matter and the latest rumour is that two names have been presented to him to make a final call on one is said to be a Brit.

He has it within his grasp to break with the past and do away with an approach to nominating candidates that is reminiscent of the League of Nations. The 50 million refugees who depend on the UN system every day of the week, need the best candidate to lead the world in meeting their needs. This really is no job for an amateur.

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