Johan B. P. Maramis:
14. A RICH AND VARIED EXPERIENCE
When I assumed office as the fourth Executive Secretary of ECAFE, the world was still dominated with superpower rivalry.
On the international economic scene the developing countries spearheaded by the Group of 77, were struggling to achieve a just and equitable international economic order. In the ECAFE region the dominance of Asia in ECAFE’s work program was reflected in the prominence of Asian projects.
The Peoples Republic of China had just reoccupied its lawful seat; the Southeast Asia nations were busy consolidating their ASEAN sub regional grouping. Indochina was still involved in the Vietnam War while the Pacific island countries were hardly in the picture.
With the re-emergence of China and Vietnam at a later stage, ASEAN and Pacific, a new power equation slowly started to take shape.
Against this backdrop.
I was determined that the ECAFE region should more accurately reflect the new power equation and geographical boundaries. The change of the name from ECAFE to ESCAP was accomplished in my first year. It took me several visit to China to convince it to play a more active role. After I persuaded Vietnam to re-activate the Mekong river basin project, Vietnam decided also to play its part constructively. The opening of ESCAP Liaison office in Nauru brought the Pacific into the fold of regional development.
The acceptance of “Asian Strategy for development” concept was also ESCAP contribution to the global efforts of a new international economic order. The adoption of the Colombo and New Delhi Declarations reflected ESCAP’s new concept, philosophies and approaches.
Eight years later, on the eve of my retirement from ESCAP, I could note with satisfaction that the years of my tenure had seen a much deeper and systematic awareness of the social dimensions of development, with the overriding emphasis on the human element as the primary reason for and beneficiary of development. In actual practice, the changed orientation that I had consistently encouraged now pervaded the entire program of the Secretariat. Inter-agency co-operation and co-ordination by now had been improved considerably and was characterized by a greater degree of mutual trust. Furthermore, it had been the constant endeavour of the Secretariat to secure the fullest involvement of all parts of the vast in the Asian and Pacific region in the programs of ESCAP.
There had also been a marked advance in the evolution of Asian and Pacific identity. Continued increases in extra-budgetary funding had played a crucial role in responding to the felt needs and priorities of the developing member countries.
ESCAP had acted as an umbrella regional body in promoting international co-operation and in facilitating the formation of appropriate sub-regional groups and in encouraging understanding and co-operative action between the sub-regional groups as well as with the other regions.
No regional organization with a similar size and scope could possibly escape the ramifications of a changing world order. ESCAP was certainly no exception in that ESCAP forums at times mirrored the growing division between the economically developed North and the less developed South. On the political front this North-South polarization was manifested in various forums. The most obvious being the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77. At many ESCAP forums the developing countries were consistently supportive of the Group of 77’s call for a new international economic order. No doubt the political, social and economic realities weight heavily on our shoulders and found a great deal of expressions within ESCAP. But for all its shortcomings, ESCAP provided a forum where nations could address issues of mutual concern and attempt to embark, however, haltingly and tentative on path towards regional cooperation and accommodation. My hope that in a some small way, I was able to foster a truly “internationalist’ spirit and vision for the organization.
The relevance of the United Nations.
For more than a quarter of a century of my public career I was involved with the work of the United Nations, in one aspect or another. Starting with my first assignment with Ministry of Foreign Affairs, when as Chief of the Foreign aid and Commodities section, I had attended my first ECAFE meeting, to my promotion as Head of the Directorate of International organization where I co-ordinated policies on our relations with the United Nations, specialized agencies and bodies, to my two assignments with the Permanent Mission of Indonesia to the United Nations in new York and subsequently to my appointment as Executive Secretary/Under-Secretary General of ESCAP, I had become very familiar with the work of the United Nations.
First and foremost it is important to understand that the United Nations is not a world government. No member states gives up its sovereignty by joining the Organization. The United Nations can act only when the member states decide that it should. Achievements and failures reflect the collective will of the members.
Public perceptions of the United Nations have sometimes been clouded by a variety of criticism, some made in good faith, others made of ignorance or for public gains. Healthy and constructive criticism is essential for the vitality and efficacy of any organization. But ill-informed criticism serves neither the United Nations nor the world community well.
The United Nations as an international organization is no longer a gleam in the eye of an idealistic world. It is a fact of modern life, in one level taken for granted in daily life, on the other level forming the cornerstone of the foreign policies of many government around the world.
Since the world organization was founded in 1951, the United Nations had played a crucial role by encouraging the aspirations of dependent peoples and by setting goals and standards to accelerate their attainment of independence.
Despite frustrations and setback, the organization had steadily developed its capacity as a peacemaking and peacekeeping organization. United Nations mediation efforts and peacekeeping forces had been instrumental in checking of the resolving conflicts between member states in many parts of the world.
The United Nations formulated its first Universal Declaration of Human rights in 1948 and two covenants came into force in 1976 which provide measures to check on complaints of human rights violation.
But in the economic, social and humanitarian where the achievements of the operation units of the United Nations family constitute perhaps the most visible and recognizable symbols of United Nations success.
A time for reflection.
Looking back at a career in public service that has spent over three decades, I consider myself fortunate that by the grace of The Almighty I had encountered so many rich and rewarding experiences throughout those years.
Perhaps the most fortuitous decision I had ever made was to select a career in the Indonesian Foreign Service. For it was the start of a most remarkable journey which helped to shape my attitude and outlook on life. When I first joined the Foreign Ministry we hardly knew the meaning of world diplomacy. We had to learn the hard way, based on our limited knowledge and understanding of the art of diplomacy. Fortunately I was entrusted with wide -ranging responsibility that honed my skills as a diplomat. When I attended the first international conference the only advice I was given was to, listen and learn about international conferences. I happened to be a keen observer and managed to learn a great deal about international conferences from the ones I attended in my early years at the Foreign Ministry. As I build upon my experiences, I was assigned for my first posing in New York where I have been able to master the inner workings and intricacies of the United Nations. This experience was very useful when I was later promoted to head of the directorate of International Organizations that monitored our relations with the United Nations and other such multilateral forum.
I believe that my career, particularly at the United Nations benefited greatly from the fact that the Foreign Ministry had allowed a great deal of latitude in determining Indonesia’s position in a number of important economic issues. And my experience in multilateral diplomacy played an important part in launching some worthwhile United Nations activities. For example I had no instruction to vote for the consolidation of United Nations technical assistance programs. I had to rely on my personal skills as a consensus-builder to forge a workable solution among the divergent views. The same holds true when I initiated an amendment to hold an United Nations Conference on Trade and development (UNCTAD) of the developing countries. We were given the freedom to develop our own initiative and to use our common sense. The only instruction we were given was to uphold our independent and active foreign policy.
Aside from the successes, I also experienced some setbacks and fears in my early career. I consider Indonesia’s withdrawal from the United Nations as one of the most noticeable setbacks in our foreign policy. We were fortunate that it proved to be only temporary. Yet the image of our flag lowered down and our nameplate being removed from United Nations headquarters left a very deep and lasting impression on me. I also experienced great fear in the months preceding the abortive communist coup d’etat, when the working environment at the Foreign Ministry was fraught with tension and suspicion.
My hopes were raised with the new order under President Suharto. Because the new government appeared determined to set Indonesia on the road to recovery in all aspect of political, social and economic development. Part of this strategy involved a higher profile for the Foreign Ministry to improve Indonesia’s standing in the world community. As a result the Indonesian Mission to the United Nations was further strengthened and I was given a second assignment to the United Nations. This would enable me to undertake two important tasks: first to assume the presidency of ECOSOC, one of the most important highlights of my career, and second to initiate and support Adam Malik‘s presidency of the General Assembly. Along with these reorientation of our foreign policy came increased opportunities for promotion. Every diplomats dream is to attain an ambassadorship. I was very honoured when I received my appointment as Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the European Community midway through my Foreign Service career. A significant highlight of this posting was president Suharto’s state visit to Belgium that I helped to coordinate and which eventually went off without a hitch.
I have no doubt that I would have continued into more challenging assignments in the foreign service, had it not been for my appointment as the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East. Whereas an ambassadorship represents one of the highest pinnacles of success for a career foreign service officer, a posting in the United nations Organization with the rank of Under- Secretary General is of similar accomplishment for an international civil servant.
As the fourth Executive Secretary of ESCAP, my scope of responsibility was widened immensely as I now I had to look after the interest of just one, but 43 countries in the region so vast and diverse that defies description. Yet I approach the task with the same perseverance, determination and enthusiasm with which I tackled other assignments in u career. Perhaps which I consider ESCAP two most noticeable achievements under my leadership reflected in large measure my genuine commitment for the under privileged.
The first achievement was the program on rural development that was undertaken jointly with several United Nations agencies. Throughout my tenure I had stressed the importance of an integrated approach to identifying and solving the multitudinous problems of the region, particularly in the rural sector where much of the population is based. Development had to embrace social dimensions, in addition to economic indicators. The change of name from ECAFE to ESCAP symbolized this new direction while the initiation and implementation of integrated development programs formed the cornerstone of this new approach.
The second accomplishment was the fulfilment of my personal commitment to foster a greater role for ESCAP in the Pacific Islands and in countries bordering the Pacific. The active participation of China and Vietnam and the opening of the ESCAP Liaison Office base in Nauru were the culmination of my efforts. Once a remote sub region, the Pacific island countries had become an active partner in development.
Gradually a greater sense of Asia Pacific identity had emerged.
I had no difficulties working with the hundreds of professional and General service staff comprising over 40 different nationalities. I remember that during my first senior staff meeting with the heads of division and special units, I had given them a greater insight into my working style. Essentially I impressed upon them that I was a firm believer in team work and open management and that my door would always be open without distinction to rank. I also reminded them that they were the selected people in the service of the United Nations and expected them to be worthy of the ideals enshrined in the United Nations Charter.
My achievements at ESCAP were no doubt the result of close and harmonious working relationships imbued with a spirit of loyalty to the United Nations. And I hope throughout my 8 years of service I had come to exemplify a true “internationalist” spirit that helped ESCAP forge a common identity and seek common objectives in spite of the region’s diversity.
My friends have always asked me what had been my recipe for my success. My answer is that there is no magic formula except hard work and perseverance. Cultivation of personal relations is also an important factor.
I am proud to have served the United Nations as one whose guiding force has been the ideals embodied in the Preamble to the United Nations Charter.
In my years in the service of my country, I can only be grateful that it has been a rich, varied and intensely satisfying experience.
Posted April 28, 2002