UN weather chief must step down

It is surprising to see the incumbent, two-term secretary-general of the United Nation’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) run for another term to lead the world body’s important scientific institution even after he, among others, was slapped by a UN tribunal with charges of harassment and defamation of a former employee, costing the WMO over half a million US dollars in a penalty judgment for material, emotional and other damages.

Embattled WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud, whose name was associated with corruption and embezzlement scandals, is not fit to run for another four years to lead this non-political organization, which is crucial for addressing the challenges of world climate change. Jarraud’s name does not inspire much confidence about the transparency and openness that are the key pillars advocated by the UN all over the world. In fact, he should have resigned voluntarily after putting WMO through a great ordeal due to scandals in the last decade.
Let’s recall what happened in the WMO under his watch. Jarraud, a French national, first won the election to become the secretary-general in 2003. Four months later, a confidential internal audit emerged, unearthing a major scandal that some of the $3.5 million stolen by a former employee was used to influence votes in the 2003 election. Jarraud was the agency’s deputy secretary-general at the time before the rigged election in 2003 and later became number one in the organization.

Instead of looking into these serious charges, in November 2006 Jarraud fired the whistleblower, Maria Veiga, a Portuguese/Italian national who refused to discontinue her investigations into a cover-up of an embezzlement scheme. After Ms. Veiga had challenged her dismissal through UN proceedings conducted by the International Labor Office (ILO) Administrative Tribunal, the WMO was ordered to pay nearly $500,000 in exemplary, material and moral damages, lost salary and allowances. The ILO also ruled that Ms. Veiga was harassed, defamed and her wrongfully terminated by Jarraud.

In April 2007, nine US Congressmen even wrote a letter to the US comptroller general, demanding that he conduct an investigation into Ms. Veiga’s termination as well as her whistleblower claims. The Swiss authorities also initiated a criminal corruption investigation into allegations the same year. In addition, Ms. Veiga filed a lawsuit in the US under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO Act) as well as the Alien Tort Statute in the District Court in New York. But the court dismissed the case because she was a non-resident foreign national and the WMO falls under the International Organizations Immunities Act. The district court decision was upheld by the US Federal Appeals Court for the 2nd Circuit. The immunity protection provided a cover to the WMO in saving legal troubles in the US. But Ms. Veiga is now challenging immunity in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to lift the WMO’s immunity from Swiss law.

Despite all these scandals, Mr. Jarraud was elected again to lead the UN agency simply because no opposition candidates were running for the post. This time, however, is different. A new candidate from Turkey has emerged to challenge Jarraud’s bid for a third term in the elections to be held during the 16th World Meteorological Congress, which will be held in Geneva from May 16 to June 3, 2011. Mehmet Çağlar, director-general of the Turkish State Meteorological Service (TSMS) and Permanent Representative of Turkey to the WMO, came forward to declare his candidacy.

Çağlar has an impeccable record in weather-related studies at home and abroad. His agency in Turkey has contributed a lot to the WMO as one of the 23 Regional Training Centers. Under his stewardship, the TSMS has offered more than 50 international training courses for around 450 participants from more than 100 different countries since 2000. He will be a great asset to the WMO, and his leadership, along with a clean slate, will help overcome the negative perception of the UN weather organization, which has been tainted by corruption and embezzlement scandals.

The Turkish weather agency’s link to the WMO goes back to 1949 when Turkey became one of the first members of the organization. The TSMS actively takes part in WMO activities in the fields of observation systems, weather forecasting techniques and early warning systems, climate and climate change, agricultural meteorology, renewable energy sources and remote sensing. The TSMS is also represented in all eight of the technical commissions of the WMO and contributing to the relevant working groups.

I just hope the members of the WMO would seize this important opportunity and cast their votes to start a new era for the world’s leading weather agency. Jarraud’s misconduct conviction cost the agency huge sums of money — the largest judgment to date in its 64-year existence by the ILO tribunal. This public money comes from taxpayers of 189 member states represented at the WMO. Mr. Çağlar’s candidacy certainly deserves a fair consideration for the post of secretary-general of the WMO.

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