Editorial Notes

We need an Asean CEO: The Jakarta Post

When Asean was established in 1967, such a spirit of equality was paramount. But now, after 50 years, Asean needs to revisit it.
When Asean was established in 1967, such a spirit of equality was paramount. But now, after 50 years, Asean needs to revisit it. PHOTO: AFP

In its editorial on Nov 17, The Jakarta Post urges the regional grouping to suitably empower its Secretary General to take the grouping forward.

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - In his capacity as the 2018 chairman of the 10-member Asean, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Wednesday the appointment of Brunei's senior diplomat, Lim Jock Hoi, as Asean secretary-general for the next five years, replacing Vietnam's Le Luong Minh. Lim's promotion was decided by the regional grouping's leaders during their summit in Manila a few days ago.

We welcome to Jakarta the new secretary-general and thank seasoned diplomat Le Luong Minh, who will end his tenure at the end of this year. Brunei has named its best government official to head the Asean Secretariat. We also believe a more challenging assignment is awaiting the outgoing Asean chief.

The secretary-general is appointed by the Asean summit for a non-renewable term of five years, with the selection based on alphabetical rotation. No doubt, all member states are committed to nominating their No. 1 choice for the post, although many, if not most, are from the bureaucracy.

Regretfully, during their summit in Manila, Asean leaders lacked the guts to decide drastic policies the region needed the most to ensure the realisation of the Asean Community in 2020.

There are at least two challenges the 50-year-old Asean needs to address. First, the Asean Secretariat should be empowered and its secretary-general should have more executive powers. He/she needs authority to act as the CEO of the group, a total departure from today's official, who mostly focuses on administrative and protocol affairs. We can learn from the European Union, for instance.

The candidates can be professionals, as long as they are citizens of Asean member states. With the appointment of diplomat Lim, it is unlikely that Asean will see a more powerful secretary-general.

As the 2007-officiated Asean Charter states, member countries shall have equal rights and obligations. The operational budget of the Asean Secretariat shall be met by member states through equal annual contributions, which shall be remitted in a timely manner. The equal contribution is aimed at ensuring an equal burden for all.

When Asean was established in 1967, such a spirit of equality was paramount. But now, after 50 years, Asean needs to revisit it. It does not make sense that smaller and poorer states bear the same burden as their more prosperous neighbours.

A more powerful and effective secretary-general and fair contributions will mark a major reform of Asean. But when is the time to consider these changes?

The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.