Last night the Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria admitted that it has been unable to reach a decision on its new Executive Director, and decided to extend the search until April. Apparently the Board narrowed the list of five final candidates to two front runners, but was unable to reach consensus on a final candidate. The impasse reflects the unusual structure of the Board, its strong emphasis on consensus, and its desire to give the new ED a strong (rather than split) mandate. (The new ED will need a strong mandate if he or she is to tackle the agenda set forth in The Future of the Global Fund: Challenges and Opportunities for the New Executive Director, the new CGD report by a working group that I chaired.)
The Global Fund's Board is unique among international bodies. It puts a very strong emphasis on broad participation among donors, recipients, NGOs, the private sector, and people living with the diseases in an attempt to take seriously the ideas of broad participation, transparency and democracy. The Board consists of 20 voting members (and four non-voting ones). The Board's by-laws (.pdf) formally divide these twenty seats into two groups of ten each: a "global north" group consisting of eight donors, one private foundation representative, and one private company representative; and a "global south" group consisting of seven recipient countries, a northern NGO, a southern NGO, and a person representing communities living with the diseases.
For any proposal to pass a vote, the by-laws require a double two-thirds super majority -- that is, 7 of 10 votes in each of the two groups. This standard obviously is a high one for any organization to reach, and reflects the importance the Global Fund puts on consensus and broad agreement. But in this case it was unable to reach its own standard: each of the two final candidates received the two-thirds needed from one group, but not the other. This divide reflected differences in views between the donors and recipients, a strong push from each group to assert more control over the organization, and inevitable horse-trading between political constituencies for votes. Alas: democracy is messy.
Obviously, it would have been far better for the Fund if the Board had been able to reach a clear consensus around one candidate, and the delay is not a good outcome for the Fund. But the Board deserves credit in two ways.
First, there has been widespread criticism of how leaders are chosen in the World Bank, the IMF, and other bodies when essentially one country or a block of countries decides on a candidate and the choice is rammed through without much debate and with little voice from developing countries. The Global Fund has tried to move far in the other direction and give many different constituencies a voice. This is laudable, but not easy.
Second, the Board could have continued the debate this week and probably ultimately reached the double two-thirds needed for one of the candidates. But the new ED would have had a weak mandate from the start, with half the Board clearly not supportive, which would not have been good for the Fund in the long run. The Board recognized this potential problem, and ultimately decided that extending the search to find a candidate that would receive a strong mandate was better in the long run than pushing forward to agree on one with a split mandate. Given where they were, this was the right decision.