Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 June 2017
On 9 January 2013, Mr. Le Luong Minh, Deputy Foreign Minister of Viet Nam, succeeded Thailand's Dr. Surin Pitsuwan as the Secretary-General of ASEAN (ASEAN SG). This article explains what the ASEAN SG is expected to do, and suggests what he should also try to do.
DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES IN THE CHARTER
Duties and responsibilities of the ASEAN SG are prescribed in the ASEAN Charter's Article 11. Paragraph (a) of the article states: [The Secretary-General shall] “carry out the duties and responsibilities of this high office in accordance with the provisions of this Charter and relevant ASEAN instruments, protocols and established practices”. According to Article 7 Paragraph 2 (g), the ASEAN Summit appoints an ASEAN SG with the rank and status of Minister, who will serve with the confidence and at the pleasure of the Heads of State and Government of ASEAN upon the recommendation of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting (AMM). Article 11 Paragraph 1 states: the appointment is for a non-renewable term of 5 years, based on alphabetical rotation [and consensus], “with due consideration to integrity, capability and professional experience, and gender equality.”
Undiplomatically speaking, the ASEAN Foreign Ministers have direct supervision over the ASEAN SG, and any of the ASEAN Leaders can sack him. This is the political reality and institutional constraint under which every ASEAN SG has to accept and learn to live with.
Paragraph (b) of Article 11 states: [the Secretary-General shall] “facilitate and monitor progress in the implementation of ASEAN agreements and decisions, and submit an annual report on the work of ASEAN to the ASEAN Summit”. The annual report is submitted to the ASEAN Summit in the second quarter of each year; the ASEAN Summit in the fourth quarter is devoted more to ASEAN's external relations. One quandary is whether or not the ASEAN SG should also report on delays and shortcomings. Here, the preference of most government officials is for the omission of negative points, and for the emphasis on progress and achievements. This is part of the celebrated ASEAN Way.
Some ASEAN Leaders actually encouraged Dr. Surin to tell them the “bad news” in ASEAN, not just the good news. One big item of “bad news” that Dr. Surin raised was this: ASEAN is not getting anywhere nearer to achieving a drugs-free zone by the year 2015.