OPEC seeks new secretary-general

Jul 09, 1999 02:00 AM

Wanted: a secretary-general for OPEC, the oil exporters' cartel enjoying resurgent influence in the world economy. The winning candidate will have to tolerate being sidelined by member countries sometimes prepared to go to war with each other to get their own way. Vienna-based duties include administrator, conference organiser, smooth-talking mediator and diplomat.
Qualities include stress tolerance, self effacement, expertise with economics and ownership of a fat industry contact book, say some previous incumbents. Blunt speakers and big egos may have a tough time. Cool heads, in contrast, would be prized at the helm of an organisation not known for placid temperaments. "The job is most difficult, most stressful," Fadhil al-Chalabi of Iraq, acting secretary-general of OPEC from 1983-88, said. "I had many problems because I had my own ideas and spoke about them. I was almost reprimanded by many countries. There is always someone who doesn't like what you say."
The job was perhaps at its most difficult during the 1988-94 incumbency of Indonesia's Subroto. He led the cartel when Iraq invaded and occupied fellow founder member Kuwait in 1990 following a row over oil policy. A US-led alliance ejected Iraq from Kuwait in 1991. Subroto said using diplomatic skills is vital, and not only in trying to mediate between OPEC members. "The job is more like an ambassadorial position. The secretary general represents the organisation," he said. "You must foster closer relations with non-OPEC producers and consumer countries." The post is expected to change hands in September after Nigeria's Rilwanu Lukman steps down. In the job since January 1995, Lukman was named in May as energy adviser to Nigeria's new civilian government.

Some experts question whether the job retains any real significance. While OPEC will never be the power it was in the 1970s, this year it reasserted its role as a cartel prepared to intervene effectively in the world oil markets. Oil prices shot up $ 8 a barrel from 22-year lows to more than $ 18. Circumstances, however, may be conspiring to undermine the importance of its top official. "If you asked me whether the job has retained any real meaning I would say outright, no," said Chalabi. "The post has in reality been downgraded." While Lukman supported a package of output cuts orchestrated by OPEC and some non-OPEC producers over the past year, he played no central role in assembling them, insiders said.

Source: IINX via Iinoil
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