Ban Ki-moon's vagueness on world affairs and noncommittal public statements on planned changes at Turtle Bay have led some to portray him as charisma-challenged and boring. On one thing the next U.N. secretary-general is firm, however: He intends to submit his personal finances to public scrutiny.
The General Assembly approved Mr. Ban's selection Friday, intensifying the horse-trading for key positions and speculation about the nationality of the next deputy secretary-general.
I, however, first wanted to hear Mr. Ban's opinion on the U.N. financial disclosure form.
Secretary-General Annan instituted the form, now mandatory for top Turtle Bay officials, last year as a countermeasure to his staffers' lax ethics, corruption, and theft of public funds.
Mr. Annan famously contended that he was exempt from the staff financial disclosure form because, as secretary-general, he is technically not a staffer.
Only after a series of evasions, which led to a press outcry, did he finally agree to hand in and sign the form last month. He refused to release it publicly, though, arguing that such a precedent would be detrimental to his successor.
After a news conference last week in which Mr. Ban showed why Seoul reporters might have been on to something when they named him "the slippery eel," I asked him whether he would fill in the form.
Unlike Mr. Annan, who is always quick with a definitive pronouncement on world events but evasive about his personal affairs, Mr. Ban did not wiggle his way out of answering.
"I will do it," he said."I have been doing [it] in Korea ever since I was appointed as a senior official, so I'm prepared to do that. No problem."
And will the disclosure form be released to the public, I asked. "Yes, of course."
Mr. Annan's entire career at Turtle Bay has been tied to its culture of unaccountability. Mr. Ban, who is now his country's foreign minister, is much more familiar with public scrutiny.
A boring diplomat who is prudent about his personal finances makes a better leader for Turtle Bay than a flashy "secular pope" wannabe who believes that the moral authority of the United Nations is so self-evident that it frees top officials from the need publicly to display honorable, ethical behavior.
The South Korean Foreign Ministry has showed a knack for hardball international politics this year, significantly increasing aid to countries participating in the selection of the next secretary-general. Mr. Ban reportedly also has traded votes for promises of positions at the upper echelons of Turtle Bay's bureaucracy.
Thus, the front-runner for deputy secretary-general so far has been the Swedish foreign minister, Jan Eliasson. With his flair for publicity, he would provide a contrast to Mr. Ban's personality. He also would promise "continuity": As president of the U.N. General Assembly, Mr. Eliasson oversaw the transformation of the discredited Human Rights Commission into the even more discredited Human Rights Council.
Other Europeans in the running are the veteran Norwegian diplomat Terje Roed-Larsen and President Vike-Freiberga of Latvia.
But in a meeting with Mr. Ban just before Friday's assembly election, members of the Group of 77 voting bloc argued for greater representation for developing countries in the 38th-floor executive suites at Turtle Bay. Since South Korea is a "northern," developed nation, the G–77 argument goes, the "south" now needs to be compensated.
While the G–77 did not ask specifically for the critical position to be filled by one of its own, several members of the group say the deputy secretary-general should be a woman from a developing country.
Since Asia now has a secretary-general and Africa just had one, a Latin American should be the next deputy secretary-general, the Pakistani ambassador to the United Nations and a key player, Munir Akram, told me recently. One attractive candidate, he added, is a former U.N. ambassador from Colombia, Maria Angela Holguin.
One British official I spoke to said Britain could support a "southern" deputy. Britain is reported to be angling for the crucial Turtle Bay post of undersecretary for political affairs, which it lost when its own Mark Malloch Brown became Mr. Annan's deputy.
Mr. Ban's public evasiveness about all this could mean that he is an extremely skillful player — or that he is lost in a thicket of job promises. For now, he is on the record as saying he will disclose his personal finances, and that's not a bad start.