Thursday, November 22, 2012

Inequality in the Junior Professional Officer (JPO) Programme

A government that funds a programme and restricts participation to its nationals is not different from an entrepreneur, investor or individual who creates jobs and makes it company policy to employ only his or her compatriots; or a man who creates jobs and implements a discriminatory policy designed to employ only men.

The Junior Professional Officer (JPO) Programme provides marvelous opportunities for young professionals under the age of 32 working in the field of development to gain hands-on experience in the field.[Source] It gives qualified young people the opportunity to work in organizations and United Nations (UN) agencies, including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), Joint United Nations Programmes on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and others. Governments that fund the JPO Programme administered by the JPO Service Centre (JPOSC) restrict participation to their nationals - putting into question their commitment to guarantee equal opportunity for all people legally within their borders irrespective of national origin.

Through the JPO programme, young professionals working as JPOs gain significant experience of up to two years or more in the aforementioned UN agencies and developmental programmes around the world - working in countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Russian Federation, Jordan and others. The JPO programme is a great. It accounts for 10-13% of the professional staff of participating organizations; it empowers young people and encourages them to participate in development work around the world. However, it has a surprising down side: it violates the principle of equal opportunity.

A closer look at the programme, especially the eligibility requirements for participation, reveals that it is discriminatory on grounds of nationality and national origin, and disproportionately empowers young people from donor countries - thereby breeding inequality between young people from developed countries and equally professionally qualified nationals of developing countries.

The JPO Programme is sponsored by a few "donor governments" and more often than not, only their nationals are eligible to apply for JPO positions. JPO vacancy announcements make no secret of this discriminatory recruitment policy. As of the time of this writing, donor countries whose nationals are eligible to apply include: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, oil rich Kuwait, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, oil rich Norway, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

It is fair to say that the aforementioned countries are doing a good job by creating marvelous opportunities for their young nationals to gain top-level international work experience. The countries are investing in the future by preparing their young professionals for leadership positions on the international stage. But by shutting out young professionals from less developed countries, the JPO programme breeds inequality. Some people would argue that donor countries should be free to decide how to spend their tax payers' money. This argument is invalid because discrimination based on nationality and national origin contravenes international human rights standards and, in many cases, violates national non-discrimination and equality laws. JPO Programme-participating governments have obligations under human rights covenants to guarantee equality within their borders.

No African country, as of the time of this writing, has sponsored the JPO Programme. This leaves young, qualified Africans in a disadvantaged position compared to their European counterparts. It is worth mentioning at this point that African governments are doing themselves a disservice by not investing in their young people. More often than not, state funds that could be used to sponsor programmes for young people, such as the JPO Programme, are embezzled and swindled into private coffers by corrupt officials.

On 20.11.2012, I received an email announcement of seven JPO vacant positions funded by the Foreign Ministry of Finland. I thought I was eligible to apply for one of the positions but two words (in Finnish) disqualified me: "...Suomen kansalaisuus" - meaning Finnish Nationality. The jobs are not sensitive diplomatic positions. It is unclear why the Foreign Ministry backs such as policy, despite the fact that Finland's  Equality and Non-Discrimination Act (Yhdenvertaisuuslaki) that came into force in 2004 expressly prohibits discrimination based on nationality, national origin and other grounds. Section 6 of the Act states: "Ketään ei saa syrjiä iän, etnisen tai kansallisen alkuperän, kansalaisuuden, kielen, uskonnon, vakaumuksen, mielipiteen, terveydentilaan, vammaisuuden, sukupuolisen suuntautumisen tai muun henkilöön liittyvän syyn perusteella."

A government that funds a programme and restricts participation to its nationals is not different from an entrepreneur, investor or individual who creates jobs and makes it company policy to employ only his or her compatriots; or a man who creates jobs and implements a discriminatory policy designed to employ only men.

Discrimination is what it is. Its definition should remain the same irrespective of whether the perpetrator is a government, international organization, or an individual. The JPO Programme is discriminatory on grounds of nationality and origin. It is a shame that the UN, an organization that promulgates "equal opportunity" and non-discrimination, allows such a policy in the recruitment of young professionals to staff its agencies and developmental programmes.

In "very limited circumstances", the JPO Programme recruits "very few" nationals of developing countries. As of 1 September 2012, there were 294 junior professional officers mostly working with UNDP. [Source] Only 25 (8%) of them were nationals of developing countries. [Source] Inequality in the JPO programme is staggering. Some effort has been made to recruit nationals from developing nations, but a lot more could be done. Recruiting "a small number" of  developing country nationals in "very limited circumstances" is tantamount to putting lipstick on a pig. Nationality should be dropped as a recruitment requirement.

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