Former foreign minister of Thailand, Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, who is also known affectionately as "Khun Surin," was a strong and compassionate secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean. I have high respect and many fond memories of him. More than just my superior, he was my mentor for management and a thoughtful leader.
Khun Surin was Thailand’s highest-ranking diplomat from 1992-2001. I remember well when he interviewed me as I was applying for the Asean deputy secretary-general post in the field of community and corporate affairs. He led a recruitment team which consisted of 10 representatives from the Asean states, CPR (the committee of permanent representative). He advised me to "Please help the Asean secretariat." Not long after I was accepted to fill-out the position.
One of his greatest accomplishments as secretary general was the revamping of the secretariat, to fulfill the vision for a people-centered organization while maintaining its "rule based organization" role as determined by the charter. He was a coordinator for the relief assistance at Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in May 2008. Asean’s approach to the post-Nargis response may well offer a model for other regional organizations.
Under his leadership, he entrusted me to finish the Asean secretariat staff regulation (ASSR) and the Asean financial and rules procedures (AFRP).
The ASSR and the AFRP have been in place since April 2010. In the last seven years, there have been several changes and development and some of them have had implications on certain financial rules and procedures. These standards include the international public-sector accounting standards (IPSAS), international standards for the professional practice of internal auditing and international procurement standards.
I remember that the recommendations of the high-level task force on strengthening Asean secretariat and reviewing Asean Organs was: "The CPR should review the ASSR and the AFRP in order to strengthen the Asean secretariat in the area of human resource management and administration as well as financial management." In revising and updating the current AFRP, a task force has been set up.
Diplomatic Capital City
As Asean strives to implement a free trade zone, Khun Surin told me that the success of Asean and the diplomatic presence of missions and other international organizations added to significant economic and political benefits in Jakarta that would continue for years to come. "We should take a fresh look on how we can accommodate both Asean and non-Asean citizens who work to sustain the centrality of Asean," Surin said.
He further pointed out how Belgium’s economy strongly benefited from hosting the European Union headquarters, while New York, Nairobi and Bangkok have drawn on the presence of the United Nations.
Under Khun Surin’s suggestion I went to meet with then Jakarta governor, Mr. Joko Widodo. We discussed and elaborated the roadmap of Asean and what facilities we could draw for embassies as well as the Jakarta administration. Despite the tasks and challenges that were present, the Governor was determined to make the city the diplomatic capital of Asean.
After finishing his term at the Asean secretariat, Khun Surin continued to further his mission reaching out to the world, promoting Asean and sharing his views about moderation, democracy, economic development, peace and security. Before his passing, Khun Surin was the chair of the International IDEA board of advisers in Stockholm, while also taking the role of emeritus professor at Thammasat University, co-chair of the commission on human security and honorary adviser under the King Prajadhipok Institute, and chairman of the Future Innovative Thailand Institute.
The last time I met Khun Surin was in November 2016 when Thailand Ambassador Kiattikhun Chartprasert hosted a dinner at Stallmästaregården in Haga Parken, Stockholm. He reminded me that the future of the Asean region relies on the following; "Forward-looking and visionary diplomacy are needed in view of tougher integration and security challenges."
Surin Pitsuwan was instrumental in seeing that the 10-member Asean enshrined the value of human rights, economic growth and democracy in the Asean Charter, which came into force when he was the Asean secretary-general. His departure is a big loss not only for Thailand, Asean community, but also the Asean dialogue partners. He left us with a legacy for Asean unity. Thank you, Khun Surin.
Bagas Hapsoro is the current Indonesian ambassador to Sweden and Latvia and the former deputy secretary-general of Asean for Community and Corporate Affairs.