The Group of 77 has a long-standing tradition: that when a former Chair comes to the conclusion of their tenure in Rome we gather to praise their hard work and to celebrate our friendship.
Today we meet to honour Dr Horacio Maltez, Deputy Permanent Representative of Panama to the United Nations in Rome and Chair of the G77 in 2004.
Horacio is very well known by all of us because of his dedicated service to his country, to the Regional Group of Latin America and the Caribbean, to the developing countries, and indeed to the whole membership of the Rome-based specialized agencies.
He has worked tirelessly for longer than most of us, if not all. During his fruitful tenure he chaired the GRULAC a record five times. On each of these occasions he performed with commitment and distinction, earning the lasting respect of his peers.
Most recently, he served as Vice-Chair of the Conference Committee Working Group on FAO’s Strategic Framework. He just finished his third term in the FAO Finance Committee, where he once more became the invaluable partner for individuals seeking advise that, coming from his lips, is at all times clear, constructive, and proactive.
This is true as well for his contributions to the governing bodies of the World Food Programme and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. Horacio spent eighteen dynamic years at IFAD’s Executive Board, which makes him the foremost expert on IFAD affairs among us.
In short, Horacio has a holistic knowledge of the three agencies that goes far beyond that of any typical Representative. His extensive and enthusiastic service can only explain a small measure of his worth as a colleague and as a builder of an ever-stronger win-win network based upon the virtues of multilateralism.
Horacio has the uncommon advantage of being an exceptionally gifted diplomat while at the same time holding several advanced technical degrees in food production, rural planning, animal health, and related fields, having been an adviser to several Ministers in his native country. His diplomatic skills, including his admired eloquence, team up with his ample field experience at country, regional, and global level to make him a beacon of knowledge and wisdom.
This combination of brilliant political and diplomatic talents on one hand, and of outstanding technical expertise on the other, comes on top of his being one of a handful of living encyclopaedias walking down the corridors of this house of ours.
This is why, when I first set foot in Rome, I asked for a list of colleagues whose judgment would be indispensable to better understand the complexities of FAO, IFAD, and WFP, as well as the relationship among Permanent Representatives, and the interaction between us and the managers and staff of the three agencies.
Seven years later, there is not much that I do —indeed there is little that I think of doing— without picking up the phone, e-mailing, or simply approaching Horacio, who is always available, to ask his views.
Horacio became G77 Chair at a crossroads that none of us who where here back then can ever forget. In 2004 the process for reform, renewal, and strengthening of FAO was being launched.
Developing-country Representatives were extremely anxious, because some colleagues from developed countries openly shared their view that the Independent External Evaluation was a turning point. One where FAO’s field presence and technical work would take the back seat, so that the Organization could concentrate in standards setting and other normative work, with a severely reduced budget. Some went as far as suggesting that the Technical Cooperation Programme should disappear altogether.
In that perplexing environment, a few misguided souls declared that this radical overhaul of FAO would be a “take it or leave it” proposition, and that the agency itself could be shut down if developing countries did not agree to this extreme vision.
A handful of Representatives from the G77 saw no way out of the challenge. Many of us worried that the very unity of the G77 might be in jeopardy.
I will never forget Horacio’s speech at such crucial moment. He stood up and pointed out in detail the inherent fallacy of approaching normative and operational work as if they could be de-linked. He promised that while he was at the helm of our group the developing countries would stand tall, with a single voice, protecting and defending the multilateral system in general and the FAO in particular. That was the year of the 40th anniversary of the G77.
We will all miss you, Horacio. But we will not stop calling. You’re far too valuable to let you enjoy your well-deserved retirement.