ASEAN Secretariat 'must expand according to the tasks and duties assigned to it' and gain authority

Bagas Hapsoro, ASEAN's Deputy Secretary-General for Community and Corporate Affairs, says it is time for South East Asia's regional apparatus to evolve.

"The deeper the regional integration, the stronger the secretariat should be. Currently, only 70 professionals work at the ASEAN Secretariat, serving a combined ASEAN population of more than 600 million people.

The manpower crunch and a limited budget are two of the most critical issues confronting the secretariat," he wrote in an article published by The Jakarta Post.

ASEC, as the secretariat is known by its staff, "must expand according to the tasks and duties assigned to it, and ASEC should also be given the authority to operate efficiently. A professional and efficient secretariat will play an important role in ASEAN’s operations — leading to greater regional participation and better regional awareness," he said.

"A professional secretariat would also mean competing in the open regional market for staff, and that can only be done with a stronger financial commitment from the member states. The ASEAN headquarters needs to create a regional and international working atmosphere and make 'working at ASEAN' a prestigious assignment for people working at the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the World Bank or the European Union.

"Empowering the secretariat will essentially make its staff members value their hard work in a participatory contribution to regional security, economic development, enhancing connectivity and improving human rights promotion and protection for people all over South East Asia," he said.

Mr Hapsoro also commented on the Secretariat's residence in Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia.

He warned that the Indonesian government "needs to contribute to the improvement of infrastructure and transportation systems and promote the city’s multicultural lifestyle" but also questioned whether the South East Asian community was ready "to help Jakarta become 'the diplomatic city of ASEAN' and the capital of ASEAN in the eyes of the ASEAN people."

Much, he implied, will rely on Indonesia's current role as the Chair of ASEAN and its commitment to putting ASEAN “on the map” in world politics.