Meg Kinnear elected as Secretary-General of ICSID

By Damon Vis-Dunbar 
3 March 2009

A Canadian national has been elected as the new Secretary-General of the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), the high-profile facility for investor-state arbitrations. 

Meg Kinnear, who has worked as a lawyer for the Canadian government since 1984, will leave her post as Director General of the Trade Law Bureau of Canada to take over the helm at ICSID.

Ms. Kinnear will be the first full-time Secretary-General of ICSID; until this point, the job has also involved acting as General Counsel to the World Bank. The Centre has seen its case-load expand significantly in recent years, as an increasing number of foreign investors have exerted their rights under bilateral investment treaties. As of 2 March 2009, there were 123 cases pending at the Centre.

The ICSID is the best-known venue for settling investor-state disputes, which is partly due to the fact that arbitrations conducted under its auspices are more visible than the commonly used alternatives; ICSID maintains an on-line docket with a list of all its pending cases, for example, and routinely publishes arbitral decisions, or excerpts, on its website.

In light of the attention ICSID receives, the role of Secretary-General will be political, as well as administrative. Indeed, the Centre has come under criticism on a number of fronts from civil society groups.

In a telephone interview, ITN asked Ms. Kinnear how the ICSID Secretariat should be expected to respond to concerns expressed by civil society. Ms. Kinnear said that, personally, she found many of the criticisms from civil society that she had come across to be “thoughtful”, and added that the ICSID Secretariat should "listen carefully to such comments and consider concrete responses to criticisms that are valid."

Those who use the ICSID facility, i.e., investors and governments, have voiced their own concerns, including the length of time it takes for ICSID arbitrations to come to a conclusion, and the costs involved. Legal practitioners have said anecdotally that these issues have encouraged a move to ad-hoc forms of arbitration, or to other arbitration facilities.

Ms. Kinnear said that while she had her own ideas on how the ICSID system could be made more efficient and less costly, the first step would be to consult with ICSID users. “I am extremely interested to hear from practitioners and views of Member States, about how ICSID can serve them better,” said Ms. Kinnear.

Ms. Kinnear will begin her new job 22 June 2009. She has already stepped down as counsel in cases involving the Canadian government, and says that she is now mainly engaged in administrative tasks, such as helping find her replacement in the Canadian government.
Ms. Kinnear replaces Nassib Ziade, who has served as acting ICSID Secretary-General since Ana Palacio, a former Spanish Foreign Minister, stepped down last April.