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I am including here a chapter, written in 2002, from my book. Comments from http://letterstogabriella.blogspot.com/demonstrates what had been done subsequently, showing how progress in UN Reform remains mired in the same platitudes:
Many champions of the United Nations viewed the end of the Cold War as the dawn of a new era in international affairs in which the UN would play a leading role. A standing army at the call of the UN Security Council would impose peace on warring nations and a plethora of dedicated agencies would engage in “nation building” in so-called failed states. A host of UN-brokered international agreements on issues ranging form the environment to health to urban planning, funded by multilateral development banks, would serve as the basis for a “Great Global Society.”
UN Wire even optimistically reported on 30 June 1999 that the “renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith is calling on the United Nations to intervene when corrupt government results in hardship, poverty and suffering.”
“In a humane world order, we must have a mechanism to suspend sovereignty when this is necessary to protect against human suffering and disaster. Let there be government by the UN to bring about an effective and humane independence.”
Galbraith said that while economic aid is important, “without honest, competent government, it is of little consequence.”
Saying colonialism has often given way to corrupt government or no government at all, Galbraith noted: “Nothing so ensures hardship, poverty and suffering as the absence of a responsible, effective, honest polity.” He identified the very large number of the destitute as “the most evident and painful of the economic and social legacies from the centuries past.”
The United Nations has achieved some positive results, but has always fallen short of achieving the objectives for which it was created. It helped facilitate the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan but not much else, it orchestrated the transition to democracy in Namibia but caused huge inflation in the process, it helped effect reconciliation between warring factions in El Salvador and has assisted the independence of East Timor with a reasonable degree of success. Also, it is a good idea to have a place where governments can gather to air grievances. But it has made no long-lasting and permanent improvements in the lives of anybody but its own overpaid and over-privileged staff.
It is easy to imagine the United Nations as the fat, dominant kid that runs after each and every problem shouting; “Let me solve it” and then invariably making a mess of it.
It is almost impossible to talk about the United Nations without generalising, from a few selected and specific examples, thus when talking about its failure, ignoring its few successes; when waxing lyrical on its successes forgetting its glaring failures; talking about its strengths, forgetting about the pervasiveness of its weaknesses. Overall, the United Nations should be considered as a fantastic idea, an organisation that is an essential and valuable part of the modern world, gone sadly wrong. Millions of words had been written about the failure of the United Nations, varying from right leaning American think tanks that believe that it is an embryonic superstate that could potentially menace liberty; to left leaning groups that believe that it is nothing more than a rubber stamp for American foreign policy. It is generally referred to as a vast bureaucracy that resists all efforts at reform. This resistance to reform and to any sort of internal and external control mechanisms is one of the most remarkable, indeed the signature, feature of the United Nations System today. The many attempts at UN reform across the years have suffered from failures: failure to implement measures; negotiated compromises that are inadequate and subsequently difficult to undo; moving boxes on organizational charts without attention to ensuring vital lines of communication and coordination; poor choices of senior UN personnel; lack of clear job descriptions; inadequate or non-existent staff training; assigning tasks and funding to institutions on grounds of favouritism rather than appropriateness; and confusion over the meaning of the term “coordination.”
Although all sorts of noble motivations for this are usually given, ignoring the fact that no matter how noble the purposes of the UN, it can at best only employ human beings.
The United Nations had gone sadly wrong because its people had failed it. In reality it is becoming increasingly obvious that many UN agencies act as a magnet for every type of charlatan and crook, where incompetence seems to be not only tolerated but also actively encouraged and rewarded. In spite of their unspeakable incompetence, or perhaps because of it, the single, defining characteristic attribute of most UN staff is their arrogance. Much of this arrogance is born from the notion that they belong to something special, something that is inherently special and which specialness applies to them although in reality they may be nothing more than a bunch of freeloading charlatans exploiting the system.
Graham Hancock, in his book “The Lords of Poverty” puts it most succinctly; “To continue with the charade seems to me to be absurd. Garnered and justified in the name of the destitute and the vulnerable, aid’s main function in the past half-century has been to create and then entrench a powerful new class of rich and privileged people. In that notorious club of parasites and hangers-on made up of the United Nations, the World Bank, and the bilateral agencies, it is aid - and nothing else - that has provided hundreds of thousands of ‘jobs for the boys’ and that has permitted record-breaking standards to be set in self-serving behaviour, arrogance, paternalism, moral cowardice, and mendacity.”
It is forgotten that the UN has no intrinsic value; there is no space for it under international law. It is not inherently special. It was created purely on the basis of a moral argument and its only legitimacy could ever come from the quality of its work. And much of the quality of its work, the sort of work that can provide legitimacy and credibility to the notion of a United Nations, should be done by the UN agencies, at that point where it interacts with ordinary people. The people whose quality of work was supposed to make it special, but who had done nothing but degrade it, seldom do more than demand the consideration and respect they sincerely believe is their due simply because they represent the UN system.
There is no other agency where this is more obvious than at the principle agency of the system; UNDP. And since this agency has taken it upon themselves to tell others how to behave, the dichotomy between what they say they are and what they really are in reality had become increasingly conspicuous and disturbing.
It may be useful to define some of the concepts that had entered into our discussion thus far such as corruption, transparency, accountability and competence in order to get an idea of just how far UNDP had strayed. UNDP now devotes about one-third of its funding to governance issues and therefore we will try to use their own definitions as far as is possible. Since their work is aimed mostly at governments, most of the definitions they use are aimed at governments, but the central tenants hold true for the UN as well.
Remarkably, no concise definition of corruption can be found within the UNDP literature that could meaningfully be applied to governments, multi- and bi-lateral agencies, NGO’s and civil society organisations. In the case of these sorts of organisations corruption is of two kinds - the simple pocketing of public or private money, on the one hand - but also the misrepresentation of themselves as independent, public service and beneficial when they are not, on the other. The legitimacy of these organisations exist only because of what they say they are going to do - if they do this fraudulently, or covertly do something different, this is a their particular kind of corruption. Because of the high moral principles of this sector, however, any corruption is an important problem. What we need is a more sceptical, objective view of the sector without both romanticism ion the one hand, or cynicism on the other - a clear appreciation of its strengths and weaknesses, and a pragmatic view of what can be done to help them regain the moral high ground from which they have, in the case of UNDP, so obviously started to slip.
Richard Holloway, the one time Bishop of Edinburgh and Graham Professor of Divinity in the City of London suggests a definition of corruption for NGO’s and other forms of civil society organisations: “behaviour for personal gain, or for the benefit of another person or organisation on the part of people who claim to represent an independent, not for profit, public benefit organisation.”
Yet Michael Maren, a journalist and former aid official who worked in Africa for 20 years, writes, “Aid bureaucrats, have one purpose in life: spending other people’s money. They don’t pay much attention to how successful or devastating their development projects might be. Their concern, or lack of concern, for most Third World people is determined solely by the bottom line on the foreign aid budget.”
In the very awkwardly titled occasional paper from the UNDP Human Development Report Office, “Poverty Eradication And Democracy In The Developing World, Human Development Report 2002, Regional Overview Of The Impact Of Failures Of Accountability On Poor People,” Ahmed Mohiddin suggests the following definitions for Accountability and Transparency:
Accountability is the obligation to render an account for a conferred responsibility. The linkage between assigned tasks and the actual performance makes a reality of one’s responsibilities or obligations to those who have entrusted them with those responsibilities. It is in a sense a reciprocal relationship between those who have been entrusted with certain responsibilities and those who expect those responsibilities to be fulfilled. Accountability requires that public officials respond to the requests and demands of the citizens without any discrimination or favours.
Financial accountability is an indispensable management device providing essential information for the effective monitoring and controlling of resources. One important function of accountability in the private sector is the provision of sufficient and necessary information on the performance of the enterprises so that investors may make or adjust their decisions. Or those who are concerned with the economy and promotion of human development - the government - may put in place the appropriate poverty eradication policies.
Society is an intricate network of reciprocal and accountable relationships between peoples at various levels and for different purposes. It is the cluster of these reciprocal and accountable relationships with acknowledged codes of conduct that creates the trust, compassion and social capital - the conducive environment - for the promotion of human development and the alleviation of poverty. Accountability promotes peoples’ trust and confidence in government; and, in turn, reinforces legitimacy and integrity, and enhances dedication and commitment in those responsible in running and managing government.
It is impossible to ensure accountability, detect weaknesses and evaluate their impacts on people, and design the strategies to enhance efficacy of the institutions and mechanisms of accountability if there were no popular awareness of such deficiencies. Transparency facilitates such awareness. Transparency entails availability of information on all matters related to the governance process. It means in particular that the conduct of public servants and the manner in which they perform their duties are known or knowable to those interested, and that the public servants themselves are aware of the rules and conventions that describe their duties and prescribe their performance. The bottom line of transparency is openness in the conduct of all types and levels of governance, public as well as private. It is this openness and exposure that stunts the temptations to corruption and circumscribes its growth.
…Transparency is a key aspect in sound public administration as governments have a moral and legal responsibility to report periodically on their performance. The essential principle that must be maintained is that the business of government must be transparent. Transparency focuses on public reporting with the objective of making apparent that what governments do is more visible, which hold them accountable for the way they exercise authority granted to them. The cost of failing to be transparent and underestimating the power of governing bodies can be high. A lack of transparency leads to mistrust and election losses.
It would be difficult to achieve either accountability or transparency without competence, and in spite of this attribute being so sadly lacking within UNDP, a very nice, concise definition of this is offered;
Competence entails the capacity to make timely and strategic decisions with regard to the immediate issues and the long-term policy options that are likely to emerge. It entails the overall analytical capability to identify the salient issues, design strategies and formulate the appropriate policies, and to manage the governance processes in response to the needs, wishes and aspirations of the people in a world that is rapidly changing. As a major institution in the governance processes, it is important that government is efficient and effective.
The effectiveness of the political leaders will depend partly on their own individual capabilities, primarily an issue of education, training, skills and experience; and partly on their legitimacy, primarily an issue of how they obtained the power and the manner in which they utilized it. In other words, are the political leaders reasonably educated and sufficiently experienced? Are they accountable to the Constitution and to those who elected them?
Although many of these things are entrenched in the substantial number of manuals and guidelines that exist within UNDP, and where they are diligently ignored, clearly, all measures could only be successfully implemented within the framework of an organization fully committed to prune away all existing unethical behaviour. This is a prime prerequisite and if an organization fails to do so it will only send a strong message throughout the organizational structure that it is acceptable to be less than honest. Given the various mandates performed in very often in difficult environments, the UN has undoubtedly a massive task. It is a recognized fact that the immensity, loose definitions of responsibilities and fuzzy organizational structures has historically plagued large UN agencies and has led to organizational deviance. What may not be so widely recognised is that the degree of unaccountability is staggering and has allowed most UN civil servants to remain largely immune both legally and morally.
The senior UN managers in charge of the day-to-day running are specifically invested with the responsibility of minimizing fraud opportunities by instituting cost-effective reliable internal controls and promoting ethical organizational behaviour. Holding the overall responsibility in designing, implementing and enforcing control mechanisms, management is ultimately responsible for perpetrated frauds, with external and internal auditors playing a major role in advising management to strengthen control of their organizational entities. Developing ethical leadership within a given organization are already effective measures against crime, but fall short on several aspects. It is therefore a bit disturbing to note that as a general rule there is no evidence that UNDP exercises due diligence in seeking to prevent and detect criminal conduct by its employees; has produced no clear statement of its managerial philosophy regarding internal fraud; and there appears to be no specific high-level personnel with substantial control over the organization appointed to oversee compliance with Standards. The UN’s Internal Audit Division is severely understaffed. The UN’s ability to pursue those charged with misuse of UN funds through national jurisdictions also needs strengthening. But these things are all pointless if there is no will on the part of management to implement these, and no sense of accountability within the organisation.
Management accountability is the expectation that managers are responsible for the quality and timeliness of programme and project performance, increasing results, controlling costs and mitigating adverse effects, and assuring that programs are managed with integrity and compliance with the organization’s goals.
On the other hand, if violations of organization compliance policy are not punished, it will only beget dishonest employees and create frustrations among honest colleagues.
Peter Eigen, Chairman of Transparency International (TI), the world’s leading NGO fighting corruption, seem to feel that “The corrupt are running out of places to hide. That is the message that runs through the Global Corruption Report 2003,” as he writes in his introduction. “Freedom of information is not enough,” he writes. “However professionally and accurately information is processed, corruption will continue to thrive without the vigilance of the media and civil society, and the bravery of investigative journalists and whistleblowers.”
The only place to hide, it seems, is within UNDP. I had written to Transparency International twice, without getting any response. This may have something to do with the fact that there exists a joint UNDP-Transparency International “partnership fund for transparency,” specifically to help non-governmental organizations involved in “corruption busting.” Within UNDP there are absolutely no functioning mechanisms to report fraud, no safe way to air grievances and a management bent on the imperative not only to condone fraud but also to go to extraordinary lengths to hide it. I find it difficult not to conclude that this attitude is condoned and probably supported at the highest level of the organisation. The highest level of UNDP consists of its administrator, Mark Malloch Brown. Everybody, except Erick de Mul, a very senior UN employee, was very concerned about what I had to tell. Each one of them promised to do something to have the situation regularised. They promised to do things, such as evaluations and audits that should be routine. And each one of them subsequently retracted and started avoiding me.
These days not a single UNDP staff member has the courage to look me in the eyes. It is comical to watch them as they either go to extreme lengths to avoid me or stare at the floor or the ceiling when in my company. They are all, each and every one of them without exception, an embarrassment to the international community and I only need to be near them to forcefully remind them of that. None of them has the courage to do something about it; to do so would force them to stare into the abyss of their own essential worthlessness, I guess. I appealed to their competence; they encourage and reward incompetence. I appealed to their credibility; they lost that a long time ago. I appealed to their sense of justice; the only justice that concerns them is contained in their pay package at the end of every month. I appealed to their humanity; human beings had become their enemies.
The Poor, Internally Displaced People, Refugees; the Vulnerable, all these words that they so glibly throw about are but words to them, categories of people at best. They have no idea that these are not categories of people but ordinary human beings in special circumstances. Instead of working hard to mitigate and alleviate these circumstances and the conditions that lead up to them, to be an enabler of private destinations, as it were, they behave as a norm as a paternalistic substitute for society, government, individual endeavour; but more often than not as a destructive presence rather than the expression of all the hopes and aspirations of humanity that the United Nations was created to serve and represent. The only people they serve are themselves.
In a Press Release from The UN News Centre on 08 August 2002 “Annan launches new UN-private sector alliance to fight poverty, AIDS, illiteracy,” we read;
UNDP Administrator Mark Malloch Brown said the reason he had approached the Secretary-General with the proposal to form the Commission resulted from a trip to Africa. That trip had confirmed what he had observed on many other field trips: despite the many real successes of development, a strategy of economic diversification and the development of a small and medium sized business sector was missing at the centre. The “pillar” was not there. The issue of building a private sector in developing countries was the critical next challenge in development. “It is the great mountain we need to climb together in this area,” Mr. Malloch Brown declared.
This is exactly what we started doing, before the pillar, if one can start mixing metaphors with the same wild abandon, was systematically destroyed by UNDP. The sad irony is that I would have taken this project and the results that it was achieving, and put it within the sort of framework upon which we could have built even further successes, where we could have climbed this great mountain, using the local-level initiatives, relevant and realistic strategies, and the energy and enterprise of the poor, if it was not for the fact that I believed in the lies of UNDP. I believed in both the lies that were told to me to my face, as well as those contained in their considerable literature about themselves. Our expectations were demeaned, our work marginalized, our problems ignored, our experiences unanalysed, and our skills under-utilized.
“The glib and oily art to speak and purpose not” as Shakespeare wrote in King Lear only gained meaning for me when I started reading a bit more closely and critically through the UNDP documentation. It has to be said that this is arguably the most verbose organisation in existence and reading through their literature is both an exercise in endurance and resistance to boredom.
One of the most readable, by their own account, is their Annual Report 2003, which they insist upon calling “A World of Development Experience” and it is not a world that I would wish upon my worst enemy. Perhaps acknowledging that UNDP had not performed to expectations in the past, the report tells us that; “Today, UNDP has come to the close of the most dramatic four-year internal transformation in our history. We are more capable than ever before of responding to the world’s development challenges because our organization is stronger, more focused and better connected. We seek and achieve results, and underscore accountability in all that we do. We look for new and creative opportunities to help people build better lives, through partnerships and the exchange of knowledge, while ensuring that our resources flow steadily behind our mission to reduce poverty.”
On the ground, naturally there is very little to support this sort of optimism. There may have been some restructuring but very little real reform, al lot of ad-hocism but no long-term vision.
Then, without boring the reader with any sort of practical information on what they had done in practice in order to improve, the report tells us things like; “UNDP embarked on its 2000-2003 Business Plan, aiming to take a fresh and more responsive approach to our mandate” and “Across all of them, we promote human rights and the empowerment of women” and “Critically, these reforms caught the attention of donor governments, who demonstrated their approval by reversing a seven-year downward trend in core resources” (except in Angola) and “we set out to become a decentralized, networked organization that gives policy expertise and practical solutions where they are needed most: in programme countries” (now where else would they be needed?) and, most promisingly “We are coming close to that goal.”
Just for in case we are still sceptical we should be pleased to be told that, after thirty-seven years; “Last year, for the first time ever, we brought together all Deputy Resident Representatives for training in Bangkok, Thailand to enhance their capabilities as managers. A Resident Coordinator assessment centre evaluated 89 existing and newly appointed Resident Coordinators and Representatives.”
UNDP also started using “staff surveys, along with yearly country office polls of headquarters products and services, that are comprehensive measurement tools that provide insight on our strengths and weaknesses, opening avenues for better performance and greater accountability” and they came to the earth shattering conclusion that; “They have underscored, for example, the critical importance of improving people’s basic skills and matching staff more closely with their jobs.” This is the same organisation that has taken it upon themselves to tell others how to manage their affairs. This is the same organisation that claims to represent a unique pool of knowledge and skills; yet had just learned for themselves “the critical importance of improving people’s basic skills and matching staff more closely with their jobs.”
They are so proud of what they had achieved that they are convinced that “Partners Say They Value UNDP” quoting “A survey across 118 countries” that “found high approval rates.” They then produce the following very encouraging results: All respondents 87%; Governments 92%; UN Agencies 82%; International Financial Institutions 78%; Bilaterals 74%; Civil Society 86% and Private Sector 90%. The opinion of Beneficiaries, the only people that really count, is not mentioned anywhere, but after a six-year involvement with UNDP, coincidentally at the same time as their so-called “most dramatic four-year internal transformation,” one can well believe that these could be what UNDP simply classify as Other 90% and Unknown 95%. Now one would really want to believe that there could be people on the receiving end of UNDP’s endeavours; and that these people, as well as all the entities mentioned, would so wholeheartedly endorse this spurious organization. Yet the fact that UNDP quote as its source the “UNDP External Partnerships Survey 2002” as well as considerable personal experience to the contrary does serious harm to the credibility of these results. However much I, as a smoker, want to believe in those surveys that tells you that smoking is not only good for your health, but also that it makes you better looking and incredibly popular, I have to take into consideration that these surveys are invariably produced by the tobacco companies and thus not very believable. Common sense also tells me that smoking is bad for me. In fact any ten-minute conversation with any UNDP staff member, the source incidentally of most complaints regarding the organisation, would completely belie those results.
Research Conducted for the 2020 Fund by GlobeScan Inc for the Second Survey of the 2020 Global Stakeholder Panel, dated March 2004 and entitled “What NGO Leaders Want for the Year 2020 NGO, Leaders’ Views on Globalisation, Governance, and Sustainability” has the following to say:
“Respondents were asked a number of questions dealing specifically with the UN and its leadership capacity. Over nine in ten (94%) NGO leaders agree that the UN system needs to be significantly strengthened in both powers and effectiveness. Further, pluralities of NGO leaders think it is “very important” that the UN Security Council (55%), the UN General Assembly (42%), and the UN secretariat and its agencies (39%) are reformed to achieve their ideal vision of global governance. Fully six in ten (60%) say the same about multilateral agencies. In all cases, Southern NGO leaders are more strongly in favour of UN reform than their Northern peers. Less than one in two (45%) NGO leaders agree that the UN is capable of dealing with current world challenges. Despite this, only two in ten (19%) believe that the UN should be disbanded and replaced with new global institutions. The desire for UN reform is evident among Northern and Southern NGO leaders. However, Southern leaders (25%) are slightly more likely than those in the North (14%) to believe that the UN should be disbanded and replaced with new global institutions. This finding, which is consistent with global public opinion, is particularly important given that a large part of the UN’s work is directed toward the developing world. While NGO leaders are as sceptical as the global public regarding the UN’s capacity to manage world challenges (45% vs. 44%) in the wake of the Iraq conflict, they are much more likely than the global public to believe that the UN system needs to be strengthened in both powers and effectiveness (94% vs. 77%). As a whole, however, NGO leaders are less likely than the global public to believe that the UN should be disbanded (19% vs. 36%). This suggests that while leaders believe reforms are needed, the UN continues to have a relevant and necessary role in their ideal vision of global governance, more so than the general public.”
And UNDP tries to tell us that they, amongst all of the UN agencies, have almost universal credibility and that people value them, whatever that may mean.
Reading further into the UNDP report, that contains such worthwhile issues as; Conflicts and Natural Disasters: Bridging the Gap; Human and Economic Development: Priorities That Benefit the Poor; Nation Building: A Foundation in Democratic Governance; People and Our Planet: The Road to Sustainable Development; HIV/AIDS: Coping with Loss, Advocating for Hope, we soon come to the conclusion that they are not offering anything concrete. They do not even say what they mean by development. Is it economic growth? Is it being less corrupt and more transparent? Is it being kind to women and nice to one another? Are we supposed to become richer or happier? Or both? The nicest definition that UNDP ever came up with; “Human beings are not only the purpose, but also the means of development” sounds nice but is largely meaningless. And all the nice explanations in their report are likewise largely generic, feel-good, touchy-feely sorts of stuff, clothed in flowery and profound language. The words transparency, good governance, democracy, accountability and many others are bandied about without being defined. UNDP, an organisation noted for the absence of these concepts within their own structures, promises that once these issues are addressed, and that they will address them, the world will be just a dandy place. Nowhere are we told exactly how they will do this. They admit that the problems are serious but are optimistic that it can be solved. It is a bit like wanting to fix a car and reading everything on the principles of internal combustion, the science, insofar that it is a science, of alloys and metal fatigue, the elastic properties of rubber and Newton’s Laws of motion. These are all fascinating and useful things to know, but one won’t get very far in getting a car fixed that way. A workshop manual for the specific model of car would be far more useful.
We are told that UNDP has $2.83 billion available in core funding. They mention a success here and there but these are but a few selected and specific examples, the veracity of which is a bit dubious. No numbers are given to accurately gauge if these are really successes. Remember that UNDP had very proudly presented our project as a success as well, even though the success had absolutely nothing to do with them, and at the time they were actively working towards its eventual failure. What they are doing in the report is public relations; there is no consistent, realistic analysis, containing both successes and failures, and that provides a coherent overview on how they are spending their funds and what affect this is having. By the way, this amount of money is not small change, but on the other hand it is not a particularly large percentage of the hundred or so billion that circulates in some form another annually under the banner of humanitarian aid. If UNDP considers itself as a major player in the development world it is certainly not as a result of their financial clout.
These things are all a bit beside the point anyway. The arguments in this document, their abstract nature aside, lack any sort of logical and analytical rigour. They make no attempt to explain how all the issues that they want to address interact with one another or their relative importance in this so-called development. There is no real consistent causal relationship between good governance and democracy, human rights and corruption, economic growth and transparency or any other combination of the previous. More transparency does not necessarily lead to more economic growth although a lack of transparency may or may not impede such growth. AIDS may well devastate the economies of some of the countries where it is endemic; in others the economies may be strong enough to absorb the negative effect of the disease. In yet others there are no meaningful economies to destroy and the effects of AIDS may well be just one of many factors impeding the creation of a sound economy. In yet others AIDS is virtually non-existent or negligible. Cultures vary so widely that there is no single universal approach to combating the disease.
Operating from a disturbingly thin base of knowledge, with respect to the core rationale of their work; how change in governance occurs, and the real effects of the changes that are produced, UNDP prescribe rule-of-law programs to cure a remarkably wide array of ailments in developing and post-communist countries, from corruption and surging crime to lagging foreign investment and growth. Despite this, these good governance promoters are surprisingly short of understanding and knowledge in many areas: about what the essence of good governance actually is, whether it primarily resides in certain institutional configurations or in more diffuse normative structures; about how good governance develops in societies and how such development can be stimulated beyond simplistic efforts to copy institutional forms and what kinds of larger societal effects will result from specific changes in rule-of-law institutions. They do not even think of explaining how exactly promoting the good governance will contribute to economic development and democratisation.
One does not need to be an economist to know that wonderful things can be done to economic growth through the simple expedient of introducing slavery and forced labour. If there is a labour shortage, child labour will further increase profit and thus economic growth. Any industrialist can tell one that measures to protect the environment cost money and that they would be prefer not to introduce them.
Lenin and Stalin had but the vaguest of notions and even less interest in human rights, yet transformed Russia from a feudal state into a superpower in twenty years. Those Russians not freezing to death in Siberia lived in the best houses ever offered to the Russian people. They had reasonable salaries, free education and health care and enough to eat. If the Russian system failed because it is not democratic, why then does it seem to work in China? The World Bank has begun to acknowledge that the countries most successful in poverty alleviation are China, Vietnam and Cuba. All have sluggish or stagnant economies, none are democratic; Cuba has been isolated and receives none of the so-called benefits of globalisation. Libya has few democratic institutions but a largely content and wealthy population. America has the largest, fastest growing economy ever and strong democratic institutions but corruption is endemic; it is pervasive in everything from rubbish removal to health care. They maintain the death sentence and apply it with alarming enthusiasm, thirty years after most of the rest of the world had abandoned it. Italy has a stable economy but cannot elect an honest prime minister or maintain a parliament for more than a few weeks at a time.
The fact of the matter is that there are no generic solutions. The interrelationship between many of the concepts that UNDP throws about will differ from place to place and from time to time. Most solutions will be found locally or nationally within priorities defined at those levels. All solutions will require intelligence. All solutions will require unique skills based on unique knowledge of unique circumstances. Realising, for example, “the critical importance of improving people’s basic skills and matching staff more closely with their jobs” is not a unique skill. It is common sense. One does not need “staff surveys, along with yearly country office polls” to tell one that. All solutions will be found by people who recognise that failures are a necessary part of the learning process; who can cope with that in a mature manner and who will have the courage to correct their mistakes.
There is a saying that goes “All facts and events in history happen twice; the first time as farce the second as tragedy.” As Europe emerged from their agrarian economies in the nineteenth century and started industrialising, poverty became endemic and then entrenched within a system that dealt with it through narrow-minded, simplistic ignorance. It took two major, destructive wars to convince the international community to tackle the root causes of European poverty head on. Poverty is the most complex of human enemies, and is never a farce. It rebuffs narrow sectoral solutions, devours inappropriate development programmes, feeds on protectionism and exploitation that prevents its victims from earning their way through trade. Those lessons now lie forgotten in our past and the world community is yet again stumbling through the same situation committing the same errors through exactly the same narrow-minded, simplistic ignorance. And, far from being part of a possible solution, UNDP is simply a mirror of the problem.
It is also a large organisation, therefore it is perfectly possible that one part of it may be doing a reasonable job, distracting attention from the fact that a large part of it is involved in questionable practices. One of the biggest successes, and the biggest contradiction, of UNDP is their publications, that can frequently be of excellent quality. These are mostly done by consultants, contracted for a specific purpose through a much abused system. Yet one of their biggest failures is that none of the excellent ideas and concepts contained in many of their publications ever become part UNDP as an organisation. It may just be that they do manage to solve all the problems they promise to, but this will be by accident; they themselves will remain as irrelevant and incapable as ever. It is like the story of having enough monkeys typing away at enough typewriters for long enough, sooner or later one of them will come up with one of the plays by Shakespeare.
Today we have an agency incapable of keeping their own house in order, yet try and convince others, through meaningless platitudes, that they are dealing with some of the most serious and intractable issues in modern society.
This is an organisation that is very seriously adrift. Unless their restructuring involves disinterested and outside advice and guidance, and most important of all, input from their constituents, any so-called improvement in the organisation will be and come across as patch-up jobs.
Reading through their Country Reports and Country Co-operation Frameworks, another exercise in tedium, further confirms this. Nowhere is the reader told how many people have benefited from their efforts and how much it had cost. Meaningful financial statements from UNDP are a rarity. One is confronted with qualified and vague statement after qualified and vague statement: “project results will benefit from the introduction of better management systems,” and “achievements will be improved through monitoring and evaluation.” What they are really saying, and saying so in report after report, is that they are fucking up, and until they can do that in those words, they will be known as an organisation characterised by historic ignorance, greed, and irresponsibility; leaving a legacy of inefficiency, ineptitude, and outright corruption in its wake.
Behind the carefully constructed myth created by UNDP lies but a mass of contradictions, unfulfilled objectives and broken promises.
At the same time, the United Nations, slowly and subtly, is assuming more and more power for itself. Within the last few years a permanent International Criminal Court had been established, with the main purpose to prosecute War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity. After the turmoil and disgust created by the Second World War, the Nuremberg Trails were intended to send a message that nobody is immune from prosecution for horrible crimes such as genocide. The UN system, established in 1945 also established the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to address the economic aspects that lead to the causes for interstate war. The establishment of the UN effectively made the principle of rule through conquest illegal, thus removing one of the major motivations for interstate war. The UN thus started dealing with a multitude of other issues that it was not really designed to solve.
Just after the state of Israel was declared and war had broken out with the Arab states, the UN established its first peace mission. The assassination of UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte, by Israeli extremists in September 1948, whilst trying to negotiate ceasefires and suggesting the establishment Jerusalem as an international city, demonstrated to what extent the concept of neutrality, largely respected throughout the Second World War, was no longer valued. The UN still has not learned that lesson.
The safety of UN staff would from now on have to depend on something else for their safety; credibility, competence, the ability to walk the tightrope of international relationships with integrity and skill. When they failed to do this in Rwanda and Burundi, and when a weak and powerless peacekeeping mission in Bosnia resulted in large-scale massacres of civilians, it was decided that the International Criminal Court should become a permanent fixture.
In spite of a lot of resistance, as well as a great deal of legal and moral pitfalls, this court is a brilliant idea.
Equally brilliant is the idea that international companies could find their activities subject to investigation and censure by United Nations human rights officials under principles adopted by the sixth session of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Negotiation of the UN Convention against Corruption on 08 August 2003. This took years to arrange and to bring together all the areas where divergence exists. They even had to search for adequate definitions of corruption, such things as assets recovery and deal with the question of whether to sanction only public, or also private, corruption. Finally, the UN’s draft Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations asserted that companies should be subject to the kind of enforcement procedures at the UN Commission for Human Rights previously applied only to nation states.
In a truly remarkable development, a top adviser on organised crime at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Samuel Gonzalez-Ruiz, resigned in protest from the agency, that had been at the forefront of the Anti-corruption treaty, alleging it is riddled with corruption despite a recent clean-up drive. On 03 November 2003, Thomas Catýn in London reported in the Financial Times that Mr. Gonzalez-Ruiz has “accused management of turning a blind eye to “a pattern of misappropriation of funds” and “clear acts of corruption and mismanagement” by staff.” In a letter of resignation he wrote, “One can observe a pattern of irregularities in the issuing of contracts, petty corruption, and abuses of administrative discretion committed by staff with managerial responsibilities over projects and programs within my working domain.” The article entitled “Adviser quits over ‘corruption’ at UN agency” goes further to say that; “management took no action to investigate cases of internal corruption by staff, even after they were provided with detailed evidence” and “that whistleblowers within the agency were routinely punished and that corrupt officials enjoyed “active and/or passive protection from top management.”
Mr Gonzalez-Ruiz, who advises governments on fighting corruption, wrote that the UN does not itself abide by the principles enshrined in its treaty. “I do not have the stomach to be promoting a fight against organised crime and corruption around the world when I am working in an office that tolerates administrative and in some cases criminal violations," he wrote in a letter to UNODC director, Antonio Maria Costa. Mr Costa said that he had not read the letter and was “very surprised” at the allegations, which he claimed he had not heard before. Mr Costa, an economist and former secretary-general of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, was brought in in May 2003 to clean up the scandal-plagued agency after several European donors had cut off funding. He had previously told the Financial Times that he was successfully overseeing a new era of transparency and good governance within the organisation and “recovering from a situation that led to an abysmal relationship with donor governments. But critics, including former employees, charge that he has done little of substance. “He has engaged in little more than window dressing,” said Tony White, a former anti-drug official at the UN agency.”
What is less brilliant, to the point of being stupid, probably dangerous, is the fact that the expansion of justice and the expansion of the application of rights, a further intrusion into social, economic and political life as it were, is all done under the umbrella of a single organisation that is already charged with a multitude of other issues. What is glaringly absent in all of this is that this organisation itself is not subject to any form of sanction and control. This would not be desirable even if the UN was a perfect organisation, but the more ambitious the initiatives, however, the more glaringly apparent the UN’s problems become.
Although Lord Luton has told us that the only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history, we should never forget Hegel’s admonition that “All power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
It can hardly be expected that the UN will on its own account and initiative set up and implement the sort of effective controls that would permit its own staff to be taken to court and perhaps imprisoned for such crimes as, for example committing fraud, or hiding fraud.
The United Nations will never take the sorts of steps to prevent themselves from going out of control. It may be noble for the United Nations to intervene when corrupt government results in hardship, poverty and suffering, but who will make the decision to intervene? The United Nations? Who will keep the over-powered and over-privileged UN bureaucrats in check, if there is no electorate to do so? It is often easy for somebody in New York or London to suggest that the UN should be sent to sort out some embarrassment in some remote cesspit somewhere. It is not always so easy for the people living in those cesspits to deal with the problems that the UN bring with them, in addition to the problems that they already suffer. Bringing with you nothing but ignorance, combining that with arrogance, throw in a healthy dollop of corruption and all you have is a recipe for causing offence.
What is needed is a separation of power and responsibility. It is good that there is now an International Criminal Court.
This should be followed up with an International Human Rights Court. The investigation of human rights abuses, at all levels and in all its manifestations, should really now be handled by a separate international authority, of which organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Transparency International and others, international, regional, national, and local, could be the controlling and managing members. The UN High Commission for Human Rights should also be just a member of this body, perhaps concentrating on human rights abuses within the UN system, where apparently it is endemic.
Human Rights are an important issue, also delicate and sensitive. There are many who believe that it is not even a topic for international discussion. Anybody intervening on behalf of others, for whatever reason, and no matter how good the outcome, is skating on very thin moral ice. The contradiction is that humanitarian aid depends for its own validity on the universality of human values; this dichotomy is not understood, it is not explored sufficiently and it is not respected.
More responsibility for Peacekeeping should be passed to regional military organisations of which NATO is but one option. They could intervene, more forcefully and effectively, usually but not necessarily at the request of the UN, and probably be under a separate command. One recent effort has been the proposal to establish an all-African intervention force to deal with regional conflicts. Through the formation of the African Crisis Response Force the US, for example, is seeking to form a partnership with Africa, Europe, the UN, the African Union and other entities to build the capabilities of African militaries to respond to international crises. It builds on ongoing peacekeeping initiatives in Africa and throughout the world. If successful, it will answer a critical long-term need on the African continent and improve the international community’s near-term ability to respond to a potential massive humanitarian crisis almost anywhere in Africa. There is also panoply of assistance programs, through the United Nations Standby Arrangements System, the African Union’s proposal that members voluntarily earmark troops for peacekeeping operations, and the Western European Union’s Joint Initiative on Peacekeeping and Conflict Resolution in Africa. These concepts also builds on efforts to improve regional peacekeeping forces elsewhere in the world through programs such as the Partnership for Peace with former Warsaw Pact nations, through assistance in the formation of an integrated Baltic Brigade for IFOR (the Bosnian Peace Implementation Force), and through peacekeeping exercises in Latin America.
The responsibility for development should likewise rest with the various regional development communities and with organisations such as the African Union. These organisations could then collaborate with the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, putting them under more pressure for more equitable globalisation, fewer barriers to trade internationally yet respecting regional and local needs and Poverty Reduction Strategies that actually reflect the needs and realities of regions and countries.
In 1992, Paul Streeten, in a monograph on International Governance at the University of Sussex made the statement, “The state has become too big for the small things, and too small for the big things. The small things call for delegation downwards to the local level. The big things for delegation upward, for co-ordination between national policies, or for transnational institutions.
One should take note of the plural in the last sentence. The UN should not have too much control or responsibility across such a wide spectrum of issues. It should be remembered that this international organization is not an independent agent; its actions are authorized and often performed by member states. States benefit from their use of global and regional organizations because such cooperative efforts diffuse responsibility, rather than leaving even positive intervention in the hands of one state. The world community can act with its moral authority and the material resources provided by its members only when the organization maintains the highest levels of integrity and professionalism. The UN should also be subject to the same principle of diffusion of responsibility on which it was created.
It is time for the extent of the United Nations’ value to be put into perspective. The United Nations is not our “moral guardians” or “mankind’s best hope for peace” or the “conscience of humanity” as they like to tell us, but merely an association of the world’s governments created for a limited purpose. As a equal partner amongst independent but inter-dependant organisations the United Nations would become a minor player in the international system, and kept within such confines it can do a modest amount of good; as would each of the other organisations within their own geographical spheres and areas of responsibility. Collectively this may add up to a tremendous amount of good, a good that a single superpower, for example, may find slightly more difficult to manipulate for its own ends. Outside these boundaries the United Nations has proved a failure, lacking both the credibility and the capacity to meaningfully intervene in some of the more intractable problems that afflict the world today. Within such bounds there may be some incentive for the UN to become more focussed, reform itself, to adapt in order to remain relevant and to become more accountable and really make a difference. The UN system is operating in a world of much greater complexity and danger than when the UN was founded. In order to tackle the range of urgent problems demanding coherent attention, the UN’s machinery and capacity must be streamlined and strengthened.
Where would UNDP, the agency who, mindless of the need to explain the reasons for their near consistent failures, blithely continue to make evermore ambitious promises, fit into such a scheme? They would fit into the same place as where most of their projects end up. In the rubbish bin, another failed idea.
The skills and creativity that they claim to have is in fact to be found in abundance amongst the people that they so diligently ignore, even despise: the poor, the marginalized, the displaced, the refugees, the same people who endure, and even thrive against tremendous odds. These are people who do not have to remain within sight of a five-star hotel in order to survive. These are the people that represent what being human is really all about; survival against the odds, a being with more endurance than any other living thing, that can adapt to almost every condition, that can find their own solutions without spinning a web of deceit and lies around themselves.
In the same way now, at the sight of the hunger, cold and degradation of thousands of people, I understood not with my mind or my heart but with my whole being, that the existence of tens of thousands of such people. . . while I and thousands of others over-eat ourselves with beefsteaks and sturgeon. . . no matter what all the learned men may say about its necessity – is a crime, not committed once but constantly; and that I with my luxury not merely tolerate it but share in it.