Why they Hate Us
Thursday, May 10, 2007 10:33:00 PM
by Leon Kukkuk
|Comments on Kofi Annan''s proposal for UN Reform
On 07 March 2006, Kofi Annan presented his proposal “Investing in the United Nations: for a stronger Organization worldwide,” a blueprint for an overhaul of the UN, to the General Assembly and urged its 191 members to invest in management reform so that the UN can help millions of people around the world.
These were proposals in direct response to last year's investigation into the UN oil-for-food programme which concluded that shoddy management was partly to blame for widespread corruption and that cited weaknesses in oversight, accountability, responsibility and structure. The UN also suffered with allegations of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers and the fallout from corruption charges linked to how the UN awards work contracts. The report starts on a very positive note:
“Previous reform efforts, while generating some significant improvements, have sometimes addressed the symptoms rather than the causes of the Organization’s weaknesses, and have failed to adequately address new needs and requirements.”
It is not clear whether these words are those of a man whose bravery stems from the fact that he is soon to leave his position as Secretary General, a man who is in very serious trouble and concerned about the legacy he will leave behind or a man taking head of the words of his erstwhile Chief-of Staff, Mark Malloch Brown, who fears that the UN is at risk of becoming increasingly irrelevant over the next ten years. Mark Malloch Brown is a somewhat shady sort of fellow who was appointed as Chief-of –Staff on 30 December 2004 to assist the Secretary-General in leading major initiatives to improve the performance and overhaul the management of the United Nations. However, he has a somewhat dubious history of being in leadership positions of major institutions such as the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme just as these institutions are going through some of their more corrupt and inept phases and has a penchant for large sweeping statements such as:
“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.”
Of course, none of this is true and this transformation is largely fictitious and one can only hope that Kofi Annan is serious, and will be supported, when he says two years later:
“I propose measures that I believe are needed to enable future Secretaries-General to carry out their managerial responsibilities effectively, as well as measures to enable the Organization as a whole to make better use of its managerial and human resources. This is an opportunity, which may not occur again until another generation has passed, to transform the United Nations by aligning it with, and equipping it for, the substantive challenges it faces in the twenty-first century. It is a chance to give Member States the tools they need to provide strategic direction and hold the Secretariat fully accountable for its performance.”
On 10 March 2006 the Associated Press reported that “The management overhaul won initial support from the United States and the European Union. But Annan and his senior team faced strong objections from UN staff, especially about outsourcing and job security, at a raucous and contentious meeting Tuesday afternoon.”
Two days later the UN Staff Union handed the Secretary-General an overwhelming vote of no-confidence. The union, representing over 5 000 staff at UN headquarters, was by all accounts dismayed at many proposals in Annan's blueprint, especially the call to consider outsourcing a variety of UN services and in all likelihood also this statement from the report:
“Staff skills in the United Nations today are not aligned with current needs. We cannot always attract the best people and we lack the funds to help those we do recruit . . . to develop their careers.”
This is followed by the promise:
“Only by an effort on this scale — a management reform as broad as it is deep — can we create a United Nations Secretariat that is fully equipped to implement all its mandates, using the resources of its Member States wisely and accounting for them fully, and winning the trust of the broader world community.”
One tends to wonder where the Staff Union was when Kofi Annan was forced to admit the UN’s role and failure to prevent the Rwanda massacres when more than 800 000 people died. Their voices then certainly were not as prominent.
One also wonders if there were any raucous and contentious meetings protesting any one of the many UN Peacekeeping failures, or the persistent failure of UN programmes, or any of its diplomatic shortcomings or the extent of corruption within its ranks that most staff knew about for a long time and took for granted.
Maybe there were those that wanted to speak out. Perhaps they were afraid then to be heard. Their cushy jobs were not yet on the line and as this writer, for one, was told on 10 February 2003 by James Lee, Ombudsman of UNDP that “staff often threatened to go to the press, but they never do.”
This was part of a conversation filled with subtle threats that had started rather ominously with the emphatic declaration by said James Lee that: “The UN does not like the Press.”
He then proceeded with “Erick de Mul, especially do not like the press.” Erick de Mul is a senior United Nations official that, at the time, when confronted with the disappearance of more than a million Dollars from a project, blithely dismissed any concerns in a letter to the host Government to the effect that “our responsibility is limited to the planning and financing of the project.”
Is there anybody out there that can still remember the Nuremberg Trails?
Admittedly just a little more than a million Dollars is not a particularly large amount of money – it was to hardworking Africans, dedicated to improving their communities, who as a result went without salaries – but the importance of this letter lies in how typical it is of the prevalent attitude at the United Nations.
Speaking of large amounts of money, during more or less the same time as the Secretary General’s report other frightening things were happening as well.
On 01 March, Reuters reported that “thirteen countries forged an alliance on Wednesday to adopt a levy on plane tickets to help poor countries fight AIDS and other killer diseases, . . .”
It claimed to build on a proposal by President Jacques Chirac to impose a levy of one euro on plane tickets to help spread the benefits of globalisation to people living on less than a euro a day, a level of poverty that prevents those hardest hit by malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis from receiving treatment. Britain and France also announced a joint study on funding education and health through the airline ticket levy. France expects to raise €200 million a year from the levy.
This was a decision welcomed by some and an NGO “Statement on Innovative Development Financing” took note of this mechanism: “Our support to the launching of pilot mechanisms is set in the wider framework of calling for the implementation of a real international taxation system. We do not consider pilot mechanisms as mere innovative tools to fund development but as an embryo for global redistribution mechanisms.”
They even went as far as to suggest all of the following:
An additional taxation system on the profits of transnational companies; taxation of international financial flows by both a currency transaction tax and a tax on bond transactions and environmental taxes that target the players who widely benefit from globalisation and whose activity negatively impacts the environment.
Fortunately however, the diplomatic strategy of the “quadripartite” group failed to rally a “critical mass” of countries to this initiative.
The NGO’s stated further that they were deeply concerned about the absence of fundamental principles and that this pilot mechanism will only very marginally contribute to the funding of the Millennium Development Goals, yet another ill-conceived Grand Plan that will fail and that everybody already knows will fail.
Equally frightening is the fact that it is nowhere stated who exactly will manage the fund, and to whom it would be accountable. It is however an idea mooted originally, and as early as 1994, by Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the then Secretary-General of the UN, who not only wanted taxing powers but also access to unlimited amounts of money so that it could then pay even less attention to its member states that has almost no say in how this corrupt and unaccountable organisation is run. It is also difficult to find anywhere any logical justification whatsoever as to why any organisation, and especially such an inept organisation as the UN, who has in its midst not a single democratically elected official, should have taxing powers in the first place. The UN should depend for funding on contributions by its member states and should guarantee the reliability of these funds through the quality of the work that they are doing.
At any rate, regardless of who will manage this fund it is important to note that most people are already paying taxes. If the taxpayer must shoulder the burden of additional taxes then elected officials should convince them that it is necessary for whatever reason: domestic spending, development overseas, Global AIDS or whatever; and it should be raised through the current national mechanisms and be accountable to those mechanisms.
Levying taxes that are effectively above and outside of the control of elected officials and their electorate is in principle not a very good idea. Taxes should be paid to governments, democratic ones if it can be helped, and not to undefined and potentially – or inevitably – unaccountable international “Funds.”
What would we do if, heaven forbid, AIDS suddenly pops out of existence, as happened to the Spanish Flu in 1918, and typical of the highly erratic behaviour of viruses?
Would the “Fund” then also disappear?
Taxes, unfortunately, tend to have this nasty habit of not only staying around but even increasing as well.
“No one is being held accountable for the failed systems and processes indicated in the report, and their enormous costs for this organization.” States the resolution passed by the UN Staff Union.
How wrong they are.
This is perhaps the first report to ever take the first tentative steps in holding to account those that should be held responsible for the UN being the largely irrelevant organisation that it is. It is the freeloaders, the parasites, the charlatans and scam-artists that make up the bulk of the UN staff that is largely responsible for this. There may be political reasons for its failures, but corruption did not fall out of the sky or were perpetuated by a Higher Hand, programmes did not fail because thieves struck in the middle of the night and stole the results. It is the staff that make the decisions at the UN that made it so, and it is this staff, collectively and individually, that should take the fall.
One wonders who at the Staff Union protested the loudest.
Was it perhaps the personnel at the Trusteeship Council, that was set up to oversee the process of independence from Colonialism, and who had nothing to do for the last fifteen odd years?
Could it be members of the “Commission For Investigating The Crimes Committed By The Apartheid Regime,” a commission that apparently is still floating about the UN secretariat somewhere?
Collectively it is the staff of the United Nations – and who else could it possibly be? – that are largely responsible for an organisation that is seriously adrift in a sea of issues that fall outside of its mandate and for which it is ill-equipped to respond. The United Nations has in effect become nothing more than a large Black Hole into which the International Community is pouring increasingly large, and increasingly futile, amounts of money.
The next step from here – and the one that will require the greatest bravery – would be to start pointing fingers and name names. Individual accountability is just as important, if not more so, than collective responsibility.
Kofi Annan should now go further by opening a Forum where members of the International Community, those that most to the UN budget at least, but as importantly those in the Developing world that find themselves on the receiving end of UN efforts, can now contribute by indicating who should be rewarded for those successes that, admittedly, do exist within the UN system, and who should take the fall for failures.
I, for one, have my list of names ready.
Letters to Gabriella