Global Policy Forum

Secretary General Unveils Latest Reform Package


By Saeed Shabazz

Final Call
October 8, 2002

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan Sept. 23 proposed a broad set of reforms to be implemented within the world body, including simplification of administrative procedures and a reduction of expenditures. He told reporters at a morning briefing that his ultimate objective was improving efficiency. "What I am putting before you today is a package of pragmatic improvements that amount to a very different way of doing business," Mr. Annan told reporters, unveiling his second reform report in five years. The secretary general has authored a 55-page report entitled "Strengthening the United Nations an Agenda for Further Change."

Observers say this is the most radical shake-up of the UN since 1997, when Mr. Annan offered his first report on reform. The new report calls for a wholesale re-evaluation of the work the United Nations does. The report also said waste must be reduced, overlap and duplication stopped, resources pooled and an end put to an unwieldy number of meetings and conferences.

During 2000/2001, the United Nations held 15,484 meetings and issued 5,979 reports. While this trend is an inevitable result of an increasingly complex global agenda, it can and should be reversed, Mr. Annan said. "We must take a critical look at all activities," said Mr. Annan, who told reporters that he took the action on his own.

Responding to a Final Call question about some activists' accusations that the new UN program of only making reports available electronically would deny people in developing nations access to information, Mr. Annan replied: "In those cases where they would want to have hard copy, they have access to it. We are not depriving them." Activists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have also charged that by allowing UN staff to choose what conferences would be held, developing nations' concerns would disappear from the UN radar screen. "We are not saying that we should not meet. This is our business. We bring people together, we dialogue, and we gain from the exchanges. But I believe we can do it better," Mr. Annan responded to that concern.

Mr. Annan's reform package comes amid an ongoing financial crisis at the UN, where unpaid dues have reached $2.11 billion. According to a UN spokesman, the United States owes $1.2 billion. The UN and its agencies employ 52,100 people worldwide, including 4,500 at the New York headquarters. The organization has an annual budget of $13 billion to carry out programs, including peacekeeping operations.

"We must focus our energies on the major challenges of our era and to the things that really matter to the world's people," Mr. Annan said. Two specific areas in need of immediate revamping are the UN Human Rights Commission, which serves as the international community's human rights monitoring and standard-setting body, and the Security Council, he said.

Concerning the Human Rights Commission, Mr. Annan wants to expand UN capacity to help countries build strong human rights institutions. Human Rights Watch circulated a statement Sept. 23 that did not mention Mr. Annan's reform package but suggested "advance proposals" were being circulated that seemed designed to weaken the role of the UN Human Rights Commission and limit participation of activists in the process. The group said budget cuts were already having an adverse impact on the commission's effectiveness. "The non-governmental community will have to play an active role in holding governments accountable," said Peter Takirambudde, director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. The rights group said it has begun an appeal to UN member states to exempt the Human Rights Commission from current budgetary constraints.

Mr. Annan said the revamp was not intended to eliminate staff, cut the budget or save money. The blueprint for UN reform aims to streamline the organization to make programs effective, he said.

No amount of restructuring will change things in the United Nations until people are ready to deal with the systemic culture of its "good-old-boy" network, said Adrian Karatnycky, president of Freedom House. The organization monitors political rights and civil liberties worldwide and has offices in New York, Washington and Poland. "This is a ‘headquarters culture' at the UN, where delegates routinely trade favors to ensure support for their own candidacies to key posts. The UN system is a vast patronage pool that represents opportunities for well-paying jobs," Mr. Karatnycky said.

Concerning Security Council reform, Mr. Annan said he was worried over the tardy progress of the General Assembly. It has been discussing expansion of Security Council membership to make it more representative for the last decade, he noted. He warned that the delay is affecting the world body's credibility. "No reform of the United Nations will be complete without the reform of the Security Council," Mr. Annan said.

A proposed abolition of veto power held by the council's five permanent members has been high on the agenda of a UN working group dealing with reform of the Security Council. But the group has remained deadlocked for the past five years. The council's five permanent members are the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China. The General Assembly elects 10 other members from various regional groups for two-year terms. But the permanent members have veto power and hence are the most powerful.

Delegates say India is a strong candidate for permanent membership. But African representatives say Africa must also have a permanent seat on the council. The prime minister of Lesotho, Pakalitha B. Mosisili, told the General Assembly Sept. 15 that he could not conclude his remarks without referring to the Security Council. "The process of democratization is indeed very difficult, and yet inevitable," he said. "My delegation wishes to reiterate its concerns that this organ of the United Nations, which is charged with the maintenance of international peace and security, has itself not yet moved to be more inclusive and more representative."

More Information on UN Reform
More Information on UN Reform Initiatives
More Information on Secretary General Kofi Annan's Reform Agenda


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