Global Policy Forum

UN Chief Denies Making "A Grab for Power"


By Thalif Deen

Inter Press Service
November 22, 2005

Responding to widespread criticism that he is bending over backwards to appease U.S. politicians and placate U.N.-bashing right-wing neoconservatives, Secretary-General Kofi Annan told delegates that all political decisions in the world body will continue to be made by member states, not by the U.N. Secretariat he presides over. "We are not going to usurp your powers," he told a closed-door meeting Monday of the 132-member Group of 77 (G77), the largest single coalition of developing nations. "There has been a lot of misunderstandings and misapprehensions," Annan said, adding that he had no plans to marginalise the role of the 191-member General Assembly, take away its decision-making powers, or even "impose decisions on member states". Contrary to speculation, he assured delegates, "this is not a grab for power".

Annan also denied that his chief of staff, Mark Malloch-Brown, who appeared before a U.S. Congressional committee last month, was reporting "directly to national parliaments on actions taken by the membership of the United Nations", as asserted by the G77. At a meeting of the G77 last month, several delegations criticised Malloch-Brown's appearance before the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill. The U.N. Secretariat is "accountable to the General Assembly and not to individual member states", the chairman of the Group of 77, Ambassador Stafford Neil, was quoted as saying. Annan told delegates: "When Mark Malloch-Brown went to Washington DC, he went to offer information, not to testify under oath." The secretary-general also said that no U.N. official had testified under oath during his administration, beginning in 1997. "I have myself spoken before national parliaments," he said, and Malloch-Brown's appearance before the House International Relations Committee was done in the same spirit.

Annan also referred to the controversial statement made by the new Under-Secretary-General for Management Christopher Burnham, whose appointment was inspired by the White House and who was quoted as saying that his "loyalties" were with U.S. President George W. Bush -- although political appointees have to jettison their card-carrying affiliations when they serve in the world body in order to conform to administrative and staff rules. "We have discussed this, and he apologised to me. This matter is closed," Annan said.

As part of his plans to revitalise the administrative infrastructure of the beleaguered world body, Annan has proposed the creation of a new Ethics Office and an Independent Oversight Committee, primarily to prevent fraud and corruption in the U.N. system. Additionally, Annan is planning to establish a Rule of Law Unit in the Secretariat, and also to review the relevance of several committees and U.N. bodies which, he thinks, have outlasted their usefulness or their original mandates.

All of these proposals to reform and revitalise have come under fire. Speaking on behalf of 132 developing countries and China, the G77 chairman has challenged the need for "new layers of bureaucracy". He also accused the Secretariat of trying to bypass the U.N.'s Fifth Committee, which deals with administrative and budgetary matters, and also the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), in the proposed reform exercise. These committees are the two most powerful in the world body because they sit in judgment over all budgetary matters, deciding which programmes should survive and which should die. But Annan assured delegates he has no plans to circumvent the two committees. "We need budgetary allocations. We will adhere scrupulously to established procedures. We will not bypass the Fifth Committee or the ACABQ. And we are not taking anything away from you," he added.

Answering charges that the reform of the United Nations was primarily U.S.-driven, Annan said that his proposed reforms will "have the interests of all members -- not just one country". He said his plans for reforming the world body began as far back as 1997, the year he took office. "Reform is not an event, it is a process." When he took over as secretary-general, Annan said there were 25,000 personnel in peacekeeping, which today stands at 85,000. In 1997, there were only 17 field offices with 140 staff members to oversee U.N. humanitarian operations, while today there are 43 field offices with 815 staff members. He also said that in the reform exercise the future of all programmes and mandates will depend on member states. "You will decide what should be cut and what should be rejected. It's your prerogative," he said.

But still, according one G77 member, Annan responded to questions "only selectively". In that sense, the whole exercise was "a farce", he said. Neil told delegates that Annan had failed to respond in writing to a letter sent to him last month detailing the complaints and the charges. In that letter, the G77 also objected to statements in several news media interviews where Malloch Brown was critical of member states. This, the G77 said, was in violation of the U.N. charter, "which requires the staff of the Secretariat to be politically neutral and to refrain from any action inconsistent with their status as international civil servants responsible only to the Organisation".

Asked about the charges of "management failings" in the U.N. Secretariat, Malloch Brown bluntly told a TV interviewer: "We have a hell of a structural problem. The Security Council and member states generally interfere in the management of this organisation. They've not given the secretary-general the authority or the resources or the means to run a modern organisation that can be held properly accountable to its membership." He also accused member states of interfering in the work of the Secretariat: "We instead have a highly politicised interference in the day-to-day decision-making by ambassadors and their minions."

An Asian diplomat told IPS: "It is obvious Annan was not going to criticise his senior officials at a public meeting. So he did the next best thing: his eyes just glazed over." Ambassador Vanu Gopala Menon of Singapore made a valid point when he asked Annan: "Is the United Nations embarking on a reform process under pressure just from one country (read: the United States)? Or is it because of negative media coverage of the United Nations"? He said the charge that "the United Nations is rotten to the core" is "absolute nonsense". Menon pointed out that there is a group of people who will not be satisfied -- however much the United Nations reforms itself. "There are critics out there who do not like the United Nations and want to destroy it," Menon added.



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