Global Policy Forum

UN Forges Multi-Million Dollar Reform Plan


By Thalif Deen

Inter Press Service
March 3, 2006

A long-awaited U.N. report detailing far-reaching changes in the management structure of the world body is expected to call for more than 400 million dollars in new investments to revitalise an ailing Secretariat currently facing charges of fraud, corruption and mismanagement.

The largest single investment will be for staff training and career development, which is estimated to cost over 280 million dollars, virtually doubling existing funds and addressing "a significant under-investment over the years". "Perhaps the most fundamental element in this package relates to how we manage our people -- how we recruit, retain, promote, develop and get the most from our staff -- and how we can foster the idea of a truly mobile international civil service," according to a note circulated to divisional heads in advance of the report.

The report itself, which has been kept strictly under wraps, is to be presented to the 191-member General Assembly next week. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who will present the report, is also expected to answer questions from U.N. staffers, numbering about 5,000, at a town hall meeting. Annan is also seeking about 120 million dollars for "an urgent upgrading of the basic administrative system" of the Secretariat, including the proposed appointment of a chief information technology officer "who will be charged with developing and implementing an information management strategy".

The high cost of the system has been justified on the ground that it "will certainly yield much lower maintenance and operating costs in the future". "The lack of an integrated system to store, search and retrieve information limits the U.N.'s ability to deliver quickly and effectively," says the note. "Despite significant investments, our administrative systems remain fragmented, outdated and under-funded," it adds.

At the Millennium Summit of some 160 world political leaders last fall, Annan was given a mandate to propose far-reaching managerial changes to improve the functioning of the Secretariat. The summit also called for a review of all rules, regulations and policies in the areas of human resource management, budget and finance. Annan, in turn, sought support from member states for a "buy-out" plan, under which redundant staffers will be given marching orders in return for financial compensation. The average cost of a staff buy-out is expected to be in the region of about 100,000 dollars per individual.

"We still need to finalise the details of what we put before member states on the proposal for a buy-out. We have studied the experiences in other organisations, and will draw lessons on the best way to proceed. First and foremost, the package should be available to those whose jobs are affected by the implementation of the reform (of the U.N. system)," says the note. Over the last 10 years, the United Nations has undergone "a dramatic operational expansion" in a wide range of fields, with a four-fold increase in peacekeeping budgets and deployments.

Mark Malloch Brown, chief of staff and soon to be the new deputy secretary-general, told the Security Council last month that during Annan's nine years in office, the value of U.N. procurement alone -- 85 percent of which is peacekeeping -- has grown from around 400 million dollars to over 1.6 billion dollars last year. The projected spending for this year is more than two billion dollars. At the same time, he said, the surge in activity has produced a 70 percent increase in the number of military personnel deployed in peacekeeping missions while civilian staff has grown by 30 percent -- "and now comprises more than twice as many people as in the Secretariat in New York."

Since the top management structure was not designed for the management of large and complex operations, the deputy secretary-general is to be given formal authority and accountability for management and operational functions. Currently, there are more than 25 departments and offices reporting directly to the secretary-general. Under the proposed reform plan, the new secretary-general, who will take office next January, has been advised to reduce the number of under-secretaries-general directly reporting to the secretary-general and his deputy.

Although there are no outsourcing proposals in the report, the Secretariat is particularly interested "in exploring the benefits of possibly relocating certain administrative functions to lower-cost countries". But the Secretariat is hoping to undertake a detailed cost/benefit analysis in each case.

The report will also call for changes in the financial and budgetary management of the world body, including the elimination of current constraints on the secretary-general's ability "to move funds or posts around according to need". "The quantity and detail of the Organisation's reports on management and budgetary issues are overwhelming (more than 270 each year) for member states and the Secretariat, without providing any real accountability or transparency," says the note.

The report will also call for the creation of a Change Management Office "to see through the implementation of the reforms, and possibly liaise with a small group of member states on reform matters".

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