Global Policy Forum

UN Chief Challenged at Contentious Meeting


By Thalif Deen

Inter Press Service
March 8, 2006

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who released a major report Tuesday on management restructuring, faced a barrage of questions at a contentious town hall meeting of U.N. staffers who criticised his proposals relating to appointments, proposed lay-offs and management support systems.

Rosemary Waters, president of the 5,000-strong U.N. Staff Union, bluntly told Annan Tuesday he was violating his own sacred principles of "accountability and transparency" in U.N. appointments. "There was a lot of re-shuffling" that went on in Annan's office, she said, but with no public disclosure until the final announcements were made last week. Waters said the appointment of Mark Malloch Brown as the new deputy secretary general (DSG) came as "a surprise" because there was "no transparency in the recruitment process". Unlike some of his earlier high level appointments, Annan did not provide a "shortlist of candidates" before he made the final selection, she added.

Responding to criticism of his management style, Annan said he had announced earlier that the replacement of outgoing deputy secretary-general Louise Frechette would be an "internal arrangement". Moreover, he said, he has a legitimate right to pick his own staff -- in his capacity as chief administrative officer of the world body. Annan, who will be leaving office in December after a 10-year stint, said his successor will have the option of appointing his own deputy for a longer term. Malloch Brown's term is expected to end simultaneously with that of Annan on Dec. 31.

In his 43-page report titled "Investing in the United Nations" released Tuesday, Annan says he wants to provide more "formal authority" to the DSG, whose original function was to support the secretary-general. "The secretary-general will continue to fully lead the Organisation and direct political and policy matters, but the deputy will assume delegated responsibility for management polices and overall operational matters -- thereby obviating the need some have discerned for a new post of chief operating officer," Annan says in his report. He also says that the role of the DSG should be redefined so as to delegate to him formal authority and accountability for the management and overall direction of the functions of the Secretariat.

According to one Asian diplomat, the post of DSG was created at the end of 1997 by a resolution of the General Assembly, the highest policy-making body at the United Nations. "If the powers of the DSG are to be enhanced, it's the General Assembly that should provide that authority, not Annan," he said. "It is obvious that Annan now proposes to unilaterally alter that legislation. This may be heading for a battle in the General Assembly," he warned.

In his report, Annan lists all of his proposals that "require General Assembly action and support". But he has left out the new powers that would be delegated to the DSG, signifying that the enhanced authority does not need General Assembly approval.

"Obviously the process and results of these management reforms will be to weaken the General Assembly," says Jim Paul, executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, which closely monitors the workings of the world body. "Under heavy pressure from Washington, the secretary-general has been trying to strong-arm the General Assembly and has been pushing his legal authority to the limit and beyond," Paul told IPS. He also said the two most powerful groups at the United Nations -- the 132-member Group of 77 (G77) and the 114-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) -- have re-affirmed this charge publicly. "It is unfortunate that this campaign continues with the same methods and the same concept: that the secretary-general's post is like that of a corporate chief executive officer (CEO), not like a government leader, responsible to a parliamentary body," Paul said.

Speaking on behalf of the Staff Union, Waters told the town hall meeting that the new U.N. report also calls for the dismantling of two management systems: Galaxy and the Integrated Management Information System (IMIS). "Until now, we were told these were wonderful systems," she told Annan. "But your report says these systems are not working. Who is telling the truth?" asked Waters. "If these are failed systems, who will be held accountable for them?"

In his report, Annan said he has proposed that a new management system be introduced by 2009, replacing the existing ones. Back in 1998, U.N. member states complained about IMIS's high costs, which zoomed from an estimated 28 million to 73 million dollars. Described by some as a "white elephant", IMIS was plagued by such heavy cost overruns that some member states wanted the world body to cut its losses and terminate the project.

A massive data base, IMIS covered every single aspect of the U.N. system, including payroll, requisition, contractors, property management, staff entitlements, insurance, cash management, fund distribution and travel and transportation. "But the management hailed it as the biggest single contribution to mankind since the invention of sliced bread," scoffed one Staff Union official. "Someone should be held accountable for all that money that went down the drain," he said.




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