Global Policy Forum

US Wants Top Aides at the UN to Resign

New York Sun
June 7, 2006

In a move bound to ruffle feathers at Turtle Bay, the American ambassador, John Bolton, yesterday advocated mass resignations by the top appointees who run the United Nations bureaucracy, so a new secretary-general, who is scheduled to assume office at the beginning of next year, could pick his own team. Mr. Bolton, a strong believer of sweeping change at the United Nations, told The New York Sun that once a new leader assumes office on January 1, not only should the heads of various departments, known by their title of undersecretary-generals, leave, but also those directly underneath them, known as assistant secretaries-general.

"I strongly recommend that all appointees, ASGs and above, should resign their posts to give the new secretary-general a lot of flexibility," he said. Such mass resignations could extend to top movers and shakers at the United Nations, where for the last 10 years Secretary-General Annan presided over some of the roughest periods in the history of the institution.

The Security Council is scheduled to officially start the consultation process that would culminate in the selection of a new secretary general next week, but specific names will not be discussed before early July, Mr. Bolton said, adding that regardless of the final choice, the new leader should be presented with the opportunity to start with a clean slate.

The first secretary-general ever to have come from the ranks of the organization, Mr. Annan came into office as a reform advocate with an insider's eye. He had manned many Turtle Bay positions through the years, serving the institution his entire career under several administrations. Many at the United Nations now believe that new blood is essential if the organization is ever to make the revolutionary changes necessary for the body to be effective.

There are currently 15 heads of departments titled undersecretary-general at Turtle Bay. All were appointed by Mr. Annan, some as late as a few months ago, and are directly under his authority. In addition, 17 appointees carry the rank of assistant secretary-general. A USG's gross salary amounts to $176,877, while an ASG makes $160,574. The U.N. secretary-general earns $300,000, including "representational allowance." He also lives rent-free in an official residence overlooking the East River.

Other U.N. mandarins at those top levels work in stations like Geneva. While appointed by the secretary-general, heads of departments based outside New York are answerable to independent boards of directors. The secretary-general also appoints several senior "special envoys," some of whom work for symbolic salaries of $1 a year.

Mr. Annan also has a deputy, Mark Malloch Brown, whose salary scale is just below that of the chief, at $287,087, including several allowances. Mr. Malloch Brown has been said in recent weeks to be lobbying among representatives of member states to remain at his job even after Mr. Annan leaves office, though he has denied those reports categorically. "Come Dec. 31, I am done," Mr. Malloch Brown told Inter Press Service in a recent interview. "I am carrying the boss's bag down to the car when he leaves."

United Nations rules call on the deputy and all appointments with the rank of undersecretary-general to be terminated at the end of February in the same year the U.N. chief leaves. "At the beginning of the term, the new secretary-general has a free hand to shape his or her team," a U.N. spokeswoman, Marie Okabe, said yesterday. Those with the rank of ASG, however, are not required to leave. In many cases, those are the officials who carry the institutional memory of Turtle Bay's bureaucracy from one administration to the next.

The United Nations staff union, representing Turtle Bay employees, recently resisted reform measures pushed by Mr. Annan's top management. Union members argued that those reforms were "bottom heavy" and included deep cuts to general staff positions, while leaving many at the top of the bureaucracy intact.

Informed of Mr. Bolton's idea yesterday, union officials said they would support mass resignation of senior appointees. "They all should leave," the recently elected first vice president of the Staff Union, Emad Hassanin, told the Sun, adding that mass resignations would give "free hand for the new secretary-general."

New secretaries-general have traditionally relied on old hands in the existing bureaucracy to guide them along. Mr. Annan, who as a U.N. veteran did not need much guidance, nevertheless found it difficult to let old comrades go. He was said to have stuck by some veterans even after they attracted suspicion of corruption. One example was a Cypriot assistant secretary-general, Benon Sevan, who was a leftover from the previous administration of Secretary General Boutros-Ghali. When Mr. Annan assumed office in 1996, he appointed Mr. Sevan to head a new office dealing with Iraq, which quickly assumed responsibility for the oil for food program.

Mr. Sevan's behavior in office was determined by the Paul Volcker-led investigation team to be "ethically improper." Mr. Annan never fired him, and Mr. Sevan left New York before local authorities were able to complete investigations into bribery accusations.

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