Global Policy Forum

UN Approves Modest Management Reforms


By Irwin Arieff

July 7, 2006

The U.N. General Assembly approved limited U.N. management reforms on Friday as several delegates lamented that the U.N. membership had been unwilling to do more to modernize the world body. A more ambitious reform package put forward by Secretary-General Kofi Annan was defeated by the assembly in May in a bitter showdown between wealthy nations pushing for major changes and developing nations worried about losing their voice in U.N. operations.

Adopted by consensus as part of a compromise on Friday were decisions to replace the U.N. computer system and allow the secretary-general, on an experimental basis, to shift up to $20 million a year to new programs in order to respond to changing priorities without prior assembly approval. The reform resolution also orders the United Nations to adopt international public sector accounting standards and strengthen its procurement system after a series of scandals. Put off for future action were governance, oversight, openness and accountability reforms, improved personnel management and further procurement improvements.

In a move that surprised some delegates, the United States did not formally distance itself from the assembly decision, as it did last week when member-nations lifted a budget ceiling meant to put pressure on governments to go along with reforms. The reform package's weakness marked a defeat for U.S. Ambassador John Bolton, who was appointed by President George W. Bush to spearhead a major U.N. overhaul. Leading a loose coalition of rich nations whose dues pay for more than 80 percent of the U.N. budget, Bolton had pushed aggressively for more ambitious steps, antagonizing poor nations that make up the majority of U.N. members.

But Friday's package was approved without the rancor seen in earlier assembly deliberations. Nonetheless, diplomats from the United States, Australia, Japan, Canada and Finland -- representing the European Union's 35 member-nations -- expressed disappointment with the results and said they hoped the pace would accelerate in 2007. U.S. Deputy Ambassador Mark Wallace told the assembly the measures, "while long overdue, represent positive first steps" toward implementing commitments made by world leaders at a 2005 U.N. summit. But he added that he did not understand why the resolution did not go further.

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