Global Policy Forum

South Rejects Deadline for UN Restructuring


By Thalif Deen

Inter Press Service
January 30, 2007

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has been in office for less than a month, is getting an inkling of the hard political realities of U.N. diplomacy: that you cannot ask member states to approve your restructuring plans at short notice -- and on a firm deadline.

The 130-member Group of 77 (G77) and the 117-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), two of the largest political and economic blocs at the United Nations, have refused to be pushed into making a quick decision by Feb. 5 when the General Assembly is scheduled to meet to discuss the secretary-general's restructuring proposals.

The virtual rejection of the deadline was accompanied by a letter from the G77 chairman, Ambassador Munir Akram of Pakistan, who provided a summary of the consultations Monday with the president of the General Assembly Sheikha Haya Al Khalifa of Bahrain.

"The Group (of 77) does not wish to have public disagreement with the secretary-general," said the letter addressed to G77 members. And more importantly, it said, "the Group does not support any artificial deadlines." Although the G77 expressed its wish to support the secretary-general's restructuring proposals -- as spelled out in two "non-papers'" - "it should be done in a manner that is smooth and non-divisive."

Taking a shot at Ban's decision to move rapidly on the restructuring process, the letter said: "The Group wishes that the process should be transparent and open to all member states." "Perhaps the secretary-general was wrongly advised," one G77 delegate surmised. "We want the Fifth Committee to consider the administrative and budgetary aspects of the proposals before a decision is taken by the General Assembly." This could take "a long process", he told IPS, pointing out that some of Ban's proposals may be drastically amended before reaching the General Assembly.

At Tuesday's closed-door G77 meeting, everyone who spoke expressed reservations or even outright objections to the secretary-general's restructuring proposals. These included Guatemala, Colombia, India, Brazil, Venezuela, Bangladesh, Costa Rica and South Africa. One South Asian ambassador was the most hard-hitting: "The secretary-general is not the King, and the Secretariat is not the King's court," he declared.

The two "non-papers" on restructuring submitted by the secretary-general recently call for two significant changes in the Secretariat. The existing Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) is to be split into two: a Department of Peace Operations and a Department of Field Support, both of which will be headed by an Under-Secretary-General (USG), the third highest ranking post in the organisation.

But a more controversial proposal is to reconstitute the existing Department for Disarmament Affairs (DDA) as a separate "Office for Disarmament Affairs." The new office is to be brought under a Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs or a High Representative. Since he is trying to keep within the existing budget, Ban is juggling with the post: he is planning to take away the USG post from DDA and give it to newly-revamped DPKO (which will have two USG posts).

The same South Asian envoy told G77 delegates: "We should not agree to everything by acclamation, and we should hold the secretary-general accountable." He argued that the split of the DPKO would put soldiers on the ground at greater risk and danger. "How would the force commander ensure that his operations are given full logistical support? There was no compromise solution on this matter, especially when it affected the lives of ordinary soldiers, the envoy warned.

Hence, the need for careful examination of the proposals through the established procedures laid down by the General Assembly. He asked, "why not two ASGs under one USG for DPKO? This option was not even considered. Instead, we are being asked to take a medicine for a disease that is not diagnosed or may not even be there." Under these circumstances, he asked rather sarcastically, how do you treat the "non-papers?" "By non-action?"

James A. Paul, executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, which has produced several papers on U.N. reforms, told IPS: "Like the oil law in Iraq that is being rushed through parliament by the occupiers with little concern about democratic process, U.N. reform suddenly takes on an urgency that is certain to puzzle an outside observer." "In the name of greater efficiency, effectiveness, and even strengthening the United Nations for the twenty-first century, drastic changes are being urgently pressed on the new Secretary General by powerful actors behind the scenes, changes that would apparently downgrade the Department for Disarmament Affairs and split up the DPKO," Paul said. The G77 is not enthused by this latest move by Washington, and no wonder. The public is bound to ask: "Isn't the United Nations supposed to be promoting disarmament? So, why downgrade disarmament?" he asked.

Responding to several questions at the noon press briefing, U.N. spokesperson Michelle Montas told reporters the secretary-general is concerned about the need to strengthen the capacities of the organisation to cope with the increased scope of activities in the area of peace and security, as well as to advance the disarmament agenda. In this connection, she said, "he has been in touch with the president of the General Assembly. The proposals outlined by him seek the realignment of some of the political and security departments."

Over the past week, the secretary-general has been in touch with member states individually and in groups in order to solicit their views and be guided by them, Montas added. "The secretary-general has come to the conclusion that this procedure needs to be pursued further before a formal issuance to the General Assembly can be undertaken," she said. Montas said the secretary-general, on his return from the current visit to Africa, plans to meet with member states to further share his ideas and hear their views.

"This is an ongoing consultation. On the basis of the reaction he receives from member states he will consider how to take this matter forward," Montas added. She also said the secretary-general would respect the legislative process, and that he did intend to move forward with his agenda. As chief administrative officer of the world body, Ban has the power to make appointments without approval of the General Assembly.

But any plans to restructure the Secretariat have to be approved by the General Assembly. If there are financial implications in the restructuring process, the proposals have also to be discussed by the U.N.'s Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary). At Tuesday's G77 meeting, several delegations also said that appointments of senior staff "should be de-linked from the restructuring exercise."

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