Global Policy Forum

UN Chief Relents on Restructuring World Body


By Thalif Deen

Inter Press Service
February 21, 2007

Responding to widespread criticism from developing nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has withdrawn or modified some of his controversial proposals to restructure the U.N. Secretariat -- specifically in relation to disarmament, peacekeeping and political affairs.

These proposals included a plan to fold the U.N.'s Department of Disarmament Affairs (DDA) into the Department of Political Affairs (DPA), and the "downgrading" of DDA, which was expected to be headed by a lower-ranking assistant secretary-general instead of an under-secretary-general, as it exists now. Ban has dropped what developing nations described as "an artificial deadline" for approval of his proposals, and also abandoned a move to appoint a Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) to head disarmament.

Responding to developing country demands, the secretary-general has also de-linked the ongoing appointments of senior level staff from the proposed structural changes in the Secretariat. The 130-member Group of 77, the largest single economic bloc of developing nations, warned last month that it "does not wish to have public disagreement with the secretary-general" and it "does not support any artificial deadlines" on Ban's proposals.

Asked if the G77 was still on a confrontation course with the secretary-general, the G77 chair Ambassador Munir Akram of Pakistan told reporters Tuesday: "The G77 very much wishes to support the secretary-general and see him succeed in his restructuring exercise." But he pointed out that developing nations have their own priorities -- "Our priorities are developmental priorities."

Akram said that Ban had modified some of his proposals in light of discussions with member states, political and economic groups and regional groups. "Our concern is that the established rules in the house should be followed," including approval by administrative and budgetary committees. "As long as processes are respected, we are willing to go along," Akram added.

Ambassador Vanu Gopala Menon of Singapore said that as a result of representations from developing nations, the secretary-general has decided that the new Office for Disarmament Affairs will come directly under him, but with a separate budget. The office will be headed by a high representative, who will have the rank of an under-secretary-general, Menon said. "In short, the secretary-general has taken on board many of the concerns we previously expressed." Speaking on behalf of the 117-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the largest single political bloc at the United Nations, Ambassador Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz of Cuba told the General Assembly Friday: "The Non-Aligned Movement welcomes with appreciation the decision by the secretary-general to appoint a USG as head of the DDA."

Ban still hopes to split the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) into two: a Department of Peace Operations and a Department of Field Support. Ambassador Malmierca Diaz, however, put the secretary-general on notice when he told the General Assembly that since the non-aligned countries provide more than 80 percent of troops to U.N. peacekeeping operations, it is ready to continue to discuss the proposals within the framework of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations, the only U.N. forum mandated to review the question of peacekeeping operations, "as has been historically done in the context of U.N. reform." "To that end, NAM would like to seek a detailed explanation of the proposal to be submitted to the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations," the Cuban envoy said, speaking in his capacity as chairman of NAM.

The secretary-general, who was trying to rush through his restructuring proposals for endorsement by the 192-member General Assembly last month, has now agreed to go through the painful inter-governmental legislative processes in the U.N. system, including approval by the U.N.'s Administrative and Budgetary Committee and the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions. Both committees, viewed as political graveyards for controversial proposals, also have the power to radically change the secretary-general's proposal, primarily on financial grounds.

An attempt by Ban last month to push through the proposals hurriedly -- and without consultations with member states -- prompted Ambassador Nirupam Sen of India to chastise him. Sen famously told a closed door meeting of the G77: "The secretary-general is the senior most civil servant in the Secretariat. He is not a king and the Secretariat is not a king's court."

The initial proposals for restructuring were spelled out in two "non-papers" from the secretary-general's office last month followed by a 21-page "annexe" to a letter from Ban, explaining the proposed restructuring process both in DDA and DPKO. "While these explanations have shed more light than before, I must say that the Secretariat has taken some time to provide us with the information," Menon told an informal meeting of the General Assembly last Friday. "In fact, it has been provided in a piecemeal fashion. This had created the unfortunate perception that the proposals had not been well thought out," he noted.

Menon also pointed out that "this has given rise to a sense that it was only because of our persistent questioning that the Secretariat was forced to think through the issues and flesh them out in detail. It could have been handled better."

"I am inclined to give the secretary-general the flexibility that he is asking for. However, as my delegation had pointed out before, flexibility should be accompanied by accountability," he added. "If we obstruct him this time around by insisting on all details before agreeing to his restructuring plans, we will delay him and perhaps undermine him as well. If we tie him up in knots, we not only do him a disservice, we also do the United Nations a disservice," Menon added.

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