Tales of Ban Ki-moon and the U.S. Trigger Concern from Developing World
Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis
December 31 -- In the flurry of bleary-eyed votes on UN budgets and year's-end
recap stories, a central question raised by developing countries at the UN about
the tenure of Ban Ki-moon is his relation with the hyper-power, the United
States. From the allocation of top jobs and no-bid contracts to his selection of
issues of concern, the specifics of negotiations and votes on the long night of
the budgets, December 21, provide a snapshot review of Ban's first year as
Secretary-General. In subsequent in-depth interviews with diplomats, Inner City
Press has sought explanations of provisions of the budget resolutions, and of
Ban's back-room presence at the UN until
6:30 a.m. on December 22.
responsibility for peacekeeping in Sudan's
Darfur region is passed to UN hands at
year's-end, an under-reported
note of concern was expressed in the
December 21 resolution on the budget for
the UN mission there, UNAMID, in which the General Assembly
"Notes with concern the decision of
the Secretary-General to utilize a single source contract without competitive
bidding and requests the Secretary-General to take immediate action to supply
good and services in compliance with the established procedures for procurement,
based on international competitive bidding and the widest possible geographical
base of procurement, so as to avoid a non-competitive extension of the present
contract...Requests the Secretary-General to entrust the Office of Internal
Oversight Services to undertake a comprehensive review of the use of the
extraordinary measures for this mission..."
"single source contract without competitive bidding" referred to was for $250
million, to U.S.-based military contractor Lockheed Martin through its
subsidiary, Pacific Architects & Engineers. After the deal was quietly announced
on October 15, Inner City Press twice asked Mr. Ban to explain the lack of
competitive bidding. He responded by promising transparency; his spokesperson's
office explained that following the Security Council's July 31 resolution on
UNAMID, requiring the UN to take responsibility for Darfur by year's end, there
had been no choice but Lockheed. But then whistle-blowing UN staffers showed
Inner City Press an earlier letter,
from April, from the head of the UN's new
Department of Field Support, Jane Holl Lute, pushing Lockheed Martin's PAE for a
sole source contract.
The incongruity was never explained. Despite numerous requests, Jane Holl Lute
never came to a briefing to answer questions (although she did write a December
letter to the editor
of the Washington Post arguing that reports of corruption in peacekeeping
procurement were overblown). On December 21, the General Assembly itself, even
in compromise language, criticized the Lockheed Martin contract and called for
an investigation of the lack of competition.
the creation at Ban's request of the Department of Field Support, and Jane Holl
Lute's continued holding of the top job, was also a matter of concern to member
states, particularly those in the 130-nation block of the Group of 77. "They
told us it was an emergency to create DFS," a G-77 insider told Inner City
Press, "and we went along because it was Ban's first reform. But then he never
filled the top post. And so we refused to approve his
next reform, of the
Department of Political Affairs."
The calculus, according to this diplomat, was that by placing American
Lynn Pascoe in the
UN's top political job, the U.S. lost its claim on the DFS post. But Jane Holl
Lute continued to hold it, on an interim / acting basis. When finally the
Secretariat asked member states to propose candidates, they were given only ten
days, for a job description that, the diplomat quipped, was tailored only for a
combination of Microsoft's Bill Gates and General Colin Powell. "Most countries
didn't even bother asking their capitals" for candidates, the diplomat
continued, adding that a similar hurry-up-and-wait approach was taken to filling
the top human resources job, vacated by
following persistent Staff Union complaints. "They are politically tone deaf,"
the diplomat concluded, pointing as another example to the
attempt to eliminate
the long-standing UN position of
Special Advisor on Africa.
At the UN in 2007
"one year of Ban"
"Ban Ki-moon has spent an unwelcome amount
of time fending off critics of a closed management style they say comes from his
native South Korea. As the year ends, diplomats and analysts give Ban, a former
South Korean foreign minister, good marks for persistence, but say many member
states find his decision-making secretive."
UN Staff Union recently passed a
diplomatically noting the "the senior levels of the organization should lead by
example and avoid creating the perception of conflict of interest by, for
instance, not seeking employment of their own relatives and friends," which
Staff Union sources tell Inner City Press is
directed at Mr. Ban,
the focus on South Korea,
covered early by Inner City Press,
is superseded in the view of most diplomats interviewed for this article by the
Ban - U.S. dynamic. There are counter-trends, such as another way mentioned in
Staff Union resolution,
that "the Secretary-General has failed to protect the one staff member of UNDP
who was designated by the UN Ethics Office as a bona fide whistleblower." The
U.S. mission initially championed this case, although later backing off and
UN Development Program's rebuffing of the
UN Ethics Office and creation
of its own in-house ethics office and review panel, which missed its own
disclosure, Inner City Press has spoken with Ban Ki-moon in several settings
throughout the year: hurried one-on-one questions and answers in transit from
the basement rooms where the budget negotiated to his elevator to the 38th
floor, on-camera answers in front of the Security Council and in the briefing
room, at the Secretary-General's
residence on Sutton Place (about
climate change and
and, at year's end, at
6:30 a.m. on December 22, as Ban left the
General Assembly president's office after the budgets finally passed.
In person, Ban is likeable. Clearly he is hard-working. On the other hand, the
night of the budget many ambassadors, left to twiddle their thumbs while UN
officials negotiated with the U.S. about its objection to a budget item for a
conference the U.S. views as anti-Israel, offered a different explanation of
Ban's presence in the building. They said that while the U.S. had been unable to
get others to agree to a budget cap, Ban would take the floor during the General
Assembly's vote at dawn and would commit to such a cap. As one of them put it,
"there no way to prove what Ban would have said, since he ended up not speaking.
But no one would have believed this of Kofi Annan or Boutros-Ghali," Ban's two
immediate predecessors. The U.S. voted against the budget anyway, citing to the
Any UN Secretary-General must listen to the U.S.. Boutros-Ghali in his memoir
"Unvanquished" notes that he allocated the UN's top management job first to
George H.W. Bush's choice, Dick Thornburgh, then to Bill Clinton's choice. But
if the S-G gets perceived as overly close with the U.S., a needed
counter-balance is lost. In a similar vein, the UN needs reform, and to its
credit the United States is the main country pushing for it. But when the U.S.
has a conflict, as in the case of the Lockheed Martin contract, the need for a
counter-weight to the U.S. becomes apparent. Stay tuned in 2008.
* * *
here for a
AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army.
for an earlier
piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's
$200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.
Because a number of Inner City Press'
UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and
while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this
installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the
UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails
coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue
trying, and keep the information flowing.
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