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In UN's Caste System, Talent Wasted by Nepotism, G's Called Just a Clerk, Offered No Protection

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, February 26 -- "The UN is like a caste system," an over-qualified General Service staff member told Inner City Press. "If you come into the system near the bottom, they make it nearly impossible to rise" to the Professional grade. On Tuesday one of the few opportunities came, when the so-called G to P exam was administered. Some 200 General Service staff take the test, vying to ten or so Professional posts. The process is far from transparent, and there are no appeals.

            Throughout the UN system, one finds General Service staff and security officers with graduate degrees, who often are more knowledgeable that the people who supervise them. It all depends on how and at what level a person came into the system, and who they know. Inner City Press knows a security officer with a masters degree in international affairs, who is told he cannot rise. Meanwhile there are directors of offices with less academic credentials, and less knowledge.

            The UN's caste system is more than bureaucratic, it was become a culture. A UN official to whom questions about a technician's death were directed remarked, "It's only a clerk." Questions were left unanswered, because the technician was not a staff member of the Secretariat, but rather of something called the International Computing Center, administered by the World Health Organization which has also refused questions. This ICC, it turns out, does not defend those who work for it. One ICC technician, faced with sexual harassment by a high UN official, was told by the UN in New York that nothing could be done, to reach over the Atlantic to the ICC.  There, the answer was that the ICC does not process, or apparently favor, such complaints.

            When Ban Ki-moon took over at Secretary General more than a year ago, he promised to bring not only transparency but also modern management methods, mobility for staff. So far, it has not happened. The previous Deputy Secretary General was confronted with leaked statistics, which showed the system's waste of talent. One of the complaints was that those hired at the G level were not told they could not rise, that they could not even take to G  to P test until they had wiled away five years. What was the response? To make G level entrants sign a waiver that they knew they would be trapped, even in some cases committing not to seek to rise. This archaic caste system continues; the reforms promised by Ban Ki-moon have yet to be seen.

Ban Ki-moon: whistleblower? Staff mobility not shown

Footnotes: Mr. Ban himself was last seen launching a campaign to end violence against women, handing out little white whistles on key chains, to blow if and when violence approaches. One wag in the crowd said, at last, Ban's UN is finally encouraging whistleblowers. We'll see.

  A person who took the test told Inner City Press that on this year's Public Information test, there was a question about bloggers, a question that in the real world the UN has yet to answer, or is answering negatively...

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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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