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At UN, Some Call Management Reform an Oxymoron, G to P Barriers and Breakaway UNDP, Ban Soldiers On

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 8 -- "Get the Secretariat out of the information Stone Age and into a modern one," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon intoned Tuesday to a chamber full of Ambassadors and the his most senior officials. The topic was Management Reform, and what was called a debate consisted of the serial reading-out of speeches, many of them at cross purposes. The Group of 77 and China spoke of the need to make UN procurement more diverse -- that is, to stop favoring European and American companies with the largest contracts. The European Union, who spoke immediately after, did not even mention procurement as a reform issue. If you're getting the contracts, why would you complain?

            Ban spoke of equality, saying he has "proposals to introduce one UN contract under one set of Staff Rules." The trend however in the UN system in the past year, in which the UN Development Program was allowed to exempt itself from the UN's Ethics system and its ostensible whistleblower protections, has gone in the opposite direction. And Ban does not, it seem, propose to abolish the wall between so-called General Service and Professional staff, a divide that few get promoted over, thereby wasting the talents of many UN workers.  Some say that Kofi Annan, who as a long-time UN staffer understood the G to P wall, should have been the one to break it down, but didn't. Will Ban come to understand and do it, as a reverse Nixon goes to China?

            In fact, on the same day of this debate, the Secretariat's problems with the Staff Union became again apparent. To the new four-member internal justice advisory body, Ban appointed two consummate management insiders, the current and past directors of the General Legal Division of the UN Office of Legal Affairs, OLA. In terms of reform and transparency, the current head of OLA did not include in his public financial disclosure the fact that he was receiving at least $10,000 a month of his government, Switzerland, to pay for his housing. There have been no repercussions for this, but Ban's speech said that "accountability is not just a management word, it means taking responsibility."

            Ban said that in the new system for the administration of justice, "if it is found that an improper decision has been made, the individual manager should be held accountable." Does this mean for example that UNDP's Kemal Dervis or Ad Melkert would be held accountable for Ban's Ethics Office's finding that UNDP committed prima facie retaliation against a whistleblower?  Will there be accountability for the managers who left UNHCR workers in Algiers, at the time of the deadly December 11 bombing, outside of the coverage of the UN's Malicious Acts Insurance Policy?

      Ban complained that "the way it stands now, some of my Special Representatives in the field earn less and serve under less favorable conditions that those coming from within the system, in particular from a Fund or Program" -- like the UN Development Program.

            At Tuesday's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesperson, "Can we get more information on what he meant, in terms of what Special Representatives of the Secretary-General are paid and who in UNDP or any program he’s comparing it to? Are all Special Representatives of the Secretary-General paid the same amount?"

Mr. Ban on April 8, Ms. Barcena partially shown

            The spokesperson responded, "we can get that information for you from the Management Office.  I don’t have it with me now." But by the end of the day, only this was provided in response:

Subj: your question at noon
From: unspokesperson-donotreply [at]
To: Inner City Press
Date: 4/8/2008 5:41:25 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time

You asked about conditions of service. Please refer to the Secretary-General’s report on harmonization of conditions of service (document A/61/861) You can access it at:

            Ah, responsiveness and transparency. But how much to the SRSGs get paid? And what about accountability for the SRSG now accused of having accepted favors and even land from Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe? Click here for that, and watch this space.

Footnote: at the highest levels, the problems even the internal justice advisory panel picks were known. Chief of Staff Vijay Nambiar wrote to the staff union, urging them, as the Department of Management's Alicia Barcena previously did, to buckle under to the Staff-Management Coordination Committee. The Staff Union insists that not the vehicle to be making these appointments. Ms. Barcena, who was on the Management Reform podium all day and nothing but polite in the hallway outside, is still widely said to be leaving; one of her rumored replacements, Joachim Ruecker, is reported to have told his interviewers that "we don't work at the UN for money." Tell that to Nicolas Michel...

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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

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