Friday, September 12, 2008

UN's Ban denies failing

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon denied on Thursday that his first year in office had been a failure and said recent criticisms he made of the U.N. bureaucracy's resistance to change had been misconstrued.

Ban told a news conference he wanted to see a "re-energized" and "recharged" United Nations where people were more willing to change jobs, and had launched ideas to promote this through re-training and career development.

The U.N. chief delivered a hard-hitting critique of lethargy in the ranks of the world body during a retreat for senior U.N. officials in Turin, Italy, late last month.

He said that on assuming his job at the beginning of last year he discovered that "there is bureaucracy ... and then there is the U.N."

"We must acknowledge how resistant we are to change. It cripples us in our most important job -- to function as a team," Ban said. "We waste incredible amounts of time on largely meaningless matters.

"I tried to lead by example. Nobody followed," he said, according to a text of his August 29 speech carried on the U.N. internal Web site and obtained by Reuters.

Several U.N. staff members told Reuters they found Ban's comments surprising, since they appeared on the surface to be an admission that he lacked authority as a leader.

On Thursday Ban said some reports had "misconstrued what I said, suggesting that I viewed our first year as a failure. To the contrary, I think we've made good progress in many areas, particularly when it comes to management reform."

The purpose of the Turin meeting had been to focus on areas where more progress was needed, he said.

Ban is known to be concerned by criticisms, including from the U.S. Congress, which must authorize Washington's substantial U.N. dues, that the United Nations is bloated, inefficient and wasteful.

Apparently addressing such views, Ban said, "The world is changing around us, and the U.N. must also change with it. We are responsible to the global taxpayers ... to create an organization that is more effective and more modern."

The United Nations employs some 70,000 people worldwide and Ban said people who had been in the same post for 10 or 15 years would never show any motivation.

"I really want to see this organization re-energized, recharged and full of motivation and full of creativity and versatility, and multifunctional and multi-skilled," he said.

Ban said he had instructed the U.N. management department to launch a pilot program on career development and training, to make employees more accepting of change.

In his Turin speech, Ban said he had replaced almost all the staff working on his floor of the U.N. skyscraper in New York. He also suggested -- apparently jokingly -- that he should simply order the U.N. political and peacekeeping departments to swap 20 percent of their staff.

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