Saturday, January 10, 2009

IOWATCH: UN Lives on the dark Side

UN Lives on the Dark Side  



UN Lives on the Dark Side

This IO Watch website really concerns only two intertwined issues.  First, the UN General Assembly has sought since 1993 to establish transparency, accountability, and the rule of law in UN operations.  Second, the UN Secretariat has, over the last 14 years, failed to implement these processes, as then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his top officials were forced to bluntly admit in 2005-2006.  (For the summary chronology, please see General Assembly effortsSecretariat non-implementation; and Administration of justice failures.) 

The result has been an accelerating deterioration in already modest UN achievements and credibility in the past few years.  The UN has been battered by the Iraq Oil-for-Food Program scandals, continuing cases of refugee sexual abuse in field operations, major procurement scandals still “under investigation”, and many emerging scandals in late 2006 and in 2007 at both UN Headquarters and in field operations.

The UN is a unique and extreme case of organizational non-accountability.  A 1948 convention gives it diplomatic immunity (which has become impunity), because it “shall enjoy immunity from every form of legal process except … [where] it has expressly waived its immunity.” To fill this gap “outside the law”, the UN Secretariat has elaborate Staff Rules and Regulations, but the Secretary-General (and those who speak  in his name) can override them whenever they see fit.  

These operational realities clash with the UN’s many noble aims, principles, objectives, and aspirations.  In particular, Article 101.3 of the U.N. Charter states that

The paramount consideration in the employment of the staff and in the determination of the conditions of service shall be the necessity of securing the highest standards of efficiency, competence, and integrity.” 

In practice, the UN’s entrenched and continuing non-accountability gravely damages these principles, the organization, and the individuals in it.  The UN definitely has a “dark side” where little-noticed but very unpleasant and destructive things regularly occur, but it also has an antidote available (as indeed insisted on by the UN charter):         

"Life is a game with many rules but no referees.  One learns how to play it more by watching it than by consulting any book. … Small wonder, then, that so many play dirty, that so few win, that so many lose."

Joseph Brodsky, On grief and reason: Essays, 1997

"Integrity is like the weather: everybody talks about it but nobody knows what to do about it. 

      When I refer to integrity, I have something very simple and very specific in mind.  Integrity … requires three steps: (1)   discerning what is right and what is wrong; (2) acting on what you have discerned, even at personal cost; and (3)  saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right from wrong.

      …  A person of integrity lurks somewhere inside each of us.  …. The rest of what we think matters very little if we lack essential integrity, the courage of our convictions, the willingness to act and speak in behalf of what we know to be right."   

                Stephen L. Carter, Integrity1996.

IO Watch “pursues the rule of law and management accountability” in the United Nations and other international organizations.  Many parts of this website thus emphasize the “dark side” events and processes that taint and undermine UN performance, as a diagnosis to hopefully lead toward serious corrective actions. They include:   

n       Archive subsections on Management Accountability Struggles, beginning with long-standing UN corruption and accountability problems, the “accountability revolution” of 1993 and its subsequent non-implementation; the mismanagement struggles and tumult of 2004-2006; and Annan-era efforts to free UN managers rather than hold them accountable, while firmly suppressing staff whistle-blowers.

n        Other archive sections:  Where is the Rule of Law?, especially Behind the Scenes andMajor Ongoing FlawsInadequate UN Oversight by Secretariat management, internal, external and governing body oversight units; and discouraging Recent Developments in the new millennium, particularly The UN, Alone and UNaccountable and a dozen Other Major Problems of poor performance in an organization that now spends some $20 billion annually worldwide.

n       Six “Black holes” of UN non-accountability – corruption cover-up, whistleblower suppression, non-transparency, liberated (mis-)managers, flawed oversight, and UN officials still residing comfortably outside the law.  Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is trying to change these disturbing realities, but Mr. Annan’s carry-over top officials seem equally determined to preserve the sorry status quo

n       Corrective actions which could be applied to overcome the existing UN management culture, in Answers: A Starting Point, and Hope for the Future: a real UN fraud prevention program, external experts’ oversight and personnel reviews, a true UN global strategy, annual reporting to the General Assembly on program status and performance, and major revision of internal justice processes.  Above all, firm governance action is required from the developed countries in the “Geneva Group”, who pay most all of the UN’s bills, to insist on firm oversight and accountability for the $15-$17 billion of taxpayers’ money that they dutifully provide to the UN each year..

n       The IO Watch feature, The UN (System) Hall of Shame, identifies UN top officials, presently at least two dozen, who have failed to embody the highest standards of integrity specifically called for by the UN Charter in important situations, thus undermining UN credibility and effectiveness.  In most cases, they have suffered little if any damage to their careers and reputations.

The best starting point for understanding UN lives on the dark side is an excellent and detailed February 2007 article on Maurice Strong, a Canadian who is perhaps the UN “godfather.”  Over the past few decades, he has woven a worldwide net of involvements, posts, colleagues, and lucrative activities, all from his continuous base within an ever-expanding UN. His connections include multiple Secretary-Generals, the University for Peace, Oil-for-food, Kofi Annan, China, Mark Malloch Brown, Alicia Barcena, North Korea, the World Bank, Ted Turner’s UN Foundation, South Korea, his own stepdaughter, Kojo Annan, Saudi businessmen and oil ministers, James Wolfensohn, Paul Volcker, and the flow of millions of dollars.     

Scarcely anyone, except perhaps Kofi Annan and Sir Mark Malloch Brown, who are already trying hard, can match Mr. Strong.  But his prowess shows just how far senior UN posts can take ambitious members of the so-called “international community” in an inter-linked and globalized world. Personnel policy at the UN has always been very much about “jobs for the boys”.  Dozens of other senior UN officials, or “special envoys”, or diplomats, have done their best to build their own mini-webs of VIP connections, interests, careers, and well-being from their UN base, either in the “international community” or back in their 190-some home countries.  Amidst all this ego-building and nest-feathering, UN mismanagement continues.

A second article, on the UN’s biggest mismanagement scandal – the Iraq Oil-for-Food Program  – is an excellent example of dark-side processes in action.  Kofi Annan subsequently declared himself “exonerated”, and said of the scandal “if there indeed was a scandal”.  But this detailed analysis of gross Secretariat mismanagement of Oil-for-Food, written in May 2004, has very largely been borne out by subsequent events.  (For more, see the September 2005 Oil-for-food report excerpts in the list of dark side analyses below, and – among other sources -- more than 800 related articles on the “Oil-for-Food Scandal” maintained by Eye on the UN, under “Articles”

IO Watch presents the following individual accounts and analyses to provide a much sharper and more extensive focus on the many mysterious things that go on “behind closed doors” at the UN. A first list provides  personal experiences of  individual UN staff, or close observers, who took seriously and acted upon the UN Charter’s emphasis on “the paramount consideration … of securing the highest standards of efficiency, competence, and integrity”, even though they knew, in many cases, what severe damage such action would do to their UN careers.

A second list contains noteworthy analyses of the defective UN management culture processes and mind-sets which make the Organization so resistant to accountability, transparency, and effective performance. Too many UN senior officials and managers indeed work persistently to ignore, intimidate, and suppress “trouble-makers” exercising integrity, in order to preserve their precious managerial immunity/impunity and enhance their own careers. This UN “leadership” behavior continues to cripple UN operations and undermine the Organization’s credibility. There seems to be remarkably little of Stephen Carter’s “integrity lurking somewhere inside” these people.

These two sets of sources – “individual accounts” and “analyses” -- are open-ended.  They are very roughly in reverse chronological order, with the most recent ones first.  They are concentrated over the past decade, for three reasons.  First, it was only in the early 1990s that the UN Secretariat was slowly forced out of its obsessive secrecy by the General Assembly’s growing and firm insistence on accountability, transparency, and operational performance.  Second, events forced the UN to deemphasize its former, comfortable, “talk shop” functions and engage in worldwide, high-pressure, multi-billion dollar field operations, with much more opportunity for waste, fraud, and mismanagement. Third, the Internet has forced information about the UN, good and bad, out of dusty libraries and controlled publications and into the global community, with a vast amount of articles, investigations, reports, and books readily available to the public.

More Dark Side individual accounts and analyses will be steadily added in due course and as worthwhile new documents emerge.  The items are arranged fairly informally, to encourage site visitors to browse through them and discover the very troubling extent and diversity of UN “dark side” problems, including especially the often courageous individual efforts to report and correct wrongdoing which never saw the light of day.  

There is much to be done to push UN operations far closer to the UN Charter’s noble ideals. But can an ossified UN management culture, as documented here and in the entire IO Watch website, ever change its ways to save the UN’s seriously deteriorating operations?


Most recent addition(s):   

UN, politicized staffing, 1980 

UN, O-F-Fwhistle-blower, 1997-2000


Dark side, individual accounts                             Dark side, analyses 

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