Friday, July 23, 2010

The UN’s Deplorable Revolution of Decay

Author Photoby claudia rosett @

Five years ago, with the United Nations deep in the muck of Oil-for-Food, peacekeeper rape, and other scandals, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on the UN to “launch a lasting revolution of reform.” What followed instead was a lasting revolution of decay.

But don’t take my word for it. Check out the note sent recently to Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon by the departing head of the UN’s own internal oversight division, Swedish auditor Inga-Britt Ahlenius. Having served these past five years as Under-Secretary-General in charge of the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services, Ahlenius turned in an End-of-Assignment Report in which she called Ban Ki-Moon’s leadership “deplorable,” “seriously reprehensible,” and charged that “The secretariat is now in a process of decay.”

In case anyone thought the Secretariat could hardly decay further than it had already done by 2005 under former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Ahlenius summed up that “There is no transparency, there is lack of accountability,” and “I do not see any signs of reform in the Organization.” Lots more in this vein can be found in a Washington Post story by reporter Colum Lynch, who obtained a copy of what he desribes as Ahlenius’s 50-page, confidential “stinging rebuke” of Ban Ki-Moon — who has led the UN since 2007. Lynch did not provide a copy of the full memo with his story, but he quoted from it, and his online piece does include a copy of Ahlenius’s three-page cover note to Ban. In that alone, she says that the UN under Ban’s leadership has seen “decline over a broad scale — from small things to more important” … “no more any congruity between responsibility and authority”…and calls today’s UN an “adhocracy” in which “disintegrated and ill thought through ‘reforms’ are launched without adequate analysis and with lack of understanding.”

There’s lots more, on UN internal power struggles, Ban compromising the integrity of the UN’s anti-corruption arrangements and whatnot. But you get the idea. The question now is, will anyone do anything about it?

Don’t bet on the Obama administration stepping up to the plate. At the U.S. Mission to the UN, headed by Ambassador Susan Rice, the Obama administration has not yet filled the post of envoy for UN Management and Reform. For the past 18 months, this slot has been filled by an acting representative — a clear message to the UN that for Washington, which provides roughly one-quarter of the UN’s entire budget, oversight of what the UN does with such resources is a very low priority.

As for the “deplorable” Ban Ki-Moon — he availed himself of the considerable public relations machinery within his office (almost one-quarter of it funded, of course, by U.S. taxpayers) to send Lynch a 6-page reply, also linked in Lynch’s piece. It was signed by Ban’s chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, who described Ban as having provided “genuine visionary leadership on important isses,” and noted that “We are living in a dramatically changing, constantly evolving world.”

Yes, we are. Maybe it’s time we evolved some functional institutions to replace the UN.

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