U.N.: Undeniably Necrotic??

To whit: An article from the Wall Street Journal. Note the first paragaph. That is $17,600,000 in TAX FREE salaries just to Under Secretaries!!!

Of course, it also points to the sad reality of John Bolton’s giving up his post. There was a real opportunity for change now vanished.

Five Easy Fixes for the U.N.
December 19, 2006

Shortly after John Bolton became ambassador to the United Nations, his staff asked Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s office for a simple count of all the organization’s undersecretaries-general. The Secretariat’s first reply was that it didn’t know. Eventually it came up with a list of about 100 positions, each of them fetching a tax-free salary of $176,000. Among them is an undersecretary for — get this — the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Countries and Small Island Developing States, or OHRLLS for short.

That’s a story that Ban Ki Moon, who replaced Mr. Annan last week, might usefully dwell on as he attempts to fulfill his pledge to “lead by example,” create a “dynamic and courageous” U.N. Secretariat, and “restore trust” in the U.N. system. Mr. Ban isn’t the first secretary-general who came to office with grandiose promises to mend a broken system. Here’s a dollar’s worth of advice on how he might be the last who needs to make that promise.

(1) Re-read your job description. Kofi Annan once said he had “the world’s most exalting job,” whatever that means, and acted as if he were the secular equivalent of the pope. But the U.N. Charter says only that the secretary-general is the organization’s “chief administrative officer.” That doesn’t mean a secretary-general shouldn’t be a diplomat, but it does mean he must be a manager.

Your first priority is to get control of your bureaucracy, starting at the top. Chris Burnham, the American banker who until recently was the U.N.’s undersecretary for management, urges you to make your financial disclosure forms public immediately and then order everyone from the assistant-secretary level up to do the same, something Mr. Annan never did. Cutting the sheer number of undersecretary jobs would also help you control the Secretariat — or at least know what they are doing from week to week — as would recruiting most of your senior staff from outside. Bring in people, as Ronald Reagan used to say, who don’t need the job. Bring in people who weren’t schooled in U.N. best practices, but have proved themselves in other governments or the private sector. You’ve mentioned you want a woman as your deputy: Latvian president Vaira Vike-Freiberga, who actively campaigned for your job and has excellent ties with the U.S., would be a good choice.

You also need to get a grip on your budget. That doesn’t mean eliminating the pitchers of ice water at U.N. conferences, yet another of Mr. Annan’s symbolic and feckless brainstorms. It does mean installing, at the very least, software that allows the U.N. to have real-time information over its accounting, disbursing, budget and human-resource systems. “If you don’t have a real-time system in place you end up with corruption, because you don’t catch the anomalies,” says Mr. Burnham.

(2) Prioritize. Consider OHRLLS, mentioned above. What does the undersecretary of that portfolio, established on Mr. Annan’s watch, actually do?

OHRLLS, it turns out, coordinates activities between such countries as St. Lucia, Burkina Faso, Bhutan and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Do these countries really have enough in common to justify another U.N. mini-bureaucracy? Was Mauritius, site of a 2005 OHRLLS summit, the ideal venue, given that a business-class ticket to the island (booked months in advance on Expedia) costs about $9,000? And is the OHRLLS’s mandate, which includes “the strengthening of institutions to provide assistance to Governments and industry in the adoption of clean production technologies,” really the best use of the U.N.’s scarce resources?

(3) Preach prosperity, not “development.” Development assistance tends to deal with the symptoms of poverty: malnutrition, sickness, illiteracy and so on. Prosperity deals with the sources of national wealth: rule of law, access to markets, ease of doing business, sound money and so on. Fifty years ago South Korea and the Congo had equivalent per-capita GDPs. Today, South Korea’s per-capita GDP is $22,000 while the Congo’s is $700, and the gap is as much a difference of mindsets as it is of circumstances.

Mr. Annan spent a lot of his tenure preaching the importance of “Official Development Assistance,” usually at the expense of the U.S. Not only was this obnoxious (in 2003 Americans privately gave $62 billion in foreign aid, more than three times the federal government’s ODA), it perpetrated the myth that income redistribution from rich to poor countries is the key to solving poverty. You’d be making a contribution simply by pointing out publicly that self-help is better than charity, as the example of your own country demonstrates.

(4) Prosecute Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; score China. You rightly described the Iranian president’s call to wipe Israel off the map — which he repeated just last week — as “unacceptable.” But as former Canadian Attorney General Irwin Cotler points out, the comments are in fact directly in violation of the U.N.’s 1948 Convention on Genocide, which specifically prohibits “direct and public incitement to commit genocide,” and to which Iran is a signatory. Why not refer Mr. Ahmadinejad’s case to the U.N. Security Council, so it in turn can refer the matter to the International Court of Justice for investigation? The members of the Security Council might demur; in that case, the shame will be theirs and the glory yours.

And speaking of old treaties, you could politely but publicly insist that China abide by its U.N. treaty obligations by granting the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees immediate and unrestricted access into northeast China, home to as many as 300,000 desperate North Koreans. This won’t win you many friends in Beijing, but what do you care? You’re already secretary-general, with a mandate to be “courageous.”

(5) The Waldheim file. It is a small but telling disgrace that the U.N.’s official biography of your predecessor Kurt Waldheim contains no mention of his service as an intelligence officer in the German army during World War II as well as his membership in the Nazi SA. If even now the U.N. can’t reckon honestly with that dark legacy it cannot reckon honestly with anything. It’s a one-sentence fix on the U.N.’s Web site. Whether you have the decency to make it will say a lot about the kind of secretary-general you are likely to be.[U][/U]

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