United Nations – A sharp-witted newspaper columnist once remarked that in Washington DC, the ship of state always leaks at the top.
The United Nations is perhaps no better – judging by the circumstances surrounding the leaking of a confidential 50- page document in which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is politically crucified by one of his own senior officials.
Responding to the blistering attack by departing Under- Secretary-General Inga-Britt Ahlenius, one of the highest ranking officials on the U.N. totem pole, Ban said he had always welcomed “constructive criticism”.
“But as public servants, there are rules and procedures. In this case, a trust, a bond, had been broken,” he said.
Ban told a meeting of senior advisers Thursday it was regrettable that a confidential document had been leaked to the press.
The Washington Post broke the story Monday but ran only excerpts from the report in which Ahlenius, a former auditor-general of Sweden, challenged the very leadership of the secretary-general.
She accused the secretary-general of being non-cooperative; of exceeding his authority on certain high-level appointments; of double standards on staff dismissals; and of lacking good governance.
The slew of charges have triggered a virtual political earthquake in the Secretariat and also brought a strong rejoinder from Ban’s senior advisers.
Angela Kane, under-secretary-general for the department of management, told reporters there were “numerous inaccuracies” in Ahlenius’s report “but that its contents would be taken seriously”.
Asked if the report would be made public, she said it was an internal memo and a management tool that was not intended as a public document.
But IPS was the only news organisation with access to the entire 50-page document which was posted on its website Thursday.
After reading the report, an ambassador from a developing country told IPS the revelations were “shocking”.
It’s possible, he said, that member states may ask the secretary-general for a point-by-point rebuttal of the charges.
After spending seven years in the U.N. system, Ahlenius served the last five as head of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), the investigative arm of the world body.
“There is no transparency (and) there is lack of accountability. Rather than supporting the internal oversight which is the sign of strong leadership and good governance, you have strived to control it which is to undermine its position. I do not see any signs of reform in the Organisation,” Ahlenius wrote in her “End of Assignment Report”.
The attacks by Ahlenius were fast and furious:
– “It will take time to see the harm caused by the weak secretary-general because the process of decay and weakening of the Organisation and the Secretariat is a stealthy process”;
– “Absence of strategic guidance and leadership manifests itself not only through failure to bring about change and reform of the Organisation; it also manifests itself as a sort of an “adhocracy”; disintegrated and ill thought through “reforms” are launched without adequate analysis and with lack of understanding and a holisitc view”;
– “You are undermining the authority of your senior advisers both by affording them short – one year – mandates and also by exercising your direct authority over the appointments of their staff”;
– “Senior positions politicized, a culture that will filter down in the organisation, compromising the merit-based recruitment, undermining excellence and lowering the morale; (and) the health and capacity of the secretariat will be ignored”;
– “However, you yourself, the deputy secretary-general, the chef de cabinet and the deputy chef de cabinet have not been available for any interviews (on the Risk Assessment in the secretariat)”.
– “The Risk Assessment is carried out in your interest and we had expected that you and your closest staff would have taken interest in and contributed to its conclusions. However, in spite of a number of reminders, we have not been able to access you and your closest staff and we will therefore conclude our Risk Assessment – short of your crucial contribution- and submit it to you for a follow up discussion”.
“I regret this lack of interest from your side in contributing to this process established in your interest and in the interest of the Organisation.”
The report cites at least one delegate who complained in the Fifth Committee that “the overall culture in the secretariat has not shown much improvement in terms of accountability… The organisation should no longer be a safety net for those who cannot show competency.”
And this, the report says, comes ironically from a delegate from Korea, home country of the secretary-general.
The report also points out that the culture of the Organisation is traditionally one of secrecy.
“Such secretiveness serves us poorly, it only serves to feed rumours, gossip and finally distrust within the organisation and between the organisation and its external stake holders, including the media.”
In the information vacuum created by secretiveness, the public and the media are very much left to information from informal sources, well or ill-intentioned “leaks”.
“Regrettably, these leaks in the secretariat are rather seen as an argument to further restrict information and to investigate the leaks, than as an argument for increased transparency. Your own Executive Office is rather described to be ‘consumed by leaks’.”
“Transparency serves in the long run to improve the organisation and to establish the culture of responsibility and accountability that you say you envisage.”
“I see no visible effort to deliver on your stated commitment to increased transparency.”
Ahlenius also implicitly portrays Ban in poor light compared to three former secretaries-general.
She says Boutros Boutros-Ghali established the intellectual leadership of the secretariat.
Kofi Annan reconfirmed the role of the secretary-general as both the “norm-entrepreneur” of the world and his role as the pre-eminent diplomat and chief negotiator;
Dag Hammarskjold was the one who defined the role of the secretary-general and pronounced himself often on the two roles; he maintained that the “Charter gives the secretary- general an explicit political role.” His active and successful intervention in international crises was the demonstration of his conviction.
But where does Ban stand?
“I regret to say the (U.N.) Secretariat now is in a process of decay. It is not only falling apart into silos – the Secretariat is drifting, to use the words of one of my senior colleagues,” Ahlenius said.
“I am concerned that we are in a process of decline and reduced relevance of the Organisation. In short, we seem to be seen less and less as a relevant partner in the resolution of world problems,” she noted.
This, she points out, inevitably risks weakening the United Nations’ possibilities to fulfill its mandate. “Ultimately, that is to the detriment of peace and stability in the world. This is as sad as it is serious.”
The detailed 51-page report can be found at http://ipsterraviva.net/uploads/UN/UN/report.Pdf.
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