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'63 years on, nobody thinks UN is perfect'

Last updated on: September 14, 2009 
Image: UN Secretary General speaks at the book launch
Suman Guha Mozumder

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has reiterated the need to improve the efficiency and the credibility of the organization for which the member States and the secretariat needed to work together.

63 years since it was founded, nobody believes that the UN is a perfect organization and one has to admit that it indeed has flaws and may have inherent problems, he said.

"There is a serious problem of accountability and transparency, efficiency, mobility and professionalism," Ban said on September 11 at the United Nations.

He made the comments while launching a book, United Nations International Civil Service -- Perceptions and Realities, co-authored by Murari R Sharma, former permanent representative of Nepal to the UN and Ajit Banerjee, former special adviser and principal coordinator for administrative reform and governance program in the UN.

Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, India's Permanent Representative to the UN, hosted the event.

Banerjee said, reading a joint statement by the authors, that the UN which started 63 years ago with a few hundred staff members and a few million dollars in budget, has a work force of more than 100,000 people and several billion dollars of budget, and its membership has gone up nearly four times from 51 to 192. This, he said, reflects both the importance and the challenges of the UN.

Noting that the performance of the world body has been mixed, he said most problems lay in human resources management; human resources being the most vital constituting the brain, heart and limbs of the organization.

"The selection and recruitment of staff lacks rigorous standards and coherent vetting methods, more so at critical levels. Vested interests rather than organizational needs have often determined creation of posts and deployment of staff," Banerjee said.

"Nepotism and cronyism are prevalent and departmental leadership and accountability are the weakest link in the chain," he said.

"In other words, the UN continues to live in the domain of outdated incrementalism and traditional personnel administration while the world beyond First Avenue (on which UN is located) has adopted the concept of strategic human resource management and moved on," Banerjee said.

He said there has been little intellectual curiosity about UN management outside the corridors other than occasional political statement.

"This is what we have learnt in the course of our two-year-long study based on our experience in civil service reform to write the book," he said.

Banerjee noted that their comparative study of best practices has made it clear that uniqueness of the world body has taken too far to resist timely change, which is turn has stuck the UN to outdated and ineffective management practices.

He said that while the civil service is changing for the better over time, Banerjee complimented Ban for giving it a high priority with making efforts to streamline contracts and transforming the internal justice system.

"Yet many inherent weaknesses in the system continue unabated and strategic and forward-looking measures are necessary to revamp the UN. For instance, the world body needs an independent recruitment and selection agency to make recruitment and selection open, transparent and credible," he said.

Banerjee said that while discussing for reform, they have focussed only on what is doable in the UN and what enables the world body to do more in practical terms rather than things that sound good but could not be implemented.

The Secretary General said he has been trying to make UN more effective and credible since day one. "My distinguished predecessors have been doing the same thing and I have been doing the same work left by my predecessors and I am sure I will not be able to complete the work, implementing all the mandates and solving all the problem before I retire. The work will have to continue," he said.

"To improve the organization and make it more credible and change it work culture is quite a challenge and the secretary general alone may not be able to do everything. This has to be done along with the secretariat and all the member states. We have to analyze and debate solutions that are practical. I will take into consideration whatever practical recommendations are there in the book," Ban said.

Video: Paresh Gandhi