Reforming the United Nations: Making the United Nations More Accountable, Transparent, and Efficient
Speakers: Philo Dibble, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organization Affairs, U.S. Department of State. Adrian Hills, Senior Officer and Policy Advisor on Reform, Executive Office of the Secretary-General, United Nations. Edward Luck, Director of the Center on International Organization and Professor in the Practice of International Affairs, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University. Moderated by David Birenbaum, Senior Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center; former U.S. Ambassador to the UN for UN Management and Reform.
On May 12, 2005, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars held its last of four meetings on the United Nations High-level Panel (HLP) on Threats, Challenges and Change. The "Report of the Secretary-General's High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change," the Secretary-General's report "In larger freedom," and the recommendations of the Independent Inquiry Committee on the Oil-For-Food program will help inform discussion of the reform of the UN. The last meeting of the Wilson Center series focused on proposals for reforming the management and administration of the UN so that it is more accountable, transparent, effective, and efficient.
Adrian Hills outlined three primary motivations for UN reform. First, he stated that the HLP Report and "In larger freedom" are part of a larger and continuous UN reform process that has become the hallmark of Kofi Annan's tenure as Secretary-General. Previous efforts include reform packages issued in 1997 and 2002, as well as the Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations issued in 2000 by Mr. Brahimi. Second, an internal staff survey, in which more than six thousand UN staff criticized the senior staff, expounded upon the ethical and management crises concerning the sexual abuse scandals among UN peacekeepers. Finally, Hills noted that reform has been due in part to a series of systemic problems identified by the findings of the Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC) chaired by Paul Volcker.
Hills discussed the UN management reforms that would be announced on May 17, 2005 by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette in a briefing entitled "Management Reform Measures to Strengthen Accountability, Ethical Conduct and Management Performance." Differentiating between long-term and short-term recommendations, Hills clarified that long-term recommendations are those in the Secretary-General's "In larger freedom" report, such as the creation of 1) a comprehensive review of all mandates older than five years; 2) a one time buyout of UN staff; 3) a comprehensive review of all human resources and budget rules; and 4) a proposal that the General Assembly "commission a comprehensive review of the Office of Internal Oversight Services."
According to Hills, the UN has proceeded with several short-term reform measures, including an initiative to improve staff performance through the creation of a policy council and a management council. Both relatively small councils will advise the Secretary-General and will be tasked with leaving a paper trail of their recommendations. Other performance-related proposals call for the appointment of senior staff to UN programs to be managed more transparently and for the responsibilities and qualifications of vacant senior staff positions to be clarified. Newly hired senior staff will be subject to an introductory training in UN standards for ethical and management conduct.
Hills also noted that the UN is working to improve oversight and accountability through the recent creation of a Management Performance Board. The Management Performance Board will replace the twenty-five boards that currently report to the Secretary-General with a single, smaller, unified body. Its primary role will be to establish accountability within UN senior management by examining budgets, ethics, and staff performance. Hills described this Board as a means to "inculcate a culture of new performance management from the very top."
The UN is also considering the creation of an anti-fraud and anti-corruption policy modeled after that of the World Bank. Currently, the Office of Internal Oversight Services is mandated to investigate fraud, but the UN still lacks a coherent anti-fraud policy. In discussing the ICC report's criticism of the UN's procurement system, Hills said that there have been a significant number of changes to the UN procurement system of the 1990s, which was the version that the report critiqued. Weekly audits and Internet postings of procurement have increased transparency, and a consultant has been hired to further best practices.
Hills also briefed the audience on the UN's proposed means for guaranteeing ethical conduct of all UN staff. A draft policy on ethical conduct, which has been placed on the UN's internal website, envisions the creation of an ethics office within the UN that will be tasked with forming a whistle-blower protection policy and improving the content and methods of training UN staff. The UN is also expanding upon a new policy for disclosure requirements for senior officials. Hills described the UN's current code of conduct and conflict of interest guidelines as "quite good," but he said that education is needed to inform more employees of their existence.
Systemically, a number of initiatives have been instituted for all peacekeeping missions, including: a standardized code of conduct; a viable complaint mechanism for victims of sexual abuse; and thorough reviews of each peacekeeping mission. Hills noted that the UN has already opened investigations on various peacekeeping missions—seventy-seven peacekeepers and five civilian staff have been fired or expelled from the mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo after investigations into sexual abuse.
Hills observed that the UN has been slow in realizing that it lacks an explicit institutional policy on access to information, which affects transparency and perception of additional areas where improvement is necessary. Hills suggested that the UN author its own "access to information" act, which might be fashioned after similar, country-specific acts.
Philo Dibble offered cautious praise of UN management reforms. Referring specifically to the HLP Report, Dibble pointed out that only two of its 101 total recommendations relate to reform within the Secretariat. In Dibble's opinion, the Secretary-General's "In larger freedom" report does a better job of dealing with the issue of Secretariat reform. Dibble noted that "In larger freedom" proposes a series of management reforms that he referred to as "eminently praiseworthy," as well as champions a strong internal oversight system. However, upon examining the sequencing of recommendations in both the HLP and Secretary-General's reports, Dibble concluded that management reform was treated as a last priority or "afterthought" in the overall reform package.
Dibble said that the U.S. urges UN leadership to implement these recommendations for reform and is simultaneously pushing the UN to implement an additional list of U.S. proposals. Proposals drafted by the U.S. include re-deploying fifty UN posts from low priority to high priority, expanding and outsourcing translation services, and consolidating UN information services into one department. Dibble pointed out that UN information centers have already been consolidated in Europe, and he encouraged the UN to continue this process in other regions.
The U.S. also proposes that the UN review the effectiveness of all of its mandates, which would complement the regular review of peacekeeping mandates. Dibble stated that the U.S. recognizes that the "General Assembly has a key role" in this review process. The U.S. also has requested that the UN reduce the frequency and duration of its conferences and meetings, which account for the majority of the UN budget. The reduction of such events would allow budget reallocation toward other more critical projects.
Dibble suggested that the UN examine ways to recover losses attributable to negligence and gross neglect, while strengthening the independence of the Office of Internal Oversight Services by providing for funding directly through the General Assembly rather than from the Secretary-General's budget. Such a system of funding would prevent the Office of Internal Oversight Services from being "beholden to the people it audits," Dibble said. In another initiative to build accountability, Dibble recommended that the UN outsource internal oversight of smaller UN agencies to the Office of Internal Oversight Services.
Finally, Dibble suggested that the UN fund internal oversight for peacekeeping missions. This proposal is currently being considered by the General Assembly, and the U.S. is pressuring the UN to guarantee that recommendations by Jane Holl Lute, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, are implemented.
Edward Luck emphasized that the U.S. has an important role in the overall UN reform process, but he argued that viewing the process as an initiative driven by the U.S. would deplete its perceived legitimacy. Instead, the U.S. must help garner support among regional groups and developing countries for the proposals in the HLP Report. The support of these constituents, along with that of the Secretariat, will be integral to the success of the entire reform process.
Luck was optimistic that some of the recommendations presented in the reports can be implemented by the Secretary-General without approval from the General Assembly. Yet, he outlined two major concerns about the HLP Report. First, he observed a real tendency in Washington circles to champion voluntary funding with the hope that it will result in increased accountability. Luck argued that the concept of voluntary funding has been ingrained in the UN system to such a degree that funding has become ad hoc and unpredictable. As a result, devising a centralized effort to change the system will present major difficulties.
Second, Luck was concerned that the Independent Inquiry Committee report's auditor approach fails to encompass the political nature of the UN. Luck fears that the report issued by Volcker's ICC addresses reform as if it were a profit-making scheme. In order to properly manage the UN system, the political interests of each of 191 member states must be understood.
Luck recommended four priorities for UN reform. First, the personnel system has a myriad of "institutionalized culture" problems that need to be remedied. For instance, there is an exaggerated sense of caution among UN personnel, which prevents the free flow of concerns and new ideas. Managers should become more accountable to both staff and member states, and a sense of justice and equality among staff needs to be fostered. Luck also argued that a system of horizontal mobility would ensure that staff receive exposure to a wide array of departments within the organization.
Second, the UN system should improve its budgetary process, which requires that member states refrain from micromanagement. Third, Luck suggested that the UN hire a strict and demanding Chief Operating Officer to improve the functioning of the organization. The Secretary-General cannot assume the duties of this position, because the diplomatic nature of the position cannot always accommodate uncompromising standards. A Chief Operating Officer, on the other hand, would be solely concerned with maintaining precision and compliance.
Finally, Luck observed that an impetus towards UN reform exists in the U.S., but it may be fleeting. Luck suggested that non-governmental organizations have a critical role in sustaining the momentum for management reform within UN member states.
Drafted by Anton Ghosh and Julia Bennett