New York Times Examines Bureaucracy At U.N.

“The United Nations is widely known for functions like peacekeeping, health programs, refugee support and the International Court of Justice. But those are just a part of its bureaucracy, whose size and structure still bewilder many of its own employees,” the New York Times writes in an article that examines how the current economic situation could impact the role of the U.N. in the future.

“There are five big centers – New York, Geneva, Rome, Vienna and Nairobi – and numerous smaller ones. In Geneva alone, the United Nations held 10,000 meetings in 2009, offered 632 training workshops and translated 220,000 pages of documents for its yearbooks, reports, and working papers,” according to the newspaper. “But in these difficult economic times, as many countries reduce their own services, critics are asking whether there is a case for putting this army of civil servants to work in a smarter, more streamlined manner.”

The article provides a breakdown of the structure of the U.N. – which latest figures show “employs about 75,000 people, including those in related agencies, under a $5 billion annual budget” – and notes the overlap of efforts between U.N. agencies and well as with national or regional agencies. “There’s huge redundancy and lack of efficiency,” explained Mark Malloch Brown, deputy in 2006 to the Secretary-General at the time, Kofi Annan, “but it’s entirely the making of the member states,” he added.

“We need to reform the institutions rather than abolish them, en principe,” said Jean-Pierre Lehmann, professor of international political economy at the I.M.D. business school in Lausanne, Switzerland, noting the role Annan played in “what he called a ‘quiet revolution’ by reducing staff, cutting the administrative budget and trying to weed out patronage.” Still, as the newspaper writes, “[t]here appears little prospect of genuine overhaul [of the U.N.] soon, given its size, the competing interests of its 192 member states, and the fact that the worst of the financial crisis may be over.”

The article also quotes Jan Kubis of Slovakia, executive secretary of the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe and Farhan Haq, a U.N. spokesman who defends the body and progress made by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to reform and strengthen operations at the U.N. (Saltmarsh, 1/5).

IPS Looks At Reaction To U.N. Secretary-General’s Failure To Discuss U.N. Women In Recent Op-Ed

Inter Press Service reports on a letter sent to U.N. Women Under-Secretary-General Michelle Bachelet reacting to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s recent op-ed, which did not mention the creation of U.N. Women or the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) related to gender. “The new U.N. agency, armed with a projected 500-million-dollar annual budget and headed by … Bachelet, began functioning at the beginning of the New Year,” IPS writes.

“It would have been a tremendous opportunity to draw attention to UN Women … after all, the creation of an entirely new agency devoted to half the world’s population is something to be noted and celebrated,” Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-Free World, said. “‘But there’s not a word on UN Women,’ she complained in a letter to Bachelet, jointly authored with Stephen Lewis, a former deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF,” the news service notes.

The article continues, “In a paragraph that summarises the [MDGs], the secretary‑general lists seven of the eight goals. ‘The only one left out is, astonishingly, the goal on gender equality and the empowerment of women. How is that possible?’ the letter notes.”

Defending Ban, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told IPS, “The secretary‑general has made clear his commitment to women’s issues, and he pushed strongly for the establishment of UN Women. … He has spoken extensively on women’s issues, and its absence from one op-ed does not imply any lessening of his commitment on this crucial issue,” according to IPS (Deen, 1/5).

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