PRESS CONFERENCE BY UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR MANAGEMENT
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
14 September 2006
The United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Management, Christopher B. Burnham, released the organization’s first-ever consolidated report on its worldwide activities and finances today, describing it as “an honest self-assessment” that should stimulate a dialogue on transparency and accountability that would help the United Nations achieve its goals.
The 392-page report –- richly illustrated, and available on the Internet and in print -- marks the first time that the United Nations Secretariat, with 29,000 staff members and $9 billion in total funds, has aggregated information for the public at large, in an accessible format not unlike annual reports produced by large corporations, foundations and non-governmental organizations, providing a clearer picture of what Mr. Burnham called “ROE -- return on effort”.
It is the outcome of a proposal put forward in March 2006 by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his report to the General Assembly titled “Investing in the United Nations: For a Stronger Organization Worldwide”, aimed at better measuring the Secretariat’s work against the objectives set by Member States. It complements the Secretary-General’s formal annual report to the General Assembly, and Mr. Burnham said he hoped it would be continued when Mr. Annan’s successor takes office next year.
At a press conference at United Nations Headquarters where he also discussed a proposed Freedom of Information Office for the United Nations and the upcoming refurbishment of the organization’s New York Headquarters, Mr. Burnham said the report was unprecedented.
“This is the first-ever consolidated report of the United Nations that brings together financial and performance information,” he said. “I hope this will set the bar, the standard, for future secretaries-general to produce this kind of report, so that we can continue with our commitment to transparency and accountability -- first and foremost to the global taxpayer, but equally to the Member States who comprise our board of directors.”
He explained how the report opens with a “letter to shareholders” from the Secretary-General, followed by “management discussion and analysis” and remarks from the Office of Internal Oversight Services (the United Nations de facto auditors). Performance reviews then follow, covering such areas as international peace and security, economic growth and development, human rights, terrorism and refugees.
Mr. Burnham said no attempt was made to “sanitize” the report’s content. He went on: “I hope that this First Consolidated Report will provoke a dialogue, as we become a more transparent and accountable organisation.”
He expressed thanks to the report’s team of writers, coordinated by Mr. Humayun Kabir, saying they had to “work diligently” to get their Secretariat colleagues to shun in-house jargon. “We made a conscious effort to be understandable”, he said.
He said, however, that the report was merely one facet of bolstering accountability and transparency. Responding to reporters’ questions, he said he looked forward to “a sincere and in-depth discussion” by the General Assembly and its Fifth Committee this fall on a Freedom of Information Office within the United Nations, followed by “swift action” to approve its creation. He said that members of the public, as well as Member States, deserve the right to lodge an information request, and to get the information in “reasonable time” and at a nominal fee.
Asked about the Secretary-General’s non-disclosure of his personal finances, Mr. Burnham said it was his opinion that all United Nations staff should fill out annual financial reports. He added: “I encourage everyone to do so in a timely fashion.”
On the refurbishment of Headquarters, Mr. Burnham said the Secretariat was now reviewing bids for “a massive construction contract of almost a billion dollars” with a final choice of a project manager expected “in the next few weeks.” Phase one will involve the construction of a temporary facility on the north lawn of Headquarters that will first house the General Assembly for 18 months, followed by the Security Council. Then, the Secretariat building will be renovated in 10-floor stages. Renovating the General Assembly alone should take 18 months, he said, adding that the current General Assembly session could “quite possibly” be the last in the existing structure. He told reporters to expect to see an excavator on the north lawn in the coming months to dig test holes; it would be at that time that a ceremonial groundbreaking will be held.
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For information media • not an official record
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