PRESS CONFERENCE BY UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR MANAGEMENT
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
15 November 2006
Secretary-General Kofi Annan had laid down the foundation for the road to bring the United Nations into the twenty-first century by giving it twenty-first century accountability, transparency and ethics, Christopher Burnham, the outgoing Under-Secretary-General for Management, said this morning at a Headquarters press conference.
It would now be up to incoming Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to pave the road, he added as he summarized the progress made during his 18-month tenure as Under-Secretary-General for Management. The road towards creating a twenty-first century Organization rested on a number of concrete institutional mechanisms already in place. Chief among those was the creation this year of the Ethics Office, which had already undertaken three measures critical to creating an ethical “control environment”. First, the Office served as an advisory body intended to create an environment in which civil service staff could rise to the highest numerator and not immediately think of going down to the lowest common denominator. Rather, they should be models of ethnical training and conduct, based on policies that promoted ethics in the workplace.
A second mechanism entailed the development of “new and invigorated” financial disclosure forms that were tougher than those of the United States Government and Congress. Their intent was not to “get people”, but rather to prevent even the semblance of conflicts of interest. A third mechanism, the world’s strongest whistleblower protection policy, was a credit to the Secretary-General’s push to lay down the foundation for the road to the twenty-first century. It served as a support for men and women of courage and reinforced the message that a culture of ethics must be protected.
He went on to say that the new international public sector accounting standards being put in place to strengthen the system of internal controls would be “terrifically” important in building accountability. New software would replace the current IMIS (Integrated Management Information System) system, allowing for the aggregation of data and linking to indicators and outcomes. Other measures with foundations in place included the annual report, which was an important element in creating a climate of transparency. That should be followed up with a mechanism to provide guaranteed access to information, since an independent press was the people’s “court of last resort” in dealing with Governments and intergovernmental organizations.
A comprehensive human resources package must be developed to attract the world’s “best and brightest”, he said. An independent audit advisory committee was an essential component in an ethical control environment. Its functions would be to hold management responsible and offer a remediation plan. It would also identify “material weaknesses” in the system. An audit management committee would integrate the internal audit component already established, but a still-to-be- established independent external mechanism was “absolutely necessity” for an ethical control environment.
Another absolute necessity was strengthening the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and reforming the administration of justice so that it worked, he said. The Procurement Task Force that had brought about indictments was a good example of the way in which an ethical control environment should work. In that instance, allegations had been made and the United Nations had responded by investigating and reporting its finding to the local authorities, who had taken action following their own investigation.
Moving on to the Capital Master Plan, he said there was a moral responsibility to bring the Headquarters building into the twenty-first century and up to code, adding in response to questions that the operational plans had already been finalized with regard to securing the space and moving people in and out. The plan was expected to be approved in December and the first signs of actual construction would appear next summer. The renovation would be completed in 2014.
In response to a barrage of questions, he said it would take 14 years to “turn the supertanker around” and bring the Organization into the twenty-first century. The new Secretary-General should “stay the course” on reform and funding while setting his course by defining “United Nations 2020”, or what the Organization should look like in 14 years when the ethical reforms for the control environment were fully in place. If that did not happen, the United Nations would diminish and erode over the next two decades, just as the League of Nations had collapsed due to the “tyranny of one”. Consensus was an important word, but it had killed the last intergovernmental body and would kill this one if the Security Council failed to act decisively, as in the case of Darfur.
Reforms to bring the Organization into the twenty-first century by making it responsive to twenty-first century needs was a matter of the private sector values that were the driving force for a number of reasons, he said. By definition, Governments were not as efficient as the private sector since the profit motive was missing. In addition, the “Sword of Damocles” was hanging over the head of the United Nations at the moment because of the “oil-for-food” scandal, which had been followed by the growing procurement investigation.
Moreover, the Organization was becoming very expensive, he said, noting that it now cost $2 billion a year to run the United Nations. In addition, peacekeeping had cost $5.3 billion in 2006, a figure expected to rise to $7.5 billion in 2007 and $10 billion in 2008. Efficiency would be driven by the need to answer to people demanding a return on equity and effort by creating an effective, efficient institution that was ethical, accountable and transparent.
A correspondent asked whether Mr. Burnham was worried about a conflict of interest in going to work for Deutsche Bank, which faced some human rights questions regarding predatory lending in the United States, and its role as the principal financier for the leader of Turkmenistan, allegedly a systematic abuser of human rights.
The Under-Secretary-General replied that he had not taken a position with Deutsche Bank yet and hoped that 18 months at the United Nations had made him a “kinder and gentler Chris Burnham”. He had been lucky not to have signed off on every single piece of paper because events today were so complex that somebody could have dug them up and found something. But the experience of working at the United Nations had been extraordinary and he would always live by the rules he had drafted.
Asked whether Secretary-General Annan was a bad judge of character and whether he deserved credit for the changes made or had been forced into making them, Mr. Burnham said that, because of Mr. Annan there was a new era of accountability at the United Nations. Financial disclosure requirements were being put in place, as were post-employment restrictions that would be in effect by the end of the year. More than 500 whistleblower complaints had been heard after lying stagnant in the system for years. Solid progress had been made during his own year-and-a-half towards an environment that made it plain that it was not “all right to lie, cheat or steal”.
The oil-for-food scandal had been the driving force behind the reform agenda to bring the United Nations into the twenty-first century. It had led to the knowledge that internal controls began with internal ethics and that an organization’s Chief Operational Officer was only as good as the team. The outgoing Secretary-General had laid down the structure for a strengthened team and the new Secretary-General would build on it.
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For information media • not an official record
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