January 2, 2007 | New York Daily News
As the new secretary general of the UN, South Korea's Ban Ki-moon faces a choice: style himself as the next self-serving pop star of global diplomacy or dedicate himself more humbly and bravely to transforming the corrupt UN into an honest institution.
If Ban chooses chiefly to promote himself, he can follow the trail blazed by his predecessor, Kofi Annan. He can spend his five-year term preening himself as — in Annan's words — “chief diplomat of the world.” He can glad-hand tyrants and troublemakers and block genuine global security by covering up crooked UN programs, a la Oil-for-Food, and demanding more resources for ultimately unworkable “peace” deals, as Annan did this past summer for Lebanon.
He can expand yet further the sprawling, secretive and crooked UN system, filling positions with cronies, collecting money for murky initiatives, blaming failures and scandal on others (especially the U.S.), and raking in prizes from the likes of Mideast potentates and Swiss financiers. He might even win himself a second term.
But if Ban attends to his real job – which the UN charter defines not as top diplomat, but as “chief administrative officer” – he can far better serve the public interest. The UN suffers problems enough by way of a General Assembly and Security Council stacked with despotic regimes. If, on top of that, there is no integrity in the secretariat then even the best-meant policies stand little chance of working well in practice.
The two biggest fixes needed: a sweeping change of personnel, and the kind of true transparency that Annan promised but never delivered. Ban would have been wise to begin by chucking the more than 90 staffers now working in the secretary general's office alone, plus Annan's global patronage network of scores of special advisers, envoys and liaisons. As it is, Ban is off to an unpromising start in choosing as his chief of staff an old UN insider, Vijay Nambiar, an Indian diplomat who served most recently as a special adviser to Annan. Nor does Ban's appointment of another UN insider as his spokeswoman bode well for cleaning up the UN secretariat's Orwellian Department of Public Information, which was used by Annan chiefly to glorify the UN image, and his own, while glossing over everything from billions in pilfered relief funds to the UN-related dealings of Annan's son.
Instead of refilling the ranks with Annan's leftovers and his own chums, Ban would do better to open up the UN appointment process – in much the same way that the U.S. government holds public hearings. In place of the current opaque in-house roster, decked with vaguely worded public biographies for senior staff, there should be a publicly available list of all personnel, disclosing in standard format their nationalities, résumés – and potential conflicts of interest.
Unlike Annan, Ban has pledged to disclose to the public his own finances. He should require the same of his top aides, and of anyone he will be nominating to head special programs and agencies within the alphabet soup of the UN's $20 billion-per-year global system.
In the interest of UN health, Ban should also make it standard policy to disclose coherent lists of who funds what within the maze of special trusts and initiatives that Annan used to further his pet agendas – drumming up money from select governments and private donors without submitting to the oversight of any public appropriations process. Ban might want to look into such Annan legacies as a department inside the secretariat, the UN Fund for International Partnerships, paid by and devoted to administering the funds and wishes of left-leaning Ted Turner's UN Foundation.
He should also open up the bulk of the archives from Paul Volcker's inquiry into Oil-for-Food, full of unexplored leads to graft both within and beyond the UN, which Annan as a parting act has just deep-sixed into the hands of the secretive UN legal department.
If Ban begins by cleaning up the mess that Annan leaves behind, he might then be in a position to act as an honest broker in matters of global crisis. If he makes it his mission to first clean up the world, he's in trouble, and so are we.
Claudia Rosett is a journalist-in-residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.