Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Accountability Framework For UN Staff

Kofi Annan had performance compacts with each of his senior managers, but they were kept private. Ban Ki-moon has publicized the existence of the compacts by having a formal signing ceremony for his senior staff and declaring that together, they constitute an "important step towards a full and effective accountability framework within the Secretariat."

At the ceremony at which senior staff signed their compacts, (Monday, 4 February), Ban said that the framework would "provide a performance-driven and results-oriented approach to tackling the many and varied mandates" set by governments." It would assure all UN "stakeholders" of the Secretariat's "integrity, consistency, predictability and professionalism." Managers would be able to set "clear roles, responsibilities and authorities for all levels and stakeholders of the Organization." Posted on the UN Intranet accessible to all staff, the compacts would "bring transparency," enabling Staff to "clearly understand their duties, and the manner in which they will be evaluated." A Management Performance Board chaired by Deputy Secretary-General Asha Rose Migiro will keep tabs on actual performance. Ms. Migiro will also head a "task force on reform" to "formulate proposals for overcoming long-standing difficulties in human resources management."

Ban did not mention how the UN's "many and varied mandates" had been boiled down to manageable proportions, or indeed, if any attempt had been made to do so. My suspicion is that the reference to the mandates is purely to mollify the Group of 77 (the 132-member caucus of developing countries), which feels, with ample reason, that the Secretariat is attuned more to the preferences of a handful of powerful States than to formal directives handed down by intergovernmental bodies, especially the General Assembly.

At a more elevated level, there is the question of whether the compacts will make any difference in UN effectiveness when the Organization is so unmoored from the power structures that actually shape the world. But they might prove useful in getting rid of "deadwood." Of course, that word has a different connotation at the UN than anywhere else; it includes not only the incompetent but anyone who is a thorn in the sides of the powers that be. [In the interests of full disclosure, I must confess to having exited the UN Secretariat in 1991 with a buyout meant to get rid of just that category of staff.)

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