With the United Nations being "hammered" daily by attacks alleging fraud and mismanagement in some of its key programmes, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today vowed to make the UN more accountable and transparent, and told staff that he wanted "us all to be proud of the Organization we work for…and be determined to move ahead."
"To see the institution you work for being hammered, day in and day out, whether it is right or not, it does hurt and it does affect morale," Mr. Annan told a town hall-style gathering at UN Headquarters in New York, where he met with all staff to hear their concerns and discuss the UN's immediate priorities.
Linked with UN workers worldwide via video and by e-mail, he acknowledged that there were times during the past three years – from the bitter divisions over the path to war in Iraq, to the loss of close colleagues in the 2003 bombing of the UN office in Baghdad, to the current "constant barrage of attacks" – that he himself had been discouraged.
"I know this has cast a shadow over all of us," he said of the ongoing investigation into the UN's handling of the Iraq Oil-for-Food programme, and the implication that his son Kojo is "somehow associated." Mr. Annan said that he has experienced personal pain, as a Secretary-General and as a father, and reiterated his belief that the independent committee headed by former United States Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker will get to the bottom of the allegations surrounding the programme.
Vowing to draw the lessons, correct the weaknesses and "clean up our act," the Secretary-General told staff: "You work for a great Organization. Do not believe the caricature of an organization that you read in the press. I want us all to be proud of the Organization we work for, be proud of the work we do and to be determined to move ahead."
This also meant "not being complacent" and pressing ahead with overall United Nations reform, he said, outlining several proposals, including the establishment of an oversight committee to ensure that the recommendations of the Office for Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) are implemented. Mr. Annan noted that the UN will set up a board to monitor managerial performance and circulate to staff shortly guidelines on treating whistle-blowers. He added that a strong policy to deal with sexual misconduct has already been put in place.
The Secretary-General also emphasized the reform proposals he has presented to world leaders in his report, "In larger freedom," calling them "bold, but achievable," and urging Heads of State to act on them when they come to the United Nations this September for the General Assembly's review of worldwide efforts to attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
During a frank question-and-answer session, Mr. Annan was asked, among other things, about reports that some whistle-blowers have been harassed by their managers. He said that managers have to be held accountable. If individuals are harassed, he said, they should come out with the facts, which would have to be investigated. He added, in response to another question, that accountability should apply across the board, regardless of rank or level.
Asked how the UN can handle the recent negative news about it, the Secretary-General said that it should take the necessary measures to strengthen its management and administration and carry out reform efforts, while rebutting any unfair accusations. Ultimately, he said, we should "do what we do best, and serve the people of the world that we are here to serve."