Press Releases

    8 September 2005

    In Statement to Security Council, Secretary-General Stresses "Vital Importance" of UN Management Reforms, Including Clear Definition of Responsibilities

    NEW YORK, 7 September (UN Headquarters) -- Following is today's statement by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Security Council:

    As you know, it was on my initiative, and with the support of this Council, that in April of last year Mr. Volcker, Justice Goldstone and Professor Pieth were asked to conduct their inquiry.

    I took that initiative, not with a view to deflecting blame, or to forging a political weapon against anyone, but with the sole purpose of uncovering the truth.  I was convinced that only by revealing the full truth, however painful, could the United Nations regain its credibility, and establish what changes were needed.

    Mr. Volcker himself remarked, when presenting his first interim report, that few other organizations would have opened themselves to independent scrutiny as fully as this one has.  And indeed, the truth as revealed in the successive interim reports of the Inquiry, and in this full report today, is painful for all of us.  There can be few people, either in this Council or in the Secretariat, who will take pleasure in hearing or reading the conclusions that the Inquiry has reached. 

    Yet I believe we should all be profoundly grateful to Mr. Volcker and his colleagues for the work that they have done, and the report that they have produced.  I have no doubt, no doubt at all that this Organization will benefit from it.

    Mr. President, my colleagues and I have only just received the full report, as you have, and therefore it would be premature for me to give a detailed response at this stage.  But there are some things that I am ready to say now.

    The report is critical of me personally, and I accept the criticism. 

    Earlier this year the Committee concluded that I did not influence, or attempt to influence, the procurement process.  I am glad to note that the conclusion is reaffirmed.

    But I accepted then, and still accept, the conclusion that I was not diligent or effective enough in pursuing an investigation after the fact, when I learned that the company which employed my son had won the humanitarian inspection contract.  I deeply regret that.

    The evidence of actual corruption among a small number of UN staff is also profoundly disappointing for all of us who work in this Organization.

    But, while I have not yet had time to study the full text of the report, I am gratified to see that two essential points are made in the preface.  First, the Committee notes that the Programme did succeed in restoring and maintaining minimal standards of nutrition and health in Iraq, while also helping to maintain the international effort to prevent Saddam Hussein from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.  And secondly, it observes that "the wholesale corruption within the Programme took place among private companies, manipulated by Saddam Hussein's government". 

    More important, however, are the Committee's findings about the general management of the Programme, which was characterized by weak administrative practices, and inadequate control and auditing.  Most important of all is the way that those findings reflect on the system of decision-making, accountability and management throughout the Organization. 

    Here too, as chief administrative officer, I have to take responsibility for the failings revealed, both in the implementation of the Programme and, more generally, in the functioning of the Secretariat. 

    The report also finds that many of these problems were rooted in an unclear demarcation of roles and responsibilities between this Council, the 661 Committee and the Secretariat -- and in particular by this Council's decision to retain substantial elements of operational control within the 661 committee, composed of national diplomats working under highly politicized instructions from their home governments, yet willing to take decisions only when there was unanimous consent among all the fifteen members.

    This, of course, calls for reflection by Member States. 

    There are hard lessons for all of us to learn. 

    They are lessons about the importance of accountability, and particularly of having clear lines of responsibility and reporting, so that all officials, and all parts of the Secretariat, know exactly where their responsibilities lie.

    They are lessons about oversight, and particularly about the need for mechanisms to ensure that, when oversight reveals deficiencies, someone takes prompt action to repair those deficiencies.

    And above all, they are lessons about the need for the United Nations to maintain the highest possible standards of integrity, and of effective performance.

    Mr. President, we shall have to study all these lessons, and all the Committee's recommendations, with great care.  It may well be that we shall have to propose specific new reform measures to put them into practice.  

    But one thing should be clear right now.  The Inquiry's findings underscore the vital importance of proposed management reforms, many of which are at this very minute being negotiated by Members in the General Assembly, with a view to their adoption, as part of a broader agenda of political and institutional change, by next week's summit.

    As you know, I have already embarked on new reforms in areas where I have discretion -- reforms designed to improve the performance of senior management, to strengthen oversight and accountability, to increase transparency, and to ensure the highest standards of ethics, notably by creating a new Ethics Office.  But there are many key decisions that only the General Assembly can make.

    As the Inquiry's report says, we cannot be sure, however much we might wish it, that fresh emergencies will not sooner or later impose on us new tasks as complex as the "oil-for-food programme". 

    Therefore, it is vital that we review fully the rules governing our budgetary and human resources.  The oil-for-food programme is only the most extreme example of the wide range of new types of operation that Member States have called on the Secretariat to undertake in the last 15 years.  It surely illustrates the point that our rules must allow us to attract, retain and develop a cadre of professionals with appropriate skills to manage such operations, to move them from post to post in a fair and practicable way, and to rationalize a budgetary process which at present is far too heavy, time-consuming and bureaucratic.

    Even more obviously, it is vital that we build a stronger and better-resourced oversight structure, and ensure that it is fully independent, both of the Secretariat and from political interference by Member States.  One important element in this new structure would be the independent oversight advisory committee proposed in the draft outcome document submitted by the President of the General Assembly -- which corresponds closely to the Committee's recommendation of an Independent Auditing Board.

    But it's no less vital that the Secretary-General himself should be allowed to carry out his functions effectively, taking day-to-day decisions on deployment of staff and resources without having to wait for prior approval from the General Assembly, or this Council, or their various committees.  As the report says, one of the fundamental problems with the oil-for-food programme was that "neither the Security Council nor the Secretariat leadership was clearly in command" and this "turned out to be a recipe for the dilution of Secretariat authority and evasion of personal responsibility at all levels".  In future, the respective roles and powers of the different parts of the Organization must be clearly defined, so that the Secretary-General knows precisely what is expected of him, and Member States can hold him fully accountable for the results.

    As I told the General Assembly negotiators last week, I know that none of you want a Secretariat that can always blame its failings on Member States, or Member States blaming their failings on the Secretariat.  You want a Secretariat that is given clear instructions by Member States, and then takes responsibility for its success or failure in carrying them out.

    The findings in today's report must be deeply embarrassing to all of us.  The Inquiry Committee has ripped away the curtain, and shone a harsh light into the most unsightly corners of the Organization.  None of us -- Member States, Secretariat, Agencies, Funds or Programmes -- can be proud of what it has found.  Who among us can now claim that UN management is not a problem, or is not in need of reform? 

    On the contrary, as the Volcker Report puts it, "reform is imperative if the United Nations is to regain and retain the measure of respect among the international community that its work requires".

    Next week's summit gives world leaders a golden opportunity to enact such a reform.  But the negotiators are leaving it perilously late.  There is a grave danger that the opportunity will be missed. I hope I'm wrong.

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