As a young boy in the 90s, I indulged in various fantasies. One of them was being an important element in the United Nations and saving the world from all its evils. I wanted to be a hero and the UN was my platform. But, if I had succeeded in becoming a UN staff back then, I‘d be a disappointed man today. Look at the world body. It is a sorry reflection of its founding principles, rendered ineffective by red tape and lethargy, failing to evolve.
I may not be a part of UN, but I have closely followed its work over the years. I have interacted with UN officers, past and present, and the image it reveals saddens me.
The bureaucracy is annoyingly complicated. There is a maze through which one has to maneuver in order to do the right thing. Tax dollars and human aspirations are going down the drain. As a guardian of the world, the United Nations requires the best of human resources in the business of keeping global peace.
And yet, a former UN assistant secretary general revealed to a leading US newspaper that it takes on average 213 days to recruit someone. In January, to the horror of many, the Department of Management imposed a new recruitment system that is likely to increase the delay to over a year.
The former UN man shared a case in point: During the Ebola epidemic, he was looking for qualified people to help tackle the epidemic, yet he was informed that one of the staff members working in South Sudan could not travel to the headquarters in Ghana until she received a new medical clearance…
The world was staring at a disease that had killed thousands and had the potential to kill many more, yet, the time-consuming, oppressive bureaucracy prevented a helping hand from reaching where it was needed the most. The continued existence of unnecessary guidelines and unbending rules is a matter of grave concern because at the receiving end is a world that is grappling with issues on multiple fronts. We can do with a better service.
Minimal accountability is a major source of pain. Without naming, the former member pointed out that there is a chief of staff in a large peacekeeping mission who is distinctly incapable of performing duties. There have been attempts at relieving him of his duties but it’s just not possible to remove him from the UN. Reportedly, not a single international field staff member has been fired in the last six years.
Politicization of decisions is another problem. Peacekeeping forces are often deployed in countries without any serious objective. Besides costing billions of dollars, the unending existence of large number of forces diverts focus from the real socio-economic problems.
The former UN member’s first peacekeeping mission was in Cambodia in 1992. They left the ground after less than two years. Now, it’s a rare exception when a mission lasts fewer than 10.
Haiti is a classic example. There has been no armed conflict for more than a decade, and yet a United Nations force of more than 4,500 remains…
The world’s primary institution’s effort to deal with terrorism and war is not working, too. An independent secretary general would long ago have demanded a ceasefire in Syria with clearly spelt-out consequences, including coercive sanctions, for those who breached it.
Likewise, an international conference ought to have happened to agree and implement a timetable for the two-state solution for Israel/Palestine, a requirement endorsed repeatedly by the council and every member state of the UN. It is simply foot-dragging to nowhere.
Later this year, we will have a new secretary general. Ban Ki-moon has done a good job as UN’s head, but the world still needs a stronger UN. We need a tough and independent secretary general who will give impartial and specific recommendations to the council, without fear or favour to the prejudices of the“P5” permanent veto-wielding members. Protection of civilian life should be the only concern.
The members of UN need to reflect on where the global body is headed, and make course correction. Otherwise, it will meet the same fate that the League of Nations did way back in the 40s…