15 October 2006

That is the key question. The Secretary General's political margin is always constrained by member states, big and small. A consensus builder -- like Mr. Ban is reported to be -- will help build confidence amongst them. He could offer his good offices, quietly. No need for photo opportunity at every corner. Discretion could often achieve better results. He will need the big powers to survive and the small powers to succeed. But to deliver a working program he needs the staff -- talented dedicated international civil servants. Surprisingly, an area where Kofi Annan could have been strongest, turned out to be his weakest link. The first Secretary General to rise from the staff, a most popular head of Department, ended up booed by the staff. Morale is at its lowest since the inception of the Organization.

To be efficient, to do more with less, to be relevant, to meet the challenges of the 21st century, the new Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has the greatest challenge in the history of the U.N. How to revive the spirit of a dedicated international civil service?

While there are daunting limits to his role, he does have a leadership authority as the world's number one civil servant. While his financial resources are borrowed, begged or contributed, his own most valuable resource is HUMAN -- his own staff. That is why the founding fathers in their wisdom stressed mainly on the role as Chief Administrative Officer. It was not merely to ensure that accounting books were kept adequately balanced. The purpose was to have him lead by example and run an efficient effective team of qualified people drawn from a wide geographical and cultural background. The target is clear: U.N. objectives are inscribed in the Charter. The global scene may be a big puzzle, but the role of the U.N. Secretary General could be deciphered by an experienced intelligent man like Mr. Ban. What could not be assessed by an enlightened vision could be gleaned through practical dealings in daily events. Each Secretary General had his own style. Every one of them had to face a totally different world. So does Ban Ki-Moon. Yet, following a series of leadership blunders and a string of negative developments publicly reported, problems could not be solved unless they are, first, recognized. Food-For-Oil; politically-appointed senior officials breaking the rules habitually without even a serious rebuke until scandalously reported; exploiting the U.N. for personal advance rather than devoting oneself for the greater U.N. cause; creating selective distinction -- and gaps -- between staff; overlooking carefully established checks and balances within the U.N. system; and many other shortcomings have taken away the "halo," the credibility and standing of those who should set an example of working for peace among nations, promoting economic and social development, and protecting human dignity.

Will Ban Ki-Moon be able to revive the inevitable spirit of international civil service? Or will political demands and daily pressures divert his attention from his closest and most readily available resource? Will he allow for a continued deterioration to the point of a breakdown or will he pick up the pieces and turn that challenge into a historic opportunity?

This is the first time a Secretary General comes from a country party to a conflict. Would that help or cripple international civil service under his leadership? Ban Ki-Moon comes from a culture of hard work and a background of enlightened dedication. Let's hope for the best.