15 March 2007

Mr. Kim Won-Soon should have been more prudent. Hardly two months in the building and he is already deriding what he described as a "U.N. working culture." That same week, a judge in New York sentenced Korean Mr. Park for attempting to bribe senior U.N. officials over Iraq. If one seeks to apply Mr. Kim's approach of blaming a "U.N. culture" for the misdeeds of very few individuals -- mostly imposed on their colleagues -- would a "Korean culture" entail habitual bribery just because one Korean individual did it?

In fact, during the campaign for Secretary General, as Mr. Park's case was being considered in downtown New York, some of us carefully avoided the "Korean" angle out of fairness and courtesy to Mr. Ban.

We would not have raised the point were it not for the authority with which Mr. Kim was speaking, being regarded as the closest adviser to the new Secretary General.

Actually, Secretary General Ban has been talking the right talk. "Act more, talk less," was one of his most welcome earliest themes. Regarding the sensitive question of staff work, he has been extra careful. He is installing "tough requirements" (fair enough) to "dispel the reputation of inaction and bloating" (even better). He intends to lead by example (excellent). He wants to show he has no hidden agenda or no person in mind (except, perhaps, Mr. Kim!). He just wants the best qualified (what more could you ask for?).

In that apparently smooth sailing, Kim Won-Soon weighs in. An important man, no doubt, these days. Although many still wonder what precisely is his function, we are told he is the new Deputy Chef de Cabinet. All papers will have to go to him first before getting to the ineffectual Chef de Tandoori who can't persuade even his own government to get on board. Those few who spend their time not working but networking would just love to operate on Kim's ego. With newly acquired power and some incense burning he is very likely to get carried away, if he is not careful. Already he is pontificating to the newspaper of record. "From day one, (Mr. Ban) wanted to change the working culture of the U.N.,"' he proclaimed. "I do it myself and expect my senior staff to do it," he quoted Mr. Ban before he, that is, Mr. Kim, luimeme as the French would say, assures us: "He's keen on that."

Great news -- "fit to print" -- as that banner on the top corner declares.

Now let's see. Aside from normal courtesy to Mr. Ban's SEVEN predecessors who were apparently on the wrong side of a newfound culture, are we to understand that all that labour over the last 62 years was in vain; or at least not to the full satisfaction of Kim Won-Soon?

We know that South Korea joined the U.N. only in the nineties, that is less than fifteen years ago. That's why we wonder whether Kim has ever heard, for example, of Security General Dag Hammarskjold who died on U.N. duty while pursuing a mission of peace? Has he known about U.N. staff who devoted most of their career to defend his own country? Has he followed, from the safety of Seoul, the terrorist killing of Sergio Vieira de Mello and his colleagues in Baghdad? Does he realize how many men and women -- those silent ones -- who gave their lives, not just their lifelong work, for the U.N. cause? Would it not have been more valuable for him (and for the new Secretary General he advises) to know more about thousands trying valiantly to uphold the U.N.'s name around the world. That is the U.N. culture of sacrifice, dedicated hard work and enlightened performance established over the years.

Of course, over the years there is dead wood that has to be cleared, practices to be updated, and -- above all -- low morale that needs to be uplifted. But you don't uplift it by hitting at them.

There have been unacceptable and embarrassing episodes, mostly over the last seven years, including Food-For-Oil. The majority of dedicated staff had nothing to do with it. Indeed, they were on the receiving end of most evasions and violations. Those who committed or allowed wrongdoing are a disgrace to the genuine U.N. culture. There were some, particularly in New York and New Haven, who were in denial about their friends' incompetence; they sought a way out by blaming the U.N. rather than pinpointing the individuals involved. Spinning a defense, they blamed an instantly conceived "culture" rather than those specifically accountable.

For a newly-designated advisor to a newly-elected Secretary General to get unduly involved in a running debate about something he is certainly not familiar is very unwise to say the least.

A clean and proud U.N. is worth the fight. That's why we supported Secretary General Ban when he announced in his acceptance speech that he will be on a determined mission to repair the role, uphold the name and raise the prestige of the U.N. When attempting to do so, Mr. Ban will find not only U.N. staff but millions around the world standing by him. Mr. Ban Ki-Moon would then be able to outmaneuver even James Bond. Unless, of course, Mr. Kim Won-Soon advises otherwise.