UNITED NATIONS. HEY, KIM WON-SOO (KIM TOO SOON!): DAG HAMMARSKJOLD DIED FOR "U.N. CULTURE"

 

15 SEPTEMBER 2011

HEY, KIM WON-SOO (KIM TOO SOON!): DAG HAMMARSKJOLD DIED FOR "U.N. CULTURE"

While Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is leading the tribute to Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold on the Fiftieth anniversary of his ultimate sacrifice, we call to order those detractors of U.N. culture, particularly those who thought that a transient job of influence gave them a ticket to berate the dedicated efforts and enlightened performance of those who had devoted their lives and careers to a truly international civil service. In that regard, we point out in particular Kim Won-Soo, who joined the Secretariat only in 2007, with his incoming compatriot, our distinguished Secretary General.

As the United Nations system pays homage to the second Secretary General who personified an outstanding culture of which we are all proud, it is crucial for the record -- and for the current Secretary General's own image -- to display genuine appreciation for the real U.N. culture by all -- repeat ALL -- his staff, particularly by his closest aide and compatriot. The commemoration would sound like a hollow ceremony if the Secretary General -- who is the only elected (and re-elected) senior office -- makes it abundantly clear during the occasion his highest esteem not only for his predecessor but also for the thousands who through lifetime accomplishments consolidated a culture for which they remain proud.

Transient detractors like Kim Won-soo come and go. The U.N. spirit remains.

(For ease of reference, we reproduce a related item entitled "Kim Too-soon"):

KIM TOO-SOON

(Reproduced upon Request)

Mr. Kim Won-Soo should have been more prudent. Hardly two months in the building and he was 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 (like, perhaps, Mr. Kim!).

In that apparently smooth sailing, Kim Won-Soo weighs in. An important man, no doubt, these days. We were 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. Those few opportunists, 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-Soo?

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-Soo advises otherwise.