UNITED NATIONS. "UN-FORESEEN EXPENDITURE"

 

15 APRIL 2012

"UN-FORESEEN EXPENDITURE"

If the Secretary General merely wanted to promote his close associate, known as "Mr. Kim," he could do it with a mere pen stroke. He just needs to locate a vacant Under-Secretary General post, place him against it -- and sign-off.

However, the recent presentation of the budget and "Management Change," together with a glaring shortage of funds for ongoing "reconstruction" has unduly placed our Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in an awkward confrontation with the majority of member states.

Over decades, budgets with special requests, particularly on thematic issues, required elaborate consultations with key members of relevant committees. It certainly took time and patience, but always was worth the effort.

A losing confrontation at the end of March which placed the Secretary General in a vulnerable situation could have been avoided with a less dismissive attitude by his aides. Also, a more convincing presentation would have helped. Particularly that the Fifth Committee (Budgetary and Financial) is chaired by Cameroon's Ambassador Tommo Monthe, an experienced and reasonable facilitator, some way may have been found to deal with poorly drafted paragraphs that provoked rather than persuaded delegates.

Further effort was equally required to explain convincingly who actually will be managing the so-called "change" process. An impression had been formed that the Deputy Secretary General will be dealing directly with that sector as the Secretary General is too busy with several other world issues. However, the "raison d'etre" of a promotion proposal for Mr. Kim from ASG to USG specifically cited change management. No one from the Secretary General's office seemed to bother to explain a prevailing confusion to voting delegates. The lack of any positive input by either outgoing or the incoming Chef de Cabinet did not help. Mr. Nambiar had already moved to DC-1 building and Ms. Malcorra has yet to size the doormat!

There is also the serious shortage of funds for reconstruction, renewal or "refurbishing" the substantially gutted Secretariat compound. Over $1.8 billion has almost ran out "due to inflation and delays in execution," according to a statement by officials of the Capital Master Plan. There was no convincing presentation as to where did the money really go, and why $265 million (over 14%) more will be urgently required. The statement referred to "many factors, including numerous unforeseen conditions and complexities in the basements" plus, of course, the politically fashionable reference to "asbestos-containing material exceeding initial assumptions." Asbestos, by the way, was one of the main reasons mentioned initially (by Mayor Bloomberg, we were told) for the need to overhaul the whole building. Some costs, approximately $146.8M, were described as "temporary," including buying new furniture -- temporarily!

The Group of 77 (actually now has 132 members), expressed clear reluctance to advance more money. The European Union (with its 22 members) made it clear that they were "not in a position to accept new assessments on member states."

Where, then, will the money come from? Where, actually, did the bulk of about $2 billion disappear? Which components, contractors, projects dealt with foreseen or unforeseen expenditures?

When a Section Chief in a U.N. Secretariat overspent a tiny budgetary allocation, he or she was taken to task. Now, a Capital Member Plan (an increasingly mysterious operation) shorts by over 14% -- in hundreds of millions -- and member states are requested to put-up and shut-up!

That's called "living in interesting times!"