UNITED NATIONS. PENSION FUND WORKING WELL. KEEP IT AWAY FROM POLITICAL POWER PLAY.

 

1 FEBRUARY 2013

PENSION FUND WORKING WELL. KEEP IT AWAY FROM POLITICAL POWER PLAY.

Who controls the U.N. budget? Internally? Within the Secretariat, a power struggle seems to be going on between professional management and political leadership. Under-Secretary General for Management, Yukio Takasu, is an experienced manager who knows both the internal U.N. machinery (having been a successful, effective and widely-admired Controller a decade ago), and the Delegations working approach (having been Japan's Permanent Representative to the U.N.), as well as the international political tradewinds (having operated as a Security Council member, who -- by the way -- introduced a helpful touch by initiating occasional tea ceremonies!).

Generally, in diplomatic circles and among Secretariat staff, Mr. Takasu is perceived as "a very good person." His designation last year as the new leader of the management team was considered one of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's best appointments in his renewal team; his credentials are key and his enlightened loyalty is beyond doubt.

While habitually Budget comes under the head of Management, apparently a trend has been initiated -- before Mr. Takasu's appointment -- to move certain decisions regarding it to the Secretary General's Office. To be precise, that trend started with the designation of Ms. Susana Malcorra as Chef de Cabinet. Whether it was her own initiative or inspired from above or beyond is unclear. What was noted throughout the passing year by delegates dealing with budget issues, like the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), was a growing direct interest by the office of Ms. Malcorra, who -- incidentally also -- is an experienced manager who served effectively in U.N./World Food Programme and the Argentinean private sector.

To put the matter in the right context, it is an operational question of approach and style between two senior officials, both working closely under the leadership of the Secretary General. A slight nuance is that while Mr. Takasu, as an Asian, would have no further political ambitions, Ms. Malcorra -- as a woman and a Latin American -- would not be excluded from consideration to succeed her immediate boss at the end of his term.

Anyway, both senior officials are careful and dedicated enough to ensure a functioning operation as they perceive it in the interest of the Organization.

The only reason for raising the issue publicly is to highlight the need to keep the Joint Pension Fund out of political interventions. The Fund seems to be one of the most productive, and should be kept that way. According to facts and figures posted on 17 January 2013 by the U.N. Investment Management Division, the U.N. Joint Staff Pension Fund earned 12.6 percent profit in the year 2012. Well done. Let's wish other Offices and Departments accomplish similar success.

With such an accomplishment, some of us with institutional memory recall an attempt to divert that Fund politically. One Under-Secretary General for Administrative and Management, who happened to be a U.S. citizen with political inclinations, made a push to move a bulk of the Fund's resources to certain U.S. companies of his choice. Regrettably, then-Secretary General Kofi Annan amenably went along with him until other powers -- and other senior officials -- stood up to maintain the integrity, independence, and universality of the assets. A colleague who followed that case closely wondered now where would the Fund stand if that had been allowed, particularly with the recent financial crisis.

Here are some of the basic facts about the Investment Management Division's accomplishment with the U.N. Joint Staff Pension Fund: