UNITED NATIONS. GROWING PROTEST TO DEFEND U.N. PENSION FUND

 

15 OCTOBER 2014

GROWING PROTEST TO DEFEND U.N. PENSION FUND

As Ban Ki-moon approaches his last two years as UN Secretary-General, his legacy amongst UN career staff and those retired is facing sharp questioning.

A wide, grassroots protest is growing against Mr. Ban's decision to designate a special representative to oversee the investment of the UN Staff Pension trust fund. Already 14,000 have signed a petition. More visible, wider action is being discussed not only by retired but many of those within years of retirement.

The Fund is the main source of income to the majority of former staff. Any attempt to toy with it produces a swift, suspicious response as was obvious during the summer's general meeting of the Association of Former International Civil Servants (AFICS). Now that the threat seems to be real, the response is gathering stronger momentum.

Until now, petitions and discussions circulating worldwide stressed that the designated Special Representative, Ms. Caroline Boykin, had a dubious record in handling pension funds and other business cases. That is an important factor. However a more relevant one is what does Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon personally have in mind? Ms. Boykin is more likely to be guided by Mr. Ban rather than the other way around. Again, as mentioned in last month's www.unforum.com, it is not the first time that serious attempts were made to divert the fund. It was reported that a former Under Secretary-General for Administration who stayed a couple of years tried to lay hands on it. We add here that one of the companies mentioned at the time for potential investment of the fund was Pimco which last month was in the headlines as its Chief Executive Officer had to resign and the company reportedly lost billions of dollars. Imagine what would have happened if our pension fund had been there.

It is more serious this time. However beleaguered was Kofi Annan at the time of political pressure to divert the fund, he was not really in the heart of his hearts -when it came to the crunch- likely to dump his own staff record, his own colleagues he grew up with and a fund which he indeed helped evolve in earlier roles like when he was Director of Budget. While Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is extremely courteous, proper and gracious, his link with UN staff really started with his taking over as UN Secretary-General. His public statements degrading institutional memory or those of his associates badmouthing "UN culture" urging for a new one, were a reflection of his real approach. Some among retired officials would say quite bluntly that anything or anyone before 2007 could go reside in "Dr. No" - not in Mr. Ban's backyard. When he leaves in two years time, his prospective turf will be elsewhere, not at the UN, though very much linked to a number of extended "partnership" ventures he oversaw at the UN enhanced by a number of advisors he designated over ten years that would range from New York where, for example, the helpful and influential Mayor Bloomberg, now a full-fledged businessman is an advisor on climate change, to Seoul, where an electronic giant Samsung, should be very appreciative of the joyous musical association with a newfound friend Jay-Z.

To be very clear: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is certainly not inclined to use his position to misuse the UN Staff Pension Fund. He will certainly do what he genuinely believes is the right decision. But he will be under extreme pressure to invest in specific companies. After all, $53 Billion is a considerable amount of money. For businesses it is worth the attempt. For UN retired staff, it is worth the fight. For businesses it's a political opportunity. For retired staff it is their livelihood. They certainly will make their voice heard. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon - their Secretary-General, our Secretary-General - would be well-advised to listen. They are his staff, and they need him. He is their leader and he will discover he needs them.