Interview with Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON
Ian Richards, UNCTAD
While warning of tough times ahead, the Secretary-General welcomes greater contract security and Member States’ acceptance of the UN’s universal mandate.
It seemed an appropriate place to announce a coming age of austerity at the United Nations. A bare stripped-out room, hurriedly converted into a makeshift office for the travelling Secretary-General and his team, replete with desk, laptop chained to a chair, a conference table with a seating plan of an earlier meeting of the inner circle, a flagpole and slightly worn out 70s furniture. From here the United Nations was being run, and under the harsh glare of neon lights, aides rushed around looking for daptors to recharge their Blackberries and keep in touch with New York.
Into this walked the Secretary-General, fresh from the Human Rights Council, and nearing a long day of meetings having landed in Geneva that morning.
With the short time available for the interview, he wasted little of it in getting to his main point, that times would be tough.
“Resources,” the Secretary-General said, “are becoming less and less while most of the countries are going through a very difficult economic and financial period. We have to adapt ourselves.” Not just because of diminishing resources, but, he added, because Member States kept asking for more.
The answer he stressed, was to work “very hard to make our Organization more efficient, accountable and effective. That is the only way we can meet the expectations of the international community.”
“This is a budget year. But the Member States will not allow a further increase in our budget. We have in the past been increasing our budget 0.5 or one percent. They have been cutting their own budgets 20 percent, 30 percent.”
“I am going to ask our staff to work with less of what we have. I need to ask for support and patience,” a prescient remark perhaps, given his subsequent request in early March for programme managers to have three percent from their 2012-2013 budget proposals.
However, the Secretary-General pointed out, there was a silver lining to the grey cloud of austerity, which came in the form of the General Assembly’s recent approval of continuing contracts, something that t he staff unions have also lobbied Member States hard to achieve. He was keen to contrast the situation now with four years ago.
“When I was first appointed as Secretary-General, I was surprised to find out that there were 11 types of contract services and it was extremely difficult to manage human resources and later on career development. So I decided to reduce and streamline this to three. The continuing contracts are the last.