Ban Ki-Moon in the Firing Line Over Leadership, Reforms

July 20, 2010 - 11:44 PM
The question of whether Ban Ki-moon will serve a second term as U.N. secretary-general is set to generate new debate, after the second leak of an internal document scathingly critical of the South Korean diplomat in less than a year.
Inga-Britt Ahlenius and Ban Ki-moon

Inga-Britt Ahlenius, head of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), meets with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York in February 2009. (UN Photo by Eskinder Debebe)

( – The question of whether Ban Ki-moon will serve a second term as U.N. secretary-general is set to generate new debate, after the second leak of an internal document scathingly critical of the South Korean diplomat in less than a year.

Ban’s official spokesman spent a sizeable portion of Tuesday’s press briefing in New York responding to questions arising from a memo written by the outgoing head of the U.N. unit tasked with combating corruption in the world body.

In the memo, which was leaked to the Washington Post, Inga-Britt Ahlenius accused Ban of undermining her efforts and of an “absence of strategic guidance and leadership.”

The Swedish diplomat on Friday ended a five-year stint as head of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), an ostensibly “operationally independent” body set up in 1994 to identify fraud, waste and mismanagement at the U.N.

Addressed to Ban himself, Ahlenius’ “end-of-assignment report” dated July 14 expressed concern that the U.N. was “in a process of decline and reduced relevance.”

“There is lack of transparency, there is lack of accountability,” she wrote. “Rather than supporting the internal oversight which is the sign of strong leadership and good governance, you have strived to control it which is to undermine its position. I do not see any signs of reform in the Organization.”
OIOS logo
Vacant post an ‘impediment’ to anti-corruption effort

A specific criticism related to Ban’s alleged blocking of the appointment of an American, former assistant U.S. attorney in Connecticut Robert Appleton, as head of the OIOS’s crucial Investigations Division (ID).

Appleton served as special counsel to a major inquiry into corruption in the U.N.’s Iraq oil-for-food program led by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker. Finalized in 2005, the inquiry led to the setting up of a procurement task force, which under Appleton’s leadership carried out more than 300 investigations, resulting in numerous sanctions and prosecutions for fraud, corruption, money laundering and other offenses.

When the task force’s mandate lapsed at the end of 2008, Ahlenius wanted Appleton appointed as head of the ID, a post that had been vacant since 2006. But top U.N. officials opposed the move because the short list of candidates contained no women, and only Americans – a violation of U.N. rules on geographic and gender diversity.

The U.S. provides 22 percent of the U.N.’s regular operating budget, and 25 percent of the peacekeeping budget. Member states’ contributions are calculated from assessments based on their relative “capacity to pay.”

(Appleton’s application was also reportedly opposed by Russia, whose nationals were implicated in the task force’s investigations. Russia furthermore played a key role in ensuring that the task force’s mandate was not extended.)

The vacancy at the helm of the ID was cited in OIOS annual reports in 2009 and again this year as an “impediment” to its work, with the reports calling it “critical that this post be filled expeditiously.”

It remains empty today, and now with Ahlenius’ departure, the top OIOS position is also vacant. The U.N. General Assembly seven months ago passed a resolution urging Ban to ensure Ahlenius’ successor was chosen by the time her tenure ended.

Ban’s spokesman, Martin Nesirky said Tuesday that Ban was concerned about both vacancies, and in particular wanted to fill the ID post “very soon with a good candidate.”

Asked about Appleton’s blocked bid for the ID job, Nesirky said, “this is not one particular individual, this is about due process, about the rules for recruitment within the organization as a whole.”

Nesirky said Ahlenius’ memo was being closely studied “for the substantive elements in there.”

“The secretary-general will be the first to say this organization has a long way to go to fully implement the changes that are needed.”

Of the criticisms of Ban’s leadership, Nesirky said secretary-generals must strike a balance between acting as chief administrative officer of the U.N. and providing “global, visible leadership on the big questions.”

He said Ban’s record showed “that he has achieved a lot and is clearly actively engaged on anything from climate change to gender empowerment, Haiti, Gaza, Afghanistan, disarmament — he has shown true leadership on these matters.”
Norwegian UN deputy ambassador Mona Juul

Ambassador Mona Juul, Norway’s deputy permanent representative, addresses the Security Council on June 30, 2010. (Photo: Norwegian mission to the UN)

A second term?

Ahlenius’ parting shot at Ban comes less than a year after a Norwegian newspaper published a leaked internal memo by that country’s deputy ambassador to the U.N., Mona Juul, who described the secretary-general as weak and lacking in authority and charisma, and characterized his handling of crises in Sri Lanka and Burma as a failure.

Juul wrote that the U.S. administration had yet to signal any changes in its position towards Ban, but she noted that China viewed him positively and could be pivotal to his successful appointment for a second term.

Of Ban’s seven predecessor as secretary-general, four served two full terms (one resigned early, one was killed in a plane crash, and one – Egypt’s Boutros Boutros-Ghali – was vetoed by the U.S. for a second term in 1996).

Ban’s first term ends on Dec. 31, 2011, and members of the Security Council will take up discussion on the matter early next year. In October his tenure will either be extended, or a successor will be appointed.

Candidates require the backing of nine of the Security Council’s 15 members, and no veto from any of the five permanent members.

The council’s recommended candidate then goes to the full General Assembly for approval, a decision usually taken by consensus or acclamation. If the General Assembly decides that a two-thirds majority is required, a vote may be called.

Given the U.N.’s regional rotation tradition, Ban’s successor should come from a region other than Asia.

But in the event that Ban does not get a second term, the Asia group is likely to press for his successor to come from that region, citing a precedent set when Boutros-Ghali failed to win a second term, and Kofi Annan – another African – succeeded him.

No woman has held the post, although a 1997 U.N. resolution aimed at making the process more transparent said that due regard should be given to both regional rotation and “gender equality.”

In her leaked memo, Juul mulled the possibility that Helen Clark, a former New Zealand prime minister now heading the U.N. Development Program, may become the candidate to deprive Ban of a second term.

Clark told New Zealand television early this year that she had no reason to believe Ban would not seek a second term.

“I have tremendous respect for him and the incredibly difficult job that he does,” she said. “Now I’ve gone up there [to the UNDP in New York] to do a particular job at his request and that’s as far as my ambition goes.”

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who leaves the presidency at the end of the year, is another ambitious politician who has been rumored as interested in the top U.N. job.