Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Insider : It's Time to Tame the Budget Beast, U.N. Told : Americans step up the pressure. The new world order demands tighter reins on finances, they insist.

March 16, 1993|STANLEY MEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UNITED NATIONS — When things fall apart or just slow down at the United Nations, old hands shrug, smile and simply say, "It's the U.N. way."

Their implication is clear. U.N. bureaucrats come from more than 150 countries, some of them indifferent to puritanical prohibitions about wasting time and effort. Misunderstanding, confusion, inefficiency, waste, even corruption are inevitable, according to this view, unless you fire everyone and replace them with a praetorian guard of industrious, efficient bureaucrats--Swiss civil servants, for example.

Since that is not going to happen, gunning for reform strikes the old hands as just another waste of time.

Yet the pressure for reform is relentless. The United Nations has never before engaged in so many squabbles and settlements as now. It will soon have 75,000 soldiers under its command in more than a dozen countries. Hardly a week passes without some people in conflict or catastrophe calling on the United Nations for help. The world body cannot handle subtle, new missions in ham-handed old ways.

In recent weeks, two prominent Americans--former Atty. Gen. Richard L. Thornburgh and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul A. Volcker--have joined other analysts in offering proposals to reform the unwieldy U.N. system for its new world. The proposals deal mainly with streamlining the bureaucracy, appointing an inspector general, weeding out incompetent personnel and setting finances in order.

It still is not clear, however, whether Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, his attention diverted by a cascade of wars, has the time or inclination to deal with the depths of reform. But he has given in to U.S. entreaties and agreed that the campaign for reform will continue to be led in the United Nations by an American--Melissa Wells, the former U.S. ambassador to Zaire. She is succeeding Thornburgh as an undersecretary general.

Asked if he was satisfied by the reforms of Boutros-Ghali in his first year in office, Secretary of State Warren Christopher told the Senate last Wednesday: "No, sir, I'm not satisfied that it's been reformed. I think there are still inefficiencies, perhaps even gross inefficiencies."

Thornburgh, who ended a year's term as a U.N. undersecretary general for administration on March 1, detailed his proposals in a final report to Boutros-Ghali. The report, never made public officially but circulated throughout the U.N. secretariat and diplomatic missions, offended the secretary general by accusing him of losing enthusiasm for reform.

The undersecretary general said that Boutros-Ghali's early attempt "to reduce the top-heavy nature of the United Nations bureaucracy now begins to look more like 'two steps forward, one step back' rather than sustained and consistent progress." Boutros-Ghali, however, dismissed this criticism as "unjustified."

Thornburgh derided U.N. personnel policies. "Recruitment has been undertaken on a more or less haphazard basis and consumes an inordinate amount of time," he said. Once workers are hired, said the former attorney general in the George Bush Administration, the United Nations fails to train them sufficiently, promote them properly or dismiss them when necessary.

"The result is too much 'deadwood' doing too little work and too few good staff members doing too much," Thornburgh said.

Thornburgh also described the U.N. budgeting process as "almost surreal" and "overly complicated." He said that the U.N. General Assembly "micro-manages" every department of the Secretariat by controlling staffing and expenditures. Yet, at the same time, the General Assembly practically ignores the U.N. social and economic development programs that take up 70% of the budget. And the United Nations rushes into peacekeeping operations without adequate financing.

"Peacekeeping funding," he wrote, "is still much like a financial 'bungee jump,' often undertaken strictly in blind faith that timely appropriations will be forthcoming."

The departing undersecretary also deplored Boutros-Ghali's failure so far to create a powerful inspector general's office to investigate allegations of serious wrongdoing throughout the U.N. system. "The United Nations presently is almost totally lacking in effective means to deal with fraud, waste and abuse by staff members," Thornburgh said.

More criticism came from Volcker, who co-chaired a Ford Foundation committee on U.N. financing with Shijura Ogata, the former deputy for international relations at the Bank of Japan.

"The organization's financial system," they wrote, " . . . does not yet provide the capacity or the flexibility to respond effectively and expeditiously to the many challenges that now confront it."

A critical problem is the failure of most governments to pay their assessments on time. The United States was the major offender. By last Jan. 31, it owed the United Nations $549 million for the regular budget and $297 million for peacekeeping.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|