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Proposals to strengthen UN management benefit all

Proposals to strengthen UN management will benefit all, Annan tells staff

Secretary-General Kofi Annan assured hundreds of United Nations staff members packed in a conference room at UN Headquarters in New York – as well as those watching via webcast – that the radical reform proposals he put forward today will strengthen the Organization to the benefit of all.

“Relax, nobody is here to take your jobs away,” Mr. Annan said, departing from prepared remarks and responding instead to the restive mood in the room.

The Secretary-General, who earlier had presented his report, “Investing in the United Nations: For a Stronger Organization Worldwide,” to the General Assembly, pointed out that the UN has more than twice as many civilian staff in the field as at Headquarters, and said his proposals “seek to ensure that our systems and staffing keep pace with this shift.”

At the same time, he reassured the Headquarters-based staff that, “There is much in the report that should strengthen your work, too.”

Seeking to dispel any possible misunderstandings, he stressed that the reform effort is “not being undertaken at the behest of any one Member State or a small group of them” but is instead “driven by the wishes of the entire membership – which I know all of us share – to have a truly effective United Nations.”

The report is not “simply a reaction to the recent problems we have experienced in procurement or in the oil-for-food programme” nor is it “a cost-cutting exercise,” he added. On the contrary, the report argues that there has been a massive underinvestment in the United Nations. “A failure to invest will lead to even higher costs in the long run.”

Mr. Annan, the first Secretary-General to be chosen from the world body’s staff, said he was fully aware of its shortcomings. “As someone who began in the UN system as a P-1, I am very familiar with many of these problems,” he said. “I would guess everyone in this room has an unsettling story to tell either about themselves or a colleague.”

Acknowledging staff concerns about proposals for outsourcing and “off-shoring” – the practice of using UN staff located in more cost-effective areas – he said no decisions have been taken. “Certainly, core functions must be done by international civil servants,” he said. “But we would be irresponsible not to explore our options for activities which are not core, and which could be done as well or better elsewhere.”

A global organization “must at least ask itself whether it is right for such a large proportion of its staff and their activities, with the economic benefits that flow from them, to be crowded into the richest city of our richest member state, where rents and real estate prices are among the highest in the world,” he added.

“As the report tells the Member States, ‘Against the odds, a dedicated staff have delivered more every year.’ We must shorten those odds,” he said.

During a question and answer session that followed the Secretary-General’s opening remarks, several staff members called attention to their personal situations – some on tenuous contracts, others with extensive field experience – and asked how the report would affect their status. Mr. Annan, joined by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette, pointed out that the staff complaints illustrated the need for reform and that the report sought to address a number of those very same problems.

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