- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 5, 2004

Pay ‘em to leave

The United Nations has long suffered a human resources problem: Rigid rules about hiring means it takes more than 400 days, on average, to fill a post. Young, energetic civil servants find themselves unable to advance to more interesting jobs because the incumbents are entrenched, and senior officials privately complain that personnel rules make it nearly impossible to fire slackers, incompetents or venal staff in their departments.

Severe caps on budgets and personnel make it even harder to move personnel around the organization so they could gain new skills and revive their interest.

So how can the United Nations weed out the deadwood and make room for competent and eager employees seeking broader experience, better-paying positions and more job satisfaction?

Buyouts.

A blue-ribbon panel on U.N. reform last week suggested a one-time offer of early retirement to help ease the congestion at the top of the professional service levels.

“Many of those based at headquarters have no field experience or training, and the existing rules militate against their gaining it,” the panel noted. “In addition, there is little or no expertise for tackling many of the new or emerging threats addressed in the present report.”

“There should be a one-time review and replacement of personnel, including through early retirement, to ensure that the Secretariat is staffed with the right people to undertake the tasks at hand, including the mediation and peace-building support” offices.

“Member states should provide funding for this replacement as a cost-effective, long-term investment,” the 16-member panel said.

The possibility of a buyout is wildly popular with mid-career U.N. staffers, many of whom are less than age 50 and frustrated by the organization’s employment practices.

The suggestion presumably will be on the agenda when U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan sits down this week, for the first time in more than three years, with the association representing U.N. staff.

The High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change also suggested pruning deadwood in the organization. The panel of former foreign dignitaries and retired U.N. officials also endorsed shutting down the Trusteeship Council, a bustling department in the post-Colonial era. Its ornate chamber is rarely used these days, except by U.N. tour guides.

Both suggestions would require the consent and financial support of U.N. member states.

Roasted Kofi

By almost any objective standard, last week wasn’t a very good one for Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The much-heralded blueprint to modernize the United Nations was so widely leaked that the embargoed copies, the background briefings and the star-studded global rollout collapsed in confusion.

And the content of the report — Security Council expansion and 99 other recommendations — was largely overshadowed by news that Mr. Annan’s son Kojo had for years been accepting money from a key U.N. contractor.

So let us give the U.N. chief a round of applause for bravery. Clad only in a protective tuxedo and guarded by his usual security detail, Mr. Annan on Friday honored a long-ago invitation to address the U.N. Correspondents Association annual awards dinner.

“My colleagues have done you to a crisp,” said UNCA President Tony Jenkins, a British reporter for the Portuguese newspaper Expresso. “This week must have felt like absolute [Rupert] Murdock,” he added, referring to the media magnate.

After extended ribbing from the podium, UNCA celebrations can turn into roasts. Mr. Annan addressed the group that his lieutenants accuse of fomenting demands that he step down.

“You’ll be pleased to hear that tonight, I have resigned [pause] myself to having a good time,” he said.

He also made a few light but pointed remarks about not retiring for two years, and not seeking a third term.

So OK, he skipped the cocktail mingling and didn’t stay the whole night.

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at bpisik@washingtontimes.com.

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