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A Second-Term U.N. Chief Says His Convictions Remain the Same

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 11 2012 (IPS) - As Ban Ki-moon launched his second-five-year term as U.N. secretary-general last week, the international community remained focused on a rash of unresolved political problems: war crimes charges in Libya and Syria, human rights violations and civilian killings in Bahrain and Yemen, continued Israeli political repression in the occupied territories, and the threat of a new nuclear weapon state in the Middle East.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

And what’s most alarming is that most of these problems have spilled over from previous years, with the most powerful body at the United Nations – the 15-member Security Council – remaining deadlocked.

But that’s only the political side of the equation. On the administrative side, the United Nations and its far-flung empire of nearly 44,000 staffers are bracing themselves for worse – triggered by a 260-million-dollar cut in its 2012-2013 budget.

In his first formal on-the-record interview with IPS, Ban admitted the spreading global economic crisis will – sooner rather than later – negatively impact on voluntary contributions to U.N. development agencies in the field.

He pointed out that there are some agencies and funding programmes which have already been affected. He specifically singled out the Geneva-based World Health Organisation (WHO), which “has been suffering because of significant cuts in contributions”.

According to one news report coming out of Geneva last year, the WHO was “facing its most serious crisis ever”.

And then there was the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), which will suffer an 80-million-dollar cut, this time for political reasons: admitting Palestine as a full- fledged member of the Paris-based agency.

“This is a separate issue, a political issue, and we have to be very much prepared and adjust ourselves to the changing world,” Ban said.

At the same time, said Ban, there are many member states and donor countries which are carefully monitoring the performances of U.N. agencies, and funds and programmes.

“The United Nations cannot be an exception in these times of austerity,” he cautioned. “We fully understand the gravity and seriousness of the situation. That’s why I asked my staff (last year) to voluntarily cut their budgets.”

“This was the right decision, although it was painful decision for all our staff. I made it quite clear the mandates given by inter- governmental bodies- such as the 193-member General Assembly – would not be affected,” he assured.

After protracted negotiations last month, the Assembly approved a 5.15-billion-dollar budget for 2012-2013, compared with 5.41 billion dollars approved for the previous biennium.

Asked how he plans to avoid layoffs, salary cuts and abolition of posts, he said: “We are going to modernise and rationalise our way of working.”

Ban said the United Nations will try to avoid duplication and overlapping mandates.

“Before I became secretary-general (five years ago), there were instances where more than 10 U.N. agencies were involved in the same projects,” he said. “I want to avoid all these, and eliminate such duplication.”

When a new agency, U.N. Women, was created in 2010, four separate bodies were folded into a single composite entity under one roof: the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM); the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues; the U.N. Division for the Advancement of Women; and the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW).

Ban said: “We are trying to do as ONE United Nations” – the concept of “delivering as one”.

“I have been emphasising this all the time to heads of agencies, funds and programmes. After all, we have limited resources. Even with limited resources, if we work as one team, we can save a lot of time, energy and resources,” he added.

Asked if he would be more forthright and independent in his second and final term because he does not have to please the five veto- wielding members of the Security Council, Ban said he holds onto universal values irrespective of his term in office.

“It has nothing to do with whether I am on my first term or my second term as secretary-general,” he said.

“I work based on my convictions, the spirit of the U.N. charter, and universal values that guide me, my actions and my performance. There should be no misunderstanding in how I act in my first term and or my second term.”

At times, he said, “There have been some criticism that I was more inclined towards Western values.”

“But these values are the same – whether eastern, western, north or south. And when it comes to human rights, there are no differences either.”

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