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Should Kofi Annan resign?

Published by The New York Sun on 2005-03-21

Ghana's Kofi Annan -- the secretary-general of the $10-billion-a-year, 20,000-person bureaucracy known as the United Nations system of 54 agencies, commissions, panels and groupings -- is scheduled to unveil a report today in which he offers yet more prescriptions for reforming the corrupt and impotent 191-member organization.

Details of Mr. Annan's report were selectively leaked over the weekend by his aides, no doubt as part of a campaign to counter mounting concern among American policymakers that the world organization's credibility and effectiveness -- if these things were ever truly there -- have been seriously damaged. One prescription is to expand the Security Council from 15 to 24 members, implicitly diluting the say of the UN's biggest contributor, America, whose tax payers are currently required to pay $363 million, or 24.47% of the secretariat's annual budget. Another prescription is to modify the scandalous Human Rights Commission, which is influenced by exemplars of freedom such as Libya, Syria and Sudan.

Here are two prescriptions that you won't find in the secretary-general's self-serving report: It's time for Kofi Annan to step down. And it's time for America to expedite dismantling of the UN secretariat, allocating resources instead on a handful of agencies such as the World Health Organization that perform yeoman service in the field and also promote important research on diseases afflicting the 135 countries of the third world, which contain 90% of the global population of 6.2 billion.

There's a tendency among Mr. Annan's supporters -- particularly liberals who congregate in the lush drawing rooms of the Upper East Side and of Central Park West, and who often gain lucrative consultancies at the UN -- to dismiss any criticism of him on the grounds that his probity and integrity are beyond reproach. They point to his Nobel Peace Prize in 2001. But the Nobel Peace Prize is typically a political gift given by a left-leaning Norwegian parliament. [The other Nobel prizes are decided by the Swedes.] Mr. Annan's aides conducted a clever, well-financed campaign to get him that prize, in effect buying him that coveted trophy which also happens to carry a cash award of $1 million.

The secretary-general makes a big deal out of his admiration for America's best run companies; he's invited many of them to join his "Global Compact" whose laudatory goals include the halving of the world's cohort of extreme poverty -- which is to say, about 1.5 billion people earning the equivalent of $1 a day -- by the year 2015. But here again, in time-honored UN style, a bureaucracy has been established to implement Mr. Annan's objectives, which are being pushed under the warm, fuzzy rubric of "Millennium Development Goals." The "development" can mostly be seen in the nice compensation of bureaucrats -- most earn between $100,000 and $200,000 a year -- frequent travel, and, of course, constant talkfesting in the third world's favored watering hole, Geneva. (The Swiss, who have repeatedly declined to join the UN, pay barely $17 million to the world body, or 1.1% of the secretariat's annual budget; but they earn more than $7 billion from the presence and spending of various UN agencies in Geneva and, of course, those wonderfully interminable conferences.)

Mr. Annan is a creature of sophisticated public relations, skillfully managed by David Finn of Manhattan's Ruder Finn, and by India's Shashi Tharoor -- the under-secretary-general for information, and Britain's Mark Malloch Brown, formerly a Washington lobbyist allied closely with the Democratic Party and now the secretary-general's chief of staff. On Mr. Annan's watch since 1997, the UN has compiled a dismal record of profligacy, sexual harassment of junior staffers, mass rape by UN peace-keepers in Congo, outright looting of donor funds for humanitarian projects in Africa and elsewhere, and generosity toward select friends and relatives of high officials, including the secretary-general.

It may be too much to ask Kofi Annan to return his Nobel, but we are asking him to leave his job. Like his organization, he's damaged goods, not someone that yet another "report" followed by an intensive PR campaign is going to be able to rescue -- at least not this time.

And then here's the matter of shutting down the UN secretariat. The incoming American ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, was somewhat off target when he said some years ago that the world would lose nothing if 10 stories of the UN's headquarters were to be torn down. The world would actually benefit if all 38 floors of that paper palace on the East River were to be demolished. And American taxpayers would save millions that could be allocated to genuine humanitarianism and promotion of economic growth in needy countries. If Kofi Annan has any honor left, today's report would be his swan song.

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist


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