Ban: “I always do the right things”
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon mounted a highly emotional defense of his embattled tenure Monday, telling reporters at a U.N. press conference that allegations that he sought to undercut the independence of the U.N.’s main anti-corruption agency were "unfair." The remarks came just weeks after Ban came under attack from his outgoing oversight chief, Inga-Britt Ahlenius, ...
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon mounted a highly emotional defense of his embattled tenure Monday, telling reporters at a U.N. press conference that allegations that he sought to undercut the independence of the U.N.'s main anti-corruption agency were "unfair."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon mounted a highly emotional defense of his embattled tenure Monday, telling reporters at a U.N. press conference that allegations that he sought to undercut the independence of the U.N.’s main anti-corruption agency were "unfair."
The remarks came just weeks after Ban came under attack from his outgoing oversight chief, Inga-Britt Ahlenius, for allegedly undercutting her authority to select her own person for the top investigations job, among other charges. At the time, Ban argued that Ahlenius only had the power to propose a short list of three candidates, including one woman, for consideration but that he had the power to select the winner from the list.
"I have given 100 percent independence" to the U.N.’s internal oversight body, Ban said. "I’m a very reasonable, very practical man of common sense. I do not take extreme, unreasonable policies. I always do the right things, proper things … if you will see me doing anything in an improper way, in an unreasonable way, in an extreme way, then please advise me."
But Ban appeared to acknowledge today that he is considering hiring a South African auditor for the investigations position, a move that would have effectively undermined the authority of the incoming U.N inspector general to propose candidates for one of the U.N.’s most important anti-corruption posts. Carman Lapointe-Young, a Canadian auditor who will replace Ahlenius starting next month, has not even begun recruiting a new deputy. According to U.N. rules, La-Pointe-Young has the authority to select at least three candidates for the post.
The selection of Lapointe-Young has fueled resentment among key third-world governments, which believed that the post should have gone to a candidate from a developing country. Reporters questioned Ban about whether he promised the investigations post to a candidate from the developing world in order to allay those concerns.
Asked if he had already promised the job as a consolation to a South African auditor who had lost out to Lapointe-Young, Ban said: "No, I don’t think he has been properly cleared through the process." But, he said "If he would be willing to take the job then I was … OK [for him] to fill that post. There are certain cases where someone was applying for a certain post, and where she or he was not successful for that post, and because of the excellent quality of the candidate — we really wanted to keep certain candidates in our system –we offered them a lower rank."
But Ban’s advisors later said that the U.N secretary-general had been confused by the question, and that no South Africans were being considered for the job. They insisted that Ban was talking about one of two South African candidates who was offered Lapointe-Young’s job, but then turned it down. Officials said neither South African candidate was interested in the more junior investigations job.
Immediately after the news briefing, Ban’s spokesman, Martin Nesirky, issued a "clarification" saying that Ban "wants to make it absolutely clear that the recruitment process for the Director of the Investigations Division will start only after the new Under-Secretary-General of the Office of Internal Oversight Services has taken up her post. This selection will be conducted strictly in accordance with the established rules and procedures. The assertion that a South African was offered the job is completely unfounded."
The apparent gaffe comes as Ban is struggling to defend his self-styled reputation as a champion of accountability at the United Nations. Only last week, Ahelnius’s choice for the top investigations post, former federal prosecutor Robert Appleton, filed a grievance with the U.N.’s dispute tribunal claiming that Ban and his senior had discriminated against him because of his gender and nationality in blocking his appointment.
Ban appeared taken aback by a series of probing questions on the matter. He said that the decision to block Ahlenius’s appointment of Appleton was taken after members of the U.N. Senior Review Board, a group of senior U.N. officials who are responsible for ensuring U.N. rules are observed in the hiring process, determined that she had violated those rules by denying Ban the right to have the final word on senior appointments.
"That was regarded as a challenge to the secretary-general," he said. Ban also blamed Ahlenius for failing to fill 76 vacant posts in the investigations division during her tenure. "How can you explain [this]?" he said. "But those 76 were totally under her authority."
"If anybody or if any member states with the U.N. system, or any colleague of me within the U.N. Secretariat, accuses me on the issue of accountability or ethics, then that’s something I regard as unfair," he said.
The personnel dispute eclipsed Ban’s announcement of the creation of a high-level panel on global sustainability, headed by President Jacob Zuma of South Africa and President Tarja Halonen of Finland, to promote low-carbon growth and pursue measures to lessen the impact of climate change on poor countries. Ban, who returned to New York from a visit to Nagasaki and Hiroshima, also sought to press international efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons.
Please follow me on Twitter @columlynch.
Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch
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