The question of whether Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is a lame duck is superseding the state of the world as the hot topic in and around the United Nations New York headquarters as the world body prepares for the 2008 General Assembly beginning Monday.
The former South Korean foreign minister, who has been in office only since January 2007, is less than one-third through his five-year term, yet some inside the world body are wondering out loud whether he can survive until 2011.
And others say the beleaguered U.N. chief has been the victim of a confluence of events beyond his control.
From controversial senior staff appointments, to questionable contract awards, to a haphazard effort to reorganize the U.N.'s security apparatus, all have conspired to create serious doubts among U.N. staff and the diplomatic corps as to whether Ban is up to the job.
"He's a nice guy," is all one diplomat could muster in Ban’s defense. Another pointed out that, if Ban does not have the respect of the U.N. staff, "how does he expect to lead the international community?"
The U.S./U.N. mission, originally a strong backer of the secretary-general, now refuses comment on any long-term commitment to him.
Ban compounded his dilemma by delivering a sobering speech to an annual meeting of the U.N.'s senior administrators last month in Turin, Italy.
The private retreat, which Former Secretary-General Kofi Annan initiated, was designed to allow senior U.N. officials and the secretary-general to "wash their dirty laundry" away from the spotlight of the international press. This meeting, unlike previous ones, became controversial not only for what Ban had to say but also because it was leaked to selected members of the media.
"Ban's problems were sitting right in front of him in Turin," said one U.N. staffer. Another echoed that sentiment, saying, "He should start reorganizing by firing many of those in Turin."
A copy of the speech Newsmax obtained revealed a laundry list of Ban's complaints.
He told the assembled: "There is bureaucracy . . . then there is the U.N. I see too many turf fights, too much intramural wrangling, too much protectiveness of the status quo."
Ban also warned, "Trust me. I know how to play the game . . . The clock is ticking."
Shortly thereafter, Ban turned the meeting over to Under Secretary-General for Management Angela Kane, of Germany, who has spawned controversy since he appointed her in May.
Kane not only has been a lightning rod for U.N. staff discontent but also was the target of several investigations by the Office of Internal Oversight Services, which has criticized her performance in several previous posts.
Ban, who had made transparency a cornerstone of his administration, lamented during his speech: "I tried to lead by example. But nobody followed."
That seemed especially true inside the United Nations security operations. Ban launched an investigation after the U.N. offices in Algiers were bombed in December 2007, killing 31, including 17 U.N. staffers.
The first phase of the operation resulted in the resignation of two senior security officials, Under Secretary-General for Safety and Security David Veness of the United Kingdom and his deputy, Diana Russler of the United States.
Ban then appointed a panel to conduct a more intensive review of U.N. security activities and "name names."
That panel was expected to turn in its report in early August. The U.N. is still waiting.
One of the officials the panel was expected to review is the current chief, Bruno Henn of Germany. Henn came to the U.N.'s New York City compound in 2001 after serving three years in the former Yugoslavia and 13 years working locally in Germany. He was appointed chief in July 2005.
Despite repeated calls from Newsmax, Henn has steadfastly refused to provide much detail of any of the German law enforcement experience he claims before his U.N. employment. Neither U.S. nor German authorities could verify the few details he provided.
Henn also has had repeated clashes with State Department officials and many inside New York City Hall. Federal officials talk about a "lack of transparency" in his U.N. operations. City officials have questioned his competency to run any security operation, especially one designed to protect more than 11,000 workers in midtown Manhattan.
U.N. security staffers tell Newsmax that Henn has vowed to fight any attempt to remove him. As if to garner support inside the security department, Henn recently distributed a group of promotions that had many shaking their heads.
"You have to see who he has promoted . . . It's incredible," groused one U.N. security officer.
Other veteran security staffers have echoed that sentiment to Newsmax.
Meanwhile, the controversial effort to rehabilitate the U.N.’s New York campus, Capital Master Plan, which got under way in May, is already over budget. The six-year, $2 billion project, is said to have exceeded its projected costs by as much as $200 million.
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