October 02, 2006

Oct. 2, 2006: Democracy Backlash

The UN: What is it? Who runs it? What does it cost? Who are the contenders to follow Kofi Annan?


The United Nations was founded in 1945 to prevent future wars between nations. It has 192 member states. Its principal bodies are the general assembly, the security council and the secretariat – the UN’s civil servants. Satellite agencies include the World Health Organization, the World Bank and the World Food Programme. The UN headquarters in New York (right) covers 18 acres of downtown Manhattan, stretching from 48th Street and First Avenue to 42nd Street. There are also regional headquarters in Geneva, Vienna, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Beirut and Santiago.

The general assembly, the gathering of member states, has no political power. The security council does: it can authorise measures from economic sanctions to armed intervention. The council is composed of 15 members – the permanent five, known as the P5: the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia and China and 10 non-permanent members elected by the general assembly’s regional groups. Despite this, power rests almost exclusively with the P5, any one of whom may veto a resolution.

Who runs it?

Kofi Annan
Born: Ghana, 1938.

Salary: $397,245 gross, plus use of luxury villa and $25,000 entertaining allowance. All expenses paid while travelling.

First secretariat official to get top job. Took office in January 1997, thanks mostly to strong support of US, a love affair long since soured. Has worked for the UN since 1962, apart from a brief spell as Ghana’s director of tourism. Led UN team negotiating oil-for-food after first Gulf war in early 1990s. Head of peacekeeping from 1993 to 1996.

Mark Malloch-Brown
Deputy secretary-general
Born: Rhodesia, 1953.

Salary: $258,394, plus $73,600 non-pensionable allowance and $4,000 entertainment allowance. All expenses paid while travelling.

Former Economist journalist, previously Annan’s chief of cabinet and head of the UN development programme. Has also worked for the World Bank and the UN high commissioner for refugees. Probably Annan’s most trusted associate. Holds a first-class degree from Cambridge. Likely to leave UN once Annan’s term is over.

Jan Egeland
Under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co-ordinator
Born: Norway, 1957.
Salary: $258,394.

High-profile expert in conflict resolution. Twenty-five years of humanitarian experience with the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, Amnesty International, the UN and others. Helped organise the secret contacts between Israel and the PLO that led to the 1993 Oslo accords. Outspoken on Darfur, and was the first UN official to brief security council on the extent of the carnage.

There are 58 undersecretary-generals, paid $176,877 a year, and 57 assistant secretary-generals, paid $160,574. These are the highest grades, but after several years of service a UN staffer in a middle-ranking position can expect to make between $80,000 and $120,000 a year. Most UN staff do not pay income tax, but between 25% and 30% of their salary is deducted at source. The ‘post-adjustment’ index boosts wages in line with local cost of living. A UN staffer posted to New York, earning $59,132 a year, will receive an annual post-adjustment of $37,667. UN staff are also eligible for rent subsidies of up to 40%, and education allowances. Danger zones bring hazard pay of $1,000 a month, and peacekeeping operations also pay a mission subsistence allowance. The position of envoy of the secretary-general is keenly sought after. It brings a UN laissez-passer for official travel, with diplomatic status, opportunities for tax-free purchases and per-diems to pay for five-star hotels.

What it costs

The UN’s basic annual operating budget for 2006 is $1.9 billion, covering staff, basic activities and infrastructures at the UN headquarters around the world.

This excludes UN peacekeeping operations, UN programmes and funds, and satellite organisations.
There are more than 80,000 UN staff working on 15 peacekeeping missions including Kosovo, Georgia, Cyprus, the Congo and Liberia. The peacekeeping budget is likely to reach $5 billion in 2006. UN programmes and funds, including Unicef, the World Food Programme and the UN Development Programme, have a budget of around $10 billion.

Satellite organisations such as the International Labour, Unesco and the World Health Organization have a budget of about $3.7 billion. The UN is funded by mandatory contributions from its member states, and these are calculated according to their gross national income. The US is the biggest contributor, at 22% of the annual operating budget – about $420m. The UK pays the following: 6% of the annual operating budget – £58m; 7.4% of the peacekeeping budget – £171m; and £10.2m towards war-crimes tribunals. Total annual UN budget: around $20.5 billion.


Kofi Annan lost his cool when James Bone, the Times UN correspondent, pressed him about a car that his son Kojo had imported into Ghana. The car was allegedly bought in Kofi Annan’s name, so securing a diplomatic discount and a tax exemption that totalled more than $20,000. Annan snarled: “Listen, James Bone, you’ve been behaving like an overgrown schoolboy in this room for many, many months and years. You are an embarrassment to your colleagues and your profession. Please stop misbehaving and let’s move on to a serious subject.” Bone’s colleagues protested at Annan’s undiplomatic behaviour. Kojo Annan later offered to reimburse Ghana for the $14,103 customs duties.


The secretary-general wields great power both within the UN and outside, and whoever wins the role will face huge challenges. Who are the contenders?

Succession contenders:

Goh Chok Tong
Born: 1941.
Nationality: Singaporean.
Pedigree: prime minister of Singapore (1990 to 2004).
Currently: cabinet minister.
Form: on-message over threat of terrorism, so may gain support of US and UK. Contacts with Israel and Iran could make him a useful bridge between East and West.

Ban Ki Moon
Born: 1944.
Nationality: South Korean.
Currently: foreign minister.
Form: worthy but dull. May appeal as a ‘steady hand at the tiller’ to P5 countries who want an obedient secretary-general.

Shashi Tharoor
Born: 1956.
Nationality: Indian.
Currently: undersecretary-general, department of public information.
Form: self-publicist, protégé of Kofi Annan. Relative youth and ancien-régime connections likely to count against him.

Surakiart Sathirathai
Born: 1958.
Nationality: Thai.
Currently: deputy prime minister.
Form: Harvard graduate; bright, flamboyant, economic reformer. Could be sunk by Thailand’s poor human-rights record, and the recent military coup.

Kemal Dervis
Born: 1949.
Nationality: Turkish.
Currently: head of UN development programme.
Form: economics specialist; worked for World Bank for 22 years.

Prince Zeid al-Hussein
Born: 1964.
Nationality: Jordanian.
Currently: Jordanian ambassador to the UN.
Form: strong on humanitarian issues. Would be first Muslim secretary-general.


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