Letter: A blueprint to end the UN's cash crisis

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Sir: As an independent consultant who has enjoyed working for several UN agencies for nearly 15 years, I think there are several ways in which the UN's cash crisis can be resolved ("New UN chief facing same old cash dilemma", 27 January).

The current system of depending on permanent civil servants and professionals should be replaced by employment of more independent consultants. This will reduce payroll costs, especially the high cost of pensions. Since some private consulting firms charge very high fees, the UN should negotiate special rates with them as part of their contribution to the UN development effort. They will bring new ideas and new technologies to the UN, which it dismally lacks.

UN salaries and pensions should be related to the employee's country of origin. The tax-free salary of a middle-grade European professional is two to three times the normal salary in his/her own country, but for the same professional from a developing country it may be seven to 10 times his/her normal salary at home. This flat-rate salary system has turned many UN employees from developing countries into millionaires in their own countries. In one country I visited I found one employee owning a string of properties long before retirement.

Too many privileges and immunities, such as tax-free salary and duty- free shopping, are enjoyed by too many UN employees and often even by locally recruited staff.

A sizeable number of the UN staff are recruited through nominations by member countries according to quotas. Much of the "dead wood" may be due to this system of recruitment. Staff should go through a UN-supervised selection procedure prior to nomination.

On one of my recent UN missions I found that an irrigation engineer had no engineering background but had only served as an administrator of irrigation schemes for a short period.

Some UN agencies are decentralising, moving staff to newly created regional and sub-regional offices. This may be a sound policy but it is also creating new layers of bureaucracy and "empire-building".

In order to bring the UN closer to the public, as the new Secretary- General wants, staff in some agencies should be taught a new work ethic. When I went to see a junior programme officer recently, I was greeted by this notice outside the door: "Do not disturb. Contact my secretary for an appointment." Although he had been in the UN system for only six months, he knew how to behave as a UN official!


Harrow, Middlesex