United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan's "Hell no" reply when asked if he would resign in light of the many serious management problems uncovered in the investigation of the oil-for-food program in Iraq is indicative of the arrogance that permeates the world organization.
Rather than admit to systemic problems with the management of the U.N., as evidenced by the direct involvement of the secretary-general's son, Kojo, in an oil-for-food contract, the resignation of the head of the refugee agency following sexual harassment charges and allegations of sex abuse by peacekeeping troops in Congo, Annan this week was anything but contrite.
He undoubtedly was emboldened by a report from the special commission investigating the $60 billion program in Iraq during Saddam Hussein's rein that concluded he was not involved in the awarding of a contract to a company that employed his son. However, Annan's failure to aggressively investigate the contract once details were made public by the press reveals a blind spot that does raise questions about his ability to manage the world's largest bureaucracy.
It does not matter that he has made staff changes at the top, or that he is the one who sought the investigation into the oil-for-food scandal and asked former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to lead it. The fact remains that the organization needs a strong manager, and Annan hasn't been up to the challenge.
The very day he was declaring victory after what he termed "so many distressing and untrue allegations," the New York Times reported on another management misstep that will give Annan's critics, especially those in Congress, even more ammunition.
"An internal review of the United Nations office responsible for promoting and monitoring free elections throughout the world has found a string of management abuses at the agency, including humiliation of its staff, misuse of agency funds and a willingness by the agency's leaders to tolerate sexual harassment," the Times story stated.
A report stemming from the internal review, conducted by a Swiss-based management consulting company, calls for a full management probe of the agency and recommends that the abuses described in the report be investigated by "competent authorities."
The very fact that the consulting firm found it necessary to call for "competent authorities" to lead the investigation suggests that it has no confidence in the United Nations policing itself. Therein lies the problem for Secretary-General Annan.
Regardless of whether he was directly involved in his son's scheme, the many incidents of criminality and misbehavior in the workplace that have been widely reported reflect a care less attitude that would not be accepted in the public or private sectors in this country.
Annan has jumped the gun in insisting that he does not intend to resign. He might not have any choice, if Congress starts withholding the United States' dues to the world body.