Anthony Banbury served the United Nations as assistant secretary-general for field support. He dealt with the Haiti earthquake, conflict in the Central African Republic, and the prohibition of chemical weapons in Syria.
His latest assignment was as head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response.
He’s earned kudos for his work around the globe — and at UN headquarters in New York. He commuted there from his Westport home.
Now Banbury is leaving.
In a story to be published in this Sunday’s New York Times — and already posted online — Banbury writes: “I care deeply for the principles the United Nations is designed to uphold. And that’s why I have decided to leave.”
The Westporter describes a
blur of Orwellian admonitions and Carrollian logic that govern the place. If you locked a team of evil geniuses in a laboratory, they could not design a bureaucracy so maddeningly complex, requiring so much effort but in the end incapable of delivering the intended result. The system is a black hole into which disappear countless tax dollars and human aspirations, never to be seen again.
Banbury describes astonishingly, scarily frustrating incidents involving his Ebola work; lack of accountability; decisions driven more by “political expediency” than by the UN’s own values, and more.
I am hardly the first to warn that the United Nations bureaucracy is getting in the way of its peacekeeping efforts. But too often, these criticisms come from people who think the United Nations is doomed to fail. I come at it from a different angle: I believe that for the world’s sake we must make the United Nations succeed.
In the run-up to the election of a new secretary general this year, it is essential that governments, and especially the permanent members of the Security Council, think carefully about what they want out of the United Nations. The organization is a Remington typewriter in a smartphone world. If it is going to advance the causes of peace, human rights, development and the climate, it needs a leader genuinely committed to reform.
The bureaucracy needs to work for the missions; not the other way around. The starting point should be the overhaul of our personnel system. We need an outside panel to examine the system and recommend changes. Second, all administrative expenses should be capped at a fixed percentage of operations costs. Third, decisions on budget allocations should be removed from the Department of Management and placed in the hands of an independent controller reporting to the secretary general. Finally, we need rigorous performance audits of all parts of headquarters operations.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is a man of great integrity, and the United Nations is filled with smart, brave and selfless people. Unfortunately, far too many others lack the moral aptitude and professional abilities to serve. We need a United Nations led by people for whom “doing the right thing” is normal and expected.
To read Anthony Banbury’s entire piece, click here.
(Hat tip: Maxine Bleiweis)