The Rosett Report

And Now, for Some Light Comic Relief, We Have.... UN Financial Disclosure!

Remember all those promises about UN transparency, from Kofi Annan and his deputy, Mark Malloch Brown? In 2006, they launched a financial disclosure program for top UN officials in which they never actually disclosed their own finances to the public. Then in 2007, Ban-Ki-Moon arrived, and announced a new era of lots more transparency, in which he released his own disclosure form and urged other top UN officials to follow suit. Well, it’s been some time in the making, but as 2008 gets underway, the UN has finally begun posting on its web site the financial disclosure statements of top UN officials, or at least some of them.

There’s just one catch, or two, or three, or — hey, who’s counting, anyway? There’s almost no information in all this “disclosure.” Senior UN officials are now supposed to file a financial statement in-house, but there is no requirement that any information therein be disclosed to the public. Among officials who have volunteered to disclose, there is an option on the public disclosure form which consists of (stay with me, this gets good) choosing “to maintain the confidentiality of the information disclosed by me in order to comply with the Financial Disclosure Program.” Translation: public disclosure at the UN can consist of signing a statement in which the only information imparted to the public is that you refuse to disclose anything except… your refusal to disclose.

So, for example, here is what the financial statement looks like for Iqbal Riza, Special Adviser to Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon (you remember Iqbal Riza, Kofi Annan’s former chief of staff who retired in late 2004 after it turned out he had approved the shredding of loads of UN executive suite documents potentially relevant to the Oil-for-Food investigations; he then returned to the UN in 2005 to act as Kofi’s “liaison” in setting up the UN’s Iranian-grandfathered “Alliance of Civilizations”; and last year was one of the first to lunch with newly arrived U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad). Here’s another one, just like Riza’s (apart from the signature) from the head of the UN Peacekeeping Forces in Lebanon, or UNIFIL — Claudio Graziano. And another one, from the commander of peacekeeping forces for the UN Mission in Liberia, or UNMIL — Chikadibia Obiakor.

From those who do choose to actually disclose anything in their disclosure forms, there are a few generic strands of information to be gleaned, but no specific dollar amounts. For instance, here’s Sergei Ordzhonikidze, director-general of the UN in Geneva, whose entire disclosure of assets amounts to one three-word phrase: “Bank Savings accounts.”

And despite the UN’s rich history of familial financial entanglements — wives with swollen offshore bank accounts, offspring with out-sized incomes — the “Disclosure Summary” form does not even have a category for spouses, sons, daughters, cousins, aunts…

Oh, and there’s another catch. Among the disclosure forms submitted, many have yet to be processed, so in many cases there are no live links so far to pull up anything — scroll down here to see the entire current list. For more detail, Matthew Russell Lee of Inner-City Press has been combing through and among many intriguing discoveries makes the excellent observation that among the 190 UN senior officials urged by Ban to fling themselves under the 10-watt glare of public disclosure described above, less than half were even as forthcoming as, say, Iqbal Riza. They wouldn’t even put their names on the site — or, as Matthew neatly put it, they have “not even consented to disclose their decision to maintain confidentiality.” This group includes — to name just a sampling — UN poverty guru and Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Sachs; Ban’s special envoy for Burma, Ibrahim Gambari; and UN Controller Warren Sach.

Lest we forget, the purpose of this disclosure exercise, as Ban’s spokesperson announced last week, is to show that UN staff members “understand the importance” of assuring the rest of us “that in the discharge of their official duties and responsibilities, UN staff members will not be influenced by any consideration associated with his/her private interests.”