In the race for the next United Nations secretary-general, the Security Council has narrowed the field of candidates from a remaining 10 to precisely one: and the winner is, former Prime Minister of Portugal Antonio Guterres. It could have been worse — but not by much. Guterres brings to the job a record that suggests he is a perfect fit to head a UN that is prone to overreach, mismanagement, waste, fraud, abuse and government meddling in every aspect of life — provided we all want even more of the same.
That’s not what you’re reading in most press reports right now, where news of Guterres as top pick for the next UN secretary-general seems to consist largely of recycled public relations materials from the UN, related officials, and the Portuguese government. Guterres was roundly praised on Wednesday by Russia’s ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin (“we have a clear favorite”) and America’s Ambassador Samantha Power (who called Guterres “a candidate whose experience, vision and versatility across a range of areas proved compelling”).
So who is this man, Antonio Guterres, who so impressed the UN envoys of both Presidents Putin and Obama?
Along with a stint as prime minister of Portugal from 1995-2002, Guterres also served as president of the Socialist International, from 1999-2005, following a stint as vice-president of the organization from 1992-1999. As the Daily Caller reminds us, the Socialist International is “a global network of national socialist parties seeking to establish ‘democratic socialism’ around the world,” an endeavor that in the late 1980s included funding the communist Sandinistas in Nicaragua.
From 2005-2015, Guterres served as high commissioner of the UN agency for refugees (UNHCR), garnering experience which he and the Portuguese government advertised as one of his chief qualifications to head the UN Secretariat. In nominating Guterres for the post of UN secretary-general, Portugal’s Prime Minister Antonio Costa wrote that Guterres throughout his tenure as the UN’s high commissioner for refugees “showed exemplary understanding of and respect for the values of the United Nations,” ushering in all sorts of marvelous “reform and innovation.”
That sounds great, except the UN’s own auditors took a far less laudatory view of Guterres’s performance. This April the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services issued an audit report identifying a series of “critical” lapses by the UNHCR under Guterres’s management. That audit was obtained by Fox News editor-at-large George Russell, who published a story on June 7 headlined “UN refugee agency handed over hundreds of millions to partners without monitoring.”
Russell in his article, based on the UN internal audit, detailed a “saga of inaction, bureaucratic incoherence and apparent unconcern about the spending of huge amounts of cash at UNHCR,” and described the UNHCR mess as “the latest symptom of problems for the U.N. system as a whole.”
Overall, reported Russell, “over the last two years, as the global refugee crisis spiraled out of control, the United Nations’ refugee organization has handed over nearly a billion dollars to private organizations and national governments, much of it without verifying whether those partners had the expertise to buy the goods, or the means to detect fraud in the purchases.” While Russell did not get into details of where exactly this money went, it’s worth asking whether the UNCHR, which under Guterres was apparently in frequent violation of its own policies, might have ended up funding any of the villains responsible for the floods of refugees (the havoc in Syria comes to mind).
Nor was this 2016 internal audit the only damning UN document. In 2012, Russell obtained a 2011 UN audit report critical of the UNHCR under Guterres, and published a story about that one under the headline: “United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees blasted for poor financial handling.” That UN document, reported Russell, cited the UNHCR “for sloppy bookkeeping, poor financial oversight, managerial disarray, and a lack of tools to judge how well it was doing its job of helping tens of millions of the world’s displaced people.”
Under the UN charter, the secretary-general serves as “chief administrative officer of the organization.” If that’s how Guterres managed — or mismanaged — a single UN agency while running it for more than a decade, is it likely he will do a better job as secretary-general?
For that matter, have any of the ambassadors now singing the praises of Guterres taken the time to glance at any of these UN audits? Did Ambassador Power before gushing about Guterres ever delve into the nitty-gritty of his “experience, vision and versatility”? Or is it only George Russell at Fox who takes the trouble to unearth and toil through the actual record?
As it is, following a formal vote in the Security Council on a resolution recommending Guterres for secretary-general, we can expect rubber-stamp approval perhaps as early as next week by the General Assembly. Guterres will take over at the beginning of 2017, when Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s second five-year term expires.
Then we get a longtime socialist with a record of managerial incompetence, heading a multi-billion dollar, diplomatically immune, opaque, globe-girdling organization funded with billions of other people’s money (America, which bankrolls roughly one-quarter of the UN system with your tax dollars, being the largest contributor). What could go wrong?