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U.N.: Annan Improving World Body

Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search), under fire for the world body's lax management of the U.N. Oil-for-Food program in Iraq, is taking steps to improve the accountability of the world body, Annan's new chief of staff said Monday.

Mark Malloch Brown (search), who took up his new post on Jan. 19, said former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker will probably "land some very heavy blows" in an interim report on his investigation of alleged corruption in the humanitarian program for Iraq which is expected in the coming week. Volcker has already criticized U.N. Oil-for-Food audits.

The United Nations (search) has to come up "with a substantive response" that focuses on improving management of the organization, Malloch Brown said. Managerment wins back people's trust," he said.

One step is to try to open up the selection process for top U.N. posts, he said in an interview with The Associated Press and another news agency.

Last year, unflattering headlines about allegations of corruption in the Oil-for-Food (search) program sparked calls by some members of the U.S. Congress for Annan's resignation.

Annan announced in mid-Janury that following the departure of several key members, he planned to remake his top team for his final two years as U.N. chief.

The appointment of Malloch Brown, the highly respected head of the U.N. Development Fund, as chief of staff was the first major change. Annan now needs to find a new development chief to replace him as well as a new management chief, controller, Mideast envoy, and head of the agency that deals with Palestinian refugees.

When he was recruited to the World Bank in the mid-1990s, Malloch Brown said the organization faced a similar situation to the United Nations today: It was under intense criticism from conservatives in Washington, and from non-governmental organizations who claimed that it was financing dams and other projects that were failures. Morale was "horrific" and there was "a psychosis of despondency," he said.

Malloch Brown said when it comes to management accountability "we've got to show that we take it deadly seriously, and are going to take action and address these problems."

Last Friday, Malloch Brown met with Rosemarie Waters, head of the U.N. Staff Union, which represents over 5,000 employees. The union has strongly criticized senior U.N. management as well as a U.N. investigation that led Annan to clear the U.N.'s top investigator, Dileep Nair, of allegations of wrongdoing.

"Until the whole organization exudes renewed motivation, enthusiasm, morale, a sense of direction and performance, all the fine words from here won't make a difference -- so getting the staff back on side is a real priority," Malloch Brown said.

In a new initiative, Annan opened the search for a new development chief to "the best qualified candidates in the world," and set three criteria -- political, fundraising and leadership skills; knowledge of development issues; and management expertise.

Traditionally, the top appointed posts at U.N. funds and agencies have often gone to specific countries that are major contributors. Until Malloch Brown, who is British, took over UNDP, its administrator had always been an American.

"It's always been galling to see how many senior appointments are stitched up by governments in back corridors," Malloch Brown said. "I think there's a very profound feeling that it's time that the selection processes to choose these key international jobs were more transparent and inclusive."

Annan is also planning to revamp the selection process for senior staff, bringing in professional headhunters and a retired ambassador to participate in the interview process.

"We're breaking a sacred taboo here," Malloch Brown said. "Let's see where it goes."