UN Twilight Zone: Top Ban Ki-moon adviser invisible on payroll

The man who is perhaps United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's closest American adviser and his top strategic planner, apparently exists only as a ghost in the U.N.'s payroll system.

According to the world body's top financial oversight committee, his position is invisible in the formal organization chart of Ban's executive office, and his salary has been paid for nearly a decade through redirecting the salaries for vacant staff positions and other forms of budgetary hocus-pocus that Ban's top managers have banned—for everyone else, anyway-- as an inappropriate method of using funds.

The advisor in question is Robert Orr, and his formal title in the Secretary-General's office is no mystery: he is Under-secretary for Strategic Planning, responsible, according to U.N. budget documents, for assisting Ban by, among other things, “providing policy advice on global public goods issues,” and “developing policy initiatives,” not to mention “serving as the Secretary-General’s focal point for academic and research institutions.”

According to the documents, Orr also oversees the United Nations Global Compact, a growing assortment of mostly non-American private corporations around the world that vow to follow a 10-point U.N. program of good behavior and in return get to publicize their affiliation under a blue-and-white U.N. banner.

Most importantly for Ban's purposes at the moment, Orr has been the chief designer of an ambitious but vague proposal to create a new global center for public private partnerships within the U.N that Ban hopes will funnel tens of billions of dollars into U.N. anti-poverty, energy and other projects over the next two years, as well as create new networks of influence for U.N. goals around the world—projects in which the Global Company is likely to figure strongly.

Orr is also considered the most likely candidate to be nominated by Ban as head of the new partnership effort—when and if that nomination occurs.

Ban considers the job to be, in effect, the U.N.'s top envoy to the business community and “civil society.” The post is so important that he wants to award the title-holder with the U.N.'s second-highest rank beneath himself of Under-Secretary General (USG), reporting directly to Ban himself.

The problem for Ban is that the same top U.N. financial oversight committee has voiced emphatic opposition to the idea.

The U.N.'s Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, or ACABQ, did not expand on its reasons for opposing the addition of yet another high-priced top bureaucrat to Ban's extensive executive office, along with four other officials to create the $14.4 million so-called Partnership Facility. (USGs earn just under $190,000 per year on the U.N.'s salary scale, but then, if they work in New York City, add an additional 68.7 percent for a current local cost-of-living adjustment, which would bring the total to more like $320,000. Then come housing and education subsidies, which can add thousands more.)

But the ACABQ did, in its examination of the partnership issue, underline its concerns about strategic planner Orr's Twilight Zone status as a non-person in Secretary General Ban's organization chart, and the way that Ban has financed his position in the U.N. payroll process—which whatever the motivation, seems designed to avoid formal scrutiny of his duties..

The gap in the org chart is easier to explain. According to the ACABQ's report, the office of Assistant Secretary General for Strategic Planning is not visible because it is not paid for out of the U.N.'s so-called “regular” budget--so far planned at $5.4 billion in the 2014-2015 biennium, which comes from U.N. Member's regular dues (the U.S. is the biggest single dues-payer, covering 22 percent of that budget.)

Only positions listed in the “regular” budget apparently appear in the official organization hierarchy.


Instead it comes from the U.N . Secretariat's much larger “voluntary” budget--$14.1 billion planned so far for 2014-2015-- which is paid more or less by the same dozen or so countries that shoulder the “regular” burden, but pledge the remaining money to various programs as they see fit. (U.S. “voluntary” donations are difficult to compile; the Obama Administration quit providing tallies of its overall U.N. spending after 2010.)

Much stranger, however, is the way that Orr's salary has been paid since he first took up the strategic planning job in 2004—nearly ten full years ago. For most of that time—93 months, according to the ACABQ, Orr was paid by shuffling around money that became available through staff vacancies—a practice known as “vacancy management.”

Vacancy management is a method of budget juggling that the ACABQ has been decrying for years, and once again condemned, in its examination of the circumstances around Orr's case, as using budget funds “for purposes other than those for which they were intended.” Among other things, the committee noted, the use of such funds intended for other staff hiring means that no-one, including the ACABQ, can be exactly sure what people paid in this manner are actually doing.

The committee then stressed that “vacant posts, especially those at the senior level, should not be used for purposes other than those for which they were intended.”

Notes former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, who is also a Fox News contributor: “The ACABQ is the U.N.'s only effective institutional shield against the waste of vast sums of money. If any U.N. activities and their funding sources are not fully disclosed to the ACABQ, or if the staffing of programs and senior management positions is not fully transparent, the potential for fraud, waste and abuse is enormous.

“This lack of transparency should be particularly worrisome for potential private-sector partners,” he added. “They would do well to remember the Oil-for-Food scandal”—in which billions of U.N.-administered dollars worth of relief were skimmed and diverted by the Saddam Hussein dictatorship in Iraq for its own purposes, and ultimately leading in some cases to fines and sanctions against Western firms that were involved.

The watchdog committee also noted that Ban more or less was supposed to feel that way too. Indeed, in March 2012, the ACABQ noted, Ban's then-head of U.N. Management issued a directive banning the use of vacancy management for posts “to perform functions for which they were not intended”--but only for the U.N.'s “regular budget.”

It was around the same time, however, that Orr's pay-check apparently moved from the vacancy management funding merry-go-round to another murky area of U.N. budget: “general temporary assistance.” These are supposedly funds, the U.N. is using to pay for replacements for staffers “on extended sick leave or maternity leave,” or for personnel to cover “peak workload periods.”

They are emphatically not, the committee noted, to be used to “finance de facto regular budget posts that are of a continuing nature.”


By way of a footnote, the committee included a reference to an ACABQ report complaining about the same practice that dated back to October, 1995—just about nine years before Orr got his strategic planning job.

Orr may well have been aware of the ACABQ's complaints shortly afterward, when he served in a different role--as deputy head of the U.S. Mission to the U.N. Under Richard Holbrooke, a Clinton Administration appointee, and as head of a USUN office in Washington. He subsequently left government and before joining Ban's office served as a top official of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

One irony of Orr's invisible financial footing at the U.N. is that it seems at odds, at least philosophically, with his job as head of the U.N. Global Compact—the organization that is also expected to loom large in Ban's future partnership plans.

In June 2004—just before Orr was appointed to his strategic planning job—the Global Compact announced that its tenth guiding principle for participating corporations would be to “work against corruption in all its forms,” using transparency in business dealings as a key tool.

Failure to demonstrate such transparency in the face of complaints could, after a time, result in the offending business losing its Compact status.

As the Compact still states on its website, “safeguarding the reputation, integrity and good efforts of the Global Compact and its participants requires transparent means to handle credible allegations of systematic or egregious abuse of the Global Compact's overall aims and principles.”

The statement says nothing, however, about a failure by the U.N. Secretary General to promptly address any longstanding complaints about the U.N. misuse of its own funding methods to pay the salaries of high-level officials—whose jobs may include supervising the reputation, integrity and good efforts of the Global Compact itself.

When asked about the methods used to fund Orr’s position, along with a number of other issues related to the U.N.’s partnership plans, Ban’s spokesman, Martin Nesirky, told Fox News only that “the proposal of the Secretary-General, together with the related observations and comments of the Advisory Committee will, in the near future, be considered by General Assembly.”

“At that point,” he added. “the representatives of the Secretary-General will provide detailed information on the proposal to Member States, including with respect to any issues raised on the basis of the Advisory Committee's recommendations. The matter is therefore pending General Assembly consideration and decision.”

George Russell is editor-at-large of Fox News and can be found on Twitter @GeorgeRussell