UNITED NATIONS - United Nations officials yesterday were adamant that no exchange of favors was involved in awarding an appointment to a top Turtle Bay position to a man who had just bestowed on Secretary-General Annan an international prize worth a half-million dollars.
"None whatsoever," the U.N. spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told The New York Sun when asked about any possible connection between the March 15 naming of Achim Steiner to head the U.N. Environmental Program, and the fact that Mr. Steiner was a top judge on a panel that last December awarded Mr. Annan with Dubai's Zayed Prize for Global Environmental Leadership.
"Mr. Steiner is a first rate environmental specialist and someone we are lucky to have at the head of UDEP," Mr. Dujarric said. He acknowledged, however, that Mr. Steiner's name had been added to the list of candidates for the top job at the U.N. environmental unit after the $500,000 Dubai prize was awarded to Mr. Annan.
Mr. Annan knew that the German Mr. Steiner was on the panel that recommended prize winners to Dubai's crown prince, Mohammad Bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Mr. Dujarric acknowledged. "We knew full well it would raise questions," he said.
The fact that Mr. Steiner was named after serving on the Dubai panel "has prompted new questions about what standards should apply to senior U.N. officials to avoid conflicts of interest," wrote the London-based Financial Times, which reported the appointment on Saturday.
"I'm sure that Kofi Annan had to do some persuasion with some developing country colleagues," to get Mr. Steiner accepted, a Greenpeace International adviser, Steve Sawyer, told the FT. Like Mr. Steiner, his predecessor at UNEP, Klaus Toepfer, is German. Some Africans expected the job would go to an African.
Mr. Toepfer also headed the panel that awarded Mr. Annan the top Zayed prize. "When you look at the overall global impact on politics, business, science, and civil society of Mr. Annan's environment and sustainable development-related initiatives, we came to the conclusion he is deservedly the global winner," the then-UNEP chief said about his boss, according to the prize's Web site.
Besides the two Germans, the award panel includes seven international environmentalists and two representatives of the petroleum-rich United Arab Emirates. It awarded $1 million in environmental prizes to three winners, half of which went to Mr. Annan. Details about the Zayed award were first reported in February by the Weekly Standard's Claudia Rosett, shortly before the UAE became embroiled in a debate about its role in managing American ports.
Mr. Annan accepted the half-million dollar prize shortly after the United Nations enacted a new rule that strictly banned staffers from receiving gifts worth more than $250 annually - a sharp decline from the $10,000 ceiling previously permitted. Staff rules do not apply to the secretary general.
Mr. Annan said that the Dubai prize money, like all awards Mr.Annan has previously received, would go to charity. Specifically, his spokesman said, it would serve as seed money for a foundation named after Mr. Annan, promoting agriculture and girls' education in Africa.
The foundation is yet to be established, Mr. Dujarric said yesterday. Previously, spokespersons said Mr. Annan would only establish the foundation after leaving office at the end of 2006. They refused to address questions about the interest acquired until then.
Separately, Mr.Annan's attempt at enacting new management rules suffered a setback Friday when the budget committee voted the measure down.Mr.Annan's proposal was backed by America, Japan, and most Europeans, which together contribute 80% of the U.N.'s budget.