UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Ban, who has promised to tame the U.N. bureaucracy, yesterday looked instead like someone who is being tamed by the U.N. apparatus.
In appointing a Briton close to Prime Minister Blair, John Holmes, to coordinate human affairs at the United Nations and a Mexican, Alicia Barcena, to head the U.N. management team, Mr. Ban seemed unable to break away from old traditions.
It was not clear yesterday whether any American official would hold a senior position in the new Ban administration. Several insiders said the absence of a former American ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, hurt Washington's prospects of securing sought-after U.N. positions.
The U.N. peacekeeping department, whose leadership America was recently lobbying for, became entangled in a new scandal yesterday after a Daily Telegraph report on allegations of U.N. peacekeepers sexually abusing minors in southern Sudan.
Promising "zero tolerance," Mr. Ban's new spokeswoman, Michele Montas, said the allegations are under investigation. In the last few years, however, the United Nations has launched a slew of investigations into allegations of sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers, with repeated pledges of "zero tolerance."
Asked yesterday if the new scandal could affect Mr. Ban's decision on the fate of a French official, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, who is now the head of the peacekeeping department, Ms. Montas told The New York Sun that top U.N. managers "should be accountable" for their departments.
Ms. Barcena, who was the chief of staff for a former U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan, got an early boost in the early 1990s, when she became an aide to the Canadian oil tycoon and U.N. environmentalist Maurice Strong. Before resigning in the aftermath of the oil-for-food scandal, Mr. Strong served as Mr. Annan's personal envoy to the Korean peninsula.
Mr. Ban told the London Times recently that in his official capacity as South Korean foreign minister, he met Mr. Strong only a few times. Nevertheless, diplomats saw Ms. Barcena's appointment yesterday, to a position in which she will be responsible for internal changes, as a gesture toward Mr. Annan's old circle of friends.
Staffers expressed disappointment that Ms. Barcena received a promotion just a day after the president of the U.N. staff union, Stephen Kisambira, met with Mr. Ban and called for a "fundamental change in the mind-set of senior management," demanding an end to a relationship between staff and management that has been based on "dominance, disregard, and fear."
As undersecretary-general for management, the normally reserved Ms. Barcena will succeed Christopher Burnham, a strong-willed American who oversaw several important changes in the department, including a mandatory disclosure of top managers' finances and a ban on personal gifts.
Diplomats said yesterday, meanwhile, that in their haste to deepen America's involvement at the United Nations, Washington politicians shot themselves in the foot by removing Mr. Bolton from New York at a critical time of transition.
Americans have traditionally overseen the U.N. bureaucracy, but as soon as Mr. Ban emerged as the front-runner for secretary-general last year, America, which supported his candidacy, told the Korean diplomat it was seeking the leadership posts of other top U.N. offices.
America particularly had its eye on the increasingly powerful peacekeeping department, which for decades has been led by French officials, or the political affairs department, which traditionally has been considered British domain.
Mr. Ban is said to be weighing several structural changes. One option is to split the peacekeeping department into an operational arm and support and logistics arm; another is to unite peacekeeping with the political department; and yet another to mix in an office currently charged with disarmament, which may add to its roster the responsibility of dealing with terrorism and proliferation.
Any of these offices could become a powerhouse if headed by an American. But U.N. officials say the signals from Washington about which of the offices it seeks aren't clear, as Mr. Ban is making the major decisions.