Club 71: Never So Many

10/23/2000
With long names given to describe various international groupings, they are often mentioned by the number of membership. Hence, the group of 71, developing countries where actual members was almost doubled since its establishment, the group of 24 which handled decolonization, and the group of 18 which supposedly proposed the ultimate reform in the eighties. The newest addition is the Club of 71 Special and Personal Representatives of the Secretary General.

Never so many have accomplished so little.

It is an exclusive club- men only. Most of those with specfific assignments have done admirable jobs.

In an earlier issue, most were listed. Some have earned the respect and high regard of everyone through their solid performance. But many have only vague assignments and even more vague accomplishments. Doubtless, all of them, all are honorable men with distinguished backgrounds. No reproach could take their record away- except the vision of some of them hanging around parading as special envoys while mainly hanging on to their UN Laissez-Pesseg like a security blanket.

At no time in UN history was there such a flood of personally designated envoys. And at no time was such an assignment a continued preoccupation equal to a career prospect with the UN. Normally, a special envoy is expected to accomplish a specific assignment within a particular time frame. That is what happened in the case of Eritrea, for example. That is what Mr. Lekhdar Brahimi did, for example, in Afghanistan; when he realized after great efforts that the was going in circles, he graciously demurred. Nowadays, however, special envoys compete with UNDP field experts in exploring ways to prolong their contracts. Finding a solution to a problem could always wait or could be done by others. When there are 18 special representatives, envoys and advisors in Africa, each one of them would expect the other 17 to shape up.

It is not only the embarrassment to the UN and erosion of its credibility that is irritating. It is also the cost involved at a time of financial crisis. The claim that they are appointed "pro-bono", that is with no salaries, is nonsense. In addition to their travel, most of them get paid for the days they are supposedly "on duty". That they could easily claim and obtain confirmation from a supporting member of the Club. As little as six days a month claimed would equal a monthly salary of a dedicated productive local staff member in an Information Centre. And that is the rub. Instead of constantly locating local UN staff to fire and field posts to cancel, try cutting down on the membership of Club 71. At least we know that a driver in an Information Centre accommodates visitors, handles the mail, helps in clerical work, projects films, doubles as receptionist and security assistant and even as concierge. What does a vaguely titled special envoy do except to demand the services of that driver?