Jack Be Nimble; Jack Be Quick
As Northern Alliance troops took Kabul and tribesmen attacked
Kandahar, a high-level Security Council meeting reviewed a plan
of action for a balanced representative government in Afghanistan.
The message was "speed, speed, speed," according to Secretary
of State Colin Powell. As the Secretary General delicately declared,
"We have to be nimble, we have to move quickly and I think we
are at a stage where nimbleness will come into play." Failing
to clearly make his point, he added, "As things are moving very
fast, we need to bring the political aspects in line with the
German Ambassador Promoted
Germany's permanent representative in New York, Dieter Kastrup,
was selected to join the office of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
as special advisor on foreign relations. He replaces Michael Steiner,
a close confident and ally of Schroeder who apparently got into
trouble when he lost his temper at German soldiers during a prolonged
refueling stop in Moscow after an exhausting Asian trip. The usually
quiet ambassador will prove to be a sharp contrast.
Free Lunch But No Handshake
At the commencement of the postponed high-level general debate
on Saturday, November 10, there were still those who speculated
that a brief, "accidental" meeting between President Bush and
Palestinian chairman Yassar Arafat might occur. The prospect of
a substantive meeting had vanished, but some thought a photo opportunity
might be unavoidable during the traditional luncheon given by
the Secretary General to heads of delegations, particularly if
they shared the same table. It was noted, however, that there
was not one but two main tables, with two hosts, the Secretary
General and the General Assembly President. Guests were escorted
in and out of the Delegates' Lounge with no handshakes, except
among immediate neighbors.
Legal Office Wins Support
The Legal Office used the occasion of the high-level General
Debate to conveniently place a side office next to the VIP entrance,
seeking signatures or notification of global accords. Ten countries
were added to their list in two days. This creative and practical
approach by Hans Correll and his legal team was effectively used
during the millennium summit last year.
Assembly Reading Room
People with the time and patience to watch television coverage
of the high-level general debate on Sunday November 11 may have
noted a number of distinguished delegates openly catching up on
newspaper reading while other distinguished foreign ministers
made enthusiastic speeches expounding remedies for international
The experienced and discreet Lekhdar Brahimi has been moving
as fast as humanly possible to facilitate a viable future arrangement
for Afghanistan. Events pressuring the UN special envoy in his
challenge of a lifetime call for speed, but no stampede. It is
a very difficult assignment, for which he is adequately qualified,
and needs everyone's support. Despite his cautious choice not
to prematurely place UN troops on unsettled territory, there are
calls to send troops from countries of Muslim faith. After the
Blue Helmets and Blue Berets, will they be dubbed the Blue Turbans?
Show Us the Money
Mr. Dileep Neir, head of the Office of Internal Oversight Services
(OIOS) claims that "savings and recoveries-wise" he managed to
"reach something like $58 million from audits, inspections, and
investigations." No facts were given to support this claim. The
only solid information was that "$2.5 million has been retrieved."
What about the rest? Well, "something like $8 million" was "realized"
through expenditure reductions. Ah, yes. Neir's tireless work
uncovered a scheme to defraud refugees seeking assistance through
UNHCR in Nairobi (a new discovery, of course), and nine people
are currently being prosecuted. Yeah. Where's the money?
"The world's people will judge us by our ability to perform specific
tasks-not by the resounding speeches we make or the number of
decisions we reach but by the quality of those decisions and of
the service we provide. . .Let us resolve that only the best is
good enough and let us equip ourselves so that in the future the
best is what we give." With these words, Kofi Annan concluded
his opening address at the high-level general debate.
East Timor: Unheralded Success Story
As a peaceful sovereign, East Timor voted for its first Assembly,
very few remembered the devastating catastrophe only two years
ago, when television stations around the world showed daily images
of menaced or terrified civilians, burning houses, and machete-wielding
thugs running amok. Eighty-eight members were voted "in a manner
that would make some traditional democratic countries jealous,"
as it was cogently stated by the UN Special Representative, the
experienced Sergio Viero de Mello. It may be that building does
not draw as much attention as destruction. It may be that Durban,
the Middle East, and Macedonia have taken over as the media flavors
of the session. It may also be that many were away from headquarters
during the summer month of August. Some may even suspect unfair
personal jealousy of someone else's success. That is a great pity.
At a time when the UN badly needs proof of its good work, East
Timor is an ideal story to tell, through radio (Portuguese and
other languages), press features, and a special TV documentary,
in addition to the two minutes on CNN World Report-with which
the UN has a longstanding arrangement. A practical seminar sharing
experiences and including media and peacekeeping personalities
could be useful. Even the now-blocked "Blue Book" series so beloved
by Dr. Boutros-Ghali and thus attacked by Madeleine Albright could
be revived----now that both have gone---to document this positively
unique story. Selim Lane is still there, in an even better position
to contribute, as is the hardworking Roy Lashley. Obviously, the
Special Representative will welcome the opportunity to collaborate.
Who would object? Hmmm…
Two out of three were new to the podium during the opening of
the new regular General Assembly session. The Foreign Ministry
of the Republic of Korea, the new (Chinese) Undersecretary General
seemed fairly amiable but slightly unsure how to proceed. A break
in the deliberations in order to circulate draft resolutions turned
into a noisy interlude incommensurate with the grave circumstances.
As some delegates chatted, one or two even yawned or smiled at
the camera. It was up to the secretary general, an old hand in
the building, to discreetly guide the podium. The irrepressible
and experienced Vadim Perfiliev, Director of General Assembly
Affairs, also valiantly tried to help move around the podium in
the hopes that the new principles will read from the right paper.
Understandably it was a very difficult day, and in the end all
The new assembly president looked concerned when told just after
a vote was taken that the representative of Azerbaijan wanted
to speak. After a little confusion as to whether he should approach
the podium or speak from his seat, Counselor Yeshar Aliyev proposed
a makeshift blood donation center for contributions by the diplomatic
community. "We should not be perceived mainly as double parkers,"
he intoned to general applause, "but as practical supporters of
New Yorkers at this trying time."
What Do You Know?
Someone who called to leave a message forgot that the receiver
was still on. Apparently, she was being interrogated, according
to the inadvertently taped voices. First, Ali Baba's voice threatened,
"What do you know?" Then, a woman with a newly acquired authority
asks, in her national accent, "So you don't know who is the instigator
of all this. What do you know?" The innocent woman, her livelihood
threatened, answers briefly and softly: "I don't know. I feel.
. ." before she picks up the receiver, responds to no one, and
hangs up. The word in the building is that the investigative Baba
will soon have more time on his hands. His female associate will
have adequate instigators when facing other, sharper females.
Exodus in Conference Services
A number of service chiefs will retire by year's end. Experienced
professionals like Adolfo Crose, who ran their operations in efficient
stride, will no longer be around to keep the machine running,
no matter who or what blocks it. A pillar of that operation, Federico
Riesco, has just retired, replaced by Miles Stoby, who has a long
service record but will need all the help he can get. Actually,
that means that Stoby will appoint, or facilitate the appointment
of, several new chiefs of service, starting almost from scratch.
Meetings are what the UN does best. Let's hope it will continue
to do so after the exodus.
Focal Point Again
Some UNDP staff in the know said that no one in their programme
was aware of the positive change of fortune for one of their colleagues,
who was promoted to a D1 post as Focal Point for Women. Stories
about other aspects of her progress made the rounds for a while,
but very few expected such a bold open move. Apparently, some
opposition will be forthcoming from a group of women who feel
they were more qualified to understand and handle the task. It
is also mentioned that as participants in the deliberations of
the Appointment and promotion board, given the circumstances of
her appointment, "that woman" may widen her effort to accommodate
the requirements of her backer, rather than the promotion of women
IFAD Goes Commercial
Readers of the British publications noted an advertisement inciting
applications for the post of deputy to the head of the International
Fund for Agricultural Development. It seems that the new Swedish
boss has asked a commercial English firm not only to arrange for
advertising but also to select the candidate for the second-most
senior job. This would be an interesting precedent, bypassing
UN staffing practices and ignoring staff participation. Any opinion
from the staff committee or the office of human resources?
You only have to be there to get it. Almost every D-1 on the
38th floor has by now obtained a D-2, traditionally a very hard-won
rank distributed equitably within the Secretariat departments.
No names will be singled out. Some truly deserve it, others networked
their way in. But then, except for the very busy Secretary General,
no one up there seems to bother with questions like the demoralization
of staff and the prevailing feeling that nothing surprises them
Struggle Through T-Shirts
While the Durban conference against Racism, Intolerance, and
Xenophobia was getting wide coverage for varied and in some cases
controversial deliberations, no notice was given to an announcement
by the UN Information Service in Vienna, indicating the extend
of its struggle on behalf of the international community. It has
managed finally so as to arrange for T-shirts against racism during
a "fussbol" match, the note stated, adding a blow-by-blow detail
on how players were entering the field wearing these shirts above
their team jerseys, ending with the thrilling promise that they
will pull them before the actual game and give them away to available
Balanced Staff Representation
Piercing election rhetoric, UN staff voted to unify the two competing
tickets for unified representation. One list was generally perceived
as tacitly backed by administration management, while the other
reflected a general sense of dissatisfaction. Ms. Rosemary Waters,
who was elected president of the Staff Committee, had worked smoothly
in a similar capacity with the current administration, which was
saddened to see her leave due to a term limitation. Fernando Astete
is an experienced, solid staff negotiator not easily intimidated.
Now they have to work together in an open, participatory manner.
The real test will be the forthcoming revisions by the assembly's
Financial and Budgetary (Fifth) Committee.
Scapegoat does not only stand for S.G. but could apply to those
working for him. The latest "film" about a video take at UNIFIC
ended up sticking it to Dr. Joachim Hutter, Director of Middle
East in the Peacekeeping Department. Now, Mr. Hutter has no fan
club. But he is famously known as a stickler for correct work
and as a devoted international civil servant. Few would believe
that he did not informally brief his superiors, although everyone
agrees that he will soldier on and take the blame. Initially,
he is expected to move to another post, one previously occupied
by Michel Pelletier. The puzzle is that that post, borrowed from
the field, was in the meantime returned back there, and Mr. Hutter's
post has already been announced. Is it a matter of adding insult
to injury, or merely a messy parking problem?