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 military developments."

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 press problems.

Blue Turbans

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?

Hear, Hear

"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…

Beginners' Confusion

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 went well.

Diplomatic Blood

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?

D-2 Anyone?

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 anymore.

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 spectators.

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 Hutter

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?