12/01/2000

Another Ambassador to Acabq

The popular Philippine Permanent Representative, Felipe Mabilangan, was just elected as a member of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ). Having served since 1994, he was about to return home, delayed mainly by a Philippine congressional deadlock about his successor. Last year, the influential Pakistani Permanent Representative, Ahmad Kamal, was elected to the same body. It is a vote of personal capacity, although regional representation is applied. With so many ambassadors joining in, that makes ACABQ's Chairman, Conrad Mselle, primo supremo ambassador.

While thousands of women from various nationalities and in varied costumes were streaming from The Plaza on 47th Street into Second Avenue on October 17th carrying multi-lingual banners, a group of them stopped for a moment possibly to make some space for the group ahead. A somewhat elderly stern-looking policeman shouted at them to move right away. The chain reaction of boos he received prompted him to wonder what was going on. He discovered it was "World March of Women" mainly to protest violence and harsh treatment by men.

Sergio Vieira de Mello leaving Humanitarian Affairs

It is about certain that Sergio Vieira de Mello will be leaving as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. The media-savvy Sorbonne-educated Brazilian, who appeared on world television prominently as the first international senior official to visit Kosovo and other conflict areas during the NATO war, will remain in East Timor at least throughout the crucial next year. He had gone there since independence and helped start from scratch. An engaging and dynamic professional with proven field experience, Sergio was one of the candidates to head UNHCR. He was also mentioned as a rising star in the international arena to occupy several potentially vacated posts. A replacement for his New York post may be announced soon. Some Japanese names have been mentioned. His predecessor in that post was Yasushi Akashi, who had also been former head of DPI. Would Kensaku Hogen feel better in such a post, which is more suitable to his developmental interest? Could that explain why Shashi Tharoor keeps breathing down every neck in the Public Information Department - insisting on addressing any group and excluding everybody else? All is speculation, except for the forthcoming vacancy in the Office of Humanitarian Affairs. Incidentally, a recent appeal indicated that $2.6 billion was needed to reach some 35 million people around the world in desperate need of humanitarian relief.

Peacekeeping staffing Proposal -- Old Hat, New Name

The newly proposed staffing unit for a Peace and Security Information and Strategic Analysis Secretariat (PSIT or PSST!) is an updated "politically correct" rehash of what had existed briefly a decade ago under the then similarly fashionable name of Office fo Research and Collection of Information (ORCI). It had been established under Mr. James Jonah, currently Finance Minister of Sierra Leone, as a separate operation, but disappeared under fire from several quarters. Some thought it was poking into internal affairs of Member States; others thought it was not performing its designated functions, while in fact it seemed like an added bureaucratic layer. When dismantled, the monitoring unit transferred to DPI produced a widely circulated daily bulletin of press reports. Now, that unit is prepared to go under the political supervision of Mr. Prendergast in the Department of Political Affairs. Will the press bulletin continue or will all feedback be kept discreetly under wraps? What will happen to the staff - could some of them be replaced to suit the temperament , mood or requirements of the new "line managers"? What will the new unit actually and usefully do? Another proposal to move an additional dozen posts from DPI to peacekeeping is similarly old - at least six years old. It was proposed, then withdrawn, then proposed and withdrawn again. Now it is again proposed, with more questions than answers: staff situation, precise assignments and a real objective.

How Shashi gets his Groove

The self-appointed court jester started with two borrowed jokes. In the first, he convincingly imitated Elizabeth Taylor telling her husband: "I shan't keep you long". The other was a worn-out dialogue with a genie who granted two wishes, attributed to various figures over three decades, from President Kennedy to President Clinton. Only this time, it was about the Secretary-General, and the key question was: when will the United States pay its dues in full? Smiling broadly and giggling loudly, he wanted to make sure at least to one table that it was a joke. Nothing serious - only joking. Clearly, courage is not his forte, and he dare not raise it otherwise. That is serious business, the big picture, the big deal. Otherwise, the joke will be on him. He certainly knows where his bread is buttered and the lines are drawn. So, on to undercutting others. He let it be known that the light-hearted statement forthcoming by the Secretary-General was actually drafted by him. Kofi Annan has his own gracious sense of humour. But that is not the time and place for it. This was presumably the evening for watchful reporters, and humour is mine, saith Shasi. It has nothing to do with Fred or Ed. No labour here for the accurate term or the right word.

Shashi and Shashi then proceeded to slash a few senior colleagues for no coherent reason. The name of the absent Deputy Secretary-General was gratuitously dropped. Somehow Lakhdar Brahimi's name appeared. Some unclear dig at the Department of Public Information produced an accommodating giggle from its self-serving buffalo soldiers. Trouble with that groove was the most present had no idea what all that nudge-nudge, wink-wink was about. One of the very few "peace messengers" present wondered what was the real-life function of that fellow. As he seemed to be wearing a Nehru-style jacket fashionable in the seventies, the peace messenger mistook him for an aspiring Pakistani actor.

He asked around the table: "What does the Pakistani want? In one meeting today he was also very busy with words. Why does he have to criticize previous Secretaries-General when the current one is already in that post. What more does he want?" Well. He wants to continue undercutting others with impunity, intimidating vulnerable staff by using the Secretary-General's name and ambushing respectable people under the guise of a silly joke. That's how Shashi gets his groove.

Pronk, Prank

What's next for Jan Pronk, current Dutch Environment Minister, after missing out on the UNHCR post to his own former Prime Minister and earlier on the UNDP Administrator's post? The ever so seriously dedicated perennial Minister seemed cranky during a recent press conference on a proposed international accord on climate change. At one point, he seemed to announce that an agreement would have to be reached by Sunday, 26 November, after which "this building will be closed and everyone will get out". Curious onlookers wondered about the cause of his bandaged hand, which seemed to give him added irritation. According to "avenue" of the Financial Times, Mr. Pronk had taken a ride on one of those trendy push-along scooters that are hailed as the environmentally sensitive solution to urban transport, and had fallen off. Again?

FAO New Chief Communicator

FAO New Chief Communicator, Christine Engfeldt, has taken over as Chief of the Information Office in the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. Christine has a wide range of media and UN field experience, the last post being in Nairobi. Her wide network of friendships in the media field will come in handy as she takes over another challenging task. Good luck!

IMIS at any price

Finally, after about six years, Under Secretary-General Joseph Connor's favourite venture is about to be put into practice. IMIS, the Integrated Management Information System to pay salaries and allowances, is scheduled to start its comprehensive operation by the end of November. Remittances are expected to be tabulated much quicker as savings in time, manual labour and "human error" would be anticipated. A linchpin of Mr. Connor's special "reform", IMIS was initiated with an estimated cost to the UN of $8 million under a contract with Price Waterhouse, the internationally prominent accounting firm where Mr. Connor had served as a senior officer before retirement to a professorial post, then to the United Nations, upon the prodding of his admiring friend, then Secretary of State Warren Christopher. During a recruitment freeze, the main exception was given to IMIS staff.

Despite efforts to launch it, the venture seemed to stumble from confusion to ponderousness, with ever-increasing cost to the UN. Within five years, the expense rose from about $8 million to about $100 million. There were some solid overall efforts by Pamela Johnson, who came from Washington, D.C. but was eased out despite - or because of - her innovative ideas. When Gian Piero Roz took over the project started to take professional long-range comprehensive shape. He now feels confident that the electronic show can begin.

Incidentally, a senior official who had opposed IMIS for a while fell silent one day when the trial project paid him erroneously at the level of Under Secretary-General; another more senior supporter protested when it paid him erroneously at the level of Assistant Secretary-General. They both could afford such tiny errors. But what happens to much more junior staff? That is where IMIS will be tested at best - even at such a price for Price Waterhouse.

Marie -- in the Shadow of the Lions

The first United Nations novel has been published. "Marie - In the Shadow of the Lions" is a pioneer effort initiated and implemented by Phyllis Lee, Chief of the Advocacy and External Relations Unit, Office of the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs. It is a creative venture aimed at highlighting partnerships among children, particularly stressing the plight of children caught in areas of conflict.

Phyllis, a professional journalist and experienced writer, has been effective in raising awareness on humanitarian issues. In her story, young African women are destroyed by hatred, violence and indifference. Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrote in his introduction addressing children: "I hope that your generation will be the first to stand united against evil, injustice, hatred and indifference and say in one voice: no more and never again".

Give credit to Phyllis Lee - that is, not to those who rush to steal other people's successful efforts.

Breaking the Ceiling

When introduced by the Secretary-General as the newly designated head of the UN Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), Ms. Thoraya Obeid, a Saudi citizen, described that decision as "breaking the ceiling" for Saudi women. Thoraya had spent 23 of her 25 UN years in ESCWA - Beirut, Baghdad and Amman - before joining UNFPA for two years.

Princely Appointment

The new Permanent Representative of Jordan is not new to the UN. Prince Zeid Bin Raad Zeid Al-Hussein had served as Deputy Permanent Representative and, more interesting, had equally served in field peacekeeping missions as a full-fledged staff member. His colleagues in Bosnia felt he was an effective team player and as modest as he was pleasant. Diplomats who worked with him at Headquarters found him attentive, alert and in confident control of his file. Incidentally, Prince Raad has the trademark Hashemite habit of addressing his interlocutor politely as "Sir", or even the more modest Arabic equivalent, "Sidi". But don't misunderstand his approach. He actually should be addressed as "Your Highness".

"Perfect Murder" Peace Messenger

A film entitled "Perfect Murder", starring Michael Douglas, recently appointed "UN Peace Messenger", was again shown on television recently. Ironically, it is about a New Yorker planning a devious deceptive way to kill his wife, who is a UN employee in Conference Services. If that was a wrong example to follow, what other role qualified Mr. Douglas? "Basic Instinct", where he excitedly tackles Sharon Stone? Or "Fatal Attraction", where an obsessed woman tackles him intimately with a knife? No, possibly it was that movie where Colombians are mainly perceived as gullible drug traffickers, and he triumphantly gets the diamond, the lady and the alligator? No. Then it may be that one whre he roams around the West Coast, gun in briefcase, ready to kill even his wife and children at any irritation? No. Ah, then it is the "War of the Roses", where vengeance and multiple sex are the main theme. No? then, here's to you, Mrs. Sorensen . . . .

Dutch Introduction

Unusual to UN briefings was the introductory statement by the newly designated High Commissioner for Refugees. With the Secretary-General standing next to him, the former Prime Minister of the Netherlands for about 12 years, Professor Ruud Lubbers, elaborated openly on the process of his selection. Apparently, on his visit to Geneva, Mr. Annan had asked the latter's view of the official Dutch candidate, Jan Pronk, and proceeded to mention specific concerns about the nomination. (To Mr. Annan's credit, Mr. Pronk has been a perennial candidate for every senior developmental post in the UN galaxy, from UNDP to UNHCR, ever since he dispensed some funds while Minister of Technical Cooperation). The Professor continued, saying that Mr. Annan, after evaluating several candidates, had asked him if he would consider taking the job himself, to which he agreed. As UNHCR will be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary next December, it will be closing a full circle in its leadership. The first High Commissioner for Refugees was Dr. W.J. van Hoeven-Goedhart, clearly Dutch. In his own introduction, the Secretary-General indicated that there were a number of outstanding candidates, "but only one person" will take the post.

Now comes the hard part, which is fundraising. With so many emergencies around the world, greater funds are needed than ever before. Those who had hoped for a field experienced insider will be closely observing what Professor Lubbers will deliver. At any rate, he has a very tough act to follow after ten outstanding years by the outgoing Japanese leader and proven internationalist, Mrs. Sadako Ogata.

Knutsson for Geneva

Ralph Knutsson is among the front runners to replace Jean Claude Aimé in chairing the Committee for Compensation for the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in Geneva. Elevated to Assistant Secretary-General's level earlier this year when sent as Personal Representative of the Secretary-General for South Lebanon for an interim period, Knutsson has a solid reputation as a fair and knowledgeable international civil servant, which may not be to his advantage these days with some influential operators. However, he is highly regarded by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who may just go ahead and appoint him anyway. Knutsson had worked with Aimé as his main deputy when he was Chief of Staff and earlier as a member of Brian Urquhart's formidable peacekeeping team.

Who will defend DPI?

With various raids to take posts away from the Department of Public Information, a question repeatedly asked is: Who will defend its dedicated staff? The Department's nominal head, a Japanese Government appointee, seems to be giving away the store with every bowing day. He was afforded a smooth transfer in the interest of the Organization and on the basis of a commitment to lead the Communications Public Information team, protecting its professional capacity, along the lines proposed by the now-forgotten task force. Now that DPI is treated as if it were leaderless and rudderless, and one or two of its senior officers are breathlessly pursuing their own illusory personal interests, its vulnerable staff will be surprised to find some comfort in knowing that they still have friends who will stand by them in their hour of need.

Annan success in Doha

By all counts, the attendance of Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the summit of heads of Islamic States in Doha, Qatar was a success. He met with all the major participating figures, including the host, Qatari ruler Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, Iranian President Khatami and Palestinian Yasser Arafat. In an Arab-balancing act, he stopped in Bahrain, which has a loud dispute with Qatar, to open the Government-contributed UN office there. En route to New York, he met in London airport with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who briefed him on his American tour, while Annan conveyed to him the "mood" in the Islamic summit. Could there be some indication of a long-awaited UN role in the Middle East conflict?

New disarmament Exhibit A

A comprehensive disarmament exhibit was opened on UN Day on the third floor of the General Assembly building, in the neck connecting the main entrance to the back. That gave it the freedom to use the walls for colourful solid posters for brief information points. A special area illustrates the plight of children in areas of conflict. Under-Secretary-General Dhanapala, who oversaw the project, inaugurated it with newlywed movie star Michael Douglas. The art work was accomplished by the talented Jan Arnesen of DPI Exhibits Unit. It managed to include some of the artifacts which were part of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki exhibit.

Daytona Accord

A piece of comic relief occurred at an overworked Security Council meeting on the eve of Thanksgiving Day, when an interpreter referred to the Bosnia and Herzegovina Accord signed in Dayton, Ohio as the Daytona Accord. Clearly, Council members, note takers and interpreters alike were ready for a vacation at the relaxing Forida resort.

Sleepless in Geneva -- a D-2 Story

(continued) Trying again for the thirtieth time, the trick may actually work this time. After the last attempt to provide current Protocol Chief Mehmet Ulkumen with a D-2 post in Conference Services failed, the drawing boards have produced another scheme. It entails keeping the grinning, growling Turk where he is, but promoting him to a D-2. The next budget will have to show that. One additional detail would provide the key to that action. A promoted Chief would require a Deputy at a P-5 level, someone like the Georgian, David Schiknadze, highly recommended by Messrs Gorbachev and Scheverdnadze to Mr. Petrovsky and the target of the earlier attempt at the Conference Services job. Only this time, high-level approval has already been obtained. Maybe after getting his D-2, Mr. Ulkuman will ease off his friends and enemies alike and get off that table!

Peace Cookies

During the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, attended by Presidents Clinton and Mubarak, King Abdullah of Jordan, Israeli and Palestinian leaders, as well as the UN's Kofi Annan, one of the hotels, the Ritz-Carlton, placed dove-shaped cookies on the pillows of leading participants to contemplate before going to sleep. Some say it worked; some took no notice.

Club 71 Advice

Anxiously awaited words of wisdom from Mr. Carl Bildt, one of the "Special Envoys to the Balkans". After months of utter silence, he uttered the previously undiscovered view that "the policy of the international community" was - hold your breath - "to let the Serbs resolve for themselves the conflict between themselves". For that jumble, he gets a title and per diem for claimed days of work.

Free Speech Champion

Ali Baba has confirmed his ardent belief in freedom of speech by setting this year's record in speaking for free on long distance calls at UN expense.

Jean-Claude Aime leaving

An outstanding international civil servant, Jean-Claude Aimé, will be leaving UN service by the end of November 2000. Particularly as Chief of Staff of Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Jean-Claude had to maintain a judicious balance between pressures by Member States, the decisions of the Secretary-General and, most important, the interest of the Organization. When his colleague Kofi Annan took over, the former Chief of Staff responded to a request to stay on by suggesting a post away from Headquarters, somewhere like Geneva where, rightly, he could keep a distance. He was designated to oversee the committee on compensation for the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

It was clear, however, over the last four years that there was no dialogue between the successor and the predecessor. Except for inevitable pending questions in the early transition period, there seemed to be a mutual aloofness compounded by some of those trying to prove their loyalty to the new Secretary-General by trying to undercut others. The famously discreet and cool Jean-Claude maintained his balanced temperament despite obvious provocations and held on to his international civil service pledge, although many others in senior posts were openly ignoring it.

He served with distinguished courage in the Middle East during one of the most crucial periods between 1975 and 1980 and, indeed, greatly helped Brian Urquhart in establishing UN peacekeeping operations, including UNIFIL in Southern Lebanon. He was always counted on to keep confidences and deliver his assignments selflessly as a member of a closely collaborating team. Dr. Boutros-Ghali described him in his book as a Renaissance man. Jean-Claude Aimé. who will be free to enjoy a well-earned retirement, is indeed much more. He is a truly United Nations man who kept his dignity intact and honoured his pledge as a real international civil servant.

Viva the UN Radio Portuguese Service!

The Portuguese Service of the UN Radio received a wave of unprecedented support during the 55th GA's Special Committee Discussions on Information. The CPLP - Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries - and individual statements by Angola, Brazil and Portugal praised the quality and outreach of the UN Radio Programs. But few people know that the entire range of activities in Portuguese of the UN Radio is performed by one single journalist. The Programs now reach five continents, since East Timor joined audiences of nearly 230 million Portuguese-speaking people. But strangely enough, the UN Radio in Portuguese has not been included in DPI's recent initiatives, such as a live radio project and broadcasts through the Internet. Nor has it been given additional human resources by DPI, despite the great success it achieves in expanding the UN message throughout the world, as CLP countries so emphatically voices during this year's GA. No wonder the UN is so often and harshly criticized for rewarding the inefficient and eclipsing the competent.