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
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
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.
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
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 . . . .
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.
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.
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
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!
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
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