DECEMBER 10, 2017


At an interview with The Financial Times, Secretary-General Guterres started by complaining that the food service at his office was "really lousy". His interviewer Gillian Tett wondered whether "a man who cannot control his own chef can really relaunch the UN?" When offered a valuable opportunity to project a favored image, Mr. Guterres instead seemed to give the impression that constant travel had taken its toll; while apparently gesturing with his hands, he pointed out that he was neither optimistic nor pessimistic but determined (well said). Perhaps it's the lousy food, but he has not made any tangible proposal, indicate a specific action, nor mention any practical accomplishment, while stressing that he was being discreet. On handling pressing issues, he reportedly discovered that in life he has to be patient, patient, patient. (Se Deus quiser.)

In another interview with the BBC, Secretary-General Guterres responded to open criticism that he mainly presented reports rather than taking action, by indicating -- again with accompanying hand gestures -- that he was making several proposals (which obviously were not being heard appropriately or adequately implemented).

The image of a Secretary-General is of crucial importance to all those who believe in the UN, particularly current and former International Civil Servants. We all wish to support our Secretary-General during this period where there are few international leaders or indeed, a lack of leadership in dealing with pressing issues such as human trafficking, famine, refugees, and exploiting migrants, let alone peacekeeping, peacemaking and development issues. The Secretary-General is always too busy -- not only when travelling but when he is at UN headquarters -- to respond to questions from the media. It is too early to make a judgment, but it would help if there were specific accomplishments in any field where it could be mentioned or promoted for the world-wide audience.

An impression that Mr. Guterres is being extremely cautious may help him diplomatically; however, if it goes for a prolonged period it could be counterproductive. Facing a creeping determination to systematically erode the once vibrant spirit of International Civil Service, we keep repeating that while the Secretary-General needs the big powers to survive, he needs all the other countries and "the peoples of the United Nations" -- as mentioned in the Charter -- to succeed. Positive accomplishment would also depend on the support of inspired, talented, dedicated Secretariat staff, who in turn need clearly positioned, solidly clear leadership.

Most likely, a tastier meal was offered later to Mr. Guterres as reflected in a more persuasive recent GPS interview with Fareed Zakaria.