|KNOCK KNOCK -- WHO'S THERE?
25 June 2004
It's Kofi Annan tapping Bill Safire on the shoulders. "May I have a word with you," he enquired. The
conservative pundit who dubbed the U.N. Food for Oil Program "Kofigate" braced for an icy rebuke;
or at least a precise vehement and overwhelming point. Instead, Annan "in his courteous way," assured him
that a committee was looking into all this. He also had its designated chairman, Paul Volcker, call
him. That was a right tactic, but a wrong strategy. Volcker was Safire's colleague in the Nixon
administration. They may influence one another, but in what way? The former chairman of the
Reserve Board ended up complaining that he was not getting adequate assistance from the Secretariat
and the former speech writer had a headline saying "Tear Down This U.N. Stonewall" with another
subtitle: "End Containment of Corruption."
No other Secretary General in U.N. history placed himself in such an awkward situation. In confronting
any serious attack, it was the institution that responded. Dedicated staff with loyalty exclusively
to the Secretary General would rise immediately to action. When they felt that they shared in belonging
to the organization and internal decision making, any hint of criticism was met with a joint
response. But when the institution was overlooked in promoting individuals and when cliquish attitudes
fragmented hard working staff, then the ability to respond is limited to those personally involved.
Leadership is inspiring a team -- the whole staff -- not cultivating a clique. When the team is
sacrificed to advance only an inner circle, the leadership becomes vulnerable.
The Secretary General is the living symbol of the U.N. Every international civil servant would be
hurt when his reputation is hurt. A main problem now, as Food for Oil questions are being raised (and
Rwanda, Cyprus, etc.), it is the current Secretary General who is directly handling his own "defense,"
approaching his own media and experimenting with his own viewpoints on issues which others should
It took at least one month for anyone at the U.N. to respond in any manner to damning accusations.
Benon Sevan, with thirty-five years of service, was left to twist in the wind. The Secretary General's
son was named reportedly in more than one case. Almost every main media organization questioned the
U.N. performance and propriety. Only much later, possibly too late, some dreary letters to the editor
were sent -- only to solicit a stronger attack. His speechwriter cum Communications Director has turned
into an avid letter writer, to no avail. His Spokesman is deluged with queries which he answers
appropriate. His Under Secretary General for Public Information, his former Special Assistant, made
the necessary statements but he has a department to run and a future to pursue. And now Kofi Annan
seems to be a victim of his own habit of having to say something as he enters the building in the
morning -- and he is not exactly an early morning person.
Who is in charge of defending the U.N. with the media? Who is leading the troops? Who are the troops?
Knock Knock. Who's There?