15 December 2004

Time has already answered a question once raised haughtily by one of those pompous characters around Kofi Annan. When some real friends of Annan were trying to draw attention to the need for better understanding for those dedicated hard-working staff who proudly considered the current Secretary General as one of their own, they were belittled and dismissed; when only a selected few received special treatment, when staff generally were attacked as an obstacle to real reform, many of them fired or offered some sort of a farewell handshake; when those who devoted their free time promoting the U.N. and defending their Secretary General at Information Centres were sent home on a whim to please some influential figure; when the Staff Management Consultation Committee stopped meeting for two years; when staff representatives were pitted against one another and the Staff Committee spinned as trouble-ridden and divided; when "our brothers and sisters" were dismissed casually as "you people" -- when these and other caution signals were flagged, one answer came: Who needs the staff? What they cared for was PACKAGED media reporting and media reporters. As long as The New York Times was on board, everything was fine. We raised that question a year ago when feedback from staff at Headquarters and the field reflected an emerging problem. It was raised again when valuable Information Centres were summarily dismissed. Some bragged about the Times, whose newly-appointed U.N. correspondent, Warren Hogue, seemed accomodating to the official line. Of course, the Secretary General needs the support of the Times, and particularly its accommodating correspondent. But the Gray Lady of New York, possibly the most powerful newspaper in the world, has its priority. It is a highly regarded daily with professional standards to keep. Thankfully, it supports the U.N., and -- as much as feasible -- the current Secretary General. It has its own readers who expect to follow the news that is fit to print. Now, when matters are tragically deteriorating and an internal rebellion was on hand, the need for staff support was uncontested. An initiative was planted and encouraged and almost imposed through the official website (just click "yes") to demonstrate some form of allegiance. The problem with such a quick fix approach is that it unveils a degree of desparation and may be more divisive than the internal circuit could bear. It would also raise a question: if three thousand signed despite facilitated, almost mandatory request, does it mean that the other seven thousand do not support Mr. Annan? The Secretary General deserves the undivided and non-divisive support of all the staff. He is above guided or misguided factional ventures. He needs the staff. And, equally important, the staff needs him.