15 January 2005

The Spokesman was dutifully reading the noon briefing to an almost empty room on 22 December when a note was passed for him to announce the abrupt and certain departure of Iqbal Riza. Immediately after that however, came a leak to three reporters about the forthcoming departure of two other senior officials. It gave the impression -- possibly intended -- that the three were related. Nothing could be further from the truth. Catherine Bertini, Under Secretary General for Administration and Management, had already indicated to the Secretary General since last summer her interest in seeking outside options. The question was left open for further discussion. She had been saddled with Security tasks when her main strength is people management and program activities. She had established a sterling record at the World Food Program, visiting areas of need with compassion and courage. She revived that Rome-based operation, placing it in the mainstream of global food relief. Upon taking over her new assignment last year, she made every effort to listen and act effectively and fairly, although her work was often eroded by political maneuvers at upper floors. Even those looking for something to criticize her, found little reason. Catherine Bertini proved her sterling credentials through her own hard compassionate work. She certainly was not in the same boat with the former Chef. Neither was Controller Jean Pierre Hallbachs. A long-time civil servant from the Mauritius, J-P (as he is known internally) impressed everyone with his dedication, courage and enlightened friendship. He was fiercely loyal to the current Secretary General, a former Controller in a helpful way; he did everything to solve problems rather than add to his burden. Clearly, he took no nonsense, certainly not from Riza or anyone else for that matter. He had indicated an interest in early retirement at the age of 55 -- an option available to all career staff.

The source of the leak on Ms. Bertini and Mr. Hallbachs will not be named here. But it is a shame that someone who should be promoting the work of two dedicated and successful senior officials should try to cause such collateral damage.