|NOT WORKING, NETWORKING. WHERE WAS THAROOR WHEN THE U.N.
NEEDED HIM, AND AT WHAT PRICE?
15 June 2005
He was traveling. And while acquiring frequent flyer miles, he was nowhere to be seen on the U.N.
radar. Plus his travel was costing a small fortune; whoever was paying, the money could have been used
with more visible results. For a whole year the official entrusted with communicating the U.N.
viewpoint was either away or ineffective. Annan's "Annus Horribilis" dubbed by this Website last
September and confirmed by the Secretary General in his December year review, found his hand-picked
former assistant lacking in initiative, leadership and courage to deal with negative reports,
leadership to mobilize a willing team, or courage to express a clear opinion while the leadership was
lost in ponderosity. There was also a question of loyalty to Kofi Annan who leapfrogged him from
D-1 when he took over as Secretary General lifting him to Under-Secretary General heading a full
department. When Annan was being savaged, Tharoor conspicuously distanced himself. Except for some
pro forma letters to the editor he was unusually silent. But that is a matter between the two of them;
Shashi knows how to regain favour with Kofi. Even the arbitrary costly decision to close European
offices with no serious alternatives only to reconsider re-opening them in varied forms, is treated
merely like an unfortunate incident. The problem is that such failure has impacted on the U.N. its
perception and image.
And the question is that of ACCOUNTABILITY. HOW MUCH DID THAROUR COST THE U.N. AND WHAT CORRECTIVE
ACTION SHOULD BE TAKEN? HOW MUCH DID HIS CONSTANT SELF-PROMOTING TRAVEL COST AND WHO COVERED IT?
Clearly Secretary General Kofi Annan feels at ease with his former aide being the main communications
official. He is not likely to agree that the appointment was a disastrous mistake. Annan
must have felt a sense of betrayal. For a while Tharoor fancied himself a likely successor and distanced
himself from his mentor when he was most urgently needed. Still relations could always be patched up.
could always be counted upon to sign whatever draft is pushed by Tharoor, who is now facing a reality
check and rushing back to the fold. And while the Secretary General had to let go of Riza and the
fiercely loyal Elizabeth Lindenmeyer, he seems unable to shake off the shameless Sherpa. In
practical terms, it means that the U.N. will continue to pay the price -- from its budget, from
contributed funds and from its own image.
The issue is being raised now because Tharoor's incompetence is threatening the whole Department of
Public Information. Already, there are influential voices calling for a closer review of its
resources and staffing.
Whether by design or default, his admission of failure to the Committee on Information last month
provides those calling for drastic cuts a convenient and tempting target. An unaccountable and
sheltered Tharoor is adept at placing the blame elsewhere. He may be the first to jump boat. But
why should dedicated talented staff -- and the U.N. -- pay for his failure.