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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. Annan 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.