15 June 2005

Either the officials who arranged the event were out of touch or those who drafted the press communique were confused. Supposedly, the occasion was to honour staff who contributed to improve the Organization's efficiency. That was what used to happen when the awards were originally created: specific staff members would receive special mention and their proud colleagues would join them, stimulated and inspired. Instead, the announcement mentioned only offices and departments for a list of dubious "achievements."

For example, the Department of Peacekeeping which has been under fire for mishandling of sexual abuse cases was a "winner" because it has streamlined its acquisition and deployment of motor vehicles in missions around the world. So now we have to be thankful for actually sending cars to the missions rather than just recording fictitious ones (as happened at least in one mission we knew). Also, we thought the Department of Public Information had introduced Web casting since 1997 (it was launched by then new Secretary General Annan). Instead we are told that Web casting -- that is, broadcasting over the Internet -- was just introduced! Another Department, Administration and Management, whose task since 1996 was to adapt to new Information Technology (IT) applications, was singled out for "helping us become more productive and efficient" by adapting new IT applications.

Why not SINGLE OUT the staff who maintained the good work. Why not, for example, mention Mahbub Ahmed, Andrea Damianov, or Lilia Vasquez in DPI's Website area who worked against great odds with very little budgetary help. The same goes for those individuals in Peacekeeping who streamlined the delivery of cars (at last) or those in Nairobi who developed a programme to support staff families affected by HIV/AIDS.

More to the point, there were confused signals about the purpose of these awards. Three versions were officially given at the same day about the same event. One: "To encourage staff members to find more cost-effective ways of carrying out the U.N.'s work." Two: "To provide recognition for staff members for innovation, efficiency and excellence" in program delivery. Three: "To motivate staff members to participate in the Secretary General's reform and to help change the culture into a results-oriented one." Bravo. Except that the last version overlooked the fact that the Awards were established in 1996 when the Secretary General was Dr. Boutros-Ghali not Kofi Annan. There was also that vague reference to field projects that demonstrated "a positive impact on the U.N.'s clients." WHO these CLIENTS are was not explained.

It is a pity when an appropriate occasion to mobilize and stimulate the generally demoralized staff was wasted into office platitudes instead of sharpening the focus really on a "results oriented" approach. The Deputy Secretary General Louise Freschette did her part by giving time and effort to boost the event. Those who organized it should have paid more attention to truly honouring devoted staff rather than enlisting the yellow pages of the official telephone directory.