15 June 2005

When news headlines reported about a U.N. number 1 and number 2 whose son in Canada had received an investment from a Korean middleman for Saddam Hussein, diplomatic corridors in New York were abuzz with possible names. Without any prompting, Deputy Secretary General Louise Freschette quipped at a recent U.N. party: "Just to remind everyone; I have no son."

With widespread stories on Kojo Annan, Imran Riza, the son of "number 2" and Kristina Mayo (Maurice Strong's stepdaughter). New Chief of Staff Mark Malloch-Brown told reporters recently: "I am glad my son is only eight years old."

It was dubbed as "Family Planning, U.N. Style." Initially, dedicated staff frustrated at seeing staff rules and regulations bent and evaded kept it to themselves. Some hoped that the Secretary General, who as former Personnel Chief displayed courage and inspired integrity, would step in. Others thought it was a passing phase. After all, how many influential officials would seek or need such "family planning" -- "place my son, I'll hire your daughter". Yet, it spread with impunity -- to a wider circle of relatives and friends.

The abolition of checks and balances like the Appointment and Promotion bodies lifted all barriers, mainly transforming the Office of Personnel into a mailing and processing outfit. That allowed for something like a trade-off bazaar (and bizarre) atmosphere where some senior officials may have felt that they could take any personnel decision without any accountability -- particularly when some of those who could hold them accountable were themselves implicated.

A growing perception about widespread nepotism amongst the current U.N. leadership not only curtails its effective performance but erodes public support.

When U.N. credibility was its main weapon and the integrity of its staff was unblemished, the Secretary General was perceived as a non-sectarian world Pope. Now with these increasingly embarrassing reports and erratic way of handling them, some one is reminded of a standing Third World Catholic quip: "Thank God the Pope has no son."