|ONLY SUMMIT "PLATFORM" MAY BE GROUP PHOTO
9 September 2005
Days before a crucial summit of heads of states to endorse an agreed platform, no text seemed to have
reached consensus as no one seems to know WHERE IS THE LEADERSHIP of this venture or WHAT PRECISELY
is being put forward. The Secretary General, who called the meeting, went on holiday + official travel +
holiday until he had to briefly interrupt, two weeks before the opening of the special session. An
official release claimed his interruptus was to "lend his weight" to a consensus on the document. But
it transpired that the real purpose was to meet Mr. Volcker before his anticipated report; he then flew
away again, this time to London. Days before the opening of the special session, there was still no
A visitor to the Secretariat during the last two weeks of August leading to the long Labour Day weekend
could hardly find a senior official closely overseeing anything substantive, except for a hurriedly
returning Secretary General. Even Mark Turner, a usually accommodating reporter, noted in the
Financial Times of Friday 26 August a general perception of "a badly managed process that did
not take account of political realities and lacked effective leadership from political and U.N.
figures." Experienced diplomats were exchanging philosophical expressions about an upcoming "disaster"
as logistical staff dutifully and effectively were nailing down practical arrangements, like seatings,
arrivals and departures -- a drill well-rehearsed, almost to the point of perfection over the years
of celebratory occasions. There was also the earnest and elegant, yet clearly exhausted General
Assembly President Jean Ping walking the corridors. Keeping the few die hard journalists at bay by
indicating some hopeful movement. He may not realize, despite his proven experience, that putting him
entirely and fully in charge of this process may have meant setting him up for a fall. If things fell
apart, he could be fingered as accountable, not those who called for the gathering in the first place.
In fact Mr. Ping will not even be presiding over the Special Summit when the platform is expected. It's
like "Merci et au revoir, Monsieur Le President," as the Ambush closes in.
While the General Assembly was trying to gather for an "informal" (meaning "deserted") meeting on the
platform, a puzzled reporter asked at the briefing whether the Secretary General has become
"disengaged". The courteous and professional Ms. Okabe responded that U.N. Reform was a "key topic"
which the Secretary has had "at the forefront" of his discussions "whether this was in Africa,
Asia..." Somehow, that was not very reassuring. The "Platform" is certainly NOT a priority for
President Tandja of starving Niger or President Kuofor of his native Ghana. Ditto for Tsunami hit
countries. What matters in growing a consensus is real hands-on oversight and relevant persistent non-stop
negotiations with especially key players, particularly to avert last minute obstacles.
Not having a comprehensive platform would not have been catastrophic, were it not for the repeated
reference to it as a great achievement vital for U.N. survival. Particularly at this time of eroded
credibility and string of reported scandals, it would have been much wiser not to blow the horn
so loudly and repeatedly when political realities were not going in the same direction. But having
decided to put forth a platform, possibly to get out of a bottleneck, then the whole Secretariat
leadership should have mobilized every effort and canceled every vacation first to indicate it meant
business, but mostly to obtain a credible achievement. The Secretary General's optimistic
interpretation to some heads of state earlier this spring that "the train has left the station"
seems to be premature. That train must have stopped at every station, including of course, Grand
Central, to double-check whether it really had a road map or whether the conductor was actually at
Let's hope there is time for last minute consensus. Otherwise, the only platform for an unprecedented
collection of heads of state and governments would be the one required for a historic group
photograph. Ironically, to many, that may be enough.