15 February 2007

Ban Ki-Moon has the challenge and opportunity of reconstructing management staff relations on the right footing. Every Secretary General had his own style of management staff relations. Obviously in the formation stages, the limited number of staff (and membership) did not present the challenges of today.

Curiously, ironically, regrettably, the worse relations -- and worse staff morale -- occurred at the second term of Kofi Annan, who happened to have been the best Director of Personnel. The only Secretary General to rise from the ranks, to the elation of his colleagues, was not served well by those around him who should have alerted him quicker and nudged staff representatives more effectively in the right direction.

There is a general feeling that the checks and balances faded away over the last seven years. Reasonable oversight by appointment of promotion bodies painstakingly established over the years was abolished offhandedly, allowing a cliquish few to decide the prospects of a dedicated majority. It was discouraging to see almost all staff working on the 38th floor getting promotions -- from those at P-3 to those who got D-2s to the one who was leapfrogged from D-1 to Under-Secretary General -- while the rest would hardly be considered. Parachuting replacements without adequate or convincing explanation made hardworking staff at all levels feel rejected and, thus, dejected. Allowing scandalous reports on the behaviour of a limited few senior officials to circulate without adequate response tainted the staff's reputation while those who should have taken action were busy shamelessly promoting themselves. Whatever the analysis, pretexts, or reasons, the situation should not have reached such a very low point. Kofi Annan, a long-serving staff member after all -- regardless of how or what he now feels -- should have been given a more appropriate farewell and New York staff representatives should have been treated more graciously.

We have always repeated that the staff needs the Secretary General the same way he needs them. They cannot function without one another, especially if the staff feels neglected and the Secretary General feels his authority challenged. The Secretary General's leadership by example similarly requires dedicated enlightened loyalty by the staff. Respect, like dedication, can only be earned, not imposed.

Ban Ki-Moon and his team need not continue with the crisis atmosphere left by his predecessor. We will not get into names and personalities of those directly involved on both sides -- management and staff. Actually, we believe they are all ON ONE SIDE. Those working in management are mostly staff and most staff representatives are programme managers in their daily duties. We fully understand -- and often endorsed -- the concerns of the staff committee while fully appreciating the responsibility of management to leave mandated programmes effectively delivered.

In brief, we propose a strengthened regular mechanism of staff-management relations. It is a pity that SMCC (Staff Management Consultation Committee) was neglected for a while. It didn't meet effectively for about three years. The fact that it just re-started is a welcome signal. While the Secretary General cannot spend too much time sorting out details, he is bound -- as Chief Administrative Officer -- to give the impression that he is overseeing and guiding a functional relationship. It will help to inject some body and soul into a joint committee which could: a) ensure regular personalized eye contact and manage rising tension; b) float informal ideas for mutual consideration; and c) present to the Secretary General (who in turn would present to inter-governmental bodies) concrete workable proposals.

In the final resort, it is not who runs whom. The Secretary General is the Boss. But the staff is his people. It is not, therefore, the question of who wins which argument. It is that they are all winning together. If the situation deteriorates, all will be losers.