15 October 2007

Visiting officials who deliver official statements during the General Debate also hold several social functions where they hope to conduct practical business. In addition to exploring pressing world issues, many of them end up pursuing potential appointments or re-appointments of their senior citizens within the Secretariat. Dinners or lunches at gourmet restaurants also include follow-up on what the French call "cuisine interieur."

As the end of the year approaches and most contracts given by Secretary General Ban were a maximum of two years, the impression among experienced insiders is that he took a wise, careful step to evaluate during an interim period those whom he needs to keep and those he would wish to replace.

Obviously, personal appointments carry a personal edge. Mentioning names is always very sensitive but let us try.

The common impression is that the Chef de Cabinet Vijay Nambiar would wish to leave but that his Indian government is pressing him to stay -- either to keep such a high level post or because it may be difficult to place him. Although we often tease him, we know that he is a decent man from a most dynamic country with a great U.N. tradition. We only feel angry because he does not punch at his country's level.

Another possible exit is for Alicia Barcena, Under-Secretary General for Management. News of her departure, however, may prove to be immature. She has managed to stay despite negative press reports, the most recent of which involved a request by head of the Investigations Office into her appointment of a personal acquaintance -- a D-2, Director Procurement Services. Those who work with her praise her very highly as dynamic and attentive. But pressing problems with the staff and the negative press may wear her down -- or persuade the Secretary General not to renew her contract.

However, the person in more immediate line of fire is Jan Beagle, Assistant Secretary General for Human Resources Management. The hard-working New Zealander has been able to withstand the onslaught by staff and a particularly persistent media agency; but for how long?

Controller Warren Sach, an outstanding professional who rose through the ranks may be in the area of risk, possibly for not being too accommodating or for pointing out established practices; or perhaps another sort of controller is required at this time. Let's hope what we heard is just hearsay.

Then there is Terje Roed Larsen. Firstly, there are too many Norwegians already in Envoy or Advisor posts; others are closer to the heart of the Norwegian establishment as he drifted to other -- possibly more protective or profitable -- guardians. But the main indication was in the manner the Secretary General handled Larsen's freelance fishing expeditions. The most glaring was an open attempt to intervene in an already explosive crisis in Lebanon, when the U.N. was trying to extend a steadying hand. Mr. Ban publicly -- and rightly -- rebuked him. "I have yet to meet him...what exactly he said. But whatever he might have said that should not be viewed as an official position of the U.N. It might have been his personal view, even though he is a special representative."

That is an earful, particularly for the courteous, careful Mr. Ban, who apparently did not see Larsen for weeks. The first sighting of them together was a recent meeting Tuesday 9 October -- almost a month later -- when receiving Lebanese parliamentarian Saad Hariri. Besides being disliked and distrusted in most of the Arab world, Larsen has his own agenda besides the U.N. Secretary General; his freelance operations adds to the political confusion in an already confused situation and complicates the work of his compatriot, the Special Representative in Lebanon. He erodes the authority of the Secretary General and places him in a defensive position with parties on the ground instead of helping to strengthen his hand.

While on envoys, the Special Representative in Cyprus, Michael Mueller, looks almost certain to be on his way out. The Turkish side had considered him biased against them and refused to deal with him.

The senior French in the Secretariat may be about to change. With new President Sarkozy, new Foreign Minister Kouchner, and new Ambassador Ripert, the days of the ineffective Jean-Marie Guehenno in Peacekeeping are most likely numbered. The French government may already be preparing a list of names for his replacement.

We have known Ms. Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director of the U.N. Fund for Population Activities since she was making her way up the ladder. We have always come to her side when required -- particularly a promotion to D-1. We wish her continued success. But we will be failing in our duty -- and our friendship -- if we did not mention that she seems to be a target.

Anyway, we wish everyone the best of luck, whether in their present posts or in future prospects. What matters at this time is to find out the precise track selected by a new Secretary General who declared a quest for "a stronger U.N." Let's hope he builds the team that really achieves that target.