UNITED NATIONS. OFFENSIVE DEFENSE - Siddath Chatterjee, Ban Ki-moon, Demistura



15 November 2007

The self-proclaimed "slippery eel" obviously has thin skin. Accredited correspondents will recall that just before taking over, Ban Ki-moon told them at their annual December dinner how he would shrewdly dodge their questions whenever necessary. The test came up soon enough and instead of gliding graciously through the water, lame pretexts and unprecedented threats were hurled at reporters trying to do their watchful job.

We would hardly presume to advise the U.N. Secretary General (however new), and his regimented team (however newer) on how to handle personally embarrassing questions. No one wants to learn from other people's experience; each team insists on making its own mistakes.

In the case of Mr. Ban's son-in-law Siddath Chatterjee, for example, there was no need to threaten any one seeking answers or reporting the story of encouraging terrorist acts endangering the safety of U.N. staff in Iraq. In fact, Iraqis in Baghdad are better informed on such appointments than U.N. staff in New York who were kept in the dark. Our own source, for example, was an Iraqi-connected Arab who first asked about the appointment of Demistura before double-checking on the suddenly emerging son-in-law. The name of the shameless Meeter/Greeter has been floating since August, while the Iraqi government sought other options; that is, someone else more substantively attuned. They were also aware of his cosmetic role during Annan's 1998 accommodating visit "to do business" with Saddam Hussein -- a prelude to the Food-For-Oil scandal. The Chatterjee dimension came up later, not only to solve the Demistura mystery but in a way to explain to puzzled senior U.N. officials at Under Secretary and Assistant Secretary General why they were hurriedly summoned to Turin early September to attend an "unprecedented" meeting on a vaguely worded topic in an inadequate Staff College (Demistura's) on the hills of Turin.

As everyone at U.N. Headquarters knows -- except perhaps Madame Spokeswoman -- the Italian Swede/Swedish Italian (as the situation warrants) is almost specialized in seeking to please those in power. When in Rome as a D-2, he was assigned to Beirut at Assistant Secretary General's level and swiftly evaded staff rules by appointing the son of the Secretary General's Chef de Cabinet in a P-5 post with him in Beirut. Let us repeat that the young man, Imran Riza, tried to perform his assignment with sincere hard work. But the fact is that U.N. rules and regulations prevent father and son from working at the U.N. The Chef de Cabinet and the Assistant Secretary General were expected to display exemplary behaviour in adhering to the rules -- not to find a backdoor way to evade them. Mr. Chatterjee and his wife were already UNICEF staff when Ban Ki-moon took over, so there was no violation of staff rules. But such a controversial designation in Baghdad linked to someone with Demistura's habit, places the U.N. Secretary General in a vulnerable position -- not only publicly in the media but politically in Iraq. Whenever there is a problem, a controversy, a demand, unhappiness or frustration, Mr. Ban's name would be implicated. The land of conspiracy theories will have one more to start spinning around -- the last thing that Ban Ki-moon would need -- particularly three years from now.

No journalistic reporting would cause a security threat to staff in Baghdad. The real security threat comes from those ruthless operators who needlessly create vulnerable cases for controversial picking. Quite frankly, we thought Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would easily see through that trap.

Another brief advice on another offensive defense. It is understandable when Ban Ki-moon gets very touchy about reports on too many Koreans around him. He is entitled to have his own small team of close compatriots, including the ever emerging Mr. Kim. He is entitled to decrease or increase them at will and allow them exclusive access to his office. If the Secretary General is convinced that these are the people he needs to build a "stronger U.N." and bring back the role of the Organization, the objective may be worth the sacrifice. Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with the designation of Ambassador Choi Young-jin as Special Representative in Cote d'Ivoire, except perhaps that he may have been forced on President Gbabo and he is not quite familiar with that region. Why he would want that dubious futile task is anybody's guess.

But please, PLEASE don't counter the widening circle of remarks about the overwhelming presence of Koreans with the claim that it was based on racial prejudice. It is unbecoming and way beneath the lofty position of a non-racial U.N. Secretary General. THERE IS A GENERAL PERCEPTION ABOUT AN INFLATED AND UNPRECEDENTED KOREAN PRESENCE in positions of decisive authority around the Secretary General. DEAL WITH IT. BUT, again, PLEASE AVOID USING THE RACIAL CARD. IT DOES NOT WORK. INDEED, IT BACKFIRES.