15 MAY 2008

When Kofi Annan announced upon taking over as Secretary General that no one should serve at Under-Secretary/Assistant Secretary General level for more than ten years, he was widely applauded by diplomats and staff alike. The persuasive logic was that even the Chief Administrative Officer himself was elected for 5 years, renewable usually to ten. How could someone unelected serve in such crucial postings for longer? Besides, no one should feel indispensable. Everyone serves at the satisfaction of the top boss. The former head of Personnel knew what he was talking about.

The applause started fading when it transpired that indeed he knew only too well -- and he had specific personal personnel moves in mind.

First and foremost was gracefully easing out two Under-Secretaries with whom he had daily dealings when the new Secretary General had a similar rank as a new head of Peacekeeping. While Marrack Goulding was in charge of Special Political Affairs, he had also overseen Peacekeeping in an earlier arrangement interrupted by Dr. Boutros-Ghali when he gave Mr. Annan his first Under-Secretary General assignment. To his credit, our former colleague never breaks entirely with anyone -- he patiently waits for the casual moment. The other was the most congenial of Japanese diplomats, Yasushi Akashi, who had served in varied capacities from a P-5 under U-Thant, to head of DPI under Perez de Ceullar to Humanitarian Affairs, including a stint in the former Yugoslavia where he came into crossed territory with the new peacekeeper who in fact reflected a totally different approach over Bosnia. Ambassador Holbrooke's book sheds an interesting light on that issue.

When you ease people out, you obviously have in mind easing people IN. That was the practical purpose behind concluding the ten-year term of the most senior Indian -- to clear the deck for a most junior one who happened to be the Special Assistant (D-1 level) of the new "ruler." Nittin Desai, a world recognized pillar of international economic and social development, was moved to handle an Internet Summit, while Shashi Tharoor was imposed first as "Acting" head of the Department of Public Information, to be confirmed a year later.

Obviously, there were selective exceptions to that ruling. An obvious one was his own deputy and partner since Rwanda (1994), Sebrenica, Somalia and other peacekeeping failures. Iqbal Riza, who had served (with the help of his special friends) in Central American missions during Perez de Ceullar's time at the Assistant Secretary General level, was promoted to Under-Secretary General as Chef de Cabinet. Even when Mr. Annan had to let him go after the famous shredding case and a takeover by the legendary Mark Malloch-Brown, Mr. Riza was tucked away as an Adviser with the same rank at a different office in a different building across the street. He is still listed as Adviser to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Others who were kept beyond that period by the new Secretary General include: Terje Roed Larsen, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, Ibrahima Fall.

When Mr. Ban took over, many veteran observers thought that one of his greatest advantages was that he did not carry with him internal baggage. Except for a reasonable -- and inevitable -- Korean dimension, he did not have internal scores to settle or favours to reward. His announcement of limits on high-level appointments received wide attention, made an effective impact, and highlights his credibility as a determined manager.

However, with all due respect and in a sincere desire to support the administrative leadership of the Secretary General, we wonder whether the ruling is seriously applied. To the contrary, the number of exceptions have increased rather than decreased, and the span of years got even longer.

Our conviction is that the Secretary General is in the most appropriate position to decide on his own team. He has all the facts; all the requirements. We would merely mention that to look credible in the attempt to rejuvenate our beloved Organization, less cumbersome baggage will allow him to move ahead much faster.