15 JULY 2008

Perhaps it would help make our point if we quoted the wise Confucius saying that anyone chasing two rabbits at the same time will get neither. If Kofi Annan was specialized in designating "High-Level" committees so he would chair "High-Level" meetings, Ban Ki-moon seems to specialize in part-time "Diva" Special Representatives, Advisers and Envoys. Whether the host countries they were supposedly handling liked it or not is another matter. Whether they know much about the actual problem or could accomplish anything is for time to tell. Whether they would undercut the stature of the Secretary General himself by taking their own positions public or pushing their own agenda is subject to further consideration. Whether they have another assignment with a fund-raising element which may influence their position would be explained away by a $1 a year claim.

We will not repeat examples already mentioned on earlier occasions. But let's take the most recent appointment of former Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer as Special Adviser in Cyprus.

Let us clearly and quickly say that there is, of course, nothing personally wrong with Mr. Downer. A parliamentarian since 1984, the 56-year Australian politician has worked closely with two Prime Ministers, Malcolm Fraser and John Howard. Born into a distinguished family, his father Sir Alexander Downer was a Cabinet minister in the Menzies government and Australian High Commissioner to London during a period of very close relations between Conservative governing parties in the two countries, which stood together during the Suez war of 1956 on Egypt. His grandfather, Sir John, was twice premier of South Australia and a senator in the first federal parliament for two years from 1901 - 1903. How far should we go to confirm that Alex Downer is someone special, at least in his own country? We could only add that he himself became the leader of the Liberal Party in 1994 but had to resign "after a series of political gaffes" as diplomatically put by The Canderra Times. His replacement, John Howard, who won the elections, appointed him in 1996 as Foreign Minister.

Now, why would such a luminary wish to go to Cyprus as a U.N. Adviser?

That is our point. The answer is that he will NOT be going to live in Cyprus, but to deal with the Cyprus question. That is apparently the difference between the "envoy," the "representative," and the "adviser." There is already a new "representative" who has just replaced an outgoing one. In practical terms, it means having TWO political jobs to offer rather than one. The result is more confusion in the host country. But that, as we have witnessed, presents no problem in New York.

To be fair to Ban Ki-moon, that practice was initiated by Mr. Annan when his initial appointee, Alvero de Soto did not wish to leave his New York residence for practical purposes. A grateful Polish diplomat seeking a postponement of his return to Warsaw was conveniently appointed as a resident representative; he didn't know much about Cyprus but his wonderful mother baked a record 1,500 cookies in one night to the pleasure of Greek and Cypriot leaders and their aides, supporters and guards at the U.N. House in Nicosia!

A more serious issue is that Mr. Downer will be working part-time. Like "special envoy" Terje Roed Larsen, his Australian version has prime interest in another venture, a new "corporate advisory firm" called "Bespoke Approach." Bespoke from "bespeak" or ask for something special, is a British term initially referring to clothing made according to a customer's specifications untied to a specific pre-existing pattern. What would a Bespoke Approach do may be of interest to the Secretary General, who would have to put up with its implications.

To what extent would Mr. Downer's approach to Cyprus be affected by Bespoke Approach? Is there any fund-raising involved? If so, does it in any way impact on one side or the other on that very politically (and financially) sensitive island?

Mr. Downer should be faced with questions now to avoid having the U.N. Secretary General face questions later. It would not be enough then to say only that the envoy is paid $1 per year. U.N. rules and regulations apply to everyone under a U.N. name whether paid $1 or a full salary. And while Mr. Downer could easily get cover elsewhere if needed, it is the Secretary General who will be left facing the problems.

One more "Diva" part-time envoy would only mean one more potential problem for Ban Ki-moon, with nothing much accomplished. He would obviously know the wise Confucius saying: He who chases two rabbits at the same time gets neither.