15 JULY 2009


Most of them are in their late seventies. But they are buoyed by a Red Laissez-Passez -- frequent traveler miles and enormous per diem to suit their senior U.N. rank. Very few of them, if any one at all, has any recent accomplishment to claim -- neither for the Secretary General nor for the general prospects of peace, security or development. To the contrary, some of them have actually become part of the problem. Instead of enhancing a U.N. credible role as an honest broker, a mediator or live-saver, some of them have become identified as a party -- to disputes -- fanning one-sided flames of controversy rather than calming the waters.

While Secretary General Ban is keenly and sincerely trying his earnest best to seek an appropriate exit, they dig for him a bigger hole -- "selling" him as an adversary or advocate to one side or another.

These dinosaurs have managed to hang on for years, despite a longstanding tradition (about which Mr. Ban may not have been informed) that no one would hold the rank of Under-Secretary or Assistant-Secretary General for more than ten years. That ruling, pronounced on several occasions particularly by Secretary General Annan, aimed at countering the exemption from a retirement age limit. While regular staff will have to retire at age 60, 62 or 65 (or 55 if early), higher ranks are exempted at the discretion of the Secretary General. While further aging would presumably provide wisdom and experience, it may also be affected by the impact of trials, tribulations and the natural need to take a refreshing break. New blood, even at sixty, would bring along new yet experienced vision.

Some of these dinosaurs have functions reported regularly through the U.N. website, though of little interest to mainstream media; others prefer a more discreet hangout.

Let's give some examples. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah has been in a Secretariat job since he replaced Jean Ripert as Head of Development. His secretary was Micheline, Benon Sevan's wife. By now, Ripert's son is France's Ambassador to the U.N. as the Mauritanian expatriate remains. It would have been understood if he was playing any helpful role in Somalia. To the contrary, he is fanning the flames of internal conflict from a safe distance while calling for the military occupation of that desolate country, which is the only way he could make it to Mogadishu.

Antonio Maria Costa had raised eyebrows years ago when, upon taking over his Vienna functions, he declared that use of cocaine will be obliterated within a couple of years and that the famous Golden Triangle will no more exist. Some newspapers at the time speculated sarcastically that he must have been himself high on something to predict such optimistic results. His main role now is political -- that is, to pin the blame on whomever is politically out and overlook anyone who is politically in. He raised eyebrows again when outgoing Secretary General Kofi Annan exceptionally gave him a three year extended contract beyond the Secretary General's term. Antonio Maria Costa has just been investigated for violating staff rules after his Security Chief with whom he had a fallout accused him of accepting a valuable shotgun as a present from an arms factory. The Director of the U.N. Anti-Crime Centre is reportedly an arms enthusiast.

Ban Ki-moon has extended him further. Speaking of one Italian brings us to another. Steffan Demistura, well known meeter, perpetual job-seeker, long-time UNICEF card greeter, had managed to leapfrog under Kofi Annan from D-1 to Assistant Secretary General within two years as he recruited Chef de Cabinet Iqbal Riza's son amongst his staff -- a controversial case widely and regularly raised by Staff Committee. He then returned to head a fictitious "Staff College" in Turin, again with a contract years beyond Mr. Annan's time. He then enhanced his chances as Special Representative to Iraq by having the new Secretary General's son-in-law (a decent, hard-working man, by the way) join his mission. Although it was within U.N. staff rules and regulations, it seemed -- given Demistura's history of cultivating relatives -- somewhat inappropriate. Having accomplished nothing in Iraq, he has just returned to Rome with a similarly high rank, even before a successor was designated. Later, after a brief glaring gap, the Secretary General rushed through a new appointment of Ad Melkert.

Terje Roed (Herring) Larsen is a long-standing case. Persona Non-Grata in most of the countries he is expected to cover, his draft reports have become a weapon to attack the U.N. and its Secretary General, particularly that they are written without the benefit or credibility of visiting the area. He joined under Dr. Boutros-Ghali after the 1993 Oslo accord as Special Representative to the Palestinian Authority. He disappeared for a couple of years, returning during the first year of Kofi Annan as Special Envoy to the Middle East. Despite controversies, he was given several assignments but always in the same region where he has become the most attacked international individual. It must be more than 15 years since his first appointment, and he is still hanging on.

There are, as we had mentioned, the discreet hangers on -- those whose main aim is to have U.N. immunity, and Laissez-Passez, for one reason or another. They include, for example, former peacekeeping bungler Jean-Marie Guehenno, and a few others from Asia whom we would rather not mention at this time. Incidentally, we understand that shredder Iqbal Riza, the most investigated U.N. staffer, is still listed somewhere as Adviser to the Secretary General. If so, it must be a record as he wiggled his way through -- during Mr. de Cuellar's tenure -- to head a mission in Central America. Let's hope he is at least doing something useful, like providing a back channel to Tehran.

The main question is: why does Secretary General Ban keep these people?

One answer often given is that they have backing in some influential capitals and that, as such, they will be able to help him gain support for a renewed second term.

That, however, is a very optimistic belief. Experience has shown that dinosaurs are more likely to dump their load and shift once they feel the winds of change.