15 DECEMBER 2010


After nine months in administrative limbo, the three D-2 posts of Department of Public Information (DPI) Directors are being designated. Even before Ahmad Fawzi retired last month, his post was advertised, then re-advertised. Eric Falt was selected in April for a new post by the new UNESCO Director General. He stayed until after the annual NGO Conference in Sydney, and his post was also advertised. The third Director, Paula Refolo, a charming yet "no-nonsense" colleague who earned her way up through the ranks, decided to advance her retirement the moment she became eligible for early compensation. Obviously, she was fed up and would not take it anymore.

Proceedings could have gone much smoother and more transparent were it not for internal reports that some individuals on the 38th floor were determined to make their own expedient choice. It almost happened. Adding a farcical confusion, the obviously ineffectual Chef de Cabinet Vijay Nambiar, reportedly attempted to have his own finger in the pie -- a pompous "demarche," which backfired.

By early December, with so many influences at play, the pendulum swung to a reasonable -- perhaps even very good -- outcome, despite lingering questions on one of the three, more on process than on substance.

The first choice was Stephane Dujarric, who apparently had not been the initial favourite by the politically expedient "duo" upstairs. The French (American?) communicator, whose official name should read: Stephane Dujarric de la Riviere, had joined the Spokesman's Office when Mr. Annan became Secretary General. He became Deputy Spokesman, then assumed the top job at the most trying period -- Food for Oil, Volker's report, etc., handling himself with professional dignity. After interim limbo, the new Secretary General placed him briefly in an advisory post until he moved to head UNDP Public Information Division. He knows his way around and is well known by media representatives. His positive attitude and proven experience will be of great value to the Secretary General and -- of course -- to the DPI Under-Secretary General who heads the team.

The other good D-2 choice in the balanced pendulum is Maher Nasser, who initially worked for UNRWA in New York. He was recruited as Director of the UN Information Centre in Cairo, then moved to the same post at the UN European Office in Vienna. That would have qualified him more for the post vacated by Ms. Refolo, which covers, among others, UN Information Centres. But any qualified Centre Director, particularly like Cairo and Vienna, would have had to handle the whole range of issues of urgent priority. Heading a visible division will offer Maher an opportunity to develop further, and meet the level of the challenge.

The third appointment is the one that drew internal opposition. Deborah Seward, who works at the Associated Press in Paris, was designated as the new Director of the Strategic Communications Division, succeeding Paula Refolo. Replacing a woman with another woman is a welcome step, which would have equally applied to others from within the same division -- Jadranka Mihalic, currently Director of UNIC Mexico; or Lena Dissin, a DPI section chief at Headquarters. Apparently, the way the appointment was reached drove a number of usually amenable senior staff in that Division to circulate a note sent to Messrs Akasaka, Meyer, Nesirky, Nambiar, and Kim. They pointed out that while Ms. Seward may be a fine journalist and manager of a news agency office, she had no real knowledge of the intricate work of UN Information Centres, nor the intergovernmental process to function as Secretary of the Committee on Information, no background in working with inter-agency bodies, nor any knowledge of the procedures for UN Personnel and the budgetary labyrinth, particularly as the Division has more than 300 staff spread in 60 locations. They strongly felt that the lack of such essential background will negatively affect the performance of the staff and the program delivery of the Department. Obviously, they considered that the appointment of a new Director from within the ranks of existing staff would be "a better way to strengthen our collective communication effort;" it would also "send a positive signal that this Secretary General truly respects the professionalism and dedication of his staff." A video circulating within the Department showed Ms. Seward indicating that she had no U.N. experience but that she would like to work for the U.N.

The way the appointment turned out, after months of wild speculation which affected staff morale, it is obvious that a difficult situation could have been handled much better, more professional and transparent. However, two internal appointments out of three sounds more encouraging. Ms. Seward, whom no one internally seems to know except Mr. Meyer, will have plenty of opportunity to prove her usefulness to the U.N., which she said she had wanted to serve.

Very much depends on how each of the three directors interacts with their own staff, how DPI Under-Secretary General works with his team of Directors and -- of course -- how all that interaction converges into a communications strategy with a positive impact on the role of the U.N. and the image of its Secretary General.