15 APRIL 2012


Ambassador Conrad Mselle has already made his unique mark. It is about time for him to make his experienced U.N. point. During 38 years in international service, he was the longest-serving chairman of any U.N. Committee. Yet the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) is not just any committee. As everyone who served at the U.N. knows, it is the most crucial group to any proposed venture. From the Secretary General to the Under-Secretary General to Director to Chief of Sections, everyone seeking to obtain even basic funding is certainly advised to make an impressive -- or at least a presentable appearance at that Committee. And while most of its members eventually changed, its main pillar for almost THREE DECADES was a forthright, intelligent, sensible, sensitive, dedicated, informed, fair, hard-working Chairman, Conrad Mselle.

Born in a village on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, the diplomat from Tanzania -- whose name at the time inspired a leadership role in the struggle for human dignity under the Presidency of Muallimu Julius Nyerere -- was a young man when he first handled the Budgetary (Fifth) Committee of the General Assembly before being unanimously elected in 1975 to chair ACABQ. While showing meticulous respect to those appearing before his Committee, he certainly expected the same courtesy. Except for the Secretary General, whom he would visit at his office on the 38th floor, he expected the most senior officials to account for their request -- day or night -- in front of the committee. The refusal by the Secretariat to involve the Committee in the costs of administrating the Iraq Food-For-Oil Programme proved disastrous.

Now that Ambassador Mselle is retired, he has already prepared the first of his memoirs -- two others will follow. "The Anatomy of Decay" just came out. It offers a brief background of the Committee's establishment, at the same time as the U.N. Secretariat, and reflects on its role and functions with an obviously personal touch. In a solid defense of the U.N., despite obvious shortcomings and set-backs, he points out a "creeping phenomenon of decay," particularly within the U.N. Secretariat. A specific example was the open collapse of articles 100 and 101 of the Charter regarding employment, which states: "The paramount consideration...shall be the necessity of securing the highest standards of efficiency, compliance, and integrity." More senior officials have been appointed through pressure by member states and many of these operate mostly with loyalty to their benefactors. He refers to a widely reported case where a candidate for the Secretary General's post won after promising a top position to one of the five permanent members of the Security Council. An expanding category of "political appointees" openly received subsidies from their governments, contrary to established rules and regulations. There are elaborate chapters about ACABQ debating its own term limits, work preferences, and decision-making. Others about handling employment-seekers, meetings away from Headquarters, and reform proposals.

He notes that the fate and status of the Committee actually mirrored the fate and status of the U.N. as a whole. One of the most touching paragraphs describes his feelings toward his own loyal and dedicated staff as he was about to leave. The notable, stern, tough, pragmatic pillar of international civil service for decades turns for one moment into a sentimentally warm farmer hailing from the heights of Kilimanjaro. He ends the book with the same sentence he habitually ended his meetings: "And that's that."