15 NOVEMBER 2014


At the 43rd Street entrance to the U.N. Secretariat, under icy breezy rainfall at about 6pm Thursday 13 November, most staff were leaving, yet some were coming in to attend varied functions. All, without exception, had to insert their passes in the machines at the Security kiosk. That is, any average person would assume that no one could proceed further without a valid pass, particularly then after access to the compound grounds another set of machines at the Secretariat lobby -- overseen by alert Security Officers -- would ensure proper credentials.

That is to say that people normally wrapped in raincoats and carrying umbrellas did not need to undo their coats on the street to show a valid pass before getting to the only possible entrance. Besides, in such inclement weather, hardly anyone would venture to visit unless really required.

Yet, one young (obviously new) guard standing on the street gate corner was determined to check at close length -- with coats and jackets (and umbrellas) open -- to ensure their security clearance to enter the Security room with at least three of his colleagues waiting to -- quietly and politely -- oversee appropriate passage through the blocking machines. He happened to look Asian; we were told he was Korean, which is surprising as most Koreans -- with known exceptions -- make a special effort to be polite. He acted as if he was singularly empowered to do what he pleased without bothering about common sense or inconvenience to other people. Arrogantly, he would face someone, issue his "orders," then turn away. He looked perplexed when a veteran senior official asked him if he would consider saying "Thank you," like U.N. Security Officers traditionally used to do. He pointedly shook his head. "Report me," he responded.

Clearly, reporting him to anyone internally would be the least of his worries as he seemed "secure" of the protection link. Exposing him as an example of a newly-introduced "culture" of rude and inconsiderate behaviour may help avert its emergence under the current Secretariat leadership. It is not an isolated incident. Several delegates -- let alone staff -- have been complaining about growing rude, inconsiderate and insensitive treatment, not only at exits and entrances but during visits and conversation. A couple of incidents that happened over the last three years have taken more brazen forms during last year's and particularly during this year's General Debate. An almost emotional antagonism towards retired staff has surprised one of the most loyal groups to the Secretary General. Actually, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is a model of considerate courtesy.

Until now, questions and incidents remained within limited circles. Yet, polite silence in the hope that matters would eventually be sorted out, was apparently perceived as weakness, allowing certain newly-empowered transient characters to maintain their embarrassing attitude with impunity.

The emergence of such new -- though still limited -- attitude is worrying because it may reflect that infamous "new culture" advocated by "Kim Too Soon" -- his personal interest in legal affairs notwithstanding!

For now, hints, nudges and passing remarks have certainly not been picked up. It may be time to speak up openly. The reason for concern is not merely that there are "Barbarians at the Gate" -- to use a fictional title of a famous book/movie about New York corporate raiders -- but that they are already inside the gate.

It is about time to expose those arrogant transient intruders on the genuine U.N. culture and prepare to throw them out of that precious Gate.