1 August 2004

SCRATCH ME BACK:

After a season of mutual accusations, UNHCR's Ruud Lubbers and UNI's Oversight Chief Dileep Nair seemed to work it out. Investigation of Lubbers was closed and talk about Nair died down. In the midst of it, the Ombudsman -- who is a woman -- kept her own peace. But she certainly knows her native Jamaican song: "Scratch, scratch me back; the more I itch, the more I scratch."

WHAT CORRUPTION TREATIES?

Palitha Kohona, head of the U.N. Treaty Section in the Legal Office was ready to brief the press on international treaties against corruption. That was what the initial announcement said. However, the timing towards the end of June was somewhat not conducive. In addition to widespread reports on Food for Oil scandal, there were media reports about the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees accused of sexual harassment and the U.N. Inspector himself under a cloud of questioned behaviour. No need, then, to draw the press attention to the fact that, besides staff rules, there were international treaties governing corruption. Ever the efficient legal expert, Kohona could really spell them out. Suddenly, the item changed. The shift geared to an "Annual drive" to encourage member states to ratify global pacts. Innocent civilians were the victims of contemporary wars, the reporters gathered in Room 226 were advised that is where the focus should be. After all, 10 million humans were caught in 20 separate conflicts. What the U.N. current leadership did to help is another story. But meanwhile, keep your attention there. Talk about human shields!

A QUESTION OF CONFIDENCE:

There was an obvious nuance in questions of confidence addressed to the Secretary General regarding two senior officials with rank of Under Secretary General. On Terje Larsen's controversial statement on the lack of political will to act by the Palestinian Authority, Annan expressed full confidence and support. Asked about if he maintains his confidence in Benon Sevan on Food for Oil, the response was that there was an ongoing investigation.

QUOTATION OF THE MONTH:

There is no truer wisdom and no clearer mark of statesmanship than knowing when to pass the torch to a new generation. Kofi Annan to African heads of state.

BILLIARD POLITICS:

Kofi Annan was addressing African leaders assembled in Addis Ababa. An unintended repercussion was in Beirut. His appeal that presidents should not change constitutions in order to remain in power was more likely addressed to Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Omar Bongo of Gabon, or that eternal president of Togo whose name is even longer than his term of office. However, Lebanese dailies picked it up as part of the ongoing debate on whether President Emil Lahoud could or should extend his term when his mandate elected by Parliament ends this fall. If so, the constitution has to be amended by Parliament on a one time basis, like in the case of his successor who was given two more years. How the text in full reached Beirut newspapers with such widespread distribution is subject to speculation. With battle lines drawn between the President's supporters and the Prime Minister, billionaire Rafic Hariri who had opposed Lahoud's initial election, it was easy to point out to a U.N. press officer who is perceived to be at the service of Hariri. Anyway, Annan got an unintended headline. Whether it will be to his advantage remains to be seen next November.

UNICEF DEPUTY EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR.

Great news may be forthcoming from UNICEF. Speculation over the successor of Deputy Executive Director Karin Sham Poo who retires soon may focus on an outstanding name. Rima Salah, who proved her credentials through effective hard work in the field is said to be the frontrunner. Word inside the Children Fund is that the gutsy Carol Bellamy has presented the name to the Secretary General for final approval. The appointment of Ms. Salah, a citizen of Jordan, will be a welcome boost for Arab women -- and for UNICEF.

NOMINATED BUT NOT YET READY:

It may be some time before the newly nominated envoy to Iraq gets to Baghdad. Ashraf Qazi, Pakistan's Ambassador to Washington, whose name came up suddenly when a former Indian diplomat was, and perceived as the frontrunner, made his first visit to U.N. Headquarters mid-July. But he will need a few weeks to clear his desk in the U.S. capital and a few more to brief himself on U.N. mechanisms, plus a few more to prepare grounds for a field visit. The operation guideline here is "as circumstances permit." Take your time. What's the rush. If only a signature is needed, why not do it from wherever you are!

WHO'S COUNTING?

Emergency relief to the neediest groups has turned into a press announcement rather than real assistance. An example given recently by the Secretary General indicated that out of $349 million required for Southern Sudan, only $145 million has been received. Figures given behind microphones do not tally with those actually offered, or even expected. They are there to make some people look good, even if the situation on the ground gets worse. But, again, who is counting?

MATTERS OF FACT:

There are 4 billion people -- two-thirds of the world's population -- who earn less than U.S.$1,500 a year. ** Most emerging markets finance up to 90 percent of investments locally. ** Domestic resources in developing countries provided 10-12 percent of GDP in the 1990s while foreign direct investment yielded only 2-5 percent. ** More than 500 million people in developing countries lack ownership rights to the land they farm. ** According to some estimates, roughly $9.3 trillion in land value, largely in the hands of the world's poor, lies unexploited for use as collateral to spur investment and growth. ** Most people in developing countries make their living in the informal sector. ** The number of poor people with access to microfinance grew from 7.6 million in 1997 to 26.8 million in 2001 -- 21 million of them women. ** It takes two days to start a business in Australia; 215 days in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. ** It costs $5,531 to start a business in Angola and $28 in New Zealand. ** Small and medium companies in the formal sector provide jobs for only 30 percent of the workforce in low-income countries. ** In richer countries, they account for 60 percent of employment. ** A lack of opportunity in many developing countries is contributing to the brain drain; there are 300,000 professionals from Africa living in North America or Europe.

FROM NEW YORK TO CAIRO:

New York's loss is Cairo's gain. In fact, Cairo's gain will also be New York's gain as Egyptian Ambassador to the U.N. Ahmed Aboulgheit took over as Minister of Foreign Affairs in the new government in Cairo. The ever smiling dynamic Aboulgheit has made a marked impression at U.N. Headquarters in every field. Politically, he was always accounted for in any key deliberation; administratively, he managed to advance Egypt's presence within the Secretariat -- one of his noted coups was to reappoint another compatriot to head the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) in Beirut, replacing its Egyptian Executive Secretary. Socially, he was one of the most active diplomats whether at the Park Avenue residence or elsewhere in the city. Intellectually, he managed to participate in seminars by influential foundations. While returning to Cairo, he will maintain his contacts with New York, at least through his attendance of the Assembly's General Debate in September of every year. His friends, colleagues, and admirers wish him the best of luck.

GASTAUT RETIRES:

Therese Gastaut, one of the three Directors of the Department of Public Information, retired at the end of July. One of the very few staff that served long stretches both in New York and Geneva headquarters, Therese has decided to settle down by Lac Leman, close to where she headed the U.N. Information Service and as Spokesperson in Europe for former Secretary General Boutros-Ghali. As she leaves a coveted D-2 post, there are already a number of colleagues waiting in the wings to succeed her. Two are from within the same Department. But there may be others.