15 June 2005

NEW PERSONNEL CHIEF:

Several candidates are lobbying for the post of Assistant Secretary General, Office of Human Resources Management, just vacated by the return of Ms. McGreery to UNICEF. A strong contender is Luiz DaCosta, a Brazilian who rose through the ranks. He is strongly supported by his government which felt it lost an Under-Secretary General post with the tragic loss of Sergio Vieira de Mello. Luiz has worked smoothly with Secretary General Annan who oversaw his advance in Personnel and -- more crucially -- in Peacekeeping Field Operations. A new element, however, is the recent takeover of the new Under-Secretary General for Administration and Management who will want some time to consider candidates to head offices under his supervision.

GUESS WHO'S LEAKING:

A "senior member of Annan's staff said in confidence" regarding Oil-For-Food involvement that the Secretary General "knew more about the situation than he has let on." The same staffer also whispered that former Volcker panel investigator Miranda Duncan knows more about Annan's role than you think. Who would that senior staffer be? Who has enough access to the media to be able to leak without identification and what would be his -- if it's a he -- purpose, or his ambition. Who is known as a ruthless self-promoter and uses similar terminology "than he would let on"? Could it be the same Annan close staffer who had leaked to a British "intelligence" bulletin something about Annan's illness three years ago?

SCRAMBLING FOR AN EXIT:

Mishandling of Kosovo is one of those neglected stories which pops up to haunt U.N. political leaders when other issues subside. Changing five commissioners in so many years, U.N. leadership seemed more interested in pleasing the countries of an appointed commissioner than fulfilling its mandate. Now the prestigious International Crisis Group issued a blasting critique of the U.N. Administration in Kosovo as just a facade. U.N. Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) lacked credibility and was scrambling for an escape strategy. On the question of credibility, however, some hardened skeptics noted that the criticism came out days after ICG Chief Gareth Evans lost in his bid for U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. The U.N. Administrator in Kosovo was a competitor for the post.

DOING LESS WITH MORE:

Human Rights High Commissioner Louise Arbour has a strategic vision which -- if you cut through the usual rhetoric -- entails doubling her budget. After stressing "historic progress," she complained in a report conveyed by the Secretary General that her office was in difficulty: "its monitoring role weak, and my office chronically under-resourced and ill-equipped." The former Rwanda U.N. prosecutor who decided not to look for the famous black box of the infamous airplane crash wants to open country and regional offices, enhance monitoring of human rights observance, and faster response to requests for aid. Whether that would include cases like recent killings in Uzbekstan, where she hurriedly cancelled an announced visit after a phone call from President Kerrimov was not clear. Her $86.4 million budget was not enough. She launched a "call for action" in a world "plagued by daily assaults on dignity and freedom -- it is a call to conscience." In practical terms, that entails an additional $86 million. To do precisely what, nobody should dare ask after such haughty rhetoric.

CROCODILE TEARS-FOR-OIL:

What could the U.N. do about Sudan's Darfur? The Middle East Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) satirical news show of 19 May gave an answer. In a skit showing the Annan family in consultation, Kojo comes out with a proposal entitled "Crocodiles-for-Food." You give a company a monopoly contract to use their leather in bags, belts, shoes and other accessories worldwide in return for a non-competition fee. Crocodile tears would help cover the venture. In a presumed interview with the Secretary General, he indicates that his next job will be as a producer. In a game of words, "producing" in Arabic also means getting out of something. "I have successfully produced a film on Food-For-Oil and produced myself out of it."

WAITING FOR A SPOKESMAN:

Although Secretary General main Spokesman, Fred Eckhard, will be leaving end of June, his successor has not been named yet. An experienced Spokesman in various mission assignments, Fred maintained the respect of accredited correspondents at Headquarters, particularly through those difficult times when awkward questions were being thrown at him almost daily. It was noticed that during the last few weeks, Fred has been gradually preparing his exit, while Stephane Dujarric took over the daily briefing, demonstrating professional skill and a steady temperament.

OPS!:

There is growing speculation that the forthcoming Volcker report would point out to specific lapses in the Office of Project Services -- OPS, for abbreviation. The office is overseen by UNDP. If questions were raised, they will have to be handled by the senior official who was in charge at the time. Some intriguing office intrigue is reportedly underway to channel the blame elsewhere.

JUSCANZ!:

Now, that's a difficult one. Who or what is that group, you will have to find out yourself. All we can tell you is that it was listed on the U.N. Journal on Thursday 26 May as having met for 45 minutes between 8:30am and 9:15am at the Trusteeship Council Chamber. As the gathering was closed to anyone else, little transpired except to a very curious observer who found out it had to do with a "Forum on Forests" - known to experts as F.F. Further enquiries ascertained it has no relation to another select leadership group, UNFUUK.

WAE!:

That means "While Actually Employed." It's a term used by the U.S. State Department, we are told by UPI News Agency, for retired officers brought in to handle specific projects like how to deal with the Food-For-Oil scandals and similar diplomatic challenges for newer recruits. As the current U.N. Administration has the highest number of senior (D-1, D-2) staff of retirement age kept on selectively, the term for this favoured group in New York (and some field assignments) means "While Always Employed."

U.N. "CLIENTS":

So that's where we are now: working with "clients." As if the U.N. has been transformed into a private commercial enterprise selling its wares the same way some of its senior officials are now packaging themselves, with a little help from their friends -- also looking for clients. An official press release issued 1 June about "efficiency awards" includes the following: "The awards expanded this year to include a new category recognizing programmes and field projects that demonstrate a positive impact on the U.N. CLIENTS." Who drafted the text? Certainly not a regular U.N. press officer.

WHOSE BACKBONE?:

Initially, U.N. Special Representative on Sudan, Jan Pronk, told reporters that Sudanese authorities had violated a promise and arrested the translator who accompanied Kofi Annan when he entered a hut to talk alone with rape victims in Darfur's largest camp. Later in the evening, a written statement was released retracting Pronk's previous assertion. It said the translator was "only harassed" -- as if THAT was acceptable. It is not clear whose backbone knuckled under Sudanese government pressure. But it is a sad comment on the U.N. credibility particularly after a special effort by the Secretary General to display serious concern for the victims of Darfur. In Pronk's favour, he held a special news conference denouncing the arrest of two field workers from Medicine Sans Frontieres before they were released.

MEETING SENATOR DALLAIRE:

Anyone familiar with Rwanda massacres will recall the name of Lt. General Romeo Dallaire of the Canadian armed forces who exposed the incompetence -- to say the least -- of those handling Peacekeeping at U.N. Headquarters in New York, including then Peacekeeping Chief Kofi Anan and his then Deputy Iqbal Riza. Lt. General Dallaire's now famous message of April 1994 indicating readiness to arrest those planning massacres which prompted the infamous response instructing him not to move as he was "beyond your mandate" are now part of that genocide history. A recent film, "Hotel Rwanda," brought back fresh memories of that awesome failure. The retired Lt. General repeatedly revealed ever since how he was trying to deal with his "demons." Well, on May 18 newly designated Canadian Senator Dallaire met in New York with now U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. Was it about past demons, a future offer which he may not refuse, a social call, or just a "point dans la ligne" as they would say in Montreal?

THE OTHER SIDE OF CYPRUS:

Outgoing Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, Sir Kieran Prendergast made a special "pulse-taking" visit to Cyprus hoping to jumpstart the stalled negotiations since the Annan plan was turned down by the Greek side last year. This time he had a "very productive" two hour meeting with (Greek) Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos. Sir Keiran, an experienced British diplomat, is very familiar with Cyprus since the early days of the U.N. operations on the island. Those with institutional memory recall that the agreement on budgetary and administrative takeover between the U.K. and the U.N. was signed at the time on Her Majesty's Government's behalf by none other than Keiran Prendergast.

ADVICE ON REFORM:

Every reformer should know that the race for the future is won by the swift. Thus advises Georgian President Mikheil Seakashvili. Posing as a model for the rest to follow, he advises "any fellow reformers" that "economic shock therapy" works. The window of opportunity is very narrow, he advises in a column for the Financial Times. We are told that there is no such thing as unpopular reform; rather there are reformers who fail to explain their programs. Clearly, reformers should not count on keeping society permanently happy. "They should accept that sooner or later their constituents will be disappointed with them and they will be voted out of office."

NOT STALIN:

Once in a while, some members of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) get angry and exchange a few -- very, very few -- angry words. The very selective club of finance officials elected as individuals by the Assembly from varied regions to review budgetary allocations have been spending more and more time on additional or changing requests. With a drastically changed composition, the familiar atmosphere seems to have been overtaken by more official proceedings. During a recent discussion, the Chairman Vladimir Kuznetsov was keen on closing a meeting by 1:00pm sharp. Muravi Raj Sharma from Nepal insisted on having his say a bit longer and when stopped by the chairman, who happened to be Russian, protested: "You are not Stalin."

WHY NOT NIGER?:

Only $16 million were needed by the African country of Niger after locust infestation and severe drought. It had appealed for international help indicating that 800,000 children are in urgent need of food, 150,000 of whom are already suffering from severe malnutrition. But nothing yet was even pledged by any of the countries or organizations that scramble in front of television cameras to talk about the need to help Africa. While hundreds of millions are being raised for other causes in other countries, doesn't Niger -- a proud and resilient country -- deserve more attention?

POPULAR PERELLI:

Carina Perelli proved to be very popular in Lebanon. She went for 10 days in May but ended up extending it by one more week -- only to return later. The head of U.N. Electoral Assistant division had faced an internal enquiry into what was claimed to be sexual harassment to male colleagues. But that did not hinder her Lebanese assignment. Ms. Perelli was treated royally, received by the President, Prime Minister, Speaker of Parliament and almost every political leader. It was usual Lebanese hospitality; also typical curiosity. She seemed to do very well. At least press photos showed her beaming at such overwhelming interest.

PARIS & PARIS:

If you were confused between Paris Hilton and the Paris Hilton, you may be more confused between Paris, the city; Paris, the woman; and Paris, her future husband. Two of the poorest world families, the Hiltons of the U.S. and the Latsios of Greece are planning to have their heirs Paris and Paris tie the knot sometime later this year. Whether it will be in one of the hotels owned by the bride's side or one of the yachts own by the groom's is yet to be decided.

DE VILLEPIN THE POET:

From a recently published book of poetry by newly appointed French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin: "Raise high the flag of poetry. Let everyone write on the page of each day, on the heart of a dancing child and on yellow paper. Others after you will know how to read the big epic of the fallen condor."

...AND THE MODEL:

That's the son. Discreetly and fashionably, de Villepin junior joined Gucci in Milan about a year ago without much ado. Apparently he is as elegant as Chique Dominique and is carrying on with his life without any undue embarrassment.

MRS. ROBINSON:

Actress Anne Bancroft who made her mark in "The Graduate" by seducing young Dustin Hoffman has died. Married to writer/actor/producer Mel Brooks, Ms. Bancroft continued to charm audiences in movies and theatres across America, with professional grace and human warmth. Her real name was Anna Maria Luisa Italiano. She gave life her best shot, as a warm friend and creative artist. Now that you've gone, Mrs. Robinson, Heaven holds a place for those like you. "And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson. Jesus loves you more than you would know."

DELEGATIONS WOMEN'S CLUB:

About $120,000 was raised by U.N. Delegations Women's Club, which enabled it to donate to UNICEF educational project in Arara, a village in West Darfur, Sudan. This will ensure access to quality basic education for nearly 3,000 school-aged conflict-affected children. The Club recently held an international food fair and bazaar, which cost almost nothing and produced practical results. Wives and families of ambassadors joined actively to make the event a success. The Bazaar was chaired by Danava Kazy Khanova, wife of the ambassador of Kazakhstan. The group's current President is Fay Vassilakis, the (Lebanese) wife of the Greek Ambassador.

GUTERRES TAKES OVER UNHCR:

The name of Antonio Manuel de Oliveira Guterres has been floating around the U.N. for at least three years, that is since he left his post as Prime Minister of Portugal in 2002. One of his special admirers, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, provided discreet yet strong support for varied international assignments. If the U.N. had planned a visible and clear role for post-war Iraq, Guterres was a strong contender. Insiders had his name listed to take over from our Brazilian "U.N. martyr" Sergio Vieira de Mello if he had survived his three months and returned to Human Rights. But that was not to be. European support for him to take over the UNHCR position accelerated after another Portuguese Prime Minister, Mr. Barasso, took over the leadership of the European Commission. While U.N. internal support for Danish colleague Jesse-Petersen grew, external diplomatic recommendations for Mr. Guterres became formidable. The appointment was strongly endorsed during an important meeting in Madrid earlier this year to commemorate the terrorist bombing of the railway station. A Portuguese daily even published a report that Secretary General Kofi Annan will be stopping in Lisbon on his way to the Middle East to offer and announce the appointment. Bypassing the Portuguese capital at the time was an indication that Mr. Annan either had not made up his mind or did not want to be stampeded into an announcement. Our Danish colleague, now in Kosovo, looked more likely to succeed. With the announcement of USG Prendergast's departure next June, the name of Mr. Guterres was again mentioned for Political Affairs -- a European replacing a European as the British already hold two USG posts. Few days later, the UNHCR announcement was made, effective 15 June. He lends valuable and needed prestige to the post, particularly after the way his predecessor had to exit. Mr. Guterres, 56, a founding member of the 14-year Portuguese Refugee Council, was his country's Prime Minister from 1996 to 2002 and has been an adviser to the Board of Directors of Portugal's second largest bank, Caixa Geral de Depositos, since 2003. Since 1999 he has been president of the Socialist International, an association of over 160 Social Democrat, Socialist and Labour parties and major organizations from some 140 countries. Mr. Guterres was a member of the Portuguese Parliament from 1976 to 1983, also became a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe from 1981 to 1983, then went back tot he Portuguese Parliament from 1985 to 1995. For the agency's headquarters in Geneva, Acting High Commissioner Wendy Chamberlin welcomed the announcement Mr. Guterres' nomination as the agency's 10th High Commissioner, succeeding Ruud Lubbers. UNCHR's 6,000 staff work in 115 countries worldwide, many of them in remote and difficult duty stations. The refugee agency, which has won two Nobel Peace Prizes, was established by the U.N. General Assembly in 1950 and has helped more than 50 million people over the past five decades. you more than you would know."

30 SECONDS TO SAINTHOOD:

In the swiftly changing age of sound bite television, it was particularly indicative to observe how various media operations covered heavenly issues following the death of Pope John Paul II. As everyone recalls, coverage ranged from live silent mourning to elaborate analysis -- from every angle by any potentially relevant contributor. As the new Pope indicated an inclination to move forward with a sainthood for his predecessor, one of the most interesting yet down to earth interviews was when Larry King interviewed an actor who had played Jesus Christ in the "Passion." The king of nightly live interviews asked actor Jim Caviezel whether the Pope will be on his way to heaven as a saint. "You think he's with Jesus now?", he pressed on: "You have thirty seconds."