15 March 2005
FROM FYRM TO NRMS:
Now we know why our Secretary General needs over 80 envoys. To sort out intricate issues of
course -- like changing the name of a country. "Mediator" Matthew Nimetz (ever heard of him?!)
promised an obviously alert reporter that a solution will be found in 2005 for an acceptable change
in the name of the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia." After strenuous efforts he is
proposing "New Republic of Macedonia - Skopje." For that we needed a special envoy!
A JOB IN CAIRO:
The Department of Public Information placed an announcement in Arab newspapers inviting applications
for the post of Director, U.N. Information Centre. That means opening the door for hundreds of
applications from aspiring Arab communicators, particularly that it is indicated that the job entails
a regional role. It would be unfair, therefore, if an internal candidate was being prepared to be
nominated after the process is set up. That post, a D-1, would mean a promotion for some internal aspirant,
but none of them is seriously qualified for that challenge, especially these difficult days. The
only one with a record to show, Nejib Friji, has just got his P-5, and he would need some time for
another promotion and could not be reasonably put against the higher post until it is proven
without doubt that none of the applicants were satisfactory. Anyway, he is more effective in Beirut
than he would be in Cairo. One internal operator with average qualifications and more than usual
conspiratorial attitude, is trying to mobilize at least one of the Directors. For him its a promotion
and an opportunity to take full advantage of a U.N. position in Cairo the same way he did in Baghdad.
Another outside candidate, an Egyptian with a foreign passport, is said to be favoured by Media
Director Ahmed Fawji, himself an Egyptian (with a foreign passport!). Let us hope that the new open
process announced by the new Chief of Staff will apply, in this case, where surely lots of excellent
candidates will apply. Otherwise, the already dwindling image of the Secretary General -- and the U.N. --
will reach another low!
During a session in Davos, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski was on a roll about how thrilling
it was to be part of European Solidarity and expressing understanding for giving turns to countries
to benefit from generous assistance from richer ones. The subject was Poverty and the former communist
youth leader needed no guidance in expanding on the theme -- until he was interrupted by the
moderator. Nik Gowing of the BBC wanted to take charge. Looking importantly at his watch, the news
announcer curtly indicated that he wanted to wrap things up quickly in time for lunch. That left him wide
open. To the applause of Herr Schwab and others on the front row, the Polish politician quickly came
back: "That's the problem," he quipped, "we're talking about poverty and they talk about lunch."
NOT THE BASMATI:
Then there was that Indian economist who pontificated about global globalism or something similar.
After claiming he did not wish to speak, he carried on for a while then asked whether he was
allowed one more minute. Though no one really cared, he apologized for growing up in Nehru's neutral
India with socialist tradition but assured the bored audience that he has now converted to the open
market economy. However, there was a very crucial issue which had to be tackled if desired
globalization had to work. Basmati rice must be available to all without exception. An effort to
patent it will have dire consequences. He also proposed that rich countries should pay for the
lunch boxes of poor third world students. That will encourage them to go to school. He must have been
What was rumoured since January was confirmed mid-February. Annan's chief Spokesman Fred Eckhard
will be leaving. He had tendered his resignation upon the appointment of the new Chief of Staff, stating
however that he will be willing to serve until the end of the Secretary General's tenure in December
2006. However, Annan told him that he could leave in four months time -- that is end of June. Fred,
who managed to gain professional credibility with accredited reporters, had been extended beyond
retirement age last year. Fred has recently married Kathryn Gordon, who is also in public information.
He's American, she's Scottish. They will retire in
QUOTATION OF THE MONTH:
"To climb from those depths to those heights will require Annan to recover the leadership and
authority that lifted the U.N. so high. And the way for him to do it -- he recognizes -- will be
through reform and renewal, through deeds not words," Mark Malloch-Brown, newly appointed Chief of
Staff, Office of the Secretary General.
Following is an excerpt of a statement by U.S. Reserve Board Chairman Allan Greenspan: "At the
risk of oversimplification, if the skill composition of our workforce meshed fully with the needs of
our increasingly complex capital stock, wages skill differentials would be stable, and percentage
changes in wage rates would be the same for all job grades." Now, if you figured out that one, you
deserve a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. After all it took Dr. Greenspan three dinner dates
with television reporter Andrea Mitchell for her to figure out he was proposing marriage.
NO SEX PLEASE, WE'RE BRITISH:
When in trouble, fire a memo. Embarrassing reports about sexual exploitation of vulnerable people in
the Democratic Republic of the Congo by their "peacekeepers" was bad enough for U.N. reputation in
the field. Then we went from the embarrassing to the ridiculous. To signal firm determination by the
U.N. leadership, news was hurriedly leaked to the BBC that a memo has been sent worldwide instructing
soldiers to abstain from having sex with their host population. It was unclear whether that superseded
an earlier instruction to indeed have sex. What is clear is that those offenders who violated basic
standards of international service will spend little time pondering that memo. Nor would they be
trembling in fear of some accountability. When the roof is leaking, the floor gets wet; when the
chief is a drummer, his team goes dancing; you can't hide sunshine by the palm of your hand. Amongst
such varied local proverbs, one is reminded of a clever farce once played in Picadilly entitled: "No
sex please, we're British." Meanwhile, keep those condoms coming; you never know when the huncho
with the puncho will be visiting on inspection.
QUOTATION OF THE MONTH:
"The U.N. is God and the Swedes are his chosen people!" Expressen - Stockholm
HOW ABOUT STATEN ISLAND?
In what appeared to be a pressuring maneuver, news was leaked that if things got difficult for the
U.N. Master Plan, the operation would move to Queens or Brooklyn. It has been over five years since that
Plan was underway, yet very few know what it is really about, what does it really entail, and -- most
important -- WHO REALLY MADE THE DEAL? Apparently, the current difficulties stem from reported
scandals, unfortunately eroded U.N. standing, and -- here's the point -- jostling among potential and
competing business beneficiaries. There is also a question on who is really making decisions on a
project which involves moving the whole staff (or what will be left of them) to new "temporary"
premises while the current premises are being "modernized." Lots of money involved, not as much
as food for oil but a figure open to questions. Some observers noted that a move to Brooklyn or
Queens wouldn't work. The optimum choice may be Staten Island. It is a turf unto itself, and
could only be reached by a bridge or ferry. Besides, some current senior officials may look out
to exchange experiences with a possibly available though reclusive "don" of the Columbo, Gambino,
or Genovese families.
QAZI STILL AROUND?
Some former friends of U.N. Iraq envoy Ashraf Qazi had started to wonder about his whereabouts. He was
nowhere to be seen during this period of active political maneuvers to form a new government in
Baghdad, following an election that was handled mainly by the Iraqi authorities and Coalition forces
with a U.N. stamp of approval. The only apparent U.N. present at that crucial task was a modest
yet apparently efficient Mr. Velenzuela. Ms. Pirelli, his director, appeared at a press briefing
in New York and made a few brief remarks which had to be swiftly withdrawn. Anyway, we are now informed via
an official press release (no one else bothered to reproduce) that Qazi was indeed "continuing his
efforts to ensure that all elements of Iraq society take part in plotting (what a choice of words)
a new diplomatic course for the war torn country after Sunni Arabs largely stayed away from the
January election, particularly in writing the constitution." What do you know!
ANNAN "WARMLY WELCOMES" BOLTON:
A communique issued upon the appointment of John Bolton as U.S. representative to the U.N. announced that
Secretary General Kofi Annan has "warmly welcomed" the appointment. Welcoming alone wouldn't do these
days. Insiders could be forgiven a somewhat wry smile. Bolton had written extensively on U.N. issues
and has well known positions since his work as Assistant Secretary of State in a previous incarnation.
Kofi Annan in particular was within his sights. "Annan Power Grab" was one of his noted articles.
People change; attitudes change; circumstances change. Maybe the warm welcome takes into account White
House assurances that Ambassador Bolton is dedicated to "positive reforms" at the U.N. Or maybe
Annan was doing what should be done in these circumstances. The proof of the pudding is in the ...
EAT YOUR PLATE:
Friday 4 March was an anxious day for accredited correspondents at U.N. headquarters. The most cool
were going up and down the escalator from second to third floors to find out what was happening to
William Lacy Swing. For the uninitiated, Mr. Swing is the Special Representative in the Democratic
Republic of the Congo, where -- to quote the official press release -- the Mission has been "dogged"
by deadly clashes in the troubled eastern region and by sex scandals." There had been leaked indications
to certain reporters that Mr. Swing would be taken to task, given the riot act, and asked to resign.
Hence that afternoon commotion amongst reporters on the lookout for anyone with anything to say on the
matter. Eventually, a statement was issued to the effect that the well-connected representative "has a
mission to fulfill" and that he had "a full plate." Who else was left to eat another sort of plate is
another question. Mr. Swing is not a citizen of Cyprus.
During a press briefing by new ace Chief of Staff Mark Malloch Brown, an accredited reporter was
pleasantly surprised to find seated next to him someone who was riding very high only weeks earlier.
Knowing that he was spotted on internal television, the known unknown shuffled for a while before
beaming graciously to his neighbour. Reports indicate that his Karma took a nose dive, but he is
soldiering through as if nothing has changed. Carry on.
CLINTON'S OFFICE CHECKOUT:
After appointing former President Clinton as special envoy for the Tsunami's relief, an advance team
visited the U.N. compound to locate his designated office. Someone pointed them to a space at UNDP
which they inspected at length and then left without making any comment. They did not seem
impressed. The former President never visited that spot. He was then hospitalized and is now recovering
at home. Thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.