15 March 2005


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!


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."


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 really hungry.


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 France.


"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.


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.


"The U.N. is God and the Swedes are his chosen people!" Expressen - Stockholm


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.


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!


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 ... eating!


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.


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.