United stand against Boutros: Inside File

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The Independent Online
'KAFKAESQUE' is the buzzword gaining currency among senior United Nations officials about life under Boutros Boutros-Ghali in what they are fond of calling 'this house'. The Secretary-General this week added another name to the list of officials who are departing over their inability to work with him.

Sources say Melissa Wells, the top US official in the UN Secretariat, will leave before her term ends in April. As undersecretary-general for administration and management, her job was to seek ways to curb the UN budget - a bete noire of the US Congress which has consistently prevented Washington from paying its US assessments on time because of allegations that the world body is profligate.

In her letter of resignation, described by a senior colleague as 'remarkably tough', Ms Wells, a former actress of 'mature charm', complained of the lack of teamwork with the Secretary-General. She said he was 'not fully benefiting' from the resources of his staff because it had been 'too difficult and all too rare' for them to find out what he wanted to achieve. As one undersecretary said: 'It does say something about the working atmosphere in this house.'

That Mr Boutros-Ghali has an idiosyncratic style of management, and that the UN faces a difficult period of unprecedented demands for reform, is nothing new. But it is increasingly apparent that all the various camps in New York now feel they have serious grounds to object to him.

'He is neglecting the permanent members of the Security Council,' said one senior diplomat. 'It used to be the custom that the Secretary- General attended the formal Security Council meetings. Boutros makes a point of not attending.

'He has appointed a special undersecretary-general whose main function is to attend in his stead. He makes no effort to consult what is effectively his board.'

He has differed emphatically from the most important of the P5 members, the US, over policy on Somalia. Yesterday he differed from the US again, this time over Bosnia, by declaring in a letter that air power alone would not ensure the rotation of UN troops.

The Third World member-states, united in the so-called Group of 77, are no happier. 'They're very disappointed in him,' said a senior UN source. 'They feel he has concentrated entirely on a few questions such as peace-keeping and peace- making - which efforts are anyway suffering enormous setbacks - and ignoring almost entirely the enormous area of social need and Third World problems.'

The staff of the UN suffer simultaneously from lack of consultation and interference. 'He happily meddles in most things, but then does not follow them up properly,' said one official. Even undersecretaries- general have had to seek approval from members of Mr Boutros- Ghali's staff far junior to themselves to make a routine trip abroad.

Mr Boutros-Ghali's response to all this is that his officials begrudge him for having disrupted their cosy bureaucratic coterie. And, as one senior diplomat said, 'there is integrity in the madness. He has his own views and does not dance to the tune of the Permanent Five. He is clever and quick to form an opinion and is often right. The problem is just that he will not listen.'

Mr Boutros-Ghali is the UN's sixth secretary-general. Others have created equal in-house controversy for other reasons: Kurt Waldheim made himself unpopular with his staff for things like spending a lot of time getting a UN job for at least one unqualified relative.

But for the 'integrity' factor, there is a precedent. Dag Hammarskjold, the UN's second secretary- general, who was killed in a plane crash in Africa 33 years ago this autumn, was notorious for it.

'He was obsessively stubborn in his own integrity,' said one veteran UN diplomat.

Hammarskjold's writings convey the picture of a man to whom no sacrifice for the common good was too great, but who by the same token saw himself as a Christ-like figure. Some of his colleagues say he was crippled by a combination of zeal, solitude and vanity.

'But he did systematically build himself a platform among the weaker and smaller nations, whom he believed the UN was there to protect,' said a former colleague.

Hammarskjold's vision was that of a third superpower, taking up the voices of the smaller nations, answerable only to itself. His peace mission to the Congo put him irrevocably at odds with the Russians; whether it was that controversy which cost him his life in the plane crash near Ndola has never been proved.

What has since emerged is that, had he lived, Hammarskjold's re- election would have been blocked by Moscow. Had he lived and stayed on in the job, many believe he would eventually have split the UN in two. It was in death that Hammarskjold was elevated to near-sainthood. Being a great

secretary-general in life is harder.