- The Washington Times - Monday, October 8, 2001

Drug czar ditched

Pino Arlacchi's U.N. career has ended not with a bang or even a proper announcement, but with a whimper.

The embattled head of the U.N. Drug Control Program has agreed to leave his post shortly after his five-year contract expires, reversing his earlier declarations that he was prepared to serve as asked.

"Mr. Arlacchi indicated that he could not continue in the post for another full term. It was agreed that he would stay in his position until mid-2002," said the surgically phrased statement released Friday afternoon, moments after or perhaps it was during an evacuation exercise by the U.N. Secretariat.

Mr. Arlacchi, a former Italian senator and famed Mafia foe, spent most of the past year fighting or ignoring persistent accusations of epic mismanagement and possible fraud.

His autocratic style was criticized in damning resignation letters submitted and, nearly simultaneously, published by departing senior staff.

Early this year, the U.N. inspector general's office issued two deeply critical reports on the management of UNDCP, as well as an investigation into charges that Mr. Arlacchi funneled tens of thousands of dollars to a sailing buddy to circumnavigate the world as an anti-drug message.

A final report of that probe was never published, although Dileep Nair, head of the internal oversight office, says he intends to share aspects of it with the U.N. budget committee later this year. But officials close to Secretary-General Kofi Annan say there is no need to make the it public, now that Mr. Arlacchi is leaving.

Confidence in Mr. Arlacchi had plummeted so low that a number of the agency's top donors had either canceled their voluntary contributions or earmarked their money for specific programs, leaving little left over for administration and emergencies.

News of Mr. Arlacchi's pending departure has generated little public regret within the U.N. system. Even Mr. Annan failed to include the pro forma praise for the drug czar's service in announcing his departure.

With Mr. Arlacchi leaving, it's worth looking at the future of the hobbled Vienna, Austria-based U.N. Office of Drug Control and Crime Prevention, which also oversees the fight against transnational crime. For those just starting to pay attention, this office should be a coordinating point for measures against money laundering, organized crime and other components of terrorism.

And that has taken on a new importance in the last three weeks.

Who will replace the former Italian senator and legendary Mafia foe at the helm of the UNDCP? No one who knows is willing to say, and those who don't are speculating madly.

The Italian government has pretty much had a lock on the drug-and-mob job since the office was created, and there are those who say Rome should relax its grip. There is also a General Assembly resolution requiring the secretary-general to rotate the top positions rather than allowing one country or region to fill them for decades.

"The job is so important it should be held not by a nation but by the most competent person," said one U.N. official who watches the Vienna office closely. "That job is teamwork. That job is spending the world's taxpayers' money. And I hope when [Mr. Arlacchis] successor is appointed, that person will be the best person, not the best person in Rome."

Several diplomats and officials have expressed concern that the drug and crime-prevention office has become marginalized so quickly after staging a successful anti-narcotics conference in New York two years ago, and drafting a powerful anti-crime convention in Palermo last year.

Opening debate set

The United Nations has set Nov. 10 to 16 for the General Assembly's opening debate, which was postponed after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Some 75 presidents and prime ministers had been confirmed to address the assembly, although organizers no longer expect such a high-profile turnout for the rescheduled event.

Scheduling was so tight this year that the debate will begin on a Saturday, and run with expanded days through the following Friday. Speeches will also be limited a suggestion, at best to 15 minutes instead of the usual half-hour.

The timing is meant to let delegations get home in time for first day of Ramadan, which falls on Nov. 17 through most of the Islamic world.

Although a formal announcement will not be made until nearer the event, U.S. officials have indicated that President Bush will address the General Assembly.

c Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at unear@aol.com.

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