Diplomats up in arms over besieged FAO 'Wuhan on Tiber'

Staff entering the FAO building in Rome have their temperature checked. Photo credit: FAO/Elly Barrett .

 ROME – Western diplomats are outraged that FAO DG Qu Dongyu has turned the UN agency, as foreign envoys see it, into a small-scale “Wuhan on the Tiber” using Covid to continue to prohibit diplomats access to the organization’s headquarters building for any reason whatsoever, diplomatic sources say.

 Diplomats of contributing member states such as the USA, the largest contributor, that are the real owners of the FAO and pay the salaries of all its staff including Mr Qu himself are ruthlessly barred from entry to the sprawling former Italian colonies ministry by the Circus Maximus and are escorted outside manu militaru by burly security guards if they ever find a loophole enabling them to get inside. This state of siege contrasts with the situation in Geneva where senior UN officials told the Insider that journalists and diplomats have had free access to the UN building since last May despite the Coronavirus drama.

 Access to the UN in New York also is limited and regulated but not indiscriminately closed as the FAO is, the sources say. The concern in diplomatic circles is that Mr Qu and the Chinese Embassy prefer to prevent any interaction between diplomats and senior staff as China consolidates its grip on the agency ahead of a plenary annual Council in June that also likely will be held virtually for similar reasons.

 FAO management has turned a deaf ear to the complaints of Western diplomats given the tidal wave of support for the closure from Third World diplomats who are happy that they can return to their countries when they want, for instance for Ramadan at the moment, without having to put in office work.

 There is tall of approaching the UN or the UN Secretary General though at a time when Gutterez is planning to run, like Qu, for a second term, many consider that this would be pointless.

 Access is likely to be high on the agenda of the new U.S.Ambassador designate to the FAO, Cindy McCann, who American staffers are hoping will arrive in a more timely fashion than the previous incumbent, the ever-smiling Kip Tom, who dragged his feet for months before arriving meaning that the State Department was unable to mount an effective electoral campaign to prevent Beijing taking over the FAO.

 The hermetic closure of the agency under the leadership of the Chinese Communist party member paradoxically is conducive to the secretariat instead of being focussed on its mandate of figting hunger and poverty instead becoming an ever more distant micro climate of unapproachable privilege where senior staff distribute sinecures to chums, outside the public eye and without input from OECD donor countries.

Many ambassadors to the FAO as usual are terrified to criticise Qu’s management lest it damages their chances of a lucrative consultancy at the FAO to be combined with their foreign service pensions.

 Many such consultants, several of them in their 70s or 80s and well past the UN official retirement age, enjoy sky high salaries over 20,000 euros a month in blatant violation of the spirit of the founders of the poverty-busting agency, FAO sources say.

 In order for this morally dubious system to prosper the FAO maintains a very high vacancy rate in the secretariat and the number of vacancies has increased since the departure of the mercurial, media-hating DG José Graziano da Silva, the sources add.

 Rather than filling long term positions with regular staff and young recruits a sordid chumocracy has developed whereby senior managers recruit pals, often pensioners and retirees, as consultants.

 FAO staff members are allowed in the premises of the HQ building and admittedly they observe social distancing rules. Senior diplomats instead are evidently considered incapable of so doing and are treated like irresponsible children.