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At UN, Budget Committee Mulls Valencia Base, Office Rent and  End of Permanent Contracts, Development Pillar Lurks

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, December 20 -- On a snowy Saturday in New York, five days before Christmas, the UN's Fifth (Budget) Committee met in three rooms in the basement under the General Assembly hall trying to wrap up its work for the year. The topics and amounts at issue raised from billion dollar peacekeeping missions to a side dispute about the Group of 77 and China renting space in the UN's garage during its billion dollar renovation. G77's more substantive proposal, spearheaded by Brazil and Egypt, had to do with more money for development. Most delegates dressed casually, a few in suits and ties. Draft resolutions were easy for a lone journalist to obtain. Few cover this aspect of the UN's work.

  Among the issues being considered is the UN's Information and Communications Technology plan, which has come to include a Peacekeeping computer center proposed for Valencia, Spain. The Spanish government already held a photo-op with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon saying that this had been approved. But it hasn't been. When Inner Cit Press this week asked First Vice-President of Spain, H.E. Mrs. Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega about it, she said she understands it is now nearly approval. Video here. The Spanish mission to the UN has a staff member assigned to nothing but shepherding it through. This is how the budget process works.

UN's Ban with Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, a plaque without approval

  Friday night as UN Security officers danced to salsa and merengue, some complained that a proposal to eliminate the UN's permanent contracts was near to being adopted. To explain the dispute, while few jobs in the U.S. are permanent, other than federal judgeships, the UN has such a culture of retaliating against whistleblowers than the permanent contract is seen as to guarantee civil service independence. Here is the context: "two thirds of U.N. employees surveyed by Deloitte Consulting last year admitted being privy to unethical conduct--and that almost half said they were too scared to ever report it. Those who do air dirty laundry typically find themselves shunned, and their employment contracts often aren't renewed."

   But with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling for an across the board two percent cut in all budgets, in response to the global financial crisis and projected decrease in countries' contributions, the permanent contract is on the chopping block.

  The professional staff of the Committee -- there are only three of them, working around the clock at this time of year -- scoff at these Chicken Little rumors. They only pay attention to proposals when they bubble up out of the side rooms. Every International Civil Service Commission meeting, one said, there are dire warning of the death of independence. And yet it survives, such as it is.

  The matter of G77 office space payments has direct application to the UN press corps. Journalists don't pay for their space on the third and fourth floors. Nor has G77 paid for its office on the little-known 39th floor. The UN at times has sought to collect rent. Interpretations of the underlying resolution are divergent. Now, the UN wants to charge them for the basement. The line is that all outside entitles should pay, or none at all.

  It was on that logic that the head of Management, Angela Kane, earlier this year asked staff to survey where else the press pays and doesn't pay. Inner City Press wrote the story, having obtained a copy of the underlying e-mail. The UN denied they were thinking of charging the journalists. But on December 20, this was contradicted by Budget Committee insiders. A presentation was made, about reporters at the international financial institutions paying for their space. Complacency and misdirection may result in the press paying, or G77 continuing rent-free. Unlike Spain, those whose ox might on this be gored were not even in the loop.

  We will continue to nose around the basement, looking for the elusive "development pillar" draft resolution, among others.

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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