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UN Denies Development Aid Used for $25 M Ceiling, "Voluntarily Funded" Disaster Post Left Murky

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

UNITED NATIONS, November 17, updated -- The UN on matters of money, how it is raised and how it is spent, is either willfully out of touch or intentionally misleading. In the space of one minute on Monday, UN Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe claimed that a controversial $25 million ceiling at its Palais des Nations in Geneva is being paid for entirely by foundations. But the Spanish government has admitted that it is using part of its development aid budget to pay the UN for the ceiling. Specifically, Spanish Ambassador Javier Garrigues has been quoted that "Funding the human rights headquarters clearly falls into the category of development aid."

  Since Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is appearing in Geneva on November 18 to inaugurate the stalactite-draped ceiling, it seems impossible that his Spokesperson's Office has not conducted a cursory review of Spanish governmental admission in even the English language press, in this case the Sunday Times of London.

   Inner City Press at Monday's UN noon briefing asked for Ban Ki-moon's position on whether this is an appropriate use of development aid funds given that the global financial crisis is leading countries, including most recently Italy and Iceland, to official reduce development aid. Ms. Okabe's claim that it is only foundation money seems designed to avoid Ban giving an answer about the appropriate uses of development aid, or even giving a no comment. When in doubt...

UN's Ban in Geneva, comment on use of development aid for $25 million ceiling not shown

  Ms. Okabe had announced earlier in the briefing that Ban has named to a "voluntarily funded" UN disaster reduction post Margareta Wahlstrom, most recently on the so-called Accountability Report about the December 2007 bombing of UN premises in Algiers. Inner City Press asked the obvious, who is paying for this explicitly "voluntarily funded" position. "You can ask OCHA," said Ms. Okabe, who had just highlighted that the UN wouldn't be paying for the post. While it may well be Ms. Wahlstrom's government, Sweden, how could Ms. Okabe and her office not anticipate that a question might arise about who was funding the position? And if, as some assume was the case with the $25 million ceiling question, more and even difference was known that what was said on-camera at the briefing, where is the UN going, in terms not only of transparency, but more fundamentally of truthfulness?

Update: Despite the quote above from the Spanish government in the Sunday Times of London that "Funding the human rights headquarters clearly falls into the category of development aid," the UN later on Monday put out a statement that

"The cost of the renovations to the new Human Rights Council and Alliance of Civilizations (Room XX) at the Palais des Nations were entirely funded by ONUART, a foundation in place to collect public and private money from Spanish society."

   So what kind of "public... money" did this ONUART foundation collect?

News analysis: Ban should further disclose and speak out before standing under the $25 million ceiling, including on, is or would this is a correct use of development aid?

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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