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As Spain Admits It Used International Cooperation Funds for UN's $25 Million Dome, UN Denies and Ban Ignores

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

UNITED NATIONS, November 18, updated -- With controversy swirling about the use of Spain's government's international cooperation funds for the new $25 million ceiling of the UN's human rights room in Geneva, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday said, "I understand that the construction of this magnificent dome involved techniques that were never used before, and that materials were used in new combinations. We can see the results. They are stunning."

  On Monday, Inner City Press had asked Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe for the Secretary General's comment on the use of international cooperation for the ceiling. Ms. Okabe responded, as transcribed by the UN, "Matthew, I don’t know anything about where funding of donation is coming from. As far as the UN is concerned, the Spanish contribution is coming from a Foundation; and that's where the donation is coming from."

  Later on Monday, Ms. Okabe's office sent Inner City Press an e-mail about "ur statement at briefing," 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."  Inner City Press published it.

  But then from Spain's Mission to the UN, Inner City Press obtained two statements, admitting that 40% of the costs were paid from Spanish government funds, of which 500,000 euros, over half a million dollars, came from Spain's budget for international cooperation / development aid and international organizations.  Click here and here for the Spanish statements, which specify when government funding was granted and that on December 28, 2007, Spain's Department for International Cooperation disbursed 500,000 euros for the ceiling.

This entirely contradicts the UN's position that only foundation money was used.

UN's Ban and Spain's Zapatero, use of International Cooperation funds not shown

  In fact, Ban's Office has previously mis-spoken about Spain, claiming for example that a proposed Peacekeeping information technology which Spain wants in Valencia has already been approved by the General Assembly's budget committee when it has not. Click here for that.

  On Tuesday at the UN's noon briefing in New York, Inner City Press asked UN Associate Spokesperson Farhan Haq, now that the use of government money including from a fund for development aid and international organizations had been established, whether Ban and the UN think this is a appropriate. Video here, from Minute 12:19.

   Haq said that Ban's response was contained in his above-quoted speech, which made no mention of the funding. Video here, from Minute 22:40. When Inner City Press asked if Ban's speech should be read as the UN's response to the question it asked on Monday, Haq said "that would be putting words in [Ban's] mouth." But how to get an answer, beyond his aesthetic review that the dome is "stunning"?

   Stunning to Inner City Press was that later on Tuesday afternoon, Haq read out a statement to the UN press corps repeating word for word the e-mail Ms. Okabe had sent Inner City Press on Monday afternoon. Apparently Ban's Spokesperson's Office did not call the Spanish mission. If they had, they would have received the same admissions that Inner City Press did. In fairness to Spain, it is arguing that while the 500,000 euro came from the agency for international cooperation, Spain is not going to list the money as development aid for OECD purposes. Whatever this argument's merit or lack thereof, the UN's two-day insistence that only foundation money was used is not excused, and is indicative. Questions still have to be answered.

Footnote: In fact, while Ban Ki-moon's statement, even what he writes by long-hand in guest books, is carefully scripted for him by speechwriters, his spokespeople increasing just wing it, saying for example on Monday and again on Tuesday that the Geneva ceiling was entirely funded by a foundation, and saying on Tuesday that there currently are countries not allowed to vote in the General Assembly due to a failure to pay dues.Video here

   In fact, the countries behind on dues are given waivers under the UN's Article 19. If the General Assembly gives more of these waivers budgets will become even tighter, making the use of development aid for a flashy stalactite-draped ceiling all the more questionable.

Update of Nov. 18, 6:25 p.m. -- after the Associate Spokesman as earlier reported above decided to wing it not only about the funding of the UN's Geneva dome but about countries denied voting rights in the General Assembly, at 6:09 p.m. the following correction went out, that the seven " those countries, by General Assembly resolution 63/4 (and Article 19), have been granted voting rights. So currently there are no UN Member States that are without voting rights."

  So there's a correction on a later-arising matter, but continued hair-splitting and stonewalling on the issue of where the funds for the UN's Geneva dome came from, including Spain's International Cooperation budget. No correction, no amplification, but rather continued stonewalling, even in the face of the written statement from the Spanish mission, which Inner City Press provided by hand to the Associate Spokesman. He had said, "check with the Spanish mission" to see if where they funds came from different from the UN's statement, all from a foundation.

 This must have meant, where the foundation got the funds from, because the UN already knew from whence the actually end-stage check came. But once Spain specified that the government paid into the foundation, suddenly the UN claimed that was consistent with its previous answer. How many of the UN's other answers are, if examined, like this?

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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