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In Ban's UN, Access Lists Are Not Kept or Disclosed, Consultations After the Fact

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 17 -- To whom does Ban Ki-moon grant access? It's a simple question, but it has yet to be answered.

            Given Ban's statements when running for Secretary-General that he would be transparent and accountable, it seemed like the kind of question that would be answered, rather than evaded. But now that even Mr. Ban, in his July 16 press conference, acknowledged that the question of "Koreans" is dogging his administration -- unfairly, he said without allowing any questions on the topic -- the answers become more and more opaque and circular.

            Asked Monday by Inner City Press to whom Mr. Ban has sent congratulations and greetings, and to whom he has granted interviews, his Spokesperson's Office replied curtly on Tuesday that all this is public record, and refused to provide any lists.

     But since the interviews, if they appeared in print, are nevertheless in many different languages, referring to public records as the answer is intentionally non-responsive. His spokesperson's office doesn't have a list of interviews granted? As they might say in French, c'est un drole d'office.

            Inner City Press at Tuesday's noon briefing asked:

Inner City Press: If you could give us a list of people -- whether they be volunteers or not paid by the UN, or whether they be on staff or on sabbatical from missions to the UN, or foreign ministries of Member States -- that have access to the 38th Floor and are assisting in the work of the Executive Office of the Secretary-General.  He made a big point of saying... people have attacked me and sort of the composition of his team.  I know that on Friday you put out a list, so I guess this is a formal request to know of the range of people that are described, who either work on the 38th Floor, or has routine access to the 38th Floor.

Deputy Spokesperson:  As you yourself just mentioned, we announced the line-up of all the senior advisers of the Secretary-General on the 38th Floor and those of the advisers who are the closest and have the most access to the Secretary-General on the 38th Floor.

Question:  So you are saying that the list... as I have heard, there is this thing called "the morning meeting."  Are these the individuals that attend it?  [inaudible] I want to make sure that we have a complete picture.

Deputy Spokesperson:  What you are asking is, who is the Secretary-General's most senior advisers?  We announced that on Friday, and we provided you with the list, their nationalities and their ranking.  These are the staff members, who have open access to the 38th Floor, because most of them actually have offices on the 38th Floor.  There are other people who see the Secretary-General and are senior advisers on an as-needed basis, as any other senior official in any other Government.  And there is also the senior officials of the Secretariat and UN agencies, who, obviously, provide an important advisory role to the Secretary-General.

            As the UN's own transcript makes clear, the question was not "who are the Secretary-General's most senior advisors," but rather, who has access to the 38th floor and assists in the work of the EOSG? To make it clear, after the noon briefing, Inner City Press submitted the question in writing:

to sharpen and reiterate one of the questions I asked just now at the noon briefing --

This is a request for a list of any and all volunteers or persons not paid by the UN who work on or who have routine access to the 38th Floor, including but not limited to people employed by or on sabbatical from the Mission or foreign ministry of any member state,

and also, separately, for any other Koreans -- since the Secretary General used that term in his press conference -- who work for or who have routine access to the 38th Floor or to Mr. Ban, on UN-related matters. In yesterday's press conference, during which no (follow-up or even initial) questions were allowed on this topic, which Mr. Ban chose to unilaterally bring up, Mr. Ban said

"I have brought with me just a few Korean officials. Of course, the Director of the scheduling office is a Korean, but he is not senior. There is only one senior Korean policy adviser; he is Mr. Kim Won-soo. I have one secretary, a female secretary."

   Since Mr. Ban did not mention the previously disclosed Kweon Ki-hwan, placed in the Department of Management, nor your colleague in the OSSG but stated to be part of the EOSG, please describe their roles, whether they are advisors, whether they (or anyone else beyond those on the list released on July 13) attend the "morning meetings."

  Also, in the S-G quote from yesterday, one scheduler and one secretary are mentioned. If the scheduler referred to was Yoon Yeocheol (Chief of scheduling, D1 -- not senior?), and a secretary was mentioned, please explain why Lee Sang-hwa (P4 - first officer, scheduling) was not mentioned.

[There] are the still unanswered questions from yesterday...

to which national Associations for the UN has Ban Ki-moon sent statements of appreciation? To which associations for UNICEF has he sent statements similar to that at

and Somalia, how much money passes through units of the UN system (incl. UNDP, which has refused to respond to this question) from donors to the Transitional Federal Government and / or Congress organizers?

            Hours later, in purported response to the above, the following was provided:

Subj: Hello. Today's noon question, yesterday's unanswered questions, and an aside. Thank you. 

From: [Office of the Spokesperson at]

To: Inner City Press

Date: 7/17/2007 6:07:16 PM Eastern Standard Time

As chief administrative officer of the United Nations (Charter Article 97), the Secretary-General relies on the whole secretariat to perform his functions. Last week we released the list of his senior advisors who serve in his Executive Office. The Secretary-General also relies on the Senior Management Group for advice. The membership of that group is publicly available on the UN website. As for the nationals of the Republic of Korea that the Secretary-General brought with him from Seoul, we made that list public a while back and the Secretary-General also mentioned some of them in his press conference.

Regarding access to the 38th floor, anyone who has an appointment to meet with those UN staffers who have offices on the 38th floor have access. We do keep not ask [sic]  people what their nationality is before they are permitted to enter the 38th floor, or any other part of the building.

Your question on Somalia from yesterday was answered...

As for your other questions about interviews and statements, all those are in the public domain.

            So, are there volunteers or personnel from Missions or foreign ministries assisting the Executive Office of the Secretary General? The question was asked, and the above was what was provided.

            In response to the snarky "we do not ask people what their nationality is before they are permitted to enter the 38th floor or any other part of the building," note that the forms to receive a UN pass include a question about nationality and even passport number. UN hiring is based on a "system of desirable ranges" that is entirely based on nationality.

Mr. Ban in DC on July 17, as in NY his OSSG won't say with whom he meets

            Separately, Inner City Press is told by the OSSG that they purportedly don't have any list of interviews that Ban Ki-moon has granted, nor greetings and congratulations he has sent. Great recordkeeping. And not only was the question about the UN system's funding for Somalia not answered, the other answer provided was superseded and according to another correspondent, not this one, evasive. From the noon briefing:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask something about Somalia, which didn't come up yesterday.  The Chairman of the Somali Parliament's Committee on Information is quoted as saying that the UN Special Envoy [Francois Lonseny] Fall discouraged international and European representatives who were going to attend the reconciliation conference from going to Somalia on Friday.  So I am wondering, what is the UN's response to that.  Do you acknowledge that some communication was made by Mr. Fall's office to other envoys or has...? What is going on with that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the Secretary-General issued a statement on Friday, encouraging the successful beginning of this national reconciliation conference.  The Secretary-General stressed that this conference is the beginning of the process of rebuilding consensus in Somali society and he expressed the UN's commitment, so I can't imagine how his Special Representative would be discouraging anybody from attending such a conference.

Question:  But did...  Mr. Fall himself didn't go.  So I guess it is one of ... I mean, this is a direct quote, maybe he is wrong, but he says, "this was unfortunate that the Office of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General advised representatives of the international community not to participate in the opening ceremony."  Maybe he is wrong.  So I guess, your response is that he is wrong.

Deputy Spokesperson:  My understanding is that, given the Secretary-General's stated encouragement of this process, his Special Representative would only try to promote the successful holding of the conference.

Question:  Do you know when he is going to go?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I understand that... we can confirm later, but that he will be there again on Thursday.

            Afterwards, OSSG staff chided Inner City Press for making this inquiry:

You asked that question on Somalia yesterday and we gave you an answer (which I see you used in a story yesterday). but since you asked it again today, I'm resending the same answer. I hope it helps.

'The UN envoy Francois Fall was planning to attend the NRC on a UN flight, but that plan was cancelled due to security reasons. As far as we know this only affected the UN participation on Sunday.  Other members of the international community had arranged flights separately.'

            But the reason the question re-appeared is that after that answer, the chairman of the Somali parliament's committee on information accused Mr. Fall of discouraging other international envoys from flying to Somalia. His reason for not himself attending the opening would seem to be safety-related, and if so, to advise others about safety would not be unexpected. But to say it's an illegitimate question, re-asked when a new quote comes out? And, as another correspondent said, if Somalia is so important to Ban Ki-moon why did he neither mention it nor accept, through this Spokesperson, any questions on it on Monday?

            In fact, a backlash on Ban is growing, within the African Group. Ban's Deputy Spokesperson on Tuesday tried to deflect the question:

Question:  The G-77 has written a letter to the Secretary-General, expressing deep concern over the abolition of the post of Special Adviser for Africa -- something that we have touched upon yesterday, also.  But now I know they have written a letter, also expressing concern that UNCTAD's Liaison Officer has been put under the charge of the High Representative of the Secretary-General on Least Developed Countries.  And in the letter that has been sent, according to my understanding, the G-77 has told the Secretary-General that this is the prerogative of the UNGA to change any structure at all, especially the legislative mandate of this.  And they also said that the UNGA should be taken into confidence for this [inaudible].  Has the Secretary-General received that letter and replied to it, as yet?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don't know if the Secretary-General has seen the letter.  I was told of the press report that you referred to.  But, on that, I would have to refer you directly to the Secretary-General's comments yesterday, in which he does outline, quite in detail, his thinking about how he intends to go about maximizing what this Organization can do for Africa.  And I think he outlined that quite clearly.  Specifically about how the African Group views this issue, I just wanted to draw your attention to the fact that the African Group, I am told, is meeting tomorrow on this issue.  So I think we don't have anything to say before they meet.  In the meantime, the Secretary-General, the Deputy Secretary-General and the senior advisers are in constant close consultations with African and other Member States on this issue.

            While it's nice to show deference to the African Group, it would have made more sense before announcing that the Office of the Special Advisor on Africa was being consolidated. Inner City Press tried to follow up:

Inner City Press:  the same press reports that say that the Secretary-General has, I guess, conveyed to the G-77 that to make the merger that he described yesterday, he has to go through the ACABQ?  Is that true?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing further than what I just answered on this question.

Question:  But he said yesterday... that if you look at how the office has been managed during the last few years, there may be a better way to use the resources.  Is it fair to read it as criticism of the management of either Legwaila or Gambari, who managed the office?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I've said what I had to say on this subject.

            But the questions still haven't been answered. Developing.

* * *

Given Ban's omission of Somalia on Monday, and the above-recounted responses of Tuesday, click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the National Reconciliation Congress, the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund, and note the cancellation of the UN's pre-Congress flight to Mogadishu.

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