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At the UN, Team Ban Accused of Undermining Africa, Leaking of Letter Is Counter-Charged

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 19, updated July 20 -- Opposition to Ban Ki-moon plan to consolidate the UN Office of the Special Advisor on Africa continued to spread on Thursday, and Ban's Spokesperson in the view of some was fanning the flames, by accusing the Group of 77 and China of leaking their letter of protest.

            Thursday Inner City Press asked Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya about the letter. He responded that it grew from "the importance that members... attach to the Africa issue," that they "don't want the significance of Africa undermined."

            The merger plan for the OSAA was first reported on by Inner City Press on July 10, and confirmed by Deputy Secretary General Migiro on July 11, and then by Mr. Ban. Among the problems was a failure to consult the African Group, the Group of 77 and China, and the General Assembly more broadly.

   On the morning of Monday, July 16, the G77 circulated a letter of protest to its 130 members, given them until noon to proposes changes. At noon, they say, the finalized letter was transmitted to the Secretariat, and Monday night it was reported by Thalif Deen of IPS.

            Having been asked about the G77 letter on Tuesday, the Spokesperson on Wednesday read out that "I am surprised to see that a letter on this matter, purportedly from Ambassador Akram to the Secretary-General, was shared with the press even before it had reached the Secretary-General."

            In an IPS statement provided to Inner City Press, this is directly contradicted:

"The Spokesman's response implied the letter had been leaked by the G-77 before it was sent to the S-G.  This is dead wrong. The draft of the letter was circulated to all 130 members for their approval on Monday morning, and therefore it could have been leaked by any one of those 130 countries. All formal letters from the G-77 have to be approved by its members who were given a 12 noon deadline for any changes... So, why did the spokesman's office assume it was leaked by the G-77?"

            At Thursday's noon briefing, Inner City Press tried to get an answer to this:

Inner City Press: It's been explained to me that the G-77 circulated a letter Monday morning and that nobody objected to it, and they transmitted it to the Secretary-General in the middle of Monday... I just want to be clear, you seemed to say that either someone had leaked it, or you are disappointed that someone had leaked it prior to having been given to the Secretary-General.

Spokesperson:  No, I said it appeared in the press before the Secretary-General saw it -- that's what I said.

Inner City Press: OK, but when did he get it?

Spokesperson:  I don't have the exact time of when he got it.

Inner City Press: But it was after the press report came out.

Spokesperson:  Yes.

            If you ignore and jump the gun on a group of countries, it seems strange to accuse them of leaking their letter of protest.

Tree planted in Addis, uprooting not shown

    The tamping down or suppressing in advance of dissent now appears to be a goal, sometimes effectuated. Harvard's Calestous Juma, described in a UN briefing on Thursday as a main expert behind an UNCTAD report entitled "Knowledge, Technological Learning and Innovation," was asked by Inner City Press for his experience with the OSAA, and views on its consolidation. Video here, at end. It's not in the table of contents or index of the report, he responded, and so I have nothing to say about it. Can you say, independent scholarship?

            On Friday Mr. Juma clarified that his relation to the report is more attenuated -- he played a larger role in an earlier study to which "Knowledge, Technological Learning and Innovation" is a successor -- and that since he was invited to the UN to launch this particular study, he thought it would be inappropriate to comment on the proposed consolidation of the OSAA.  He writes that he

"was invited in his independent capacity as an expert on innovation for development. He was a lead author of "Innovation: Applying Knowledge in Development", report of the UN Millennium Project's Task Force on Science, Technology and Innovation.  The UN Miillennium Project was was commissioned by former UN  Secretary-General Kofi Annan and led by Professor Jeffrey Sachs.

  He did, however, encourage Inner City Press to continue to report in this regard, which we will. We hope to hear from from Mr. Juma, as well.

    Mr. Ban, or his team, makes much of his diplomatic moves, with Sudan's president al-Bashir. Later on Thursday, Inner City Press asked Sudan's Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad about Mr. Ban's move to consolidate the OSAA.

            "It is a violation of the General Assembly" and its role, he said. He added that the Secretariat has not forwarded any names for a replacement to Jan Pronk as UNMIS chief.

            Since it was said on Wednesday that Ban's presentation about the OSAA to the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions will be only a "consultation," Inner City Press asked GA spokesman Ashraf Kamal on Thursday:

Inner City Press: On this issue of the Office of the Special Adviser for Africa, to make the change that they are proposing, does it require GA approval?

Spokesperson:  Do you give him the "if asked" questions?  The G-77 letter was addressed to the Secretary-General, so, technically, this is a matter for the Secretary-General to respond to.  The President will listen to Member States' views and, if asked, will exert her efforts to facilitate a resolution on this issue.  To answer your question more specifically, like I said before and I will repeat it for the umpteenth time, any change that involves the resources of the Organization, which were adopted in a budget document, involves approval by Member States.

Inner City Press: Prior approval?

Spokesperson:  Well, if you want to change, you will go to Member States to seek their approval, so yes, it has to be prior.

            We'll see.

* * *

Given Ban's omission of Somalia in his July 16 press conference, 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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