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In Ban's UN, Peacekeeping Win Is Elusive, Union Not Convinced, Big Guns Over Gaza

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 21 -- The splitting off of a Department of Field Support from the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and the shift of procurement functions to this new DFS, have been described as Ban Ki-moon's main reform initiative, and main accomplishment in his first six months as Secretary-General.

            But already the shift of procurement has been negatively reviewed by the General Assembly's Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, and Thursday a senior Japanese official told Inner City Press that part of Mr. Ban's reform proposal is dead. And debate continues on the proposed new Under Secretary General position to head up the DFS. The drop-date date for decision is June 30, as new budgets, for a split  or still unitary DPKO begin on July 1.

   "He needs more experience," this official said of Ban Ki-moon, referring to Ban's "Korean style" as needing more transparency. On the other hand, he said, Mr. Ban "works hard, like a native New Yorker... New York works hard, why can't the UN?"

            Even working hard, there are management items which are falling through the cracks. Thursday in the Trusteeship Council, the UN Staff Union held an emergency session. Union officials described a recent meeting with Ban Ki-moon, at which the Secretary-General tried to cajole them into attending the upcoming Staff Management Coordination Committee confab in Cyprus. Facing resistance, which goes back all the way to when the UN stopped giving out permanent contracts during a since-passed budget crisis, Mr. Ban then admitted that he doesn't know much about the SMCC, that he hasn't had time, what with all the traveling he has been doing.

Team Ban on the road: DPKO split not shown, SMCC not known

            Certainly, the UN Secretary-General must engage in diplomacy. But to do so at the expense of the very management and reform issues on which Mr. Ban campaigned for the job is a contradiction. Perhaps these issues have all been delegated to Under Secretary General Alicia Barcena, who came to Thursday's meeting and gave a speech, she said, as just another staff member.

[Insiders note: it remains unclear if Ms. Barcena has acceded to Mr. Ban's public reform demand, that his appointees give up their right to revert to staff status. Ban's appointees' failure to follow his lead in making their financial disclosure forms public is also telling.]

            While even some of her critics acknowledge that Ms. Barcena changed a few minds on Thursday, or at least heightened divisions, the name that was repeated again and again after the Staff Union meeting was of that of Jan Beagle, the head of the UN's Office of Human Resources Management. The SMCC process was portrayed as one in which, even if agreement was reached on a particular point, Ms. Beagle would go back on it at the drop of a hat. After the meeting, being close or even in contact with Ms. Beagle was an allegation flung around like an insult. These views of the head of OHRM cannot be lost on Mr. Ban -- or can they?

            Thursday at 5:40, Mr. Ban came to the lobby to give a short speech to open a photography exhibition about Tajikistan, ten years after its crisis which Russia, the UN and other helped mediate. (Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin was present, drinking in the compliments and then chatting with India's ambassador.) Later still, the head of Ban's Department of Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe came down, to greetTajikistan's foreign minister. Having gotten a non-answer response at the earlier noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Mr. Pascoe about Ban's meetings Wednesday in Washington.

    "Getting to know you," was how Pascoe portrayed them, noting that he himself has been back and forth to Washington as well. Down there, he said, they like to see things getting accomplished at the UN, and not only talked about. Egypt's Ambassador came by and congratulated Pascoe for having evaded his questions at a meeting earlier in the day. Mr. Pascoe replied, "That's what we diplomats do." Indeed.

            While the world is full of crises -- Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan come to mind -- at the UN the highest profile, now as so often in the past, involves the Occupied Palestinian Territories. On Thursday, the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs showed journalists a series of detailed maps, of Israeli settlements on the West Bank, of the limited access road by which they are reached, and of Gaza's mostly-closed border crossings.

            Inner City Press asked how much of OCHA's $454 million OPT consolidated appeal of six months ago has been raised. Forty percent appears to be the answer. Inner City Press asked where the information collected via OCHA's "incident tracking" form is available. "On the website," OCHA briefer David Shearer said. We'll see.

            After this showing, senior Communications staff came down from the eighth and 38th floors to the briefing room, which did not take place after recent presentations on Haiti, or Somalia, much less the Central African Republic. But the UN's fat is in the fire on this one. Having distanced themselves from Alvaro de Soto's mordant analysis, how Ban's UN performs in the current crises remains to be seen.

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