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Inner City Press Podcast --

In Ban's UN, Backsliding on Internal Justice and Question-Taking, Bazaar of P-3s in Vienna Cafe

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 22 -- A quality for which the UN Secretariat has been subject to praise is accepting questions, even those that are evaded with UN-speak rather than answered directly.

            Recently, however, even the UN's question-and-answer atmosphere has been changing. At the stakeout sessions with Ban Ki-moon, many have noticed a controlling hand, naming in advance those who will be allowed to ask questions. The backstop to this is the ability to ask questions of this Spokesperson in the daily noon briefing.

            But now that too may be changing. On Wednesday, on a day not noticeably busier than most at the UN, the Spokesperson called on some reporters more than once, while allowing others no questions at all. There is supposed to be a backstop even for this: the submission of questions by email, for non-live response by the end-of-day deadline.

            On Wednesday after the controlled noon briefing, the following was asked:

Hi. While the 12:30 press conference with former President of Guatemala Vinicio Cerezo Arevalo and President Arias of Costa Rica was interesting, wish I'd been able to ask questions at the noon briefing. So I'm asking in this message:

Given that public reports have FAO spending more in North Korea than UNDP, is FAO going to be audited? When is the S-G expecting the WFP preliminary audit to be finished?

On Somalia, while I understand that USG Pascoe will do a stakeout tomorrow, I'm thinking that the question I asked yesterday is better processed in writing:

is the UN system, its Funds or Programs, funding the Transitional Federal Government police (whose chief, if it helps, is Abdi Qeybdiid)?  More generally, what financial help is the UN System giving to the TFG? I'm cc-ing Yves since Somalia appears to be on his docket.

  Finally, also on Somalia, does the S-G have any comment on the (third) delay of the Somalia Reconciliation conference, now into July?

            Ten hours later, not a single question was answered. (There was an additional question, about hiring practices.) No comment on the delay for at least a month of a "reconciliation" conference on what the UN's own humanitarian coordinator calls the worst crisis of 2007? Inability or unwillingness, in not one day but two, to provide even rudimentary numbers about UN funding of the Transitional Federal Institutions in Somalia? Nothing on Ban's promised expansion of the North Korea audits? So far, nothing at all. Given that, the Secretariat's position on the next item was unavailable.

Mr. Ban talks reform

Backsliding on Internal Justice

 While the UN's vaunted "Redesign Panel" on how what justice is available to the UN's own employees had recommended that in the future, judges by appointed not by the Secretary General but by a committee, an internal justice council, recently Ban Ki-moon has reversed course and insisted that he be given the right to appoint the judges. The conflict is interest is clear: a staff member would be challenging a job action by the Secretariat, before a judge chosen directly by the Secretary General. This is reversal of course is a bad sign.

            Meanwhile, while the Secretariat had claimed to want New York staff to be represented in the next "Staff-Management Coordination Committee" meeting, the Ban administration had taken no steps to address criticisms made as far back as June 2005. The next SMCC meeting, which it was said would be in New York, is now slated for Cyprus, which some characterize as "a nice vacation."  When asked who is behind these anti-staff policies, sources begin by naming to Inner City Press the head of the UN's Office of Human Resource Management, Jan Beagle, and then note that Mr. Ban is ultimately in charge, and that the switch in position on judges is entirely on his watch.

            While the Secretary-General's Spokesperson on Wednesday did not respond to, or even initially allow, any of the questions above, the spokesman for the GA president, by contrast, at least took these two questions on Wednesday:

Question:  Has the President of the General Assembly appointed somebody to try to negotiate or mediate the draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?

Spokesperson:  I'm not sure.  I have to check on that.  I think there was some talk about the Forum, but I don't know if she appointed a facilitator or if we haven't gotten to that point yet.

[Update: This article says it's the Philippines UN Ambassador Hilario Davide.]

Question:  The last thing is on the DPKO restructuring.  Can you say anything about the sticking point?  Is it the USG post?

Spokesperson:  Like I told you last time, yes, it is.

            On the negotiations around the restructuring of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, on which Ban has spend -- some say, squandered -- political capital, Inner City Press is told of wild scenes over the weekend, when a DPKO Finance Officer was pleading in the Vienna Cafe for "more P-3 posts, I need more P-3 posts." On the Under Secretary General sticking point, some say Ms. Jane Holl Lute is in line for the new post, others mention candidates from Brazil or Indonesia. Only in Ban's UN...

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540