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UN's Capital Master Plan, In Dangerous Glass Building, Conceals Costs, Critics Say

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 2, updated below -- Chicanery in the budget of the UN's Capital Master Plan rehabilitation were raised in public this week, in a report about contingencies, in the first meeting of the UN's Fifth (Budget) Committee, and by Inner City Press in the October 1 noon briefing:

Inner City Press: the Fifth Committee, the budget committee, just began this morning for its new session, and in it, Mexico, on behalf of the Rio Group, said it’s highly problematic that the Secretariat hasn’t included in its proposed budget, among other things, the associate cost of the Capital Master Plan. There was no response that I saw from the Secretariat from the meeting, but it seems like the kind of thing. Is this factually accurate? Are there costs of the Capital Master Plan that are not in the budget?

Spokesperson Montas: I would have to inquire from the Capital Master Plan people. In fact, I was thinking of getting you a briefing very shortly, because some of you know you are going to be moving in a few weeks, and you might need to be updated on that.

  While the move date for the Press has seemingly been moved back to November or even December, into what's been dubbed the "whistleblower free zone" in which offices will not have walls that go to the ceiling, more than 24 hours later, there was no response by the UN to the Rio Group's critique of its budget.

  There was other CMP criticism, at the High Level Committee on Management, at which staff noted they had been moved into a glass building on Madison Avenue without, they say, blast protecting film over the windows in the event of a bombing. One staffer asked, have we learned nothing from the Canal Hotel bombing in Iraq? The statement read:

"With knowledge of the damage inflicted by glass in Baghdad, it is unconscionable that the administration has relocated over 2000 staff into a glass building on Madison Avenue, with is not equipped with blast resistant films. That building is adjacent to a construction site and too close to the street where trucks are parked... We hope that these trucks will continue to deliver cement and nothing more."

  We will continue to follow this.

Work on UN CMP, murky as the UN budget
 Meanwhile, arriving breathless from Madison Avenue, top UN humanitarian John Holmes said wryly that the Capital Master Plan is providing this form of exercise. He might note, the UN has implemented its own van service from Madison to First Avenue, only only every half hour. What was that again, about the associated costs? To be continued.

  On human costs, now with the General Debate over, those who work in the UN Cafeteria and Delegates Dining Room are expect the lay off pink slips that have been threatened. At the UN, no re-training, no safeguards...

Update of October 6: at Tuesday's noon briefing, days after Inner City Press asked for a response to the Rio Group's criticism in an open meeting of the Fifth (Budget) Committee of what it calls the non-inclusion of the UN Capital Master Plan's associated costs in the budget, and after it wrote about the Staff Union's criticism regarding blast protection at 380 Madison Avenue in a meeting of the High Level Management Committee, spokesperson Michele Montas read this into the record:

One more note about the Capital Master plan to answer some questions asked. About Security at 380 Madison Avenue, even though we usually do not comment on measures taken so as not to compromise the security of our staff, this instance is an exception, because erroneous information has been circulating in the media already.

Before leases were signed, and before buildings were occupied after fit-out, all swing space locations were cleared by the Department of Safety and Security. At 380 Madison Avenue, the windows of the floors occupied by UN staff are covered with blast resistant film.

On associated costs, in its resolution A/RES/63/270, the General Assembly decided “that the approved associated costs for the capital master plan will be financed from within the approved budget of the capital master plan unless otherwise specified by the General Assembly.” The CMP stated last year and has stated again this year that they will continue to seek costs savings and attempt to absorb the associated costs. However, the CMP is not optimistic that they will be able to absorb all the associated costs.

  While the admission about associated costs is appreciated -- still to come: contingencies -- the comment about inaccurate media report merits a same day response. Inner City Press reported on what the Staff Union said in the HLMC meeting. If the UN Department of Management does not respond to criticisms made in such settings, or in a public meeting of the Fifth Committee, it is not inaccurate for the Press to report on what the Staff Union or Rio Group say.

  The head of the Department of Management has previously said, in writing, that she does not have time to answer questions. And so we report what's said and ask about it, and publish belated responses on the day they are received.

  Also at Tuesday's noon briefing, after the unilateral read out above, Inner City Press asked:

Inner City Press: On the Capital Master Plan, I just wanted, the, the, I guess, two questions. One, the statement about the blast film at Madison Avenue was made during a High-Level Committee on Management by the Staff Union, so I just want to be, you’re saying erroneous media, media council [inaudible]. Has the Staff Union been informed, that’s what they say…?

Spokesperson: I don’t know whether the Staff Union was informed, but I do know that they have the films on the windows…

Inner City Press: Okay. What about in the, in the, what they call the luggage building, the building on the corner of 42nd and 2nd?

Spokesperson: I haven’t asked, but as they mentioned, all the buildings were inspected by DSS [Department of Safety and Security].

Inner City Press: Right, but the Staff Union says there was a safety plan, but that the blast film wasn’t put on. I am just saying there’s a dispute between the Union…

Spokesperson: I haven’t, but the Capital Master Plan, they know what they have done, right?

We'll see. Watch this site.

 Channel 4 in the UK with allegations of rape and disappearance

  Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

* * *

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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