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UN's Contractor Sued by MIT for Leaks, While UN Management Dodges Leaks

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

UNITED NATIONS, November 12 -- With the decrepit condition of UN Headquarters giving rise to threats to ban public school tours of the building, the general contractor chosen for the UN's so-called Capital Master Plan, Skanska, is being sued, along with architect Frank Gehry, for leaks in a previous project by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Inner City Press on Monday asked CMP director Michael Adlerstein about the lawsuit against Skanska USA Building.. "They're bulletproof," Adlerstein responded. "It's a waterproofing issue, under the bricks. I've seen the letters. Skanska wrote a letter, saying I shouldn't be doing this, you need to change the design. Gehry wrote back, just do what I designed. Skanska wrote another letter to MIT, saying I don't think you want me to do this." According to Adlerstein, MIT never responded.

            At Monday's UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe if the UN had known about this dispute and claim against Skanska before awarding the CMP contract. The UN's written response was that, "regarding Skanska, no, we were not aware during procurement process. And we have full confidence in the company."

            A question arises whether Skanska itself was or should have been aware of the brewing dispute while it bid for the UN contract, and should have disclosed it. The day of the contract award, Inner City Press reported on a ruling against Skanska. Perhaps all large construction firms have "issues." But it seems clear they should be disclosed.

Alicia Barcena at April town hall meeting, with Mr. Ban, before

            Inner City Press also asked UN spokesperson Okabe about a report of an October 30 letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, stating

"As I'm sure you appreciate, it is the city's obligation to take all necessary steps to protect the safety of all who work in and visit the city. If the United Nations does not adhere to these deadlines, the city will be forced to direct the cessation of all public school visits to the United Nations. If warranted, the city will take additional action, such as notifying the public of outstanding safety hazards and the city's efforts to direct and assist the United Nations to bring its facilities into compliance."

            At the noon briefing, the spokesperson did not confirm receipt of the letter, but said that many steps have been taken by the UN. Inner City Press asked, before or after Mayor Bloomberg's October 30 threat, and if the steps are viewed as removing the threat to bar school visits and perhaps more. The subsequent written response on this stated only, "regarding the Bloomberg letter, yes, we can confirm receipt." Developing.

Items: The Capital Master Plan's Michael Adlerstein made his comments outside Monday's "town hall" meeting of the UN's Department of Management, which he attended. On the dais with him, Under Secretary General Alicia Barcena joked that while many had thought that she would make an announcement -- of leaving her post -- at the meeting, she was not going to do so.

            There were other things left unsaid in Ms. Barcena's presentation. UN Freedom of Information policy, promised since the start of the year? Still not in place. She congratulated the Office of Central Support Services, without stating that its director, Andrew Toh, met with her on Friday, the day after sending her and others a detailed email criticizing UN investigator Inga-Britt Ahlenius' November 3 letter to the Wall Street Journal, which Toh says falsely claims that he was allowed a lawyer. Toh has raised his complaint to, in the Fifth Committee, the chairing Malaysian mission, and the Dutch coordinator on Administration of Justice.

            Also on Friday, a person named in Toh's email, Walter Cabrera, as well as Brian Streb, were both reported fired to the UN, based on the Procurement Task Force's investigations.  Another individual named by Toh, Martin Bender, was visited at his home, unannounced, by members of the Task Force. As one fearing-retaliation source asks, why does the UN "crack down on P-4 employees while doing nothing about a $250 million no-bid contract to Lockhead Martin?" Click here for more on that.

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