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UN Management Is Disarray, No Defense for "Useless" Report, Unexplained Travel

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

UNITED NATIONS, October 18 -- A UN report produced by the Department of Management, previously presented as an important part of UN reform, has been deemed useless, duplicative and wasteful by the UN's own Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions. Click here for ACABQ's critique. On Thursday Inner City Press asked UN spokesperson Michele Montas if the Secretariat or Under Secretary General for Management Alicia Barcena have any response to the strongly-worded rebuke. Inner City Press again asked when Ms. Barcena, who two weeks ago told Inner City Press she would come to a press conference "next week," would in fact appear. Among the matters to be discussed are favoritism, the lack of movement on implementing a freedom of information procedures and a sexual harassment policy, and growing staff complaints about Ms. Barcena's travel, to Mexico, Chile and elsewhere. Ms. Montas, taking off her glasses, said, "Don't you think it's a matter first for the spokesperson for the General Assembly to address?"

            "Not really," Inner City Press responded. ACABQ has made its written criticism public four weeks ago, and orally presented to it the GA's Fifth Committee on Thursday morning.

            Ms. Montas replied that "It hasn't been officially notified to the Secretariat that they think this product is useless."

Alicia Barcena at a previous briefing: it's been too long

            The ACABQ report, dated September 21 and now available online here, states:

The Advisory Committee questions whether such a report is really useful for the general public since it is limited to the activities of the United Nations Secretariat and does not reflect the impact of the work of other United Nation bodies and non-governmental partners, presenting only a partial picture of the achievements of the Organization as a whole. Furthermore, overall achievements and analysis of challenges in areas that do not clearly fall under one department, such as peacebuilding, conflict resolution, development, the environment, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and humanitarian assistance, are poorly covered. A key message of the United Nations in its outreach to the public -- that individuals can contribute to the advancement of the goals of the United Nations -- is distinctly missing. In addition, the information contained in the report is somewhat technical in nature, focused on performance, management and certain oversight issues, which may not be easily understood by people who are not familiar with the ongoing reforms and other concerns of the Secretariat and the intergovernmental bodies.

On the other hand, if the report is intended mainly for Member States, it appears to the Advisory Committee that the information it contains, which is synthesized yet incomplete, does not support effective decision-making. As pointed out in paragraph 2 above, the Secretary-General is also required to submit an annual report on the work of the Organization, which is used by the General Assembly to review the activities of the Organization as a whole. The Committee also points out that most of the information contained in the Consolidated Report can readily be found in other documents, such as the budget and performance reports, that are available to Member States. In addition, more up-to-date information is available on the websites of the various departments. As regards the Secretariat’s performance, while the Committee recognizes that efforts have been made to provide fuller information on the weaknesses of each department and the challenges it faces, it does not consider that the new report effectively promotes accountability for targets that have not been met. The Committee also points out that the timing of the delivery of the Consolidated Report does not make performance information and analysis available in time for the consideration of budget proposals.

Upon enquiry, the Advisory Committee was provided with additional information on the costs of the report and the process of its production. The report is produced under the authority of the Office of the Under Secretary-General for Management, which coordinates its preparation with the help of a consultant. The Office of the Under-Secretary-General also provides the chapter entitled “Management’s discussion and analysis”. Departmental focal points provide initial submissions for the section on performance, which are edited by the consultant and ultimately cleared by the respective program managers. The contributions of the Office of Internal Oversight Services and the Board of Auditors are included without being changed.

Resources required for the preparation of the report include: (a) the full-time capacity of a P-5 and a P-4 in the Office of the Under-Secretary-General for Management for approximately three months; (b) the services of a consultant engaged for a four-month period to facilitate the preparation and conduct of a workshop for departmental focal points and editing of the performance section; (c) the services of the Graphic Design Unit of the Department of Public Information for the design of the report; and (d) the services of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management to proofread, translate and print the report. Specific details on the number of months of work devoted by staff to the preparation of the report are still under review and will be reported in the context of the second performance report on the programme budget for the biennium 2006-2007.

 Upon request, the Advisory Committee was informed that the external consultant provided a journalistic tone to the content of the report and that the Department of Public Information had not been asked to assist in its drafting. The Committee questions why a report on the activities of the United Nations Secretariat could not be prepared in-house, given the role of the Department of Public Information.

 In the light of the observations made above, the Advisory Committee is not convinced that the Consolidated Report, as currently presented, improves transparency or accountability in any significant way. The Committee recommends therefore that the publication of the Consolidated Report be discontinued.

            Ms. Barcena's OHRM colleague Jan Beagle is shipping out to a made-up position in Geneva; sources say she wanted UNCTAD, but they did not want her. Nor did UN Staff Union officials, who Thursday told Inner City Press they view Ms. Beagle's transfer as "too little, too late," and emphasized how important it is that Ban Ki-moon choose someone more "constructive" to replace Ms. Beagle. Many in the UN thought there would be additional announcements today, on Barcena and others.

            Inga-Britt Ahlenius, who urged Ms. Barcena to be sure to be in the interview panel including the Ahlenius-suggested Danielle Coolen, was spotted Wednesday in the UN Headquarters basement with her close aide Pillar and a fancy red backpack. Since a week ago she tersely said, "I have no comment," this time Inner City Press merely stood nearby, if she had anything to says. She did not. It can be reported that she spoke with Appleton of the Procurement Task Force, who and which are winding down, having made very few public disclosures. It seems to be catching.

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Clck here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army.  Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent 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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